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Bob Kane Interview (immediately below) • Film Review: A Wink and a Smile


Bob Kane Interview

On May 17, 1994, I conducted a short interview with Batman creator Bob Kane for Entertainment Weekly's "Children's" section, for a piece about famous comics creators' childhood vacations. The Kane capsule, "Caped Camper," ran as part of my EW comic-book column in the July 22, 1994, issue, with the editor taking some minor liberties in condensing the quotes.

Below is the verbatim, previously unpublished short interview with Kane, who died Nov. 3, 1998. His claims regarding aspects of the Batman legend are presented for the historical record. Kane spoke by phone from his home on Fountain Avenue in Los Angeles.

Frank Lovece: [Following description of this EW capsule] I'm also speaking with Stan Lee about his own childhood vacations.

Bob Kane: Stan Lee's a friend of mine. He's the wrong guy to ask about vacations!

I'd go to summer camp, getting out of the hot city to the Adirondack Mountains where I could just be free all summer. I'd have two months of activity, of camping life, canoeing and swimming and exercise and fun-&-games. They'd teach you arts and crafts; you could paint and do sculpture. I did sculptures; I did a head once of Abraham Lincoln, out of clay. In fact, I won first prize when I was about 13. The prize was an extra week of camp. They let me indulge my cartooning; I would do caricatures of the camp teachers.

They'd show cartoons at night, like "Felix the Cat" and "Mickey Mouse," which led me to create "Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse", which was on television in the '50s.

FL: Where were you born and raised?

Kane: I lived in the Bronx originally, then moved to Manhattan when I was about 17. I lived in [Greenwich] Village for awhile. It was very bohemian then; I did painting then.

FL: Do you have kids yourself?

Kane: I have a daughter with my first wife. Debbie's a photographer. She lives in New Jersey. I have one grandson — she has a son.

FL: What are your vacations like today?

Kane: Probably not too different from other people's vacations. I generally mix business with pleasure. We generally take it a bit early; last year we got to Hawaii in May, in the summer we go to Santa Barbara. Generally I play golf and tennis, swim.

I get bored sitting around, so I draw or write. I've been into writing the last several years. I just wrote a screenplay with my wife — she's an actress, Elizabeth Sanders. It's a new superhero which I can't reveal. It's different from Batman and other heroes. It's called the Silver Fox. It's got a great villain, comparable to the Joker.

FL: OK, so, Bob: Who created the Joker?

Kane: Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That's the way I sum it up. But he looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs, [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo. [See movie-poster image above.] There's a photo of Conrad Veidt in my biography, Batman & Me (Eclipse Books, 1989; ISBN 1560600160). So Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, "Here's the Joker." Jerry Robinson had absolutely nothing to do with it. But he'll always say he created it till he dies. He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.

FL: Where's the Silver Fox project right now?

Kane: I have indie financing to produce the film myself, and we'll have a major distributor — we're looking at several major directors who like the script. It looks very promising right now. It's about $18-$20 million [budget].

FL: Do you use a computer? Do you still like typewriters?

Kane: I write longhand sitting by the pool or in my room on the terrace [while on vacation]. When it's peaceful, I can write. At home you have the phone, you have distractions.

I was thinking about this a long time: a superhero, not as a comic book, but as a screenplay, He doesn't dress in the union suit at all. It's the '90s, very modern, Zorro-like, he doesn't have the typical 1940s union suit, like Superman, Spider-Man, Batman. This year, we're hopefully gong to Maui. I'll continue polishing the script over there. It's almost two years in the making.

FL: Your wife's an actress. What kinds of things has she done?

Kane: She's been in soaps — The Edge of Night, a running part, Nurse Barbara, that she created. She did a lot of off-Broadway and theater-in-the-round. She was in the second Batman movie, a small part. She's very good at writing female dialogue. I'm better with superheroes' and villains' dialogue.

FL: Is the Silver Fox a female superhero?

Kane: A man.

FL: I guess it's fun work, if you're doing it on your vacations.

Kane: To me, it's not work. When I draw and I write, I find it relaxing. It's not like 9-to-5, where a man goes to a job and he isn't really interested in the job. Luckily, I get paid for doing what I'd do for nothing.

FL: You've just done four trading cards for DC: Batman & Robin, Batman and the Penguin, Batman and Catwoman, and Batman & Robin with the Joker. Correct?

Kane: Correct.

FL: And you're a "project consultant" on the new Batman movie, which is shooting in September. What's that mean?

Kane: I kinda critique it and put my two cents in for whatever it's worth.

[The mini-interview ends. Later that day, Kane calls back.]

Kane: I didn't want to give you the wrong impression about how much Elizabeth did on "The Sliver Fox." We co-authored it 50-50, and it gets convoluted, but she did half the work, minimum, at least, before the script[ing stage]. I created the main concept of the character itself, and then she added and I added and so forth. It's a full collaboration. I just wanted to give a full credit on it. So just discount some of the other stuff if I minimized what she did.

A Wink and a Smile

(This review of a 2009 documentary feature is one of two that an editor inadvertently assigned to two writers. Following a coin flip, it appears here.)

Burlesque ain't what it used to be back in the days of Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm. What used to be low-culture, albeit artful, bump-and-grind for guys has become avant-garde performance art for gals. It's not about getting men excited, but women — if by excited you mean, "I've always had body issues but now I'm taking ownership of my self-image and becoming an empowered woman liberated of societal preconceptions." This documentary about Seattle's Academy of Burlesque, where average women learn to dress up, strip and tassel-twirl in the old-fashioned way but with a newfangled irony – not to make a career of it but to, y'know, feel better about themselves – can be journalistically spotty but tells its story briskly and well. And it has a chewy, charismatic nugget in founder and headmistress Miss Indigo Blue, who in addition to being a performer has teaching skills and personal style all equally accomplished.

That charisma sometimes makes journalist and first-time filmmaker Deirdre Allen Timmons a bit fannish. And for all the feminist boilerplate spouted by the uniformly earnest, mostly twentysomething students we follow for six weeks, and for all the talk of empowerment and of not caring what other people think, Timmons chooses not to "reveal" the professional performers' real names. When articles in widely distributed Seattle publications write about Miss Indigo Blue, née Amelia Ross-Gilson, a former software-company production manager with a B.A. in anthropology, it's hard to understand why Timmons doesn't do the basic journalistic equivalent of saying "Cedric the Entertainer, born Cedric Antonio Kyles" – or, perhaps more to the point, "Blaze Starr, born Fannie Belle Fleming."

Why is this so pertinent? Because presenting such basic facts, even if the performer may not want you to for her own business reasons, is what separates documentaries from may-as-well-be-infomercials. If there were a reason for the anonymity of Miss Indigo Blue or of assistant teacher The Shanghai Pearl and others amid all these declarations of pride in self, then that itself needs to be addressed, or at the very least mentioned.

Oddly enough, the students, who aren't public figures, are each identified by first and last name. Their stories are a mix, but nearly all involve serious dislike of their bodies – one cyclist and surfer has suffered bulimia for years, an opera singer wants to develop a confident body image onstage, a holistic-medicine student strives to understand the connection between sexuality and the appeal of makeup – though the oldest of the group, who gives her age as 51, says she's learning burlesque to prove she's not a stereotypical mom. All of them seem like intelligent, thinking women – overthinking, even – but there's something profoundly sad about them, even as all but one dropout develop their stage personae and build up to the big recital. Only one of the ten, a married Diane Keaton-lookalike, is mentioned to have a man in their life. Again, this seems a pertinent unaddressed point: The dynamics of an unattached women choosing to study striptease and performing (virtually) Full Monty for an audience is very different from that of woman whose man either supports or is against her doing this.

Interspersed with the classwork are large excerpts of professional burlesque acts – including what's called "boylesque," with gay men – with the standouts being Lily Verlaine's paint-dripping spectacle, in which she is both artist and art, and Ernie von Schmaltz, a woman who essentially does Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton routine of a sleazy male lounge lizard, but with flair a and choreography that masterfully lampoons stereotypical masculinity, albeit stereotypical masculinity from 1963.

A Wink and a Smile should find a solid niche audience, though stereotypically masculine guys should beware: I'm sorry to say, but I would be dishonest if I didn't, that it is not easy to watch a significantly overweight or your average 51-year-old woman stripping. And yes, I know, that's part of the point — that as we a society have to get past that. I know. But still.

Cast: Miss Indigo Blue, The Shanghai Pearl, Diane Bruch, Casey Ellison, Janie Hanson, Megan Keller, Amy Klar, Vicky R. Moczi, Christi Jo Petrucelli, Sara Robinson, Rachel Shimp, Tami Veralund, Lily Verlaine, Ernie von Schmaltz

Credits: Directed by Deirdre Allen Timmons. Producers: Jack Timmons, Deirdre Allen Timmons. Directors of photography: Peter Waweru, Marie Joëlle Rizk. Editors: Deirdre Allen Timmons, Peter Waweru. Golden Echo Films. Distributed by First Run Features. 90 minutes. No rating