Thursday, July 6, 2017
The WPA, The Bat, and The Batman
Above: A WPA poster promoting the WPA's performance of the The Bat, a play originally produced by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood in 1920. The play tells the story of a criminal who dresses like a bat and, according to Wikipedia's page for The Bat, it was a commercial success and led to three films (1926, 1930, and 1959). The WPA performed the play at least twice, in Los Angeles, from June 30 through July 11, 1936, and in New York on December 10, 11, and 12, 1936. Image courtesy of George Mason University, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.
Above: A WPA poster promoting the WPA's performance of Dracula. The WPA performed the play in Los Angeles, from February 15 through February 27, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The comic book character Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and first appeared in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. According to a May 6, 2014 article in The Atlantic, "Batman's Traumatic Origins," by Professor of Psychiatry Richard A. Warshak, Kane was inspired by Rinehart and Hopwood's The Bat, specifically the 1930 movie version of it, as well as the fictional characters Zorro and Dracula, and even one of Leonardo Da Vinci's flying machine drawings. I don't have any information that the WPA's performance of The Bat had any influence on Kane or Finger, but it seems both of them were living in New York City at the time of the WPA's production. Perhaps they saw it. We'll probably never know for sure, but the loose relationship between all of the events is interesting. The late 1930s and early 1940s brought into being many other comic book characters that are still very popular today: Superman (1938), Wonder Woman (1941), Green Lantern (1940), and the Flash (1940), to name just a few.