(DECLINE OF THE EAST DEPT.: Though Speer fleered and mocked at the very thought of a book 2/5 of which was Ah! Sweet Idiocy! possessing any balance, we here present a gesture in that direction: Joe Kennedy's two-part history of New York area fandom at a time almost matching Laney's selected time span. The first installment is from JoKe's own Green Thoughts #2; the second, from the Insurgent issue of Spacewarp, #42.)


New York Fan History

Part 1: Before the Bomb

by Joe Kennedy


(Part 1, from Green Thoughts #2 by Joe Kennedy )

In the summer of 1943, the golden age for fantasy dealers had not yet dawned. One could still pick up a complete set of Munsey Famous Fantastic Mysteries in New York's Midtown Magazine shop, at two for a quarter -- a price which was considered outrageous.

Fandom lived between issues of Le Zombie, in which the Cosmic Circle fracas was always good for a sterling Pong sortie or two. Out in Brooklyn, Julius Unger was dumping Fantasy Fiction Field into the mails regularly; Dunkelberger was mimeographing it on yellow second sheets. From England came Futurian War Digest, which J. Michael Rosenblum was mimeographing on any paper stock slightly heavier than bathroom tissue. Connor and Robinson had taken over Tucker's Fanewscard, a compact and logical method of circulating fan tidings rapidly, which, although it had no less than four imitators in 1944, has become quite extinct today.

FAPA was riding high, despite the draft and all the wartime shortages: mailings were thick and the waiting list was long. To join FAPA was one of my highest ambitions, but to a very new fan like me the prospects for doing this were extremely slim. It seemed that FAPA members never quit and rarely died.

To a neofan in '43, science fiction fandom was awe-inspiring -- a land, as Moskowitz once put it, where every man could be king and every other man his servant; a dazzling microcosm where an Indiana paranoiac could proclaim, "We are those whom Wells called the star-begotten." -- and find a few people who'd take him seriously.

To adolescent fans, then as now, the hektograph was the usual medium of fanzine duplication. There were in the metropolitan area perhaps half a dozen youthful candidates for the Order of the Purple Hand, which Al Weinstein proposed to award any neofan who published a magazine with a jelly-pan. To me the prospects of owning a mimeograph seemed as remote as Betelgeuse.

Though fandom was mostly manned by 4-fs, family men, and callow youths, the war seemed far away. I seriously questioned SaM's assertion that to be number one fan was not greater than to be President of the United States.

At the age of thirteen, I had discovered stf just in time to buy the last wartime issues of Super Science, Astonishing (one of my favorites, as it cost but a dime) and Lowndes' Science Fiction Stories. I wrote some letters to the promags and began corresponding with people. One day the mails brought a copy of Beowulf from Gerry de la Ree, home again in Westwood, N. J., after his brief hitch in the navy. This resulted in a correspondence with de la Ree, and in February '44, I visited him and Russ Wilsey in Westwood. Wilsey, a Long Islander and a friend of Donald A. Wollheim, chatted knowingly about the Cosmic Circle, the Futurians, and the Chicon, which he had not attended. This was my first introduction to East Coast fandom.

At this point, a slight digression: in de la Ree's pulpmag-lined den, I saw several copies of a fantasy prozine which I have never seen mentioned in the fan press. This was a semi-professional mag printed on slick paper, which de la Ree said was published by somebody in Jersey. It was slim, but of larger-than-pulpmag page size. Its contents were entirely fiction -- short-shorts of a weird or supernatural slant, I think. The distinguishing feature of the magazine was that it was illustrated throughout with halftone photos of pretty girls in bathing suits. In the copies Gerry had, most of the photos of the pretty girls in bathing suits had been scissored out by the mags' previous owner. The name of the magazine I don't remember, alas, but it was definitely fantasy. If any bibliographers are interested, they can probably obtain information about this from de la Ree or Moskowitz. (Somehow I have a sneaking suspicion that I've mentioned this mystery prozine in some fanzine before.)

Anyhow, I went home from Westwood all souped up about fandom. I melted down my hektograph afresh, and began publishing a hand-lettered imitation of Fanewscard, entitled QX the Cardzine, which appeared every two weeks for the next ten months.

I continued corresponding with Wilsey, and began swapping letters with several other New Yorkers, who kept me supplied with news tips for QX. The eventual result was that in August '44, the so-called "Dovercon" was held at my place. This affair was noteworthy mainly for its bringing together Wollheim and Moskowitz, and received at the time an incredible amount of publicity, despite the fact that only eleven people attended it.

Sam had just been released from the army on a medical discharge. He boomed forth his experiences in the tank corps at great length yet spellbindingly. The Dovercon also marked the first appearance on the fan scene of thirteen-year-old George Fox, whose brash wit and acid commentaries were later to make him a sort of gadfly to the Eastern SF Association, of which organization he is technically the founder.

Paul Miles, another attendee, had a special claim to glory. He had sold a story to Palmer. Some collector with an encyclopedic memory might recall the short-short "Bill Caldron Goes to the Future", in one of the 1943 Amazings [March -- r.e.] that also featured "The New Adam". "Bill Caldron etc" was a typically boyish attempt to write a time-travel story, but its unaffected humor is genuinely funny. Whatever possessed Palmer to buy it I wonder to this day, for most of his jerky readers took the story in utter earnest, and panned hell out of it -- though it did draw praise from a few discerning souls, among them Raym Washington. Miles, a resident of Trenton, Michigan, had come East for a ten-day visit with me, during the course of which we went in to the city and annoyed W. Scott Peacock, editor of Planet.

Conversation at the Dovercon pointed out the need for a NYC-New Jersey fan organization -- which was not fated to materialize until April, 1946, when the ESFA was officially born. Unger was reportedly planning a gala science-fiction banquet. This never did come off. The Cosmic Circle was, by the time of the Dover gathering, nearly dead. The slightest mention of it was enough to provoke smiles. We neophytes, however, took great joy in belaboring the dead horse, and whenever material ran short, such adolescent fan journals as Ad Infinitum and Stellar invariably filled their pages with stale jibes about Don Rogers and his cosmic love camp in the Ozarks.

Fresh from the west coast, Mike Fern had taken up residence in New York and had soon become notorious for his bad manners. On one occasion while enjoying the hospitality of Julie Unger, Fern had reportedly borrowed Unger's typewriter, on which he wrote a letter to Laney, filled with abuse of Unger and his family. Fern had then given the letter to Unger to read!

"But Julie," Moskowitz had asked. "Didn't you have any objections when he called your wife a slattern?"

To which Unger allegedly replied: "So what? So it means she can't read and write so good?"

When the summer of '44 drew to a close, I had acquired enough money by scrubbing presses for a local newspaper to buy a typewriter. This greatly strengthened my publishing facilities. QX abandoned its hand-lettered format, and I began making plans for the day when I could drop the cardzine entirely and attempt a full-size fan journal.

For months I had been hearing glowing reports of meetings of The Arisians, an informal New York fan club of which Wollheim was unquestionably the unofficial chief. Meetings were always held at the Wollheims' apartment. In addition to the horde of young fans, many of DAW's Futurian friends like Lowndes, Michel, Kubilius, Bok and his mistress, and others had put in appearances. I was at this time a scant fifteen years of age, and when a postcard invitation arrived from Wollheim himself to attend the September meeting, it was as momentous an occasion as if I had received a personal invitation from God Almighty to come over and visit Him and Saint Pete.

The society had been named after the elder race in EESmith's saga, and to a bright-eyed neofan that September '44 meeting did seem like a gathering of demigods. The towering apartment houses of Forest Hills, Long Island, were impressive indeed to an adolescent who'd grown up in a town where the tallest building is three stories high. In the Wollheim's sunken living room, a dozen people could comfortably sprawl. One could ogle Bok and Finlay originals, and paw over DAW's collection of perhaps a thousand fantasy volumes and virtually every fantasy pulp that ever spewed from a press. Fanzines were stashed away in a large cabinet which, I believe, was generally kept locked during meetings.

Smaller bookcases held bound volumes of all the pulps edited by Wollheim and the other Futurians. There were bound copies of The Phantagraph and other fanzines. There was even a copy of The Gholy Ghible -- carbon-copied, one of the three in existence -- and I hastened to inspect it. Written in pseudo-biblical style, it seemed to be mostly egoboo for its Futurian highpriests and hefty slams at Sykora. I angered DAW by suggesting that the title of the Ghughuist holy book be rendered more fantastic by renaming it "the Ghouly Ghible". 'What good would that be?' snapped Wollheim. 'There's nothing about ghouls in it!'

The phonograph blared forth the Bolero and the Don Cossack chorus singing "Meadowlands". Wilsey was everywhere, uncorking sarsaparilla bottles, administering hotfoots, puffing a cigar, and laughing a bit more loudly than necessary.

In one corner sat the glum but brilliant Bill Stoy, who together with Chad Oliver, Milt Lesser, Gene Hunter, and Paul Carter, was probably one of the most celebrated letter hacks of modern times. Stoy it was who had composed the code of the Arisians, which was dutifully published in the club's oneshot official organ, La Vie Arisienne.

Larry Shaw peered behind thick spectacles. It was around this time, if memory is correct, that Shaw had quit his $15-a-week job as a New York Times copyboy, returned disgustedly to Schenectady, then had drifted back to Manhattan once more, where he stayed. Though Shaw had given up Nebula, the excellent news sheet which he'd carried on for Rusty Hevelin, he was at this time a leading light in FAPA. His publications were usually graced by the excellent freehand drawings and headings which deeply impressed me, and which, in the later issues of Vampire, I tried to emulate.

Al Weinstein was a faithful Arisian attendee. One of my earliest correspondents, Weinstein was perhaps too well adjusted to the world at large to submerge himself long in the fannish microcosm. Nonetheless, his fanzine Ad Infinitum saw five steadily-improving issues, and published material by Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Ron Clyne, Jay F. Chidsey, Henry Elsner, Sam Mason and me.

Then there was Austin Hamel, a goodlooking and personable fifteen-year-old, whose brief passage through fandom has left little trace behind. Hamel is perhaps best remembered for Stellar, a publication which bade fair to rival Degler's mags for the title of the worst legible fanzine of all time. Weinstein, Ron Maddox, and I had visited Hamel in the Bronx, and were shown a large closet stacked with early Gernsback Wonders and Amazings. Yet during the Arisian gathering, he continually cast glances toward the window, and I mentally compared him to a caged sparrow. Once he dolefully remarked, 'What the hell am I doing here? I could be out playing baseball.' His subsequent return to the mundane world did not much surprise me.

Completing the gathering were Monroe Kuttner, a very young fan who has been popping in and out of East Coast fan activities for several years now, and Rosemarie Riewald, an intellectual bobbysoxer who, together with Sam Mason and Janvier Hamell, then comprised the short-lived "Philadelphian Futurians".

Wollheim was editing Ten Detective Aces at the time. He has at one time or another edited just about every category of pulp mag, I believe. One day, he reminisced, when he was editing Baseball Action Stories or some such pulp (I am not sure of that title) he was asked by a fellow employee what he thought of the series. "What series?", the editor of Baseball Action Stories replied.

"There was a time," he said, "when nearly every sports magazine in New York was edited by science fiction fans who hated sports."

Arisian gatherings were, of course, primarily social, secondarily scientifictional, and never political. I do recall Wilsey's remarking that he was studying Russian so he could accompany DAW on a postwar visit to Moscow. However, most of the afternoons were spent, as Weinstein once remarked in Ad Infinitum, in "debating whether or not Ackerman is human, why the Yankees lost the pennant, how Wilsey's ears grew so enormous, and sundry other intelligent eruptions." After the September meeting, there was an excursion to a Chinese restaurant near Times Square. I was quite proud of being the first Arisian elected to membership on a subway train.

In addition to the little band of the faithful, a number of other luminaries showed up at the October gathering, the second and final Arisian meeting that I attended. Among the first to arrive were Damon Knight, Chester Cohen, and Suddsy Schwartz, the latter wearing a sweater over the front of which a bowl of oatmeal appeared to have been spilled. Suddsy told the story of the rooster that wore red pants, and flashed a photograph which he said he'd purchased from Tucker -- a nude sprawled on a couch, draped only in copies of Startling Stories.

Frank Wilimczyk was there. Wilimczyk I knew as the publisher of the fine general fanzine, Paradox. I remember very little about him, other than that he didn't have much to say, and seemed embarrassed when I attempted to rise from a couch and couldn't do it because he was sitting on the tail of my coat.

Wilsey sang a little jingle to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot"!

I'm a little Cosfan, short and dumb;
Here is my brain, as big as my thumb.
When I get all steamed up, I do shout,
"Ashley is a dictator! Unger is a lout!"(*)

John Michel arrived, accompanied by a dark-haired girl whom he'd met in the Village -- Judy Zissman, later to become a charter member of the Vanguard a.p.a. Michel was editing some aviation magazine at the time, and one of his duties was to comb all the morning newspapers for news items about airplanes.

The meeting occurred during the Roosevelt-Dewey election campaign and I was wearing an old Coolidge-and-Dawes election button which I'd rooted out of the attic. Michel inspected the thing gravely.

"Where'd you get this?"

"Oh," I said, "it's a family heirloom."

"Ummmm," he muttered. "A Republican family."
------------------
(*) Ashley had excluded Cosmic Claude Degler from a Michiconference shortly before.

I marvelled at his learning.

The thought struck me that the Futurians had all but developed a small culture-inside-of-a-culture all their own. Not only did this have its own burlesque religion, its literature and philosophy, but its own language as well. Some youngfan, browsing through the bound fanzines, discovered something written in Dawnish, the synthetic language which the Futurians had presumably invented as a takeoff on Esperanto. When queried how one might acquire this curious tongue, Wollheim replied, "We'll teach you. Ten dollars a lesson. A hundred easy lessons or fifty hard."

The whimsy for which the Futurians were famous was still evident. A sober discussion was held concerning the fate of six pieces of paper which had reportedly been rolled beneath the drum of Michel's mimeo into a spacewarp, and never appeared on the other side. Some of the FAPA members considered the possibility of producing 65 small bowls of jello, with articles and poems and stories engraved in fine type upon the gelatin. DAW laughed hugely when I announced a fanzine to be called Terrifying Test-Tube Tales. I don't know whether I ever told him that the title was inspired by Stirring Science Stories.

During all these goings-on, both Don and Elsie Wollheim treated the attendees very cordially, and, indeed, their toleration for young fans was considerably greater than we had a right to expect. I have never figured out why Wollheim formed the Arisians. It may have been that, as a well-established professional editor, he enjoyed being the acknowledged leader of a group of neophytes; or possibly he had ideas of becoming once again a power in fan politics. I don't know. It was certain that at the time he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with FAPA, as evidenced by his oneshot fanzine Vertigo, which was distributed only by subscription.

After the Vanguard Amateur Press Association was begun in March, 1945, the Arisians waned. The face of New York Fandom had changed. Things were shaping up for the big Futurian split which finally came in September. Then, too, a lot of new fans like Hamel and Weinstein disappeared. The great invasion from Los Angeles began, with Kepner, Brown, and others moving to New York, where they gravitated toward the elder faction of the split Futurian Society, and Kepner began writing blasts against Astounding Science Fiction's capitalism for The Daily Worker. The atom bombs exploded, too, around this time.


Data entry by Judy Bemis

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