Thursday, February 8, 2024

The 110th Birthday of Batman Co-Creator Bill Finger

Chances are good that unless you are a comic book fan, you have never heard of Bill Finger. Despite this, it seems very likely that you have heard of his most famous creation, Batman. While for much of his life artist Bob Kane took sole credit for the creation of Batman and his mythos, in truth it was Bill Finger who did most of the work in the creation of the Dark Knight. Indeed, Bill Finger even came up with what is now Batman's most famous nickname, "the Dark Knight."

Milton "Bill" Finger was born on February 8 1914 in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to The Bronx, New York City. Bill Finger attended DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx and graduated from there in 1933. Following his graduation. he worked as a part-time shoe salesman and aspired to be a writer. He met artist Bob Kane at a party in 1938 and Kane offered him a job ghost writing the comic book features Rusty and His Pals and Clip Carson.

Following the huge success that National Comics experienced with Superman, the company wanted similar characters. Bob Kane then came up with the idea for a character called "The Bat-Man." Bob Kane then had Bill Finger meet him at his apartment where he showed Mr. Finger a drawing of a character in reddish tights, boots, and a small domino mask. The character wore no gloves. Affixed to the character's back were two stiff, bat wings. Beneath the drawing in large letters was "Batman." Bill Finger made several suggestions to Bob Kane, including a cowl with pointed bat ears, a scalloped cape, and gloves, as well as a darker colour scheme for the costume. Bill Finger's contributions to the character of Batman would not end there. It was Bill Finger who developed the secret identity of Batman, that of playboy Bruce Wayne. He took the first name from Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots from 1306 to 1329, and the last name from Revolutionary War hero and Founding Father Mad Anthony Wayne.

Despite the considerable contributions Bill Finger made to the creation of Batman, when Bob Kane took The Bat-Man to editor Vin Sullivan, he made no mention of Bill Finger or the part he played the character's creation. Bob Kane's contract with Detective Comics Inc. gave Kane sole credit for the creation of Batman, and his signature would appear on every Batman story even when he did not do the art (and, more often than not, the art would be done by such ghost artists as Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, and Shelly Moldoff). When Bob Kane renegotiated his contract in 1946, he did not bother to mention Bill Finger either. What is more, Kane's second contract was even more lucrative than his first. It returned partial ownership of Batman to Bob Kane and included rights of reversion and the ability to veto the sale of Batman to any other company. The contract also guaranteed him a specific number of pages per month at what was then an incredible page rate, as well as a percentage of subsidiary rights.  As to Bill Finger who had done the heavy lifting in creating Batman, all he ever received was his usual page rate.

The fact is that while Bob Kane received the credit and the money for creating Batman, it was Bill Finger who shaped the character as we know him. It seems likely it was Bill Finger who came up with Batman's origin, in which Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered.  He created the character of Commissioner Gordon, who appeared in the very first panel of the very first Batman story. He gave Gotham City its name. He created or co-created the characters of Robin, The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, and many of Batman's other villains. It was Bill Finger who gave Gotham City its name.

While Bill Finger co-created Batman and created much of the character's mythos, he also created other comic book characters. He scripted the early stories of the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and is sometimes credited as co-creator with Martin Nodell. He created the character of Wildcat, with the character's costume designed by artist Irwin Hasen. With artist John Sikela he created Lana Lang, the love interest of Superboy. All three of these characters would have a lasting impact and still appear in the pages of DC Comics titles.

It would take years for Bill Finger to receive recognition as the co-creator of Batman, and Bob Kane continued to insist that he was the sole creator the character even after considerable evidence had emerged about Bill Finger's contributions. It was in 1965 comic book fan and scholar Jerry Bails wrote an article, published in CAPA-Alpha no. 12 (September 1965), that recognized Bill Finger as the co-creator of Batman. As might be expected, Bob Kane strenuously denied the facts in the article. In the following years Bill Finger was increasingly recognized as the co-creator of Batman in comic book fandom. Late in his life even Bob Kane would acknowledge the considerable contributions that Bill Finger made to the Caped Crusader. In his biography Batman and Me, Bob Kane wrote, "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.'"

Even after it was generally accepted that Bill Finger co-created Batman, it would be years before he would be credited as such by DC Comics. It was in 2006 that author Marc Tyler Nobleman began researching Bill Finger's role in the creation of Batman for a non-fiction picture book. Marc Tyler Nobleman uncovered the fact that Bill Finger's son Fred had a daughter, Athena Finger. He contacted Athena Finger and encouraged her to get in touch with DC Comics in order to get credit for Bill Finger as Batman's co-creator. His biography of Bill Finger, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman was published in 2012. It was in 2017, following negotiations with Bill Finger's granddaughter Athena Finger, that DC Entertainment began crediting Bill Finger. In movies Bill Finger was first credited as the co-creator of Batman in the movie Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016). In television he was first credited as the co-creator of Batman on the second season of Gotham. In 2017 a documentary about Marc Tyler Nobleman's research and his efforts to get recognition for Bill Finger, Batman & Bill, premiered on Hulu.

Sadly, Bill Finger died on January 18 1974 when he was only 59, so he never lived to see the recognition he would receive as the co-creator of Batman. Many might find it odd that Bill Finger never tried to receive recognition as Batman's co-creator, let alone any sort of monetary compensation. In Marc Tyler Nobleman's blog, Nobelmania, Jerry Robinson described Bill Finger as, "Very soft. Naive, as most of us were." In the book The Creators of Batman: Bob, Bill & The Dark Knight by Rik Worth, Bill Finger was described as "Easy-going to the point of retiring. He was just grateful to be in the room." In the book The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale, author Tim Hanley writes, "The most common term Finger's associates used to describe him was 'agreeable,' though his son put it far more bluntly when he said, 'My father had a very weak spine.' It seems possible that while Bill Finger was immensely talented and had a right to be credited as the co-creator of Batman, he simply was not capable of standing up to Bob Kane.

It seems likely that had it not been for Bill Finger, Batman may have simply been another obscure comic book character, like The Crimson Avenger or Air Wave, published during the Golden Age of Comic Books. It was Bill Finger who provided Batman with most of the things that come to mind when we think of Batman. everything from his secret identity to Gotham City. And it seems likely that without the supporting characters and mythos that Bill Finger provided Batman, the character might never have taken off. While it is good that Bill Finger is finally being recognized as the co-creator of Batman, he really should have long ago.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

TCM 31 Days of Oscar 2024

As my regular readers know, I have always had mixed feelings about Turner Classic Movie's 31 Days of Oscar, the month-long programming block during which TCM shows movies that were either nominated for an Academy Award or won an Academy Award. On the one hand, throughout the month Turner Classic Movies shows a lot of great movies. On the other hand, TCM's usual programming is pre-empted for the whole month (in other words, no Noir Alley). And while TCM shows a lot of great movies, it is often the case that my favourites are scheduled at awkward times. For example, this year Network (1976) doesn't air until 1:00 in the morning. The Naked City (1948) doesn't air until 1:45 AM. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which one would think TCM would want to air in prime time, doesn't air until 11:00 PM. Sadly, I watch Turner Classic Movies less during 31 Days of Oscar than any other time of year, although I do use the Watch TCM app more than I usually do.

Regardless, this year 31 Days of Oscar runs from Friday, February 9 through the early morning of Monday, March 11. Here are my picks as to what to watch this year. All times are Central.

Friday, February 9
5:00 AM The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
10:15 AM The Band Wagon (1954)
12:15 PM Flower Drum Song (1961)
7:00 PM The Sting (1976)
9:15 PM Roman Holiday (1953)
11:30 PM All That Jazz (1979)

Saturday, February 10
7:00 AM Caged (1950)
11:00 PM Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
1:00 PM Singin' in the Rain (1952)
3:00 PM Harvey (1950)
9:00 PM The Miracle Worker (1962)

Sunday, February 11
8:30 AM The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
12:00 PM My Man Godfrey (1936)
2:00 PM Pillow Talk (1959)
7:00 PM The Razor's Edge (1946)

Monday, February 12
11:00 AM Pride and Prejudice (1940)
1:00 PM Brigadoon (1954)
3:00 PM The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
7:00 PM The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
11:30 PM Black Narcissus (1947)

Tuesday February 13
4:30 AM The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
6:30 AM La Strada (1954)
10:15 AM Woman of the Year (1942)
12:15 PM It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
2:15 PM North by Northwest (1959)
7:00 PM The Great McGinty (1940)

Wednesday, February 14
1:00 AM Network (1976)
2:45 PM Rebecca (1940)
5:00 PM Wuthering Heights (1939)
7:00 PM The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Thursday February 15
5:00 AM The Public Enemy (1931)
11:30 AM The Strange Love of Matha Ivers (1946)
5:15 PM Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Friday, February 16
7:00 PM Bullitt (1948)
9:15 PM The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Saturday, February 17
1:45 AM The Naked City (1948)
10:00 AM Crossfire (1947)
11:30 AM The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
11:14 AM The Fortune Cookie (1966)

Sunday, February 18
2:00 PM Cool Hand Luke (1967)
4::15 The Dirty Dozen (1967)
7:00 PM Topkapi (1964)
11:30 PM Cabaret (1972)

Monday, February 19
7:15 AM Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
8:15 AM The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
3:00 PM Calamity Jane (1953)
9:15 PM The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Tuesday, February 20
12:00 PM Of Mice and Men (1939)
3:30 PM The Harvey Girls (1946)
5:15 PM On the Town (1949)
7:00 PM The Red Shoes (1948)
9:30 PM Spellbound (1945)
11:30 PM Now Voyager (1942)

Wednesday, February 21
8:45 PM Harlan County USA (1976)

Thursday, February 22
1:00 AM Woodstock (1970)
7:00 AM Waterloo Bridge (1940)
9:00 AM The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
12:45 PM National Velvet (1944)
9:00 PM The Black Swan (1942)
11:00 PM The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Friday, February 23
1:00 AM The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
3:00 PM The Blackboard Jungle (1955)
5:00 PM Strangers on a Train (1951)
7:00 PM Laura (1944)
8:45 PM The Defiant Ones (1958)

Saturday, February 24
10:45 AM Suspicion (1941)
12:30 PM Wait Until Dark (1967)
2:30 PM Born Yesterday (1950)
4:30 PM Auntie Mame (1958)
11:45 PM Mildred Pierce (1945)

Sunday, February 25
9:30 AM Baby Doll (1956)
7:00 PM A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
9:15 PM Moonstruck (1987)

Monday, February 26
1:45 PM Forbbiden Planet (1956)
3:30 PM Topper Returns (1941)
5:15 PM Them! (1954)
7:00 PM Fantastic Voyage (1966)
9:00 PM Blithe Spirit (1945)

Tuesday, February 27
1:30 AM Destination Moon (1950)
11:00 AM The Virgin Spring (1960)
7:00 PM 8 1/2 (1963)
9:30 PM Babbette's Feast (1987)

Wednesday, February 28
11:00 AM The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
4:00 PM It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

Thursday, February 29
9:30 AM Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
11:00 AM The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
7:00 PM The Quiet Man (1952)
9:30 PM Giant

Friday, March 1
1:00 AM All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
7:00 AM The Crowd (1928)
8:45 AM Great Expectations (1946)
3:15 PM 12 Angry Men (1957)
7:00 PM Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
9:15 PM A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
11:15 AM Marty (1955)

Saturday, March 2
1:00 AM The Awful Truth (1937)
3:00 AM Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
5:00 AM The Great Dictator (1940)
11:00 PM Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
2:00 PM Elmer Gantry (1960)
4:45 PM East of Eden (1955)
9:45 PM A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Sunday, March 3
12:00 AM Sergeant York (1941)
2:30 AM Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
5:00 AM The Front Page (1931)
11:00 PM Sounder (1972)
1:00 PM Cat Ballou (1965)
3:00 PM The Lost Weekend (1940)
5:00 PM The Goodbye Girl (1977)
9:00 PM To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Monday, March 4
11:00 AM Stagecoach (1939)
12:45 PM The Caine Mutiny (1954)
3:00 PM Picnic (1955)
5:00 PM Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
7:00 PM An American In Paris (1952)
9:00 PM It Happened One Night (1934)
11:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Tuesday, March 5
3:30 AM Grand Hotel (1932)
7:00 AM A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
12:00 PM Anchors Aweigh (1945)
4:45 PM Citizen Kane (1941)
7:00 PM In the Heat of the Night (1967)
9:00 PM Platoon (1988)
11:15 PM No Country For Old Men (2007)

Wednesday, March 6
3:30 AM All the King's Men (1949)
8:45 AM Captain Blood (1935)
11:00 PM Ivanhoe (1952)
1:00 PM The Alamo (1960)
7:00 PM All About Eve (1950)
11:45 PM Going My Way (1944)

Thursday, March 7
9:00 AM 42nd Street (1933)
10:45 AM Foreign Correspondent (1940)
1:00 PM The Letter (1940)
3:00 PM Libeled Lady (1936)
5:00 PM Ninotchka (1939)
7:00 PM Casablanca (1942)

Friday, March 8
12:00 AM My Fair Lady (1964)
10:00 AM The Yearling (1946)
12:15 PM Father of the Bride (1950)
2:00 PM The Music Man (1962)
4:45 PM Mister Roberts (1955)
9:30 PM Annie Hall (1977)
11:15 PM The Apartment (1960)

Saturday, March 9
3:30 AM The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
8:00 AM Top Hat (1935)
10:00 AM The Maltese Falcon (1941)
12:00 PM The Last Emperor (1987)
3:00 PM Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
11:00 PM The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Sunday, March 10 (my birthday)
1:00 PM Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
3:00 PM Gone with the Wind (1939)
10:15 PM Wings (1927)

Monday, March 11
12:45 AM You Can't Take It with You (1938)

Monday, February 5, 2024

Godspeed Don Murray

Don Murray, who was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Bus Stop (1956) and played Sid Fairgate on Knots Landing, died on February 2 2024 at the age of 94.

Don Murray was born on July 31 1929 in Hollywood. He grew up in East Rockaway, New York and attended East Rockaway High School. When he was 19 he attended the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts while working as an usher at CBS for $17 a week. During the Korean War he was a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs and he spent three years working in German and Italian refugee camps as part of the Brethren Volunteer Service.

Don Murray made his television debut in 1950 in an episode of Studio One. The same year he made his film debut in the short subject "Preface to a Life." In the Fifties he appeared in the television shows Robert Montgomery Presents, Lux Video Theatre, Danger, Kraft Television Theatre, Producers' Showcase, The Philco Television Playhouse, Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre, Justice, Appointment with Danger, The United States Steel Hour, The DuPont Show of the Month, and Playhouse 90. He appeared in the movies Bus Stop (1956), The Bachelor Party (1957), A Hatful of Rain (1957), From Hell to Texas (1958), These Thousand Hills (1959), Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), and One Foot in Hell. He appeared on Broadway in The Rose Tattoo, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Hot Corner.

In the Sixties Don Murray was one of the leads on the short-lived Western television series The Outcasts. He appeared in the movies The Hoodlum Priest (1961), Advise & Consent (1962), One Man's Way (1964), Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965), Kid Rodelo (1966), The Plainsman (1966), Sweet Love, Bitter (1967), The Viking Queen (1967), and Childish Things (1969).

In the Seventies Mr. Murray appeared in the movies Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), Call Me By My Rightful Name (1972), Cotter (1973), and Deadly Hero (1975). He appeared on the TV shows The Wonderful World of Disney, Love Story, Amy Prentiss, Police Story, and How the West Was Won. Starting in 1979 he played the regular role of Sid Fairgate on the nighttime soap opera Knots Landing. He appeared on Broadway in Smith; Same Time, Next Year; The Norman Conquests: Table Manners; The Norman Conquests: Round and Round the Garden; and The Norman Conquests: Living Together.

In the early Eighties Don Murray continued to appear as Sid Fairgate on Knots Landing. He starred on the short-lived television show Brand New Life. He guest starred on the shows T. J. Hooker, Hotel, and Matlock. He appeared in the movies in Endless Love (1981), I Am the Cheese (1983), Radioactive Dreams (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Scorpion (1986), Made in Heaven (1987), and Ghosts Can't Do It (1989).

In the Nineties he starred on the short-lived series Sons and Daughters. He guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote; ABC Afternoon Specials; Wings; The Single Guy; The Wonderful World of Disney; and Soldier of Fortune, Inc. He appeared in the movie Internet Love (1998). In the Naughts he appeared in the movies Island Prey (2001) and Elvis is Alive (2001). In the Teens he was a regular on the TV series Twin Peaks: The Return. In the 2020s he appeared in the movie Promise (2021).

Don Murray also directed the movies The Cross and the Switchblade (1970), Damien's Island (1976), Elvis is Alive (2001), and Breathe! (2008). He wrote the story for the Playhouse 90 episode "For I Have Loved Strangers and the two-part Knots Landing episode "Hitchhike." He wrote the feature films The Hoodlum Priest (1961), Childish Things (1969), The Cross and the Switchblade (1970), and Call Me By My Rightful Name (1972).

Don Murray was an extremely talented actor. He was impressive as the loud-mouthed, awkward cowboy Beauregard Decker in Bus Stop, and his nomination for an Academy Award was well-deserved. He gave another impressive performance as Brigham Anderson in Advise and Consent, the United States Senator who admits to a homosexual affair. In A Hatful of Rain, he played Johnny Pope, a Korean War veteran addicted to morphine. His performances on television were no less impressive. On Knots Landing he played Sid Fairgate, who was honest and hard-working, but also afflicted with the worst possible luck. In the Wonderful World of Disney episode "Justin Morgan Had a Horse," he played historical figure Justin Morgan, the horse breeder who developed the Morgan horse breed. He also did a good job as horse owner Wally Hampton in the Murder, She Wrote episode "Bloodlines." Don Murray was very versatile, and throughout his career he played everything from upstanding citizens to ne'er-do-wells. He very good at playing complicated characters. Few actors could boast of the talent that Don Murray had.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Late Great Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers, who appeared in the Rocky films, Predator (1987), and the TV series  The Mandalorian, died on February 1 2024 at the age of 76.

Carl Weathers was born on January 14 1948 in New Orleans. He took to acting while young, acting in plays as far back as elementary school. He was also a star athlete. He earned an athletic scholarship to St. Augustine in New Orleans. He later attended Long Beach Poly High School in California. He played football at Long Beach City College and then San Diego State University. He played for the Oakland Raiders in the NFL and the B.C. Lions in the Canadian Football League. During the off-season he attended San Francisco State University, where he earned his bachelors degree. He would later earn a masters degree in theatre arts.

Carl Weathers made his film debut in 1973 in Magnum Force, playing a demonstrator. He made his television debut in 1975 in an episode of Good Times. It was in 1976 that he first played Apollo Creed in Rocky. He would reprise the role in Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982),  and Rocky IV (1985). In the Seventies he also appeared in the movies Bucktown (1975), The Four Deuces (1975), Friday Foster (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), and Force 10 from Navarone (1978). He guest starred on the television shows Kung Fu, S.W.A.T., The Six Million Dollar Man, Cannon, Switch, Bronk, McCloud, Most Wanted, Starsky and Hutch, Barnaby Jones, Serpico, Delvecchio, The Streets of San Francisco, and Tales of the Unexpected.

In the Eighties he was a regular in the television shows Fortune Dane and Tour of Duty. He appeared in the TV movies Braker, The Defiant Ones, and Dangerous Passion. He appeared in the films Death Hunt (1981), Predator (1987), and Action Jackson (1988). In the Nineties he starred in the television show Street Justice and the final season of the show In the Heat of the Night. He appeared in the mini-series Op Center. He appeared in the movies Hurricane Smith (1992), Happy Gilmore (1996), and Little Nicky (2000). He also began directing episodes of television shows, including episodes of Renegade, Silk Stalkings, Pensacola: Wings of Gold, and Eighteen Wheels of Justice.

In the Naughts Carl Weathers guest starred on the TV shows The Shield, ER, and Psych. He was a regular on the TV show Brothers and narrator on the show Chadam. He appeared in the movies The Sasquatch Gang (2006), and The Comebacks (2007). He directed episodes of the TV shows Strong Medcine, Sheena, and For the People.

In the Teens Carl Weathers had recurring roles on the shows Arrested Development (playing a fictionalized version of himself), Colony, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Justice, and The Mandalorian. He was a voice on the animated series Star Vs. The Forces of Evil. He was guest voice on the animated show Explosion Jones. He guest starred on Magnum P.I. and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He was the voice of Combat Carl in Toy Story 4 (2019). He appeared in the movies Sheriff Tom vs. the Zombies (2013) and Think Like a Man Too (2014). He directed an episode of Hawaii Five-0. In the 2020s he continued to appear on The Mandalorian. He directed episodes of The Last O.G., Law & Order, FBI, Chicago Med, and The Mandalorian.

I think it is safe to say that many will remember Carl Weathers best as Apollo Creed, although many will also remember him as Greef Karga in The Mandalorian. That having been said, he played many other roles throughout this career. He was excellent as Chief Hampton Forbes on In the Heat of the Night. He also gave a good performance as Dillon in Predator. Among his best performances were the episodes of Tour of Duty in which he played Colonel Brewster, an officer devoted to doing what is right. Although best known for his work in action movies, Carl Weathers was also capable of playing in comedies. In Happy Gilmore he played Chubbs, the one-handed former pro golfer who becomes Happy's coach. Carl Weathers was a talented actor and certainly a versatile one.