Friday, January 6, 2012

Bill Finger’s parents

Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, gave few interviews. (It’s not that he wasn’t willing; it’s that he wasn’t asked.) And he mentioned his parents Louis and Tessie * precisely zero times.

Tessie circa 1945; I have no photos of Louis

What little is publicly known about Bill’s parents comes from two sources: a sketchy biographical sketch from 1941 (sketchy in that it brazenly whitewashes Bill’s involvement on any level with Batman) and Alvin Schwartz, a celebrated DC Comics writer and old friend of Bill’s who passed away 10/28/11.

From talking to Finger family and to FOB (Friends of Bill) who’d not been interviewed before, I learned that Bill and his parents had been estranged for most of Bill’s adult life.

Bill had also become estranged from his only sibling ** sometime before her wedding—and also, I think, before Batman (1939).

In Alter Ego #98 (12/10), Schwartz is quoted as saying, “[Bill] married Portia because he had to get away from home. He couldn’t stand his parents nagging, the fact that they would show up every payday and take his check.”

[Perhaps this aligns with the comment from that bio in Green Lantern #1 about Bill’s parents wanting him to be a doctor.]

In Schwartz’s 11/8/99 “After the Golden Age” column at World Famous Comics, he speculated that Bill’s dislike of his parents influenced the origin of Batman—namely, that Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered. That is heavy stuff and I hope it wasn’t the case.

Whatever the full story behind the rift, I suspect Bill’s sister sided with her parents; when I tried to find out what had happened between Bill and her, she wouldn’t say, even though this is going back seventy years and even though Bill has been gone for half of them.

** 7/9/12 addendum: Because of the way the earliest biographical sketch of Bill Finger was worded, I originally thought Bill was an only child. Then I learned he had a younger sister. Then via the 1940 census, which was made public in April 2012, I learned Bill apparently had a second younger sister...Gilda, born about 1920.

7/12/15 addendum: Louis was born 10/20/1890. His birth country is, well, take your pick. On two marriage licenses (Rosa, Tessie) and two draft cards (WWI, WWII): Austria. On Bill’s short-form birth certificate: Russia. On 1930 census: Austria is crossed out and Poland written in. Tessie was born 12/28/1892 in New York. Louis died 2/7/61 and Tessie just over a month later, on 3/28/61, both in the Bronx.

* 5/30/20 addendum (based on information I learned in 2013): It turns out Bill’s biological mother was not Tessie but rather Rosa Rosenblatt. She and Louis married in New York in 1912, Bill was born (in Denver, for reasons as-yet unconfirmed) in 1914, and Louis married Tessie in New York in 1916; I have not found out what happened to Rosa. Therefore, Emily, born to Louis and Tessie in 1918, was Bill’s half-sister. This implies that Gilda (again, born circa 1920) is also his half-sister...or another relative, or perhaps even unrelated. 

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