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Research peaks, rejection horrors, promotion gambles, and other adventures in publishing from a picture book author, "Nickelodeon" writer, and cartoonist.
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I consider myself lucky that Ross MacDonald illustrated Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.
He was exceptional to work with and is now a friend. But the book came out in 2008. Why interview him now?Because I should have done it then. With respect to Bill Finger, I often say “Justice has no expiration date.” Same is true with good content.Besides, the book is still a book... What attracted you to illustrating Boys of Steel? It’s a great story about the guys—boys, really—who [created] arguably the first, and certainly the most iconic, superhero.I had grown up reading the Superman comics of the ‘60s. They were fun when I was young. The art in those was clean and accomplished, but a little bland. [But] the stories had devolved (degenerated?) into these convoluted yet simplistic plots involving time travel, Superman trying to keep Lois from finding out his secret identity, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and an ever-expanding rainbow of Kryptonites.As an adult, I came to really appreciate the artwork and storylines of the early, dark comic books and Sunday comics of the ‘40s. Joe Shuster’s art and the dark gripping plots of the early Superman comics came as a huge revelation. You used brown for Jerry Siegel’s clothes and green for Joe Shuster’s. Did you incorporate any other recurring visual motifs? Jerry is kinda tubby and Joe was rail thin. But they almost looked like brothers in many ways. Both had similar glasses and hair, and like every single male American of the time, they wore suits. All the time. They even have the same initials, so keeping their names straight is difficult, too.They looked similar enough that just making one heavy and one skinny wasn’t quite enough to tell them apart. So I gave them each their own color scheme. That was something you saw in the old comics—the characters often only had one suit (I guess that was probably true in real life at the time, too), and it helped make the comic panels a quicker read. Villains often had purple or orange suits, and Clark Kent’s was always true blue.Another thing I tried to do was to make the illustrations that showed Joe and Jerry’s real life have a nice muted color scheme but the scenes they imagine are bright, pulpy, comic colors. What is your favorite piece of art from Boys of Steel? Much as I liked drawing Superman, my favorite piece is Joe sketching on the back of wallpaper scraps in the unheated kitchen of his mother’s apartment while she washes dishes in the background. What piece of Boys of Steel art was the most challenging to create? Another fave—Jerry sitting at his typewriter in front of his bedroom window while the neighborhood kids play outside. What was the most annoying request I made?
All of them—just kidding. I don’t remember any requests, frankly. Maybe they were so annoying I blanked them out!
Do you have any unused art you can share, especially cover sketches?
Like most of the book, the cover was a one-sketch kinda deal. There are a couple of alternate versions of the title page, though.
Any particularly memorable feedback you’ve gotten for your work on the book? Charlie Kochman, formerly an editor at DC Comics, now at Abrams Image, really loved the book. It felt good getting praise from someone who worked at the house that published Superman comics from the very beginning. Anything else about the experience you’d like to add? Great working with you on this, and it was fun helping to tell the interesting creation story of one of my childhood heroes.
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My daughter’s name is Lara. It was one of the few female names my wife and I agreed on. I don’t remember who proposed it, but I know it was on the list I started in my early twenties. (Yes, I am that guy.) And I know my wife latched onto it after being swept up by Doctor Zhivago (which I still have not seen).
Though my wife might never believe me, and I can barely believe this myself, in deciding on the name for our baby girl, I did not remember that the name of Superman’s biological mother is Lara. In other words, I didn’t secretly propose/go along with the name because of my fondness for the Man of Steel.
My son’s name is Rafael. It was, I believe, the only male name my wife and I agreed on. (One of my first choices—Clark—was nixed even faster than I nixed one of her first choices…Fritz. Cut some slack. She’s German.)
I’m Jewish and because my wife is not, she gave her blessing for our son’s Hebrew name to be “Kal-El”—which is Superman’s Kryptonian name. Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was not yet out so my life was not yet so linked to Superman, but even then I felt going this route would be too fannish. I did not want our son—who may not care a whit about Superman—to be saddled with a Hebrew name he would not be able to say without a sigh.
So instead, we chose “Emet”—“truth” in Hebrew. (This was inspired by the motto of my alma mater, Brandeis University: “Truth even unto its innermost parts.”)
And just like I had a revelation only after naming our daughter, I had one with our son as well. I recently realized that, perhaps subconsciously, I did saddle him with a Superman name after all:
In 2010, my book Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day (grades 2-3), illustrated by Mike Moran (whom I have still not met), came out.
In 2012, my author friend Jennifer Allison (whose son portrayed Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel for a school project) asked for recommendations for good cartoonists.
I suggested Mike.
And he was the one hired to illustrate Jennifer’s 2013 book Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training.I love when this happens!
(It’s the first time this has happened.)
(For me, anyway.)
Good luck with Iggy, Jennifer and Mike!
On the Barnes & Noble in Bethesda, MD is a quotation that could have been the subtitle for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. (What? The one I ended up using is long, too.)
My friend Jamie Reigle is one of the world’s foremost collectors and purveyors of Superman memorabilia. I’ve mentioned him here before, and not only because he so kindly distributed hundreds (of the tens of thousands) of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman postcards over the years.In the summer of 2013, among the tributes acknowledging the 75th anniversary of Superman, the Cleveland Jewish News produced a special commemorative section; Jamie was profiled.
There were a lot:
Mentioned and pictured: the page proofs of Boys of Steel signed by as many members of the Siegel and Shuster families as Jamie could round up.His sons are named Kalel and Lex. I trust Jamie has a plan to prevent young Lex from using his genius for evil…and I know I’m not the first to make that joke.
After a talk I gave at a Virginia elementary school in 11/13, one of the teachers, Nancy Wykoff, introduced herself...as the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.
Naturally I asked to interview her. Luckily she said yes. (Photos may be forthcoming.)
Your grandfather died in 1947 so I presume you never met him?
No, I never met my grandfather.
According to family who knew him, what kind of person was he?
My grandfather was a kind man. He was brilliant. Very bright. He not only created Wonder Woman, but he created the first lie detector. He loved his children and he loved women!
Any funny stories about him? In particular any funny Wonder Woman-related stories?
He died when my dad was 13 so most of the stories came from my grandmother. Stories say that he modeled Wonder Woman after Elizabeth Marston but my grandmother, Olive Richard, claims that Wonder Woman was designed after her. If you ever see a picture of the two ladies, you would see that indeed Wonder Woman was designed after my grandmother.
Bill Marston had four children with two different women. All the children, three boys and one girl, have Marston as their last name. My grandmother Olive met Bill when she was 19. Bill came home to his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and asked if Olive could come live with them. Elizabeth agreed. Olive was the homemaker and Elizabeth was an attorney for Met Life.
After Bill died, the women raised the kids together and continued to live together until their death. The children were well educated, Andover Prep School and Harvard. My dad was an attorney and Byrne was a doctor. The two children from Elizabeth, Pete and Olive Ann, I am not as close to. Pete and O.A. are still living and live in Connecticut. I am very close to my Uncle Byrne. We see him and his family quite often. He lives in Florida. My dad [came] to Washington D.C. to attend law school, moved to Arlington, Virginia, and I am still here!
Do you know what inspired him to create Wonder Woman?
Bill Marston said that he wanted a superhero that females could identify with. The few that were around then were characters that boys idolized or wanted to be, so he wanted to have a woman superhero. As you can tell, Bill loved women! He certainly created a well-shaped female!
Do you know about any controversy he had to deal with surrounding Wonder Woman?
I don't know if there was any controversy...
Do you what his opinion of Wonder Woman was?
I think he wanted WW to be a female who was strong, self-sufficient, and could help solve the world's problems. She used her lasso to get people to tell the truth (hence the lie detector connection), flew around in her invisible plane, and helped fight crime. What is not to love about that? She came from Amazonia, a land of strong women, goddesses... Remember Bill loved women. Fantasy, strong women, shapely...Wonder Woman.
Is Wonder Woman mentioned on his gravestone?
I am not sure. My dad spent many years of his life being angry at his father. Since there were two women living in his house, neighbors and peers often teased him about being a "bastard child" of Bill Marston. My dad was really confused and pissed off. I have never been to my grandfather’s grave. To be honest, I am not sure where he was buried. I think New York. That is where they were living when Bill died. I will have to find that out for you.
What is the oldest piece of Wonder Woman memorabilia you own?
We own a few of the first sketches for the first comic Wonder Woman. We have the original script for the first comic and we have the first comic book published. We even have the first lie detector! I know, it should be in the Smithsonian or someplace like that!
I understand that your family still owns Wonder Woman. Does that mean that DC Comics needs the family's approval for all Wonder Woman stories and products?
Yes, they need family approval before any decisions are made.
Have you been interviewed before about this?
Do you pay attention to the narrative changes DC has made to the character?
We wish they would go back to the kinder, gentler WW. I am not thrilled with the new look.
Who would you like to see play Wonder Woman in a movie? [NOTE: Question asked before Gal Godot was cast for the 2016 Superman/Batman movie...but no matter, she will not be the last actress to portray Wonder Woman.]
I liked Jessica Biel. They also had another choice, a woman from Mexico, I think. She was a good choice. I think he character needs to be young to attract the young girl audience. Too old and you lose that. I can't tell you how many kids at my school have WW stuff. The girls love her!
Were you ever Wonder Woman for Halloween?
Yes! So was my daughter!
What do the kids in the family think of the family's connection to Wonder Woman?
They think it is awesome! They so want a movie to be made. They think it isn't fair that Batman and Superman have had so many movies already. When they tell friends that their great grandfather created WW, most friends don't believe them!
On a side note, my great grandmother is Margaret Sanger. When the kids mention her, then there is total doubt! That is what used to happen to me when I was younger. My friends would say, “There is no way your dad's dad created WW and your great-grandmother started Planned Parenthood!” It is true!
My son's middle name is Marston and my daughter's middle name is Sanger…so it continues... :)
A stage play about Marston.
A review recently in for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Creator of Batman contains some choice comments:
MTN (all the cool people go by their initials, RDJ, JGL, JCP) writes the book in a large picture book format seemingly gearing it towards younger children yet it’s mood, story and historical content will appeal to much older readers.
[Nobleman] and Templeton (or TT)…are simply trying to right a wrong done to a humble, creative genius of a storyteller. There is hope in this tale. Perhaps by aiming to a young audience and appealing to the adult fans, the story of unsung heroes like Finger will inspire others to stand up for the silent ones.
I was surprisingly moved despite the children’s book style and format. You may have passed on it because of that but you should really check it out. Nobleman is very passionate about this and it comes through in his story. Templeton is an inspired choice as illustrator. I’m recommending this as a buy. Not just a buy but also a give. Yes, give this book to a casual fan.
By the way, I had to look up those initials.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Have No Idea.
Today, Bill Finger’s lone grandchild, Athena Finger, makes her first appearance at a comic convention, in St. Louis. In Bill’s entire career, he appeared for certain at one con and possibly one more. Athena will overtake him before the year is out.
Here is the bio I helped her whip up for her primetime debut:
Athena Finger knew all along that she was the lone grandchild of Bill Finger, co-creator and original writer of Batman…it was Batman fans who didn’t know. Born two years after Bill died, Athena never met her grandfather, but heard about him from her father Fred. When Athena got married, she kept her maiden name out of respect for the man who gave life not only to her (indirectly) but also to the world’s most popular superhero. Since Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder, found out about Athena in 2007, she has slowly made her presence known to comicdom. She lives in Florida with her son Ben and teaches math at Broward College.
Friends and I got to talking and I mentioned I plan to develop apps based on a few of my books. One friend, Sara, said, “Bill Finger?”
We then collaborated on the idea for such an app: open the app and walk by any comic containing any Batman story and it will tell you if that Batman story was written by Bill Finger.
In March 2013, during the Q&A after an educators conference in Georgia, a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory suggested I send a copy of each book to the show. Though I don’t watch it (heresy!), I know it regularly references superheroes. I didn’t see what the producers might do with my books...yet this audience member kept kindly suggesting (almost insisting), and eventually I was convinced.
What did I want from this? Well, this woman seemed to think the true stories in these books could inspire a storyline on the show. I felt that is probably unlikely, but I am a never-hurts-to-try guy. In any case, I’d be thrilled if either or both could be added to the set, even if for just a scene. I believe they are the kinds of books the characters would own...
On Facebook, I asked if anyone in my network has a connection to anyone connected to the show, and within minutes, I heard from a friend who is friends with Kaley Cuoco’s makeup artist. She happened to be supremely nice, and offered to pass along my books, so I sent them to her. Every time I followed up, she was equally nice and complimentary.
As of now, nothing has come of it. But you can’t predict a big bang…
According to the official Warner Bros. release kicking off the 75th anniversary of Batman, he debuted (via Detective Comics #27) on March 30, 1939.
Also of note in that release: no use of the word “creator.”
In 1989, coinciding with Tim Burton’s Batman, Bob Kane’s autobiography came out.
But as with most of the output Bob’s name is on, he did not create it alone. His co-author was Thomas Andrae, who through my Bill Finger research became a friend.
Though I’ve known for a while how important Tom is to Bill’s legacy, given what he’d told me about how he’d persuaded Bob to include Bill in the book as much as possible, I only recently realized that this story-behind-the-story should be documented. In my eyes, what Tom did on Bill’s behalf was heroic.
Interview answers © Thomas Andrae 2014.
How did you come to co-author Bob Kane’s autobiography Batman & Me?
I had done an interview with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1981. It was reprinted in the Overstreet Price Guide in 1988, in celebration of Superman’s fiftieth anniversary. I thought it might be a good idea to follow this up with an interview with Bob Kane for Batman’s fiftieth anniversary in the 1989 Price Guide, so I contacted Bob and he was amenable to the project. When I went down to interview Bob, he told me that he had written his autobiography. [It was] a very long manuscript (about 800 pages) that wasn’t publishable. It was too self-centered according to those of us who read it. There were far too many uses of “I” in it, for example.[But] I...thought, in the interest of comics history, the manuscript should be published, [so I] offered to find a publisher.
What was your job/primary work focus at the time?
I was a graduate student and working for Bruce Hamilton at Another Rainbow Publishing as an editor of the Carl Barks Library 30-volume set of his works.
Carl Barks and Tom Andrae
Had you met Bob before you began the book?
This was the first time I contacted him.
What was your first impression of Bob?
He was a very charming guy and quite friendly. Bruce Hamilton and I went down to L.A. together to meet him. After the inteview, we went out to dinner with him and his wife Elizabeth.
Did you meet with him in person to discuss/write the book? If so, how often and where? If not, how did you work together?
I didn’t meet with him again in person. We had many phone discussions and some correspondence for about a year or more while working on the book and when we were producing and marketing it. In this period I got to know Bob quite well, and he seemed fairly open about his life, up to a point. I felt that we were friends. I edited [the book], took out some chapters, and created a number of new chapters based on interviews with him and on my own research. All in all I probably wrote close to half the book in this manner. Did your impression of him change during the process?
Yes. He had a tremendous ego, although he was very insecure. I asked for a byline and got one. He pretty much had to do this: I was supposed to get the manuscript into publishable shape—which was quite a task. I was responsible for not only rewriting the book but for advertising it, formatting it, and getting a publisher for it.
But he told the publisher that my byline was too big so they reduced its size. From what I gather from others who had worked with Bob, I think that I was lucky to receive a byline at all. It may have been a first.
How was he to work with?
Pretty easy, but he could be temperamental. When Bob Overstreet decided to go with a Jerry Robinson cover rather than one by Bob, [Bob] threatened to nix the publication of the interview. I convinced him otherwise, because we were taking orders for the book in an ad in the Price Guide and it would have sabotaged the book project to kill printing the interview.
No one wanted to publish his bio until I asked Eclipse to do it. I got the idea to take out a pre-publication ad for the book that appeared in the 1989 Price Guide. We received 1,500 orders; that proved it was a viable project and helped get a publisher for it. I did all the work in this initial stage of order-taking.
Do you remember how the subject of Bill Finger first came up during the process?
Yes. Bob felt guilty about how he had treated Bill, although he was afraid to acknowledge Bill as co-creator of Batman, or to give him a byline, for fear it might open the door to a challenge to Bob’s legal status as the sole creator of Batman. He feared a [Finger] byline would quite negatively impact his Batman royalties.
What was Bob’s reaction when you suggested including Bill?
It was Bob’s idea to give Bill some credit for having invented aspects of the costume and for creating the Joker. But Bob also claimed he co-created many of the villains since he, Bill, and Jerry discussed everything before it was published and Bob drew the art for the stories with the characters.
But Bob was mistaken about who created what, such as the Penquin or Catwoman, which were Bill’s creations, and Jerry did much of the art as well, with Bob and sometimes without him. In general, Bob failed to give Bill credit for creating most of Batman’s villains, claiming that he created them. Bob’s memory was not very good. Also, he was willing to go only so far in giving Bill credit.
I tried to add more about Bill’s contributions in creating the initial concept and image of Batman, but Bob refused to include them, claiming that he, not Bill, was the creator of Batman, which was a gross exaggeration.
Did Bob express—or did you glean—his personal feeling about Bill Finger?
I think he liked Bill and genuinely felt guilty about how he had treated him and how Bill ended up in near poverty when he died. Bob confessed that his ego prevented him from giving Bill the credit he deserved. But his attempt to remedy this was, in my mind, quite, quite inadequate. Also, he never gave others, like Shelly Moldoff, who was his ghost artist for twenty years, any credit, nor Jerry Robinson for his creation of the Joker. Bob expressed a lot of anger towards Jerry, stemming, I think, from being jealous of him, of his artistic ability, and of the recognition that he had received.
When you say “Bob confessed that his ego prevented him from giving Bill the credit he deserved,” what do you mean exactly—that Bob was willing to say in print that Bill’s name deserves to be on Batman (as the book does) but not go so far as to ask DC to officially change the credit line?
I think he meant that he should have put Bill’s name on the Batman strip when it appeared. But the point is moot because I don’t think he would ever put Bill’s name on Batman. He never gave byline credit to any of his ghosts.
What do you remember about the passage that stands out most to me: “Now that my long-time friend and collaborator is gone, I must admit that Bill never received the fame and recognition he deserved. He was an unsung hero ... I often tell my wife, if I could go back fifteen years, before he died, I would like to say ‘I’ll put your name on it now. You deserve it.’” How did Bob feel to include that—nervous? Conflicted? Redeemed? Other?
I believe that Bob sincerely felt some remorse about how he had treated Bill. He describes his spiritual conversion in Batman & Me. But Bob never felt guilty enough, in my estimation, or realized the full extent of Bill’s contribution. Bob was asked to give Bill credit as co-creator by the Finger estate when the first Batman feature film was in production and he declined.
Have you seen my account of this? If so, do you remember any other details that I didn’t cover?
I’m reporting what Bob told me about his decision in a conversation with him. I don’t think you covered this.
How did you feel convincing Bob to include more Bill?
I felt that it was a slight victory in correcting a massive injustice, but too little too late.
Did you talk with Bob’s wife Elizabeth during the process? If so, how was that/she?
She was a very nice, sweet person, but knew little about Bob’s work, so we didn’t talk about the book.
Do you know what her reaction was when Bob would tell her that he felt Bill deserved credit for Batman? Perhaps first I should ask if you believe he actually did tell her that?
Yes, he did, but I don’t know what her reaction was.
Do you remember if you asked Bob if he would consider recasting his contract with DC Comics to reflect his statement about Bill? If so, what was his response?
He was not amenable to this and told me so.
How honest do you feel Bob was in recounting stories?
I think he was fairly honest but too self-centered to see reality clearly enough and had a bad memory to boot. His ego was always in the way. He primarily remembered what he did on Batman—and that was usually inflated—rather than others’ contributions. I constantly had to fact-check what he told me because he had a predisposition to aggrandize his work on Batman.
What was the media response to the book?
We got some favorable media attention, but not going on The Tonight Show like Bob thought would happen.
What was Bob’s feeling about the final product? Do you think it got the recognition he wanted? Do you think he did not get anything he wanted from it?
He liked the book very much and frequently carried it around with him when he went on public appearances. But he was a little disgruntled that I cut out some of his nostalgic asides. He was a garrulous writer. No one would publish it until I asked Dean Mulanney and Cat Yronwode to do it. I designed four editions including a signed edition with Bob’s original art that sold very well. I think Bob made over $200,000 on the book plus more on the second edition
Professionally, what did the book do for your career?
Nothing in academia but I got some credibility among fans and the popular press.
Is there anything about the book you would now change if you could?
Give full credit to Bill as Batman’s co-creator and give him a byline indicating that, and give full credit to Jerry Robinson and the other artists who did much of the work that Bob got credit for. I would have liked Bob to publicly acknowledge Jerry as the Joker’s creator and Shelly Moldoff as the chief artist on Batman for the decades that he drew the strip.
Were you involved with the “sequel,” Batman & Me: The Saga Continues? If so, how was that process compared to working on the first autobiography?
Yes. I edited most of the new material; Bob took my name off the cover (though it’s still on the title page).
What do you think Bob Kane’s legacy is?
I think that Bob was responsible for creating the original germ of the idea of a Batman superhero, which Bill fleshed out and made viable, and for partially drawing the strip for a number of years. I think that Bob’s art, crude as it was, gave the strip an Expressionistic, nightmarish look which helped establish the gothic ambiance of the early stories. To me, the art he did with Jerry as his ghost was very compelling. Thus he made a great contribution to Batman’s legacy. Unfortunately his treatment of Bill, Jerry, and Shelly is a dishonorable part of that legacy.
Anything you’d like to add?
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my role in creating the book. This is the first time I’ve done so publicly.
I was happy to receive an email from a Phil Z., the guitarist of a late 1970s band out of Hawaii called Hamlet. The band also featured Mick Smiley…before he became Mick Smiley. (I’m not at liberty to reveal his original name.)
You may not realize that you already know Mick—if you’ve seen Ghostbusters, that is. And who hasn’t?
Mick was the mind and voice behind a distinctive song from its soundtrack and one of the more hypnotic songs you’ll ever hear: “Magic.”
After years of having the pleasure of listening to that song, I had the privilege of interviewing Mick.
Phil mentioned a few songs by Mick’s follow up band—the Mick Smiley Band: “Hello There,” “Big Brown Eyes,” Oh Linda! 461-7264,” and “Room at the Top.”
“I remember being a youngster backstage between shows in the green room with Mick Smiley and Lou Reed,” Phil wrote. “It was such a cool time! I was just a kid.”
And who wasn’t?
at the Troubadour in Hollywood, 1979
For years, the Screen Actors Guild ran a toll-free phone number called “Actors to Locate.”
Though designed for casting directors and journalists, in practice anyone could use it to request contact info for up to three film actors per call; no charge, no automated system (yes, a live person answered), no questions asked. (Of course, they would not give out personal phone numbers or addresses but rather, typically, the number of the actor’s agent or manager.)
Though the info on file was sometimes outdated, this service helped in my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and particularly as I prepared my two big interview series to date: ‘70s and ‘80s superhero entertainers and music video ingénues.
In 2012, SAG merged with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and perhaps as part of that reorg, the Actors to Locate number went away, despite what this December 2013 screenshot from the SAG-AFTRA site indicates:
However, the service did not…it was reborn as a web-only feature (which is more efficient anyway).
But reborn with another change.
I was told that SAG-AFTRA would now give access to what they had renamed iActor only to casting directors or producers who are working with SAG-AFTRA projects and no longer to people seeking members for charitable organizations, personal appearances, speaking requests, interview requests, or modeling requests.
In other words, I was no longer eligible.
I called to ask if I could appeal. The person I reached kindly said she had heard from a number of people who fell outside the “casting directors and producers” category, many with what seemed to be valid reasons for wanting access to iActor. She suggested I plead my case in writing and she’d submit it—with others—to the decision makers.
This is what I submitted:
I’m the author of more than 70 books including Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. My work has been covered by The Hollywood Reporter, NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show, USA Today, Forbes, NBC, ABC, PBS, MTV, Yahoo; two of my books inspired a TED talk.
I often profile former actors who have long been out of the spotlight yet are still fondly remembered by fans, the kind of people who have never been interviewed before and are, in most cases, thrilled and honored that someone took the time and effort to track them down. In doing so, I have been able to help some of these inactive performers receive royalties that had been accumulating for them but which could not be sent because SAG/etc. did not have their current contact info and did not have luck finding them.
Whenever combining whatever info SAG had with my own detective work has led to success, I direct the talent back to SAG to update their record. Sometimes once they are “found,” they then are hired to appear at conventions for which they are paid. They are very grateful.
Among the people I found and directed to update their SAG record:
Examples of my work in which SAG is invaluable:
Creating such content is hard enough as it is, and even harder without access to agents/managers (though many of these people no longer have agents).
Such features benefit all involved, both emotionally and financially—it gives former performers a chance to discover they have fans (and often royalties) and gives fans original, hard-to-come-by interviews/content. It seems to me that this is one beneficial application of the iActor service.
For these reasons, I am hoping to appeal and get access to iActor just as I had to Actors to Locate. I hope it is clear that I don’t abuse the privilege; I use it to help and showcase others.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.
I was granted access.
And so the intermittent Hollywood-related research continues.
Courtesy of the thorough and tireless and stylish Bill Finger Appreciation Group:
Robin (Dick Grayson)
Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
Catwoman Penguin Commissioner James Gordon Lana Lang
A profile now recognizable among Batman fans
I interviewed voice actor Buster Jones for the Super ‘70s and ‘80s series.
More images Buster sent:
Buster recently in Los Angeles
On 3/20-21/14, I had the privilege of speaking at four schools in lovely Charlottesville, VA:
- Stone-Robinson Elementary
- Baker-Butler Elementary
- Agnor-Hurt Elementary
- Sutherland Middle
This school district obviously has a thing for hyphens.
Baker-Butler had on display an actual size igloo ingeniously made by librarian Anita Mays and a partner…out of empty milk containers.They followed the procedure as described in the 1981 book propped up on the black cube (only subbing gallon jugs for snow bricks). They also turned the installation into a teaching moment, as seen by the question posed on the whiteboard.
Speaking of ingenious, Baker-Butler also showcased a 2nd grade art project involving two notable artists. This is one mashup I’d not seen before, and I think it’s wonderful.
Sutherland was holding a school event immediately following my afternoon presentation. Spot the clue:Answer:You can tell by the way I use my walk I’m in middle schoolNo time to talk
Thank you to the four librarians who hosted me, and to the Virginia Festival of the Book for arranging the visits.
On 2/24/14, I had the honor of presenting at Gregory-Portland Intermediate School in Portland, TX (near Corpus Christi) for the second year in a row.
Another round of thanks to Cati (first syllable rhymes with “cat,” not “Kate”) Partridge for inviting me to speak with her students.
As before, the school (particularly library aide Cindy) created award-worthy displays to welcome me:
Prop pay phone! (I told Cati that there is no pressure to outdo themselves each time!)
And I had another honor this trip: I got to meet the genuine and articulate Ron Dennis, who is a friend of Cati’s and who is the grandson of Walter Dennis…who is a possible visual inspiration for Clark Kent.
I’d forgotten that I already knew of Walter; he is mentioned (and pictured!) in Superman: The Complete History.
Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels
Superman: The Complete History, page 19
Ron was kind to answer some questions:
me with Clark Kent
me with Superman
I’ve published about 75 books and my name is properly on the cover of about 73 of them.
In my first years as an author, I wrote quite a few work-for-hire books. Educational publishers would develop a series (on, say, animals or countries) and divvy up the titles among multiple writers. They’d email me a list of the available topics and I’d choose the ones that most appealed, but often, the overarching subject was not a particular passion. It was a chance to get paid to write, which was closer to my goal than getting paid to do something in an office.
Authors do not tend to read work-for-hire contracts as carefully as contracts in which we will be retaining ownership rights. Therefore, I did not know that I was agreeing to an undesirable credit situation until the book came out…twice.
The first instance was with a book published in 2005. I wrote a humorous yet practical guide called How to Do a Belly Flop, which was a companion to a book that I was not involved in, How to Give a Wedgie.
Did anyone not write this book? One of the authors of Wedgie was David Borgenicht, who also co-authored the massively successful Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook series. So the publishers of Belly Flop wanted to take marketing advantage of that name (and his brother’s, who apparently co-authored Wedgie).
I understand it. I just didn’t like being blindsided with not one but two names under mine on the cover of a book I wrote all by myself. But unlike Bill Finger, at least my name was there.
The second instance was with two short novels published in 2009:This case was a bit more galling because the name plastered on the cover was not even a real person. “Jake Maddox” was a pseudonym created to group together a large set of sports and adventure novels written by various authors.
My name is on the title page of these two books, but the wording rankled me.
It doesn’t say “story by” but rather “text by,” which sounds mechanical, not creative. I realize the editor was trying to distinguish from the implied “written by,” but it sounds like I was the guy who typed in someone else’s words. As with Belly Flop, at least I am credited, but I wonder how young readers make sense of seeing both the mysterious Maddox and my name on the title page.
And now as I recount this, I’m vaguely remembering that the contracts for these two books actually may not have stated the possibility of assigning credit elsewhere, meaning even if I read them, I’d have been surprised when the books came out…but since I no longer have my copies of the contracts, I can’t doublecheck.
Splash, the mermaid romantic comedy directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, and John Candy, was released on 3/9/84.If it has been a while since you’ve seen it, you may have forgotten just how funny it is.In honor of its 30th anniversary, here is the first-ever interview with David Kreps and Shayla MacKarvich Wingfield, the actors who played Hanks and Hannah as kids in the flashback opening scene.
Photos of them today are below.(After conducting this interview, I learned that David grew up living down the street from a friend of mine who currently lives down the street from me.)How old were you when you appeared in Splash?
Shayla: I celebrated my 7th birthday while shooting in the Bahamas! How many 7-year-olds have Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah, John Candy, and Ron Howard at their birthday party? Well…they didn’t throw me a party, but I celebrated it in their company. I don’t remember what I did for my 6th or 8th birthday, but I sure remember my 7th!
Where were you living at the time?
Shayla: Miami, FL; born and raised.
David: Miami Beach.
How were you cast?
Shayla: I had been doing print modeling and TV commercials pretty much my whole life and heard about the casting call through my agent. Well, through my mom from my agent. Having attended many casting calls before from my experience in commercials, I didn’t think much of it. But I vividly remember arriving at the hotel where the casting call was being held and being amazed by how many people were there! I had never seen that many people before for a casting call.
I remember I had an interview in front of the camera, then had to get in the pool and pretend to swim like a mermaid. I would like to think I was cast because of my acting skills, but I actually think it was how well I could swim like a mermaid that sealed the deal.
David: My mom was a stylist so would always drag me to sets and castings. Most of the agencies in Miami knew us, so when Splash was looking for a young Tom Hanks, they called us to try out. I went on a couple auditions and had to show that I could swim.
Shayla and her mom
Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?
Shayla: I remember being surprised. There were so many people at the casting that I knew it was a long shot. I was only six at the time, so although I knew being in a movie was a big deal, I don’t think I fully grasped it. I was excited for sure, but I remember my family being really excited. Especially my mom—she had spent so much of her time taking me all over town for casting calls, fittings, photo shoots, etc. while I was modeling and doing commercials, so to get cast in something as big as a feature film was definitely very exciting!
David: Incredibly happy and excited. Especially loved that they picked me over my older brother.
Where was your scene filmed?
Shayla: Nassau, Bahamas (Paradise Island, Nassau, I think).
How long was the shoot?
Shayla: I was there for about a week but the weather was bad so they sent us back to Miami for about another week until the weather cleared. The second shoot was about five more days. What I remember most was that my scenes were actually some of the final ones shot for the whole movie so they wrapped the shoot while I was down there and I got to go to the wrap party! I thought it was cool to get to go to a big party with all the big movie stars, but I was only seven, so I remember mainly just having fun with my co-star (David) while all the adults had fun together!
David: Around a week, but not positive.
How did you feel being a part of the movie?
Shayla: I was definitely very excited and thought it was super fun getting to go to the Bahamas with my mom to shoot the movie, but it mostly just felt like another fun day at the beach with a bunch of people I didn’t know. All of the crew was so nice though and really made me feel special which made the shoot memorable. It did not really hit me how big of a deal it was to actually be in the movie, though, until it was released in theatres.
David: It was awesome. No one was really famous at the time of shooting so it was more about being able to miss school and play around in the Bahamas.
What was the hardest part of the shoot?
Shayla: Definitely being topless! I hated wearing bikinis when I was little. I was even self-conscious of showing my belly button. I knew ahead of time I would have to be topless since I was playing a mermaid and I was terrified!
David: Can’t remember there being any hard parts. It was probably harder on them trying to control me. How were the underwater shots filmed? Not really in the ocean, I presume?
Shayla: Actually, all scenes were filmed in the ocean! We were right off of the beach in Nassau, and they had scuba divers all around us that we could go to for air if we needed to. Just another day at the beach for a Miami native.
David: They shot some of the underwater scenes in the pool as well as the ocean. Being from Miami, I grew up on the water swimming, fishing and diving, so it wasn’t challenging for me.What do you remember about working with Ron Howard? Did you know him from Happy Days?
Shayla: I knew that Ron Howard was in Happy Days and that it was a very big show, but I was too young to really watch the show. I remember being confused why he was the director instead of an actor, but I do remember that he was incredibly nice to work with.
David: I had no idea who he was. He did get upset with me once for not showing enough sadness when the mermaid left. I kept on laughing.
Tom Hanks is on the right (in the blue Speedo).
What do you remember about your interactions with Tom Hanks, John Candy, or any of the other stars who were not in your scene?
Shayla: I met Tom Hanks, John Candy, Daryl Hannah, and Eugene Levy. I knew who Tom and John were, but not Daryl and Eugene. All of them were amazing!
But I will never forget meeting Daryl Hannah. As I mentioned before, I was very self-conscious about not wearing a top, so the crew took me to meet Daryl for the first time while she was in makeup—which was a major process. She actually had to swim in that mermaid tail, and was in makeup for hours to glue all the pieces onto her belly to make it look natural. Then they put gold makeup all over her chest and arms with an elaborate shell necklace.
The first time I met her, I might as well have been meeting a princess! I couldn’t believe it when I saw all that beautiful long blonde hair and that mermaid tail. She also had to be topless, which is why they took me to see her. She was so sweet and showed me the big necklace and all the gold makeup that had been put on her, and told me that I would be getting the same thing. She assured me I would be just as covered up as if I had a bathing suit on, only way prettier! She was so incredibly sweet.
David: I just met Tom and Daryl. Clearly we are on first name basis.
Any funny stories from the shoot?
Shayla: Back to the topless thing again…I was playing on the beach on the set knowing I was about to be called to shoot one of my scenes. I was ready and happy. Then all of the sudden Ron Howard yells into his bullhorn (megaphone…whatever you call it), “Okay, Shayla, we’re ready for your scene. We need you to take your top off now.” I instantly started bawling crying; I was completely terrified.
Next thing I know I was in the water and the camera was shooting me while I was crying the whole time, and all I wanted was my mom! Fast forward to the movie’s release, and everyone remembers me as the little Madison who was crying as Allen was taken away. Everyone complimented me on what a wonderful actress I was because my crying was so believable. Little did they know…
David: One night John Candy and I went out boozing. I wish. Don’t really remember any funny stories worth retelling.
Anything go wrong on the shoot?
Shayla: Just the weather causing delays.
David: Not that I was aware of.
What did you think of the movie?
Shayla: I really and truly absolutely loved it! I remember my family and I being so surprised when it came out. We didn’t realize at the time I filmed just how funny this movie really was. We still laugh when we see it on cable today, and I know we would feel the same even if I wasn’t in it. Truly a timeless film and I am so honored to have been a part of it.
David: I remember going to the theatre to see it with all my friends and family. We waited to see my name in the credits. It was great.
What did your parents think of it?
Shayla: Same as above, but my mom also thinks so fondly of the whole experience since the whole cast and crew were all so great.
David: What parent wouldn’t love seeing their kid on the big screen? They loved it and bragged about to all of their friends.
What did your friends think of it?
Shayla: My close friends absolutely loved it and thought it was so cool I was in it and wanted to know everything about my experience. Unfortunately, later, when I was in about 4th or 5th grade, some kids found a way to tease me about it which actually made me self-conscious about it for a while. Even though they didn’t know me, I was labeled as a snob because I was in a movie. I went through a stage where I didn’t want people to know I was in it because I didn’t want them to think I was a snob. Kids can be so mean sometimes and it is so sad that has to happen.
David: Not many kids get to do this so they thought it was the coolest thing ever. They still bring it up to this day…but more in a teasing manner.
Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what do you remember about it?
Shayla: This part is definitely the most memorable for me. Although I didn’t attend the premiere, I did [go to the movie] opening day at my local theatre, The Falls in Miami. I went with my family super excited to see it, but thought our trip to the movies would otherwise be like every other trip to the movies. When we showed up to the theatre, there was a huge line so my family and I took our place in the back of the line.
My parents asked the people in front of us what movie the long line was for and they said Splash. My parents then told them that I was in the movie and somehow that news ended up making it all the way to the front of the line. Next thing I knew, someone from the theatre came up to us in the line and invited us into the theatre, gave us popcorn and drinks, and let us take our seats.
After the movie, as we were in the lobby, all these people started coming up to me asking me for autographs. I went to the bathroom and literally as I was in the stall, I could hear a girl telling her mom, “Mommy, Madison is in the potty next to me.” I couldn’t believe it! All these people wanted to meet me and it was exciting, but very strange to me at the same time.
David: Didn’t attend a proper premiere. But went to the opening night in the theatre.
Did the movie ever affect your dating life in any way (i.e. when you first told boyfriends you were in it)?
Shayla: Not really. I kind of kept it quiet after some kids had made fun of me for it during my later years in elementary school.
David: The girls loved it. Splash was a serious panty dropper. Ha ha.
Did you receive fan mail? If so, do you still have any of it?
Shayla: I don’t think I ever did. I do not remember any. But I do get people who contact me via Facebook from time to time.
What were you paid?
Shayla: No idea! My mom said I was paid SAG movie scale…whatever that means!
David: I honestly don’t remember exactly what I got but to this day receive residual checks for every time it plays.
Were you ever recognized in public? How often and when last? Any stories about that?
Shayla: I don’t think I have ever really been recognized in public, but people who already knew me but didn’t know I was in the movie would come up to me and ask me because they happened to see my name in the credits.
Did you appear in other movies after that?
Shayla: No—well, not really. I shot a scene for another one, but it was never released and I can’t even remember the name anymore. As a Miami native, I did appear in two segments on Miami Vice. That was pretty cool and it felt like being in another movie.
David: Small part in Police Academy 5. But mostly did commercials.
Did you two keep in touch, and if so, when were you last in touch?
Shayla: We remained friends for several years after the movie as we were both in the modeling and commercial world, and our moms also became friends so we did get together socially from time to time. I think I lost touch with him toward the end of middle school, but I have great memories of him and his family. Would love to reconnect, if even just to be friends on Facebook! He is definitely one of the more memorable friends from my young childhood. I feel like I remember hearing he planned to study film in college?
David: We kept in touch for only a couple years. Growing up, I would always see her at castings. We actually used to do a lot of print work together.
If you went to college, where and what did you study?
Shayla: I thought I was destined to be a University of Florida girl, but moved from Miami to Atlanta during my senior year of high school. Visited the University of Georgia campus and fell in love instantly. I had a great four years in Athens, GA and got my bachelor’s degree in marketing. GO DAWGS!
David: Business at Babson College.
What are you doing these days?
Shayla: I own a children’s store in the Buckhead area of Atlanta called Pretty Please (Instagram: @loveprettyplease). It is an upscale boutique that offers whimsical children’s apparel, décor, accessories, and gifts for newborns through tweens. I own the store with my sister, Keely, who started the store in 2004 in Destin, FL.
There are times when I find my mind drifting thinking of what my life would be like if I had pursued an acting career, then I realize what it means to me to be working with my best friend and be part of a local, family-owned business, and I realize I am doing exactly what I am meant to do!
We both have so much fun with all the whimsy and imagination involved in finding unique products for children. It is our dream to have a TV show about all the ways kids can express their personalities through creative décor and fashion…we are both huge HGTV fans and would love to do something similar that focuses on kids. David: Real estate development.
Where do you live?
If you are/were married, what was your future husband’s reaction when he learned you were in this movie?
Shayla: I married a wonderful man seven years ago. We met when I was working in real estate in my late 20s. It’s funny because he is a huge movie fan, especially ‘80s movies. Shortly after we started dating, I came home only to walk in the door and see my scene from the movie freeze-framed on the TV. He immediately started laughing…“It’s you! On the 20th anniversary edition!” I had no idea it was the 20th anniversary, but he had bought it and surprised me.
David: My wife was impressed and thought it was the coolest thing ever when she was in elementary school (we are old family friends). Now, probably not so much. However, my wife and mom are ready to put our son to work.
Shayla: I have a beautiful 5-year-old girl. She absolutely loves to perform! She is very drawn to singing and drama. My family is the most amazing blessing and they bring me so much joy.
David: Six-month-old boy.
Shayla, does your daughter know about the movie yet?
Shayla: She gets excited when daddy shows her mommy on TV. She’ll ask me questions about being a mermaid like, “Could you breathe underwater?” or ask me why I was crying, but I’m not sure she fully understands since it doesn’t really look like me.
What did you think when you first heard from me?
Shayla: That you were possibly a stalker. Sorry… Then when I realized you probably weren’t, I actually thought it was odd that you would want to talk to me. I know the movie was a huge hit in the ‘80s but my part was so small, it was hard for me to believe you would want to interview me!
David: Surprised…wasn’t sure many people would be interested, but flattered.
Has anyone else ever interviewed you about this? If so, when and for what publication?
Shayla: Some local newspapers and magazines did shortly after the movie came out, but I really can’t remember what they were.
David: No, but I’ve been waiting 30 years for this. LOL.
How do you look back on the experience?
Shayla: I have to say, answering your questions was very fun and I appreciate you reaching out to me since it helped me stop and think about what an awesome experience the whole thing was. Thirty years is a long time, but taking a moment to really look back on it, I am so grateful that I got to be a part of this fantastic movie!
David: It was a great experience. Can’t believe I played a part in a movie that has turned out to be one of the biggest of the ‘80s.
Anything you’d like to add?
Shayla: I think you pretty much covered it…great questions!
All photos courtesy of David and Shayla; please no reuse without permission.You may also like my interviews with women who starred in iconic 1980s music videos, from a-ha to ZZ Top.
Bill Finger died on January 18, 1974, in New York City.
The main mind behind Batman received no obituary in the New York Times.
Or anywhere else.
Except in The Amazing World of DC Comics #1:
I’m not dismissing this; I am glad someone did something. But Bill deserved so much more attention.
And who says an obituary must be published immediately after a passing?
Therefore, some time ago, I proposed to, I think, the New York Times and to the Huffington Post that I write Bill’s obituary to be run now.
I am not suggesting a standard obit but rather a feature presented as an obit with an intro explaining that an actual obit should’ve run 40 years ago and this is a humble attempt to rectify that oversight. It is unthinkable now that someone of his cultural significance could die with no fanfare.
Because it’s Batman, and because Batman fans are passionately frustrated by Finger’s neglect, and because Batman is a New York story, I am confident that this particular approach would get a lot of attention—considerably more than a straightforward article. How often do you see a “posthumous obituary” (you know what I mean)?
I’ve long dreamed of seeing an obit for Finger in the NYT, the paper of the city in which he radically changed pop culture...
I did not hear back.
One of the things that Bill Finger, star of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, was known for was including larger-than-life everyday objects in his scripts. I contacted the Kevin, hoping there would be an opportunity to borrow/rent his titanic typewriter for a Bill the Boy Wonder promotional event in New York. While oversized cool, the typewriter alone would not be enough.
At BookExpo America 2010, I was thrilled to see a 10x10 foot typewriter in the booth of Abrams Books (to promote the book Monumental: The Reimagined World of Kevin O’Callaghan):
We’d need a Batman as well. And I knew just the one:
inspired by the Mego dolls of the 1970s…AKA 68% of my childhood I didn’t hear back, and no such event materialized, but the vision persists in my mind.
The main theater for the “Batman at 75: To All a Dark Knight” panel at the Paley Center in New York on 5/5/14 is sold out. Seats are still available for the closed-circuit seating areas.After the panel, the panelists (Kevin Conroy, Chip Kidd, Kevin Smith, Michael Uslan, myself) will retire to a special undisclosed location to enjoy a Dark Knightcap.
“I've been lucky to moderate some cool pop-culture events over the years, but there's one on the horizon that may take the cake.”
—Whitney Matheson, USA Today’s “Pop Candy” and moderator of the panel
The first round of sketches Ty Templeton did for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman contained a striking piece that unfortunately did not make it into the book.
It’s art to accompany the brief account of Batman’s origin, and though the tragedy of young Bruce Wayne’s parents is expressed in the text, I felt showing it so graphically would make the book a challenge to read aloud in schools.
Published here for the first time (unless it’s already been on Ty’s blog and I missed that!), the first proposed sketch for the origin scene:
Final art from the book:
Roberto Williams is the director of an upcoming play in the Bronx called Fathers of the Dark Knight. It will feature the first known theatrical portrayal of Bill Finger. The production values look exceptional.We recently exchanged messages regarding the play and the Google doodle campaign. He kindly permitted me to share the following humbling excerpt:
I tell you, Marc, this thing has grown SOOO much larger than the simple school play I was originally planning with my students two years ago when I first was inspired by a copy of Bill the Boy Wonder…
You're been an inspiration to MANY people, Marc, with your crusade to get Bill is proper recognition.
Keep an eye here for more on the play, in particular when and where it will run.
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…is the second ever, and the first Spanish-language book on Bill Finger. The author is the ace researcher David Hernando.
Batman: Serenata Nocturna. El origen del Caballero Oscuro (Batman: Night Serenade. The Origin of the Dark Knight) is a hardcover, 160-page Spanish book on Bill Finger to be published in Spain in May 2014. It follows, in a fiction style narrative, all of Bill Finger's life and legacy, based on interviews and statements from Dennis O'Neil, Jens Robinson, Gary Groth, Denis Kitchen, Michael Uslan, Brad Meltzer, Gerard Jones, Danny Fingeroth, Graham Nolan, and Alan Porter, among others, like the unique contributions from Marc Tyler Nobleman and Athena Finger, Bill’s only grandchild. The book will feature an introduction by Roy Thomas and a cover by Paco Roca, one of the best-selling graphic novel authors in Spain today.A glimpse at the evolution of the cover, which ends beautifully:
Note the paperweight.
And gimmick books.And Popular Mechanics.
And tweed jacket.
And the shape of the papers on the floor...
As I alluded to above, Finger is in good hands here.