(Illo: Stu Shiffman: Bloch the man on the flying trapeze)
Reprinted from Grils #2, edited by Joyce Fisher, Sue Robinson, & Pam Janisch. 1969
I have written elsewhere that a science fiction convention is like an old-fashioned traveling circus. It comes into town, sets up, and over a period of four or five days creates a little world of its own; then, suddenly, it's gone again and there's no evidence that it ever existed. Except, of course, in the memories of the audience.
We who attend conventions can remember -- as circus-goers do -- the glamour and the glitter, the star performers, the feats of daring, the ballyhoo and fanfare, the wild animals, the clowns. And believe me, science fiction has its share of these items, very definitely including wild animals and clowns. To say nothing, in recent years, of freaks.
But for most of us, personal memories are our only source of satisfaction. A few Worldcons have printed resumes (the 1962 Chicon's Proceedings is perhaps the most outstanding example) but aside from individual con-reports in fanzines there's little else to show what took place at one of the three-ring circuses which annually celebrate the existence of science fiction fandom. The regional conventions -- many of which are now as big or bigger than early Worldcons -- fold their tents and fade away. Again, one must rely on recollection.
(Illo: Stu Shiffman: Clown with zap gun)
Somehow, whenever I attend a Worldcon and see familiar faces once again, my own recall is stimulated, and
I begin to evoke visions of the past. Oldies but goodies, as the record albums put it.
Here are some of mine:
LOS ANGELES, 1946.
My first Worldcon. I attended mainly at the urging and insistence of Forry Ackerman. When my plane was grounded by an air strike I took a train and arrived two days later -- largely because I wasn't going to let Forry down. After all, he was the Convention Chairman and I'd promised to see him. When the train pulled into the station, eleven people were on hand to meet me. Ackerman wasn't there. He wasn't at the convention, either. It seems he'd collapsed at the opening session and gone home to bed. I never did see him during my stay in Los Angeles. At first it seemed tragic and then rather humorous. Today I realize that Forry was just ahead of his time. I'm sure that he meant to set a precedent for other Convention Chairmen who look over that sea of faces at the opening session and realize they should have stayed in bed.
TORONTO, 1948. I was involved rather heavily in the proceedings here, but not quite as heavily as David H. Keller, M. D. The good doctor really took over -- or, rather, his wife took over for him. Whenever he came into the meeting-hall during a session, Mrs. Keller preceded him and loudly announced, "The Doctor is coming!" whereupon the program halted until David H. Keller was seated. During various panel discussions, Mrs. Keller would get up and proclaim from the floor, "I'm sure the Doctor has something of interest to say about the subject" --and, sure enough, he always did. Bob Tucker, George O. Smith and I were drafted to help the Canadian contingent with banquet entertainment and we worked hard at setting up a last-minute program. We needn't have bothered. Midway through the affair, Mrs. Keller rose to her feet and said, "I have persuaded the Doctor to tell us an amusing Shakespearean anecdote he has often related." Whereupon the program halted once more while the Doctor delivered a lengthy monologue concerning that eminent sf writer, Wm. Shakespeare. Today, in all fairness, I realize that if anyone was entitled to be Guest of Honor at that convention, it was David H. Keller. But at the time I was just a wee bit sorry for the actual pro Guest of Honor, who happened to be -- me.
NEW ORLEANS, 1951. After traveling 900 miles I arrived in this faraway city and was promptly informed that I was in charge of publicity and press-relations for the convention. Inasmuch as this was the year when two major motion picture studios -- Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox -- decided to screen their major new sf films for the convention, and sent their personnel to make sure they got sufficient news coverage, the publicity job was a bit more sticky than usual. We couldn't settle for one of those "Ha, ha, the Flying Saucer nuts are in town!" treatments. Well, thanks to Dan Galouye, the newspaper stores worked out on an adult and complimentary level. But my fondest memory of this particular con involves the banquet entertainment which -- as was the case in Toronto -- was impromptu. Declining the dubious honor of serving as toastmaster for a non-existent program (which request was made of me exactly one hour before the affair began) I did agree to a speech. By default, the toastmastering fell to a toastmistress -- Judy Merril. And I shall never forget her words as she arose to take charge; smiling sweetly at the audience, she said, "I really have nothing to say." For some reason or other I admired the lady's utter candor, and wish others were as truthful under similar circumstances.
CHICAGO, 1952. Willy Ley made a speech denying the existence of flying saucers; his chief point was that none had ever been photographed or observed from above, only from below. When I was unsuccessful, this time around, in bowing out of the toastmaster chores at the banquet, I called Willy up to the platform from the audience. "You never saw a flying saucer?" I asked. "Well, here's one." And I threw a saucer at him. Willy, bless him, delighted me by grabbing the mike and retorting, "Yes, but I still saw it from below!"
MIDWESCON, 1953. All of the Midwescons through the '50s provided memorable moments, but this affair offered one incident I'll always cherish. Arthur C. Clarke turned up, fresh from his Book-Of-The-Month triumph with THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE. Little did I realize the fun I would get through the years heckling the supposedly dignified and proper Mr. Clarke; not until the second morning of his stay, that is. We were down at the shore of the lake and Arthur was describing the flamingoes he'd seen on a recent Florida vacation. "Great, awkward creatures," he said. "They go like this." Whereupon Arthur rolled up his trousers to display his legs, stuck his hands under his coat and flapped the sides like wings --and waded out into the water, shoes and all, squawking happily. From that point on I loved the guy.
PHILADELPHIA, 1953, of course, was memorable for meeting Isaac Asimov. I saw him again in CLEVELAND, 1955, and at the SECOND NYCON, 1956, and DETROIT, 1959. I have many favorite memories of Ike --particularly those
times we shared the platform together. In Detroit, he managed to fix things so that, in announcing the Hugo winners I opened up one of the envelopes and discovered my own name. So help me, in those far-off naive days before campaigning for votes, I didn't even know my story had been nominated before I arrived at the Con. But they'd told Asimov, and he made the most of it.
SAN FRANCISCO, 1954 gave me a chance to really get to know Tony Boucher. There's another who, like Willy Ley, I shall miss, because both men contributed so much to the pleasure of convention attendance. It was Tony who, in Cleveland, led a group of us late at night into the wilderness called Jackass Hill to search out the site of the Cleveland Torso Murders.
LOS ANGELES, 1958 was a wild one: that was the year this 6'6" actor Did His Thing at the masquerade ball in a grotesque monster outfit and the led a parade of fans through the streets of downtown L. A., ending up by
creating a near-riot in Pershing Square. And there was CHICON 1962, with the crowd walking up the down escalator; the hotel management went a little berserk over that spectacle.
LONDON, 1965 was my wife's first taste of conventioneering. She didn't quite know what to expect until Peg Campbell stopped me just before we went into the banquet and asked if I was going to speak. I said yes and she smiled. "Please promise me to insult John," she said. "He'll be insulted if you don't." My wife did a double-take, and I never did manage to explain the situation.
BAYCON, 1968 was the time when Judy-Lynn Benjamin -- but enough, I'm quitting before I grow lachrymose.
I'd hate to do that, because I'm not sure of the spelling. All I'm sure of is that I treasure my convention memories -- and hope there'll be many more.
For the lowdown on ST. LOUIS, 1969, read my report in a forthcoming issue of IF.
For the real lowdown, see me at the next Worldcon....
(Illo: Stu Shiffman: elephant with propellor beanie and can of bheer)
Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan
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