Sunday, May 31, 2020

Finger family mysteries: Bill’s mother(s) and “sisters”

No one in this blog post is as s/he seems…


The book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out in 2012. DC Comics corrected the Batman credit line in 2015. The documentary Batman & Bill came out in 2017.

Yet here I am, in the here and now, still researching Bill Finger. 

In particular his family.

Because there are so many unusual unknowns. 

(To be precise, I am not actively researching. But now that I am perhaps the most prominent living Bill Finger advocate who is not a family member, sometimes research comes to me, and that sends me into the Batcave all over again.)

Below is a consolidation of significant findings I have not yet revealed publicly. Some of it I learned after my book came out. Some of it I learned only weeks ago. But some of it goes back to the beginning of my Bill Finger experience (2006). Between the making of the documentary, other projects, and life itself, I did not make time till now for this long overdue info dump:


In 2013, I received Bill’s short-form birth certificate (i.e. a contemporarily typed version, not a copy of the original), and with it, a stunner. 

It turns out that Bill’s biological mother was not Tessie as I had been told but rather a woman named Rosa. On Bill’s birth certificate, Rosa’s last name is spelled “Rosenblodt” but on her marriage license, it’s clearly “Rosenblatt.”

Louis and Rosa were married by a rabbi (possibly in the rabbi’s apartment) in New York on 11/27/1912, Bill was born in Denver in 1914, and Louis married Tessie Stromberg back in New York on 12/24/1916 (possibly in a more traditional ceremony). 

Therefore, Tessie was Bill’s stepmother. I don’t know when—or if—he learned that. 

Tessie circa 1945; 
I have no photos of Louis

Yet on the marriage certificate for Louis and Tessie, Louis claimed that it was his first marriage. 

Alexandra (Allie) Orton, story producer for Batman & Bill (and a hella beast of a researcher), said “Typically when…a man [did] that, it’s a clue that he [was] a bigamist and he walked out on his first wife. But it is a bit odd considering he seems to take the kid with him. In divorce cases back then, fathers got the children a lot more readily, so that might be it (or he might be widowed), but then why lie?”

The 1913 Denver directory states Louis was a tailor (and still was in the 1930s in the Bronx, when Bill the Boy Wonder starts); Rosa was listed as “Rose.” They lived at 1581 Hooker Street. (Thank you to Meghan O’Sullivan for finding and sending me a scan of this.)

Was Bill born at that address? His birth certificate doesn’t say. (2/9/22 addendum: His long-form birth certificate does: no. He was born in a hospital.) Did Rosa die in childbirth or when Bill was an infant? Or did she and Louis divorce? I don’t know. 

Allie checked for Rosa in Colorado and New York death indexes and cemetery records, but did not pick up her trail. Rosa may have died outside of those states. Allie even tried to determine the synagogue of the rabbi (Joseph Handelman) named on the marriage record. No luck.

I’ve also yet to uncover why Louis lived for that short spell in Denver. It might have been for tuberculosis treatment.

The fact that Rosa was Bill’s biological mom means that Emily, ostensibly born to Louis and Tessie in 1918, was Bill’s half-sister. This implies that Gilda (born circa 1920) is also his half-sister...or another relative, or perhaps even unrelated. (More below on Gilda.)


According to Bill’s birth certificate, when Bill was born in 1914, Louis was 20…but that does not align with Louis’s birth year (1890) as provided on his draft registration cards for both World War I and World War II. 

In other words, in 1914, Louis would’ve been 24 (and therefore older than Rosa, who was 23). But the birth certificate has at least two other typos, so perhaps it’s simply another clerical goof.

Yet another inconsistency: apparently Louis sometimes changed his mind about where he was born. Most sources I have (Rosa/Tessie marriage licenses, naturalization petition, WWI/WWII draft cards, 1920 census, 1940 census) say Austria, but Bill’s birth certificate says Russia (perhaps another typo) and on the 1930 census, Austria is crossed out and Poland written in. Perhaps that has to do with border changes because of the war?

Zoomed in:

And still more weirdness: the 1930 census says Bill was born in New York (correct answer: Denver) and lists Emily first, even though Bill was older. Maybe there’s nothing to read into there, but somehow I think there is.


In 2007, I heard something that I brushed off at the time because it seemed like a mistake and because I was more focused on a simultaneous discovery, but now I see that it was probably true—and if so, it whispers of even more Finger family secrets. 

The 1930 and 1940 censuses indicate that Louis and Tessie had a daughter named Emily, born in New York. But she was mentioned nowhere else in my research. 

In my quest to figure out what happened to her, I called the New Jersey cemetery where Louis and Tessie (who died about a month apart in 1961) are buried. I was told that the person responsible for tending to their graves was named Emily.

The rub: the cemetery record listed Emily not as their daughter but their niece

Second, bigger shock: after a quick search of an online directory, I learned that Emily was still alive.

With immense excitement, I called her. She, however, was the opposite of excited to hear from someone like me. 


She said she did not really remember Bill and could not help. But I did delicately glean a bit from her, and more from her daughter-in-law B and granddaughter T, who went out of their way to try to get Emily to open up:

  • T said Emily referred to herself as an only child 
  • Emily once told B that she didn’t really have a brother (by which she could’ve meant that they had no relationship…or that they were actually cousins)
  • Emily once said that Bill had disappeared off the face of the Earth and she didn’t know if he married or had kids; she had not seen him since before her wedding (and she married young)
  • when she last knew Bill, he was still Milton (he changed his name from Milton to Bill sometime between 1933 and 1939, probably closer to ‘39)
  • yet Emily said she’d heard Bill was a writer and B remembers Emily saying she was proud of Batman
  • I asked if the Finger family had Shabbat dinner when she was growing up and she said something to the effect of “not as a habit”; the family was not religious but did have mezuzahs 
  • I asked if Bill moved out after high school and Emily didn’t remember the timeline 
  • T thought it sounded like Bill and Emily didn’t live together for long
  • when Bill died Emily did not wish him ill, but didn’t go to his funeral (I said that there wasn’t one)

Emily does not appear with Louis and Tessie on the 1920 census—even though she was born in 1918. This seems like further proof that she was their niece (or at least not their biological daughter). If so, I don’t know who her birth parents were or why she moved in with Louis and Tessie.

Further complicating the issue, both the 1930 census and Emily herself said that her mother was born New York...but according to the 1920 census, Tessie was born in Russia.

B later told me that Emily wanted nothing to do with “that side of the family”—which I think means her father’s side. Bill was definitively estranged from his parents, and when Emily told me (in so many words) that she was estranged from Bill, I assumed that there had been a specific rift and Emily had taken her parents’ side. It later occurred to me that perhaps both Bill and Emily had distanced themselves from Louis and Tessie. 

From at least one Finger cousin, I knew the Finger family was fractured...and that now seems like an understatement. 

With her memory vault still mostly sealed, Emily passed away at age 99 in 2018.


In 2012, the year Bill the Boy Wonder came out, the 1940 census was released to the public. (Why it takes so long.

And it contained another Finger bombshell. Now appearing in the Louis and Tessie household is a second daughter—Gilda. Yet if I’m reading it right, it shows that Gilda had completed four years of high school and was 20 in 1940—so where was she on the 1930 census?

This suggests that Gilda was also not Louis and Tessie’s biological daughter but rather a niece, a boarder (census takers sometimes mislabeled temporary residents as family members), or maybe even the result of an affair that either Louis or Tessie had. One reader of this blog tantalizingly speculated that Gilda could have been a wife of Bill’s before Portia (whom he married in 1943, see below). 

Yet what still seems most likely to me is that Gilda was a niece. Louis had about twelve siblings (I don’t know about Tessie); it is plausible—especially during the Great Depression—that certain kids in the large family could have been forced to change homes. 

Emily graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx in 1937, so I am now checking yearbooks there for Gilda. If I do find proof that Gilda also attended, it almost surely won’t help determine what happened to her after high school…but at least it’ll mean a photo. [5/17/21 update: two contacts at the school checked the yearbooks from 1937 to 1940 and did not find Gilda.]

Speaking of which, here’s Emily’s yearbook entry (with Harry photobombing):

Allie scoured New York for trace of Gilda, but found no marriage records (either with the Finger surname or with a Gilda marrying a Finger), death records, or cemetery records. Gilda also doesn’t appear on any of the other family records.


Bill married Portia (born Ethel) Epstein in New York on 4/24/1943. (Thanks again to Meghan O’Sullivan, in this case for finding and sending me a scans of the bride/groom ledger.)


Mystery lingers with the Fingers. Rosa…Gilda…even Emily. You all remain in the shadows. For now…

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. (Biologically, she was his half-sister.)

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.