Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Emily Manasch (Bill Finger's younger sister), 1918-2018

This week, I learned that Emily Manasch, Bill Finger’s younger sister, died on 9/27/18, a week shy of her 100th birthday. 

In 2006, while researching for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I was stunned to learn that Bill had a sibling (stunned because I’d misinterpreted a statement in a 1941 comic book article). 

Seven months later, I was stunned to learn that she was still alive. 

I was stunned yet again when I found her, then stunned for the fourth time when she explained she and Bill had been estranged since before Batman (so before 1939). 

She declined to answer even the most basic of questions, as did her daughter. (Her son had predeceased her.)

Over the years I tried to earn Emily’s trust in multiple ways, including by speaking pro bono at the schools her daughter-in-law and granddaughter taught at, but she never agreed to talk with me. It is frustrating to think of the knowledge she chose not to share. 

RIP Emily.

Stun #5: in 2012, upon the release of the 1940 census, I learned that Bill had a second younger sister, Gilda. 

I still have not found her…

Monday, May 4, 2020

Interview: Arthur Rosenberg (Ren's uncle in "Footloose")

In Footloose (1984), Arthur Rosenberg played Wes Warnicker, uncle to Kevin Bacon’s character Ren McCormack.

Arthur’s behind-the-scenes recollections of the experience:

What were you doing professionally prior to Footloose?

I was a professional actor having worked in the theatre for many years before coming to LA in 1976. My career was going well, I was working regularly. I had recently been featured in Cutter’s Way, which won several awards. Life was good.

Arthur in Tahiti

How did you get the role?

The usual way. My agent submitted me and I auditioned for Herbert Ross, the director.

Any funny anecdotes about your Footloose experience?

Very many, probably too many to mention. Maybe not funny, but I didn’t know it was a musical. I am sure other people knew, but it wasn’t like when we did a scene the director would say “You look out the window and we’ll bring the soundtrack up and you then lip sync.” We were just shooting a movie. Imagine my surprise when we attended the screening for cast and crew—the theatre went dark and the screen lights up and there is that glorious music. I turned to my wife and said “I’m in a musical! I didn’t know that.” I was completely bowled over by the score and those songs. I guess I was the last to know.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Elizabeth Gorcey were the two youngsters on the set. I called them the midgees because they were always flying around with all that energy of young girls. I went to the mall, ZCMI in Provo, and had two caps embroidered for them saying “midgee.” Elizabeth was related, forget how…maybe granddaughter?…to Leo Gorcey from the old “Dead End Kids” I used to watch in my youth.

The late Chris Penn created a stir when he got a coal barbecue grill, because he had a craving, and set it up inside his motel room. Almost got booted out.

Tim Scott and Doug Dirksen (two of my fellow actors) and I were trying desperately to find something to do. As Utah was a dry state and our meals were usually supplied by the set, we were at a loss [as to how] to spend our per diem. There was a Ms. Pac-Man machine at the motel and we would spend hours a day having contests, each of us with rolls of quarters. When Kevin Bacon had some free time he joined us. I am sure the route man who managed those machines never made so much money before or after.

Is there one story about your Footloose time you tell more than any other?

One day when I was off schedule and the cast/crew were on location near the hotel, out of sheer boredom I went to the location to sit around and watch. I heard the caterer, from the truck, complaining that one of his kitchen staff didn’t show up and he was shorthanded. I went to the truck and offered my services as a catering assistant. The boss didn’t know I was an actor, nor did the others working on the truck. I told him I had experience and so he said “You do salads…I need coleslaw for 40, sliced tomatoes, etc.” 

So I spent the morning doing the tasks and when lunchtime came around, the cast and crew got on the line to get their meal. I hid in the truck. Apparently director Herb Ross and a cast member told the caterer “That was the best coleslaw I ever had. What is your recipe?” The caterer called me out of the truck saying “The new guy made it.” I had a lot of explaining to do. Laughs all around. At the end of the cleanup, the caterer handed me $40 and I told him I couldn’t take it [because] I was being paid to act (and a bit more than $40/day), but he insisted so I gave $10 each to the others on the truck.

While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special?

The script was interesting and well written, I thought, and would have stood on its own without music. I was more excited to be working with Herbert Ross than just about anything. 

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon?

Nice from day one. Not pretentious, not unapproachable. Just a regular guy. And he behaved perfectly on the set and off.

Chris Penn?  

I think a good word is eccentric. 

Lori Singer?  

A sweetheart.

John Lithgow?  

I was aware of his work and knew of his father Arthur because I was in regional and rep theatre before coming to LA. Many folks in the circuit worked with Arthur at McCarter theatre and others. John liked to play his guitar in downtimes and as I recall sing children’s songs.

Dianne Wiest?

I didn’t get to spend too much time with her, but I tremendously respected her work and her as a person.

Sarah Jessica Parker?  

Sweet girl with a sweet smile and loved to giggle.

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what was that like?  

As I recall, it was at the old Bistro Garden on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. It was packed and I was actually in awe of the musicians there: Kenny Loggins, Deniece Williams, don’t remember if Bonnie Tyler was there.

How often were you recognized on the street? Any funny stories about that?  

More often recognized for TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210 or Lou Grant or movies like Being There or Coming Home.

Do you remember what you earned for the movie, and do you still earn residuals?  

No idea what I got paid but got $200 just last week, I think, for some cable or video sale.

What are you doing these days?  

I am a rabbi and the Leonard Nimoy Palliative Care Chaplain for the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, CA.

Arthur with his wife Catherine

Any interest in acting again?  

After a 40+ year career, not so much.

Where do you live? 

Tarzana, CA.

If you have children, how many and ages?  

Forty-year-old son, 11-year-old grandson.

If they have seen you in Footloose, what do they think about it?  

My son was always proud of my work.

Have you ever participated in a Footloose-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?  

In 2002, I attended the Paramount Studios release of the DVDs for Footloose, Grease, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever. Great party. I have done autograph signing for LeapCon (Quantum Leap).

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?  

In 2002 at the aforementioned Paramount party.

When was the last time you watched Footloose? How did you think it held up?  

I don’t watch my old movies so it has to have been a long, long time. I am told it holds up better than the remakes or the Broadway version.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?  

An unnatural attraction to Ms. Pac-Man.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?  

Nope. Other films but not this one.

What did you think when you first heard from me?  

Thank God someone still has good taste.

How do you look back on your Footloose experience?   

It was a good job with excellent working conditions which turned out to be much larger than I imagined it would be. I loved being there, working with a lovely cast and crew and fabulous director. 

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?  

Nope. Just a sense of pride to have participated in such a loved film.

Anything you’d like to add?  

No, but thank you for asking.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

High-impact, high-interest virtual author visits - "best in 30 years"

For the past 20 years, I have had the great privilege of speaking in hundreds of elementary, middle, and high schools worldwide. 

At the moment, and for an indefinite length of time, authors are unable to do that.

So for the first time, I am offering virtual visits for schools able to incorporate author enrichment into your distance learning.

“Phenomenal, engaging, funny, charismatic, and informative, but most of all, authentic. Nobleman captivated the audience. His presentation tied in perfectly with our writing units. I’ve never seen students respond to a presenter the way ours have with Nobleman.”
—Jodi Peterson, 3rd grade teacher, Forbuss Elementary, Las Vegas, NV

The method of delivery is different, but my goals are the same: motivate, educate, and entertain. 

My assembly is a twist-filled true story (unprecedented in childrens literature) that brings people to tears. More like a play than a presentation, it is driven by suspense and is enhanced by the reactions of an in-person audience. When possible, I will be reserving it for in-person visits.

My interactive, inclusive virtual programs:

  • Classmate Clash: Like the game show Family Feud, but with friends! Half of a class/group competes against the other half to answer unconventional trivia questions about my diverse range of books and related historical/cultural topics. (But no prep work required.) 
  • Outsmart the Author: In advance, students read some of my picture books and prepare questions for me about my own work—the harder the better! When we meet virtually, students try to stump me with those questions. See below for eBook links and other resources for home-based learning.
  • Delicious Deleted Scenes: I share surprising stories that did not make into my nonfiction books and the varied reasons why. Some are funny, some are crazy, all are fascinating, and all give eye-opening insight into the adventurous process of research/writing.
  • First Line Face-Off: Students write as irresistible a hook as they can, submit them privately, then vote blindly for any that entice them to keep reading. Hilarious, helpful, and accessible, even for reluctant writers! Plus prizes! Real ones, which I will mail!

Each program is guaranteed to reinforce the hard work educators are doing daily. Upon request I am happy to provide specific academic/character development connections each program makes. I am also open to requests tailored to your population.

“In 30 years of hosting best-selling authors, Marc’s presentation was the best I have ever witnessed. Judging from the student response, he transformed what it means to be a writer.”
—Karen Palko, middle school teacher, International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Ways to save:

  • REFER ME: I will reduce your rate by $50 for every school you refer to me that books me for a virtual visit. Each school must indicate that you referred them and commit before your visit takes place. 
  • BOOK ME FOR IN-PERSON: If you book me for a virtual visit and then book me for an in-person visit for a date within a year of our virtual visit, I will discount the second visit (my day rate is currently $2,500 plus travel for multiple presentations). 
  • IF YOU’RE A PUBLIC SCHOOL THAT HASN’T HOSTED AN AUTHOR: I’m doing two free 30-minute virtual visits per month for public schools that have not hosted an author visit in the past three years. First-come, first-Zoomed!

These terms are good until your students return to school in person (or until further notice).

“Consummate professional. Very animated, humorous, and respectful. The kids were riveted throughout. As our head of school said, ‘He speaks kid.’ One teacher said it’s one of the very best author assemblies she’s seen in her 25 years here.”
—Cynthia Millman, library co-director, Town School, New York, NY


Using selected books in home-based learning:

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman

Brave Like My Brother

The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story

Whether by stage or screen, I remain committed to helping educators and parents instill in young people a love of reading, writing, and research.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Henry Grimes, jazz pioneer and subject of "Vanished," 1935-2020

In 1968, a gifted and beloved session musician named Henry Grimes—who’d played with Thelonious Monk and Benny Goodman, who helped pioneer free jazz—strapped his double bass to the roof of a car and drove from New York to San Francisco to find new work. The desert heat cracked his instrument, and he did not have the $500 required to repair it—so instead he sold it for the same amount. 

Then Henry Grimes vanished. 

His family stopped hearing from him. At least twice in print, he was reported dead. But in 2002, a twentysomething fan named Marshall Marrotte put his homegrown detective skills to work and found a Henry Grimes living at a rundown, single-room-occupancy hotel in Los Angeles. Marshall reached out to find that it was indeed the Henry Grimes whose music he loved.

Henry had been getting by on a series of odd jobs. He had not been playing or recording music—he had not even seen a compact disc—but all along he had been creating music…in his head. Word spread. A fellow musician generously donated a double bass. Henry got back to practicing. 

In 2003, at age 68, and after an absence of 35 years, he re-entered the music scene. Later that year, All About Jazz named Henry “Musician of the Year.” And he kept on playing. 

On 4/17/20, Henry Grimes died at 84 from complications due to COVID-19. 

He is one of the subjects of my book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing.

I can’t say I’m a big jazz fan. But I became a big fan of Henry Grimes. RIP to a man whose impact will never vanish.

Monday, April 6, 2020

New book on '70s educational children's TV (including "Schoolhouse Rock!")

In February, the versatile, prolific Vanity Fair writer David Kamp reached out to introduce himself, which delighted me not only because I've done the same with other authors many times. One of the perkiest perks of the job!

He kindly alerted me to his upcoming book, which had notched at least one starred review  and is indeed in my wheelhouse: Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America, which focuses on now-iconic series such as Sesame Street that launched or came to prominence in the 1970s.

David used my Schoolhouse Rock! interviews as a source, and I was won over all over again when I saw the cheekiness of this excerpt from his bibliography:

Many of us feel we could use more sunny days these days, so I am optimistic that this book will find its eager audience. I wish David all the best with it, and hope our paths cross in person before long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Batman trivia for kids quarantined in their personal Batcaves

Due to social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), so much of the world is simultaneously experiencing something many authors are used to: staying home all day, day after day.

That can be fun, that can be comforting, and that can be frustrating.

Which is why so many people, including many authors of books for young people, are doing what they can to share daily, fun, meaningful activity

One of my publishers, Charlesbridge, is posting new videos by various authors. Many are read-alouds...so mine isn't. 

Mine is a quiz...actually, two quizzes: one for kids who have read my nonfiction book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, and one for kids who have not.

And there are prizes!

This is your chance to show off your Batman knowledge, your power of deduction/guessing, or both.

The questions:

Answers must be submitted from the form at this link by 4/15/20, but if you're seeing this after that date, you can still test your knowledge.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A bad time in general, but a good time for a new game

My friend Jason Schneider is the VP of Product Development for a highly imaginative company called Gamewright.

Last summer, he asked me to help write a fast-paced trivia game called Hit List. I love trivia, games, writing, and Jason, so I said yes.

Today, I received my author copies (or whatever they're called in the game industry); with families everywhere currently staying home due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), one might say perfect timing. 

I posted to my neighborhood list serv that I put outshrink-wrappedgames for the taking.

All were gone in less than 45 minutes. 

Your move, cabin fever!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fun, easy, home-based activities for kids

Schools worldwide are closed in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

It is heartening to see author/illustrator friends and children's book publishers sharing free content online to help kids keep brains/bodies active during homebound days:

Here is my small contribution.

Twenty years ago, I wrote a now out-of-print book called 365 Adventures (later repackaged as 365 Things to Do Before You Grow Up).

Starting with the first day my own kids were out of school, I began adding one entry a day to this post (newest at top; not in book order). You are, of course, free to copy/share.


  • Some minor references may now be outdated. But that gives you a secondary activity: look up those references.
  • Some activities require friends. When social distancing is in effect, substitute "friends" with "people who are currently in my house/apartment." (Or you can do some activities with friends by Zoom, FaceTime, or a similar program.)
  • As the title suggests, there are 365 entries. World, don't make me post them all.

Another suggestion: to start a discussion with kids ages 9 and up about social justice, primary source research, intellectual property/copyright/creators' rights, 20th century history, persistence, and/or speaking up for others, show them the feature documentary Batman & Bill on Hulu. It's the first film based on a nonfiction picture book (Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman). Warning: it's a tearjerker!

The activities:

day 73 - mix up meals - posted 5/27/20

day 72 - make riddle cards - posted 5/26/20

day 71 - balance a book - posted 5/25/20

day 70 - invent a secret code - posted 5/24/20

day 69 - find your dream job - posted 5/23/20

day 68 - create a moon calendar - posted 5/22/20

day 67 - soundtrack your life - posted 5/21/20

day 66 - make and bury a time capsule - posted 5/20/20

day 65 - attract a spider - posted 5/19/20

day 64 - argue someone else's view - posted 5/18/20

day 63 - write your pet's biography - posted 5/17/20

day 62 - go thumbless - posted 5/16/20

day 61 - make name cookies - posted 5/15/20

day 60 - learn birdcalls - posted 5/14/20

day 59 - write a song parody - posted 5/13/20

day 58 - draw the unseen - posted 5/12/20

day 57 - make a prism - posted 5/11/20

day 56 - cast a movie about your family - posted 5/10/20
(NOTE: you won't know a single actor mentioned in this entry)

day 55 - publish a family newspaper - posted 5/9/20

day 54 - go metric - posted 5/8/20

day 53 - find a sister school - posted 5/7/20

day 52 - watch things decompose - posted 5/6/20

day 51 - conduct a sniff test - posted 5/5/20

day 50 - kick a bad habit - posted 5/4/20

day 49 - find the meaning in your name - posted 5/3/20

day 48 - party with babies - posted 5/2/20

day 47 - save a tiger - posted 5/1/20

day 46 - test pollution level - posted 4/30/20

day 45 - do three (or one!) things that scare you - posted 4/29/20

day 44 - speak backward - posted 4/28/20

day 43 - read lips - posted 4/27/20

day 42 - help a missing child - posted 4/26/20

day 41 - organize a fashion show - posted 4/25/20

day 40 - invent a board game - posted 4/24/20

day 39 - be a mime - posted 4/23/20

day 38 - draw someone at the reverse age - posted 4/22/20

day 37 - survey your friends - posted 4/21/20

day 36 - test truth in advertising - posted 4/20/20

day 35 - write a dog dictionary - posted 4/19/20

day 34 - make a trauma doll - posted 4/18/20

day 33 - list your island top five - posted 4/17/20

day 32 - dress from another decade - posted 4/16/20

day 31 - call a radio station - posted 4/15/20
(NOTE: I realize you may be unfamiliar with the concepts 
of "cassettes," "radio" and "calling," 
which is why this may be especially fun!)

day 30 - flip a cartoon - posted 4/14/20

day 29 - repair a stuffed animal - posted 4/13/20

day 28 - plant mistakes - posted 4/12/20

day 27 - draw from a bird's-eye view - posted 4/11/20

day 26 - keep a dream journal - posted 4/10/20

day 25 - make a sundial - posted 4/9/20

day 24 - break your own record - posted 4/8/20

day 23 - race paper airplanes - posted 4/7/20

day 22 - calculate your (material) worth - posted 4/6/20

day 21 - wear a new hairstyle - posted 4/5/20

day 20 - run a family quiz show - posted 4/4/20

day 19 - recreate famous images - posted 4/3/20
(NOTE: the Getty Museum of Los Angeles has done
something similar, and that's where the similarities between 
the GM and MTN end)

day 18 - splatter a shirt - posted 4/2/20
(NOTE: requires a yard or other private outdoor space, 
a plain solid-colored T-shirt or sweatshirt, and fabric paint; if you do not have 
some or any of this on hand, you'll have to get [even more] creative)

day 17 - change hands - posted 4/1/20
(NOTE: not for the whole day as it suggests; 
start with 15 minutes and see how much longer you can go...

day 16 - make and take Rorschach test - posted 3/31/20

day 15 - rescue a bug - posted 3/30/20

day 14 - act out the dialogue from a film - posted 3/29/20
(NOTE: "tape" and "VCR" are the medieval forms of Netflix)

day 13 - make a house of mirrors - posted 3/28/20

day 12 - take an animal census - posted 3/27/20
(NOTE: though we're mostly staying at home at the moment,
you can do this by looking out the window!)

day 11 - know your blood type - posted 3/26/20
(NOTE: forget the self-test; just ask your parents!)

day 10 - compare news stories - posted 3/25/20

day 9 - celebrate another country's holiday - posted 3/24/20

day 8 - draw your great-grandparents - posted 3/23/20

day 7 - recite a famous speech - posted 3/22/20

day 6 - toss a rainbow salad - posted 3/21/20
(NOTE: you can also use fruit/nuts/other healthy food)

day 5 - put inventions in chronological order - posted 3/20/20
(NOTE: you don't have to use sticky notes; just make a list)

day 4 - go sled bowling - posted 3/19/20

day 3 - list the Seven Wonders of Your City/Town - posted 3/18/20

day 2 - make a string path - posted 3/17/20
(NOTE: you don't have to start at the front door)

day 1 - hold a no-laughing contest - posted 3/16/20
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