“Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television From 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon” is exactly what its title says it is.
Evanston resident Bruce Scivally has produced from comprehensive research and his own experience in television and film a very readable volume that touches on every aspect of the history of Batman except the animated series. He writes about those involved with the character’s production from the superhero’s conception as a comic up through the second film in the most recent incarnation of the Black Knight’s story.
The first chapter, for example, introduces Bob Kane, who “maintained that he alone created the Batman character” for the comics and Sheldon Moldoff and Bill Finger, who served as “Bob Kane’s Ghosts” (the chapter’s title). Their arrangements with Kane made it possible for the comic to be produced at speed and quality with Kane taking all of the credit and almost all of the financial reward. The chapter is fully footnoted, with references to such sources as The Saturday Evening Post (1966); “Batman & Me” (1989), by Bob Kane with Tom Andrae; “Interview with Sheldon Moldoff” in “Alter Ego: The Comic Book Artist Collection” (2001), ed. Thomas Roy; The Chicago Tribune (1979).
Each chapter’s notes appear impeccable. Chapter Five –“Knight Lite” – examines Batman on television. Mr. Scivally sets the historical stage with the harrowing March 16, 1966, emergency splashdown of Neil Armstrong and David Scott on the Gemini VIII. ABC viewers, says Mr. Scivally, complained bitterly “because the network had cut into ‘Batman.’” The endnotes for this chapter alone – among them several citations of newspapers that reported viewers’ outcry against news reports breaking into the show – number 414. Granted, it is a 76-page chapter that covers the superhero’s development up to “Burton’s Batman,” in chapter six.
Mr. Scivally makes use of interviews he has researched by extricating what in them is most relevant and interesting. He tells selected anecdotes succinctly and entertainingly. Much is covered in the book: how stars and supporting actors were picked, how costumes and the Batmobile were created, how filming went, the music, the producers, directors – in short, nothing is left out. Nothing is boring, either.
For those reading this book as an academic resource – the index is to die for. Mae West, for example, is mentioned once and appears in the index.
This book is published by Henry Gray Publishing; that is, Mr. Scivally has published it himself, under the name of his grandfather, “who probably never read anything except the Bible.” For others thinking about self-publishing: This is the way to do it. The book is beautifully edited and proofread. There are no typos. Grammar is excellent. Footnotes and index exquisite. More important, of course, is the content.
The ongoing story of Batman is one of the most influential narratives in American popular culture. It began in 1939 and has continued to evolve to this day, shedding earlier trappings – literally, as Batman’s costumes changed along with his physique – to make today’s cultural icon. The comics and films in which his stories are now told are qualitatively different from those in the ’30s and yet readers recognize him without difficulty. The folk hero’s story will probably be retold – again and again. Mr. Scivally’s book pulls together tightly the story so far: “Billion-Dollar Batman” is impressive – dense, fascinating and well told.
Mr. Scivally came to live in Evanston the long way. He started out in Plevna, Ala., the youngest son of Aileen, a beautician, and Roy, a truck driver, and the youngest brother of Frank, nine years older than he, a career air force officer, and Jeff, with whom Bruce collected comics, two years older, a musician and handyman. Mr. Scivally has “been in love with movies,” he says, since he was little. “At 13, I got my first movie camera for Christmas. … [Jeff and I] made a three-minute movie, then sent it off to be developed.” His first films were “a James Bond spoof and a Batman spoof,” he says. “To say they were low budget … They were no-budget!”
At 18, after graduating from Buckhorn High School in New Market, Ala., Mr. Scivally headed to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to attend film school. He majored in cinema history and criticism, and did “extra” work between semesters.
“If you see ‘Breathless’ with Richard Gere,” he says, “I’m in that, about ten minutes into it.” He was also in the TV movie “Desperate Lives.” He says, “It was $50 for a day, 10-12 hours. You wanted them to go into overtime, because you’d get paid twice as much.”
He stayed in LA and worked in the film industry for 26 years. He worked in business offices, adapted books into scripts and temped in various capacities. He co-edited “The Special Effects and Stunt Guide” (Lone Eagle, 1989) with Tassilo Baur and “James Bond: The Legacy” (Abrams, 2002)with John Cork, another Bond fan from Alabama, who Mr. Scivally met at USC.
Mr. Scivally says he has especially enjoyed making documentary films – special features for DVDs, while working with Mr. Cork at his Cloverland Production Company. As producer, director and writer, Mr. Scivally’s work includes special-edition DVD releases of the James Bond films and other classics in their genres such as the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto detective film series, “The Pink Panther,“ “The Great Escape,” “A Bridge Too Far,” “Legally Blonde,” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”
Mr. Scivally came to Evanston to be with his wife of six years, actress and comedian Sandra Bogan. Ms. Bogan had spent some time in LA previously, and went back for a time to do standup comedy. This was when Mr. Scivally and she met. When she returned to Evanston, he was still working on DVD productions and a book on Superman.
The tanking of the national economy took its toll in LA, however, as it did everywhere else; the work he was doing, “basically disappeared,” he says. Mr. Scivally commuted for nine months, and then moved to Evanston, where Ms. Bogan now substitute teaches. He says, “I really like Evanston. I love this street [Central]. I thought about moving more into the city, because I work downtown, but this is even better. I just come out of my house and go to the Metra.”
The writer says he had always wanted to teach and has enjoyed very much the opportunities that moving here has brought him. He teaches screenwriting, film history, the history of motion media, film theory and pre-production at Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago and Columbia College Chicago, and has also taught at Facets Multimedia and Flashpoint Academy. “I really, really love teaching,” he says.
With “Billion Dollar Batman,” Mr. Scivally says, he has hoped to “set the record straight a little bit. No one knew Kane was a piece of work.” With his books and his teaching, he also wants to “reach people who know nothing about this stuff. I teach students who haven’t seen anything before the 1990s,” he says, incredulous.
Mr. Scivally has also written articles for film magazines and a definitive book on Superman similar to “Billion Dollar Batman,” titled “Superman on Film, Television, Radio and Broadway” (2007).” His next project, he says, is on the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” films. Mr. Scivally will be at the “Superman Celebration” in – of course – Metropolis, Ill., June 6-9, 2013.
More information and signed copies of Mr. Scivally’s books are available at his website, http://www.brucescivally.com.