Saturday, September 18, 2021

“I knew Bill Finger at Army Pictorial Center, here are some stories”

Six years ago today, DC Comics announced that Bill Finger would begin receiving official credit on Batman stories. 

In 2006, you had never heard of Bill Finger and I had just begun researching him. I asked the military for help.

Bill’s friend Charles Sinclair had told me that Bill was a freelance writer for the Army Pictorial Center in Queens, NY, in the late 1960s. Bill’s second wife Lyn said he hated the job.

At that time, I had only two photos of Bill (in a baseball cap, golfing), and the next two I scrounged were too grainy to be of much use. So I reasoned that if any place was likely to have more, it would be a pictorial center.

The APC kindly put out the word to its network (here and here).

And this week—yes, 15 (!) years later—I finally heard from someone. (That’s what prompted me to revisit my 2006 pleas, where, alas, I saw that one included a long-gone email of mine and the other had no email at all. I wonder how many others tried to reach me…)

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman came out in 2012, and Batman & Bill in 2017, but I continue to add to Bills story whenever I can. That’s partly what this blog is for.

The subject line of the email (now also the title of this post) was a jolt of electricity. The gentleman who kindly reached out is a retired, impressive multi-hyphenate (writer-producer-director-consultant-Vietnam vet-more) named Tim W. Hrastar. He does not have photos of Bill but does have some great anecdotes. I’ll let him speak for himself (lightly edited):

The end of 1968 and first five or so months of 1969, I was an Army Signal Corps Lieutenant stationed at the Army Pictorial Center as the Information Officer. 

My fellow young officers and I would usually have lunch with Bill Finger, Bert Channon (producer), Sam Robins (writer), and a few others. We would go to this diner-deli down the street. After, we would stop at a used book store a few doors away. 

One day I bought this very used Batman comic book in paperback and had Bill autograph it for me. The inscription has to do with me as the Information Officer (I did very little of anything in that position, just waited for my Vietnam orders) and [referenced himself] as the “ghost of Batman.” He also wrote on the cover “Vote for Tim Hrastar.” 

Because few known examples of Bill’s handwriting survive,
this is an especially exciting find.

At the time Bill was pretty bald on top, with long frizzy hair that stuck out on the sides. He smoked cigarettes with a cigarette holder, like the Penguin. He once told me that when they developed Robin as Batman’s sidekick, it was supposed to be a joke. They called him “Robin Rabinowitz.” As you know Bill was Jewish, and Rabinowitz is a Jewish name. They probably just used it as an inside joke. 

I remember him saying once that he didn’t get credit as co-creator of Batman, but shrugged it off as “but I [did get] credit for other things.” 

He was a character. We enjoyed hanging with him, and I think he liked hanging out with us young guys, too.

APC photos are from an APC brochure and courtesy of Bob Fulstone.


Billy Hogan said...

What a great anecdote!

Vampire Hater! said...

I'm glad you did this research but why and how? I mean why did you do it? Why you? I mean. And how did you know? How did you find out that Bill Finger created Batman? Oh and could you please tell Wikipedia that Tessie was not his real Mom it was Rosa. I tried to but they refuse to except it and since then I've been blocked. Please? Thank-you. :)

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Vampire Hater. The answers to your "why" and "how" questions are in the book "Bill the Boy Wonder," the documentary "Batman & Bill," and in 300+ posts on this blog. So not a short answer! Good catch re: Wikipedia.