Virgil Warden Finlay was born July 23, 1914 in Rochester, NY. His father, Warden Hugh Finlay, was of Irish ancestry, and was a wood-lathe worker at a furniture shop. His mother, Ruth Finlay, raised their two children, Virgil and his younger sister Jean. They lived at the grandparent's home at 1220 Clifford Avenue. In 1935, when Virgil was 18 years old, his father died at age 40. This tragic event left the family to fend for themselves during the Great Depression. After high school Virgil Finlay worked as a house painter and also an assembly-line worker at a radio manufacturer. He sent unsolicited illustrations to his favorite pulp magazine, Weird Tales, and he was soon thrilled to recieve his first payments as a published freelance artist.
In 1938 he moved to New York City and studied art at night classes at the Mechanics Institute, which is a socially conscious institution created by philanthropists to offer free technical classes to workers and their families.
Finlay found steady work illustrating for The American Weekly. He also did interior art for pulp magazines such as Amazing, Fantastic Adventures, Strange Stories, and Captain Future.
He married his high school sweetheart from Rochester, NY, Beverly Stiles, on November 16, 1938. They moved to 55 Cobalt Lane in Westbury, on Long Island, where they raised their daughter, Lail.
During WWII, Finlay served in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer on Okinawa.
After the war, he resumed his freelance art career by creating interior illustrations and cover paintings for Fantastic Novels, Super Science Stories, Thrilling Wonder, and Famous Fantastic Mysteries.
In the 1950s Virgil Finlay worked for digest magazines like Astrology, Famous Science Fiction, If, and Galaxy. He also experimented with abstract art, creating large paintings on canvas.
In the 1960s he worked for Magazine of Horror and even some DC comic books.
Finaly also wrote poetry throughout his life, but it has only been published posthumously.
He died of cancer at age 56 on January 18, 1971.
© David Saunders 2009