The Clubhouse; Fanzine Reviews: “ … such dewy-eyed neofen.”


Fanzine reviews: The Harp Stateside

The Harp Stateside (February 1957) Part Two.

Faned: Walt Willis

As I mentioned in the first part of this review of THE HARP STATESIDE, Walt Willis’ account of his 1952 trip to America to attend Chicon II in Chicago, the title is taken from his fannish column THE HARP THAT ONCE OR TWICE which in turn was taken from Jame’s Joyce’s ULYSSES. While checking WARHOON #28, Richard Bergeron’s massive compendium of Walt Willis writings, I came across the original passage quoted at length for context. Here it is:

QUOTE

“Only the harp. Lovely gold glowering light. Girl touched it. Poop of a lovely. Gravy’s rather good fit for a. Golden ship. Erin. The harp that once or twice. Cool hands. Ben Howth, the rhododendrons. We are their harps. I. He. Old. Young.” ULSSYES 1922.

END QUOTE

Well, we all know James Joyce was quite the kidder. Easy to see where Walt Willis got his sense of humour.

THURSDAY ARRIVAL AT THE MORRISON HOTEL FOR CHICON II.

QUOTE

By next afternoon, after the three breakdowns, we were so late that the driver just didn’t care anymore … what with the nervous tension and the heat—the last few buses had no air-conditioning—I was a wreck when we did arrive. I dragged my luggage out and looked around the bus station. Lee Hoffman and Bob Tucker were right in front of me, but for a few seconds I didn’t see them. Maybe I had never really believed they were real people. Then they suddenly came into focus: I thought they were just like their photographs, only different. Better-looking, for one thing, and in colour.

END QUOTE

Walt found out later that Tucker, considered the number one fan of the era—having surpassed Forrest J. Ackerman—had concocted a sinister plot in which Willis would be shown into his hotel room only to discover the ravishing young femme fan Ginny Saari naked in his bed, whereupon the house detective was supposed to break in, followed by an outraged Tucker, and a fake gun battle fought with blanks was to follow. Oddly enough, Tucker was unable to arrange this. Probably just as well.

QUOTE

Tucker took over and whisked us all efficiently to the hotel by cab … In my own room Lee enrolled me into the Confederate Army and issued me with a peaked cap bearing the initials FLEAC. In case there is anyone in fandom I didn’t explain this to at the Masquerade Ball, it stands for “Fandom’s Leading Expert & Critic”, a distinction conferred on me in a NEW WORLDS article describing the members of the International Fantasy Award Panel. Vin¢ Clarke has never let me live it down, though I pointed out to him that I had reviewed a book once and that “expert” was obviously just a misprint for “export.”

END QUOTE

In those days, at least among fans, an enthusiasm for the trappings of the lost cause of the Confederacy, at least among Southern fans, was a bit of a put-on and considered on a par with enthusiasm for the POGO comic strip or any other bit of fannish eccentricity designed to separate fandom from mundania. Nowadays, what with the history of the Confederacy being “adopted” by the extreme right in this politically charged era, the idea that jokes and pranks concerning the Confederate cause could be viewed as harmless and fun may seem inconceivable to young moderns, but it was the case back then, at least in fandom. An example of how times and perceptions change.

QUOTE

Over the meal Hoffman & Tucker told me all about how they’d been waiting for me for three hours and had gone to wait in the railroad station because it had a much nicer waiting room … I told them of my adventures in America so far. Suddenly there was a stunned silence as everyone realised what an extraordinary thing was happening. We could understand one another! … I made three puns; hearing the third and worst, Tucker shook me solemnly by the hand, saying he was convinced I wasn’t an imposter even if I didn’t have an Irish accent.

On the elevator back upstairs we were privileged to be the first to encounter Bellhop No. 31—also known, at least to the elevator girl, as “Loverboy.” He revealed himself to be no ordinary bellhop, but a fan. He was thrilled to find a science fiction convention being held under his nose … said if there was anything we fellow fans wanted, anything at all, we were to call on him … of course there would be no question of payment … when Loverboy imported a couple of call-girls into a poker school room they were shunned until taken over by two rival pros. It is reported that Tucker’s anguish on learning the true facts was heartrending. “Of course, they weren’t pretty,” he cried, “but My Ghod, for free!”

END QUOTE

One more fact about “loverboy.” According to Harry Warner Jr., he claimed slipping him a couple of bucks would solve any problem with the house detectives. A few fans found out the hard way this was not exactly true.

QUOTE

The party that evening consisted of us four—Lee, Bea, Tucker & me—plus Robert Bloch, Marty Greenberg, Dave Kyle and Evelyn Gold. It kept moving from room to room to keep from getting any bigger, on a sort of reversal of the snowball principle. Every now and then someone would ring up asking if there was a party there and somebody would answer “Communist Party Headquarters” while the others talked gutturally about atom bombs and the NKVD. If the inquirer persisted he’d be told to call in five minutes and the Party would pick up its drinks and steal away. Thus it was after midnight before we made another recruit. Tucker greeted him with a too innocent inquiry as to why he wasn’t writing in ASF these days and I guessed it was George O. Smith.

END QUOTE

Lee Hoffman the famous femme fan (to use an old expression) who edited QUANDRY, Bea Mahaffey a well-known Chicago fan who edited the prozine OTHER WORLDS, Bob Tucker famous for his humour in LE ZOMBIE, Robert Bloch a fan already turning vile pro, Marty Greenberg one of the founders of Midwestcon, Dave Kyle one of the original New York Futurians of the late 1930s, Evelyn Gold I believe was the wife of H.L. Gold, founder and editor of the prozine GALAXY, and George O. Smith a pro writer since the 1940s, famed for his VENUS EQUILATERAL series of short stories. Quite a superb gathering of interesting conversationalists!

Walt finally got to bed circa 3:00 AM.


FRIDAY AT CHICON II WORLDCON

QUOTE

I went to bed for the first time in three days. I must have got up again a little later that Friday, but I don’t remember it. In fact the whole day was a complete blank until I read Gregg Calkin’s report in OOPSLA.

END QUOTE

This evidently triggered Walt’s memory because he then wrote four short sentences followed by a run-on stream-of-consciousness sentence filling several pages. Evidently Walt spent most of the day prowling the halls looking for people to talk to. Not a difficult quest for him, as you may judge from the following selections.

QUOTE

… Howard Browne who said he knew I didn’t think much of AMAZING but didn’t I think the new FANTASTIC was all right and they had printed a quarter million copies of it and he hoped the fans liked it and he seemed very pleasant and almost deferential and I remembered all the rude things I had said about him and was quite taken aback to find he had read them because I never think of anyone reading my stuff except for a few friends …

… went to say hello to Forry Ackerman whom I was now meeting for the third time—London, Belfast, Chicago—and we shouted at each other for a few minutes … I said hey you come and meet Lee Hoffman because it was one of my pet ambitions to introduce two of America’s all-time top fans to one another so we went outside the convention suite and I introduced Forry Ackerman to Lee Hoffman fan historians please note and we all sat at the end of the corridor outside the suite and talked just as Gregg says and after a while the place was full of BNFs what with Lee & 4e & Tucker & Bloch & Keasler & Calkins & Elsberry & beyond them a sea of faces stretching as far as the horizon …

END QUOTE

Max Keasler was described by Harry Warner Jr. as “a sort of Harlan Ellison no one ever got angry with.” He was famous for his very informal zines FANVARIETY and its successor OPUS. As Lee Hoffman later put it: “Max was the personification of Sixth Fandom in America: young, witty, enthusiastic. He openly avowed that he never read science fiction. He blazed across the fan skies, speaking in interlineations, publishing monthly, filling the world with Ray Nelson drawings. Then he disappeared.” (Because he joined the Navy.)

Gregg Calkins was the editor of OOPSLA! Which Harry Warner Jr. stated “played a major role in the trend toward emphasis on material with the slimmest connection with science fiction or none at all” and which was noted for the high quality of the writings of its contributors (including Walt Willis).

Rich Elsberry was a BNF (Big Name Fan) of the day in part because of his numerous articles in various fanzines. He was also slightly notorious, having been the principal author of a 1950 hoax con report re “The First Science Fiction Invitational Convention” which allegedly featured talks by Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, and a panel discussion titled “Can Fandom Get Along Without Homosexuals?”

QUOTE

… I fell among the hucksters again more or less the same crowd as last night except that something new had been added called Jim Webbert only of course I didn’t know who he was and took him for another vile pro although he kept offering me cigarettes and exploding his lighter under my nose because I don’t think he knew who I was either but figured that if I was with the pros I must be important enough to be offered cigarettes to and it turned out he had a notebook with all the important people’s preferences in cigarettes and drinks listed and everyone was amused when Tucker asked had he sexual preferences listed too …

END QUOTE

Webbert was an example of a neophyte fan determined to become a BNF as quickly as possible. He later calmed down and was quite active in American fandom at least as late as the 1970s and possibly longer.

QUOTE

… I just waited and watched Max Keasler throwing a one-man exhibition of his serious artwork which seemed just like his unserious artwork except that the girls were a bit more twisted looking and I was thrilled to find myself sitting beside Ray Nelson who I think is one of the few true geniuses in fandom and tried to get him to promise to do me some cartoons not knowing this was the wrong approach because Ray never promises to do cartoons he just does them and what you have to do is follow him around with a scratch pad and a pencil and put them in front of him whenever he sits down and you’re liable to get it because I saw him later turning out masterpieces for Max at the rate of one per minute which made me jealous since all I’d got was one little cartoon which I’m beginning to be dreadfully afraid I’ve lost …

END QUOTE

Ray Faraday Nelson is still actively providing zines with wonderful drawings last I heard. He is famous, having discovered a propeller beanie in a joke shop[ (so legend has it), for being the first fan artist to draw fans wearing them, and for being “so prolific as a fanzine cartoonist that he singlehandedly popularized the propeller beanie as a fannish symbol.” Just in case you were wondering how that fannish icon came into existence. Ray did it.

QUOTE

… I wanted to see if the Terrace Casino was available for the tape-recording of Lee’s FANNIUS MCCAINIUS Gregg Calkins wanted to make with the original cast and in the lobby I ran across Lee Hoffman whom I hadn’t seen since morning and we went down to the Terrance Casino but instead of fans it was full up of peculiar people like accountants or Catholic girls or something …

END QUOTE

During the war a few fans made use of record cutting equipment to record messages. Post-war wire recordings became fairly common. By 1950 tape recorders were available. Many fans exchanged reels, Lee Hoffman being among the most noteworthy. Two famous British recordings presented at conventions in the 1950s were THE MARCH OF SLIME and LAST AND FIRST FEN. I assume FANNIUS MCCAINIUS was a similar bit of light-hearted fannish creativity.

But the significant part of the quote is the reference to Catholic girls. The hotel was also playing host to a meeting of “The Catholic League of Decency” and as Harry Warner Jr. put it “… the young girls attending it were quartered across a courtyard from many fan’s rooms, and few of them drew the shades at night.” He described this as one of the convention’s “unprogrammed attractions.”

QUOTE

… we accompanied Sam Moskowitz to Wimpey’s Glorified Hamburger where we drank several chocolate malts and talked about one thing and probably another but the only thing I can remember is how wonderful chocolate malts were so that I swore a mighty oath that I would drain Chicago dry of chocolate malt but I had the job only half finished when we went back to the hotel and roamed around talking to lots of people but none of them seem to have written a convention report yet so I don’t know who they were.

END QUOTE

Sam Moskowitz the legendary New York fan who wrote THE IMMORTAL STORM, a history of 1930s fandom, the only book ever written, as one critic put it, in which the outbreak of World War Two came as an anticlimax.

Art work by ATom (Arthur Thomson).

NEXT COLUMN: THE FIRST OFFICIAL DAY OF THE CONVENTION.

BY THE WAY:

You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines

You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project

You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive

And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine

And then check out my newest new website, devoted to my paying market SF&F fiction semi-pro zine Polar Borealis, at Polar Borealis Magazine

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