Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Bat," 1926

In April 2013, a theologian in Germany named Max Weremchuk kindly contacted me to share images he discovered while researching sources of potential inspiration for Batman...namely The Circular Staircase (book 1908, movie 1915) and The Bat (play 1920, movies 1926 and 1930).

The Film Daily (vol. 35, no. 2, Monday, January 4, 1926, page 10):

The Film Daily (vol. 35, no. 6, Friday, January 8, 1926, page 10):


from Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
art by Ty Templeton

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bill Finger's second wife in 1960

Bill married his second wife, Lyn Simmons, in 1968. Since I was the first ever to interview Lyn about Bill, she was a wonderfully untapped resource in my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman...though she had only one picture of Bill, and not a good one. (She said they were not photo people.)

It was only recently when I realized that in my mad dash to dig up more photos of Bill, I had not seen any photos of Lyn from that time.

So I asked her son Steve, who had provided me with one of the best previously unpublished photos of Bill (which you can see in the books author’s note); he kindly sent me these photos of his mom:

They are circa 1960. 

Here is Lyn in 2008.

Happy birthday, Lyn.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fingers in Florida

From 10/23-28/13, I cruised around Florida talking Superman and Batman—synagogue/Jewish book festival Wednesday night, Jewish day school Thursday morning, synagogue Thursday night (part of the Miami Jewish Book Festival), synagogue Sunday morning (two youth audiences), and synagogue Monday night (two youth audiences).

The last was a first—the first time Athena Finger, Bill’s lone known granddaughter, and her sixth-grade son Ben attended my Bill Finger talk. And like previous times I’ve introduced surprise guests during talks (see here and here), the audience reacted with enthusiasm and deference.

During the Q&A, an adult in the audience asked if Athena would speak about her feelings on the subject…so though she hesitated at first, she (and Ben) boldly took the microphone and fielded questions like a total pro. That’s hard enough to do when you are expecting to face an audience.

After, a girl from Ben’s school came up to him. She sweetly said she’s on the yearbook committee and asked if she could put Ben on the “Did You Know?” page. He sheepishly said yes.

After that, I told Ben he may have to get a “BMOC” T-shirt, but not for “Big Man on Campus.” Of course I meant for “Batman on Campus.” To which his mom quickly said “Ben Man on Campus.” All work for me.

Funny, during my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, someone told me that if you were Jewish in the Bronx in the 1930s and a decade or two after, and you retired, you’d move either to New Jersey or Florida. Gambling that more people chose Florida, I once cold-called every number in the directory
for the last name “Finger”—roughly 500. The number of Fingers related to Bill I found? 

A number you can’t make by holding up (straight) fingers…

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bill Finger makes the Very Short List

On 10/23/13, my contribution to the very cool Very Short List posted. The premise: three Twitter-friendly lines/links on the same culturally engaging topic. 

Mine, of course, spotlighted Bill Finger. The links went to an article about Bills role in Batman, an interview with the director of an upcoming play on the creators of Batman, and the book trailer for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

The entry is entitled Justice Has No Expiration Date.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Lois Lane inspiration turns 97

One of the purported inspirations for Lois Lane is Lois Amster (née Rothschild), who happens to be the grandmother of a friend I met in BBYO in the 1980s.

She is 97 this year, outlasting Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and the other primary inspiration for Lois, the woman who became Jerry's wife: Joanne.

courtesy of Jason Rothschild

Update: Lois Amster Rothschild passed away on 4/24/14 at age 97.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fumbling to Florida

I had two hourlong speaking engagements in the Miami area scheduled for 10/23/13; both at synagogues, one starting at 5:30 p.m, the other at 7:30 p.m. Here’s how most of it went wrong:

  • My shuttle to Reagan Airport in DC was supposed to arrive between 7:56 and 8:11 a.m. It came just past 8:30. No big deal, especially compared with what was to come.
  • There were two people on the shuttle: a woman and me. Her terminal drop-off was first. There were two bags in the back: hers and mine. Guess which one she took? If you guessed hers, guess again. This mirrored an incident in May, when another person accidentally took my bag off the back of an airport shuttle; arranging the switch caused me to miss my flight. The person today did so even though her bag was gray, not black like mine, and even though her bag DID NOT HAVE A HUGE ORANGE PIPE CLEANER ATTACHED TO THE HANDLE.

  • Around 10 a.m., my 10:55 a.m. direct flight was canceled. Guess how many other direct flights they had out of Reagan to Miami that would get me there in time for my first talk? If you guessed anything other than zero, guess again. My only option was shelling out $80 (!) for a taxi to Dulles Airport to take the 2:25 p.m. direct…which would arrive after my first talk was set to start. Luckily, American Airlines did rebook me and luckily the earlier venue was able to reschedule me for later during the same trip. But still…hugely aggravating.
  • Of course the 2:25 p.m. flight was delayed. Luckily, only 30 minutes.
  • I landed in Miami around 5 p.m. I had to walk to Mexico—or so it felt—simply to get the monorail to the car rental center….where, of course, the line was longer than any I’d seen in recent memory. I took a chance and went straight to the kiosk in the garage, where the kind man helped me even though they usually send people back to the counter inside.
  • Of course there was traffic. After all, it was Miami and it was rush hour.
  • Luckily, I did make it to my 7:30 p.m. in time…but not in time to change in (let alone check in at) my hotel. So for the first time ever, I wore a collarless shirt to present. Luckily, the audience was cas, too.
  • It was a small, Reconstructionist synagogue whose parking lot was dirt. During my talk, it began pouring. Dirt + downpour = mud. And I was wearing dress shoes. Solution:

And here’s what went right:

  • The audience was warm and engaged.
  • I met Bruce Wayne. Yes, this guy’s name is really Bruce Wayne (Wayne being his middle name, but he introduces himself that way). He even offered to take a close-up photo of his license to prove it, but I didn’t want to compromise his privacy for the sake of my blog.

The talk was part of the Miami Jewish Book Festival, whose program cover had some cool type design.

Thank you to all who helped get me to Florida and get me back to the hotel with non-muddy shoes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The UFO that crashed into a London playground...

...was not what it seemed. And what it really was is almost as cool.

It was a writing prompt.

I know a thing or five about that.

What happened in the UK can happen here. Should happen here.

Educators take note!

10/8/14 addendum: This inspired a similar experiment at the international school in Tanzania I spoke at in 1/14.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What is different about "Bill the Boy Wonder"

Multiple books have covered the creation of Batman. As I see it, here are the three biggest aspects about Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman that are new:

  • tells the Batman creation story with Bill as the (rightful) center
  • tells it in a previously unused format for a previously untapped audience
  • reveals details about Bill’s life beyond comics that have not been published before

My goal was not to disparage cartoonist Bob Kane but rather to give long overdue credit to Bill (in a form more permanent than any that’s come before). I focus on facts and (with one exception) don’t pass judgment on Kane. I let his widely documented actions speak for themselves.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Letter from Utah

I spent 10/13-16/14 in Utah, my first time. I could get used to seeing mountains as the backdrop to most views.

After kicking off my stint in the Beehive State speaking at a picturesque synagogue, I packed in ten more talks across five schools and a library over three days. Scenes from around and about:

I first saw this at night in the rain and thought it was an abandoned building; I came back the next day and now do not know what to make of it:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bill Finger's granddaughter's reaction to me

A short note by Athena Finger, lone granddaughter of Bill Finger, posted online shortly after I found her (and slightly edited):

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:01 AM

My grandfather

So now I can scream it from the top of a building. I had one of the coolest grandfathers. Why you ask...well my grandfather, not to brag, was the co-creator and original writer for BATMAN. Yes, Batman. And, now someone is writing a book about him. 

This is the most amazing thing. I have been conversing with Marc, the author, and he tells me that I have family out there which I never knew about. The crazy thing is I have a great aunt who lives an hour away from me and we don’t even know each other. Strange how things play out in life. 

I am very excited to see the book when it is finished and have the true story of a legend be told. 

Remember the writer is the one who tells the story the artist only draws it. So, that means without Bill there would have been no Bruce Wayne or Gotham and various other characters! Well, just wanted to share. Remember we all have a story to tell, so tell it!

2/17/15 addendum: Athena Finger, Year One.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Temple Har Shalom, Park City, UT

My first speaking trip to Utah includes nine talks at five schools, a library talk, and a synagogue talk. The backdrop of the synagogue talk is one of the most beautiful of any venue I have been to. This photo does not do it justice:

shalom selfie

The synagogue harbors another fascinating facet; the Sundance Film Festival rents out its main hall for screenings every January. They erect a screen on the wall to the right and cinema luminaries come to watch.

Special thanks to my Brandeis friend Bari Nan Cohen Rothchild for her tireless efforts to bring me in and to Michael Greenfield at Temple Har Shalom for taking a chance on me.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Southern Festival of Books 2013

In 2009, I participated at my first Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, and was honored to be invited back this year.

Some things remained the same. For example, now as then, I did not eat crickets.

And now as then, I did a panel with talents I had not yet met but had an instant rapport with. This time with Nathan Hale (who had been recommended to me as a possible illustrator for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman) and James L. Barry. I was an author on an illustrator's panel so I had some justifying to do.

Soon after our panel.

 Well after our panel.

For the second time in two weeks, I got to see the exceedingly nice Kevin Henkes. We signed side by side. Guess whose line was around the corner?

The most rewarding moment for me was spotting two people reading Bill the Boy Wonder side by side.

Every generation has its Batman.

Thank you again to Lacey Cook and all others involved with running this massive show. Always a pleasure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Speaking at Hommocks Middle School, Mamaroneck, NY

I’m a huge fan of speaking in schools and a huge fan of catching up with old friends. On 10/4/13, I got to do both at the same time.

My college friend Lisa Manheim (who was then Lisa Goldstein) worked hard to bring me to the school she’s taught at for five years, and I was honored to come. The auditorium was packed with kids and energy, yet the large group was respectfully quiet at all the “right” times (i.e. moments when I was discussing something sad). And before I came, those same kids had prepared a vibrant mosaic of A-list superheroes in honor of Jerry, Joe, and Bill. 

My time at Hommocks concluded with a writing workshop for a particularly sharp group of kids who had great questions and also the confidence to disagree with me at times. This is one of my favorite aspects of working with young people—seeing them demonstrate their conviction.

I particularly loved this comment from one of the sweet thank you notes they wrote: “I will defiantly take your teachings into account the next time I write a story.”

Thank you, Lisa, your colleagues, and your students for a stand-out day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vigil for Superman

New York Post 5/31/95

I remember seeing this and thinking "That's what a newspaper front page would look like if Superman were real." Unfortunately, that accident was real.

It's hard to believe that this was not already on the Internet. I'm glad I saved a copy.

That was the day I began running for exercise and pleasure. At the time, I lived a block from Central Park, near the running path—obvious inspiration.

As was Christopher Reeve.

He died nine years after this accident, nine years ago today. To me, to many, he will always be Superman, fictional and real.

(art by Ed McGuiness, repurposed from cover of 
Superman #174 [11/01]; I believe this tribute ran in 
certain DC comics)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Help me find these ‘80s music video girls!

Where are they now?

Who is the girl in the video?

Or rather, where can I find a woman like that?

I ask because round 2 is coming.

With literally a single click, you can spread word of my quest to find the long-lost ingénues from the following 1980s music videos to add to this interview series. If successful, your simple effort will make many people happy over many years. Not bad for the push of one button!

  • “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
  • “Africa” by Toto
  • “Gimme All Your Lovin’” by ZZ Top
  • “Tell Her About It” by Billy Joel (multiple women)
  • “Along Comes a Woman” by Chicago
  • “Shake Me” by Cinderella
  • “Should’ve Known Better” by Richard Marx
  • “Got My Mind Set on You” by George Harrison
“Jessies Girl”


“Gimme All Your Lovin’” (woman on the left; we know who the other two are)

“Tell Her About It”

“Tell Her About It”

“Along Comes a Woman”

“Shake Me” (it is not Amanda Peet!)

“Should’ve Known Better”

“Got My Mind Set on You”

For months, all leads have turned to dead ends. Here is who hasn’t remembered/had record of their names:

  • the music video directors
  • the producers
  • the casting agents
  • the record companies
  • the fans
  • the bands

And I am not surprised.

But these girls-now-women are out there.

They are probably not googling themselves because they don’t think anyone would be posting about their brief appearance in a music video 30 years ago. However, their kids may be googling them, and I hope they (you) have not only the curiosity but also the initiative to reach out to me.

Yes, I want to interview your mom. (Or aunt. Or godmother. Or friend’s mom.)

The point is simple: someone knows how to reach each of these memorable ‘80s faces, and everyone reading this is one of my six degrees of separation to reach those people.

Dreaming bigger:

  • if we can get anyone with a quarter of a million followers or more to tweet this, we will find at least one of the women
  • if we can get anyone with half a million or more, I’m convinced we can find every person on this list in just a day

Reasons to help:

  • It takes literally less than 30 seconds.
  • It costs nothing.
  • It has worked startling effect.
  • You will make people smile. They want to hear the stories of the people I’m looking for.
  • You will be a crowdresearching pioneer. (The already-common crowdsourcing works, and that’s a lot more labor intensive.)
  • You will become part of the story yourself.

If you know any of these women, please let me know no matter how much time has passed since I posted this!

Thank you for contributing to this social media/pop culture/posterity experiment.