It should be obvious to all by now that
fan history is one of the driving forces that keeps us publishing Mimosa. In
the past nine issues, we've run quite a few articles of fan historical interest. But
we also don't shy away from anything that could considered at least somewhat
controversial in nature. The following article might be considered both. Given that,
we'll let Dave Kyle finish this introduction:
"My belief is that historical facts are worthy of reporting. Veteran fans are aware of most of what I've written in this latest article. I believe I've done it tactfully. This is another piece of our fannish human comedy."
In those days, the males were mostly teenage boys. The non-males were thought of as "girls." Married women and female authors didn't really count in our monolithic fannish sex world. When a girl unexpectedly appeared on the scene, quite a fuss was created. Mostly the reaction was favorable. But not a small number of pre-pubescent (and neo-pubescent) fans were inclined to be scornful or dismissive of the intrusion.
At this point, I'll qualify what I've said. This reminiscence is very personal. This is what I observed and believed then. Others from that time who are still alive might tell it slightly differently, might even have experienced it differently. I'd be interested to know -- and I might shake my head over an invisible dimension which might have been around me all the time. I highly doubt it, however, for the irrefutable fact remains that in the neolithic age of First Fandom, the girls were almost nowhere to be seen.
I do remember still a few of that other gender. Immediately there comes to mind the sister of Louis Kuslan, a very active fanzine publisher and writer in Connecticut. Trudy (Gertrude) was credited with sharing his enthusiasms and fannish activities. Maybe I saw her in Newark, New Jersey in the mid-thirties. It might have been at a club meeting of the local Science Fiction League chapter, or of ESFA (Eastern Science Fiction Association), or the transition period in between with Sam Moskowitz. Newark for decades brought friends together and created others.
Trudy was at the first worldcon (New York City Convention -- Nycon 1939) and I recall her as a very attractive, dark-haired young lady, even younger than her teenage brother but turning some boys' heads. I was about 18 years of age when I met her. "Active sex life" (an explicit contemporary description) was not a conduct I knew anyone to have. There were a few romances around, a very few, but they were of the old-style, longer-term variety.
Vida Jameson, daughter of author Malcolm Jameson, was another girl around our ages generating attention, but more in the `40s and `50s centered around the Hydra Club at Fletcher Pratt's Manhattan apartment.
Then also at Nycon was the famous Morojo, Forry Ackerman's traveling companion who so tagged her instead of Mrs. Myrtle R. Douglas. (If I remember rightly, I never did meet her daughter, Pogo.) Also present at the con was wife Frances of Big Name Fan, collector and writer, Doctor Robert D. Swisher. To my mind, married women didn't qualify as "femme fans" and got scant notice from me or others of my ilk. However, noteworthy female personalities existed in those days on the professional fringes, such as Doña Campbell, genesis for the John W.'s non-de-plume Don A. Stuart (Campbell/Stuart, get it?), who later married George O. Smith.
Most outstanding at that first worldcon was the young, but much more sophisticated Leslie Perri, whose parents knew her as Doris Baumgardt. The sloe-eyed, attractive Leslie was an activist, very talented with words and pictures, and was the pride of the Futurians. She took on the forces of evil at that convention when those "infamous" six fans (Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, Robert W. Lowndes, Cyril Kornbluth, Jack Gillespie, and John B. Michel) were banned by The Great Exclusion Act of 1939. I got to know Leslie very well over the decades, for she married Fred Pohl and then later my best friend Dick Wilson. Her friends knew her as Doë (pronounced Dough-ee).
[A mention of sex might be made here. I had a small cold water flat in Manhattan in the late forties and into the fifties. Dick worked for Reuter's as a news editor in the NY Times building on 43rd Street, and when he was on the night shift he frequently stayed over with me instead of making that long drive back to Rockland County. Dick told me that Doë, in one of her fits of pique, told him that she knew he and I were having a homosexual relationship. The charge was so ridiculous (in early days I was hardly aware of such behavior) that I could never visit Dick's home and look Doë in the eye without wanting to make some subtly suggestive remark to see her react. I resisted the impulse for the rest of her life, and the subject never came up again. As Doë is long gone, too, I never did find out if she really believed her accusation. I heard gossip about others, though. Persons like Hannes Bok and Basil Davenport who lived as bachelors, so open-hearted but with such distinctive mannerisms, were targets, but neither they nor anyone else as far as I knew were closet people.]
Incidentally, as a bachelor myself, I had a long list of short- and long-term residents of the place I called home, and never had any aberrant behavior -- sexual, that is -- on the part of any of them. I do have bizarre memories, however, like Frank Belknap Long torturing my bookshelves time and time again with his burning candles. Scorched patches and huge splotches of carbon were left on the undersides of the upper shelves. And at another period there was Charles Dye appearing dead from time to time. His appearance came from emptying his gallon wine jug alongside my red couch. (That red couch could tell many a story!) And later, John Forte, the sf cover artist, illustrator, and "Sheena" cartoonist, cooking himself by sleeping under my sun lamp. Frank Belknap Long, somewhat absent-minded, was simply trying to cope with non-payment of the electric bill.
Having no power nor lights brings to mind another blackout time when Jay Stanton's lady friend stayed over after a Hydra meeting. She was a writer and artist of sorts, very mature and good-looking. We spent one sexless wintry night on a couple of mattresses propped up in the kitchen, reading poetry and children's books by flashlights. We were huddled together because there was no heat. (A cold water flat is the description of an apartment with hot water but no heat, strange to say.) At least I had the gas stove burners and oven lit. We had a great time, got headaches, and saw the dawn creep across the Hudson River. She went back to Virginia, I recall, and I never saw her again.
In the 1940s, the war years took me completely out of fandom from the beginning of 1942 through December 1945. From 1939 into 1940, I was again for a second time part of the New York City scene. (The 1936-37 period, the time of the Futurians, the first sf cons ever, and the rumblings up to the end of the decade made all sorts of fannish history, but those are other tales.) As the decade was going into the `40s, Dick Wilson and I had a cold water flat on East 61st Street in Manhattan. We thought we could survive on our fannish-honed talents: Dick was a writer and I was a writer and artist. Our apartment was a tiny two-room affair, with a shower/toilet/basin fitted into space no bigger than a clothes closet. The top-floor walk-up was dubbed "The Ravens Roost" by Leslie (Doë) Perri. The literary illusion escapes me. Leslie had a friend, Rosalind ("Roz") Cohen (later Mrs. Dirk Wylie), whose mother operated Jessica Caterers, so we got fed occasionally with terrific left-overs.
Another "gift" Leslie brought was the company of her friend, Jessica ("Toni") Gould, who later became the first Mrs. Richard Wilson. But it wasn't until my return to the New York scene to start Gnome Press with Martin (the original) Greenberg in the late 1940s that I had a steady girl friend who became part of the science fiction crowd, Lois Miles. She was a garment district model, a tall girl from Pennsylvania described by my friends as a "beautiful, blue-eyed blonde who deserves better." Lois became a regular at the Hydra Club, and when I became chairman, she became the secretary. Lois had two friends who subsequently became regulars at Hydra, Carol and Edna. Carol became Fred Pohl's wife after Judy Merril, and Eddie became Mrs. A.J. Budrys. A.J. speaks of the time he was a teenager at ESFA where we met and I gave him not only encouragement for writing science fiction, but a wife. Fandom has led to a remarkable number of marriages.
There was a lot of joking about the con name for Cincinnati in 1949 because Cinvention was, of course, pronounced "Sinvention." Whether or not that inspired Lester del Rey, he did deliver a talk on "Sex and Science Fiction." Our London celebrity guest was E.J. "Ted" Carnell (whose presence was in part due to Forry Ackerman's promotion of the Big Pond Fund, a precursor to TAFF). We suggested he, as a fan turned pro, follow Lester's talk with something about his British Carnell (carnal) knowledge. Statuesque Lois Miles became "Miss Science Fiction" for the weekend with a newspaper spread. Pretty Nancy Moore, local girl, also was a photogenic item, and convention sexiness began to get some serious coverage. Because of my connection with Lois, sharp tongues wagged about the merits of the idea "of that professional model from the East," but as I was connected with Transradio Press, and science fiction as a genre was not yet booming, the publicity ploy was accepted as worthwhile. Lois married Jack Gillespie, the kid Futurian of the 1930s, a year or so later. Difficult to realize she's now long deceased. On the scene, and in the process of becoming the belle of Cincy and the MidWesCon was the late Bea Mahaffey. She became sf magazine editor for Ray Palmer's Other Worlds and was later chosen for the First Fandom Hall of Fame.
I made my annual pilgrimage to the Midwestcon for decades, unmarried at the beginning in Bellefontaine, later at Cincinnati married. I'm sure sexy things must have happened there, but I remember only one: in the early hours one year, Randy Garrett was locked out of a certain room without his clothes and upset Mrs. Beatley, the management. Another time, Arthur Clarke shocked the weekend crowd by being reported swimming in the nude at dawn. It was untrue (he wore trunks), but we were shocked anyhow just realizing how icy cold the lake water was for Eastertime.
As the 1950s came in, so did another cute girl who was to become perhaps the biggest BNFF (Big Name Femme Fan) of them all. At first known in California as Berry Jo Wells, she became, simply, Bjo. When I first met her, I was utterly entranced by this vivacious person in the WAVE uniform. She married John Trimble, and together they rose to the heights in fandom (especially for years of ramrodding the worldcon Art Show).
"Girls" have risen to hold the reigns of power at worldcons as chairmen, chairwomen, chairpersons, and chairs. The pinnacle was reached in 1952, when Judy May (Julian C. May) became the chairman of TASFIC, the Tenth Anniversary Science Fiction Convention, in Chicago. She was betrothed to Thaddeus "Ted" Dikty, Earle Korshak's partner in Shasta Publishers, one of the original small sf book houses along with Fantasy Press and Gnome Press in the late `40s and early `50s. Just two years later it was a husband and wife team of Lester and Esther Cole who were the chiefs of the SF Con in San Francisco, with Poul Anderson's enticing wife Karen as an assistant. The following year, at the Clevention, another husband and wife team were the chairs, Noreen and Nicholas Falasca, with cute little Honey Wood assisting. She later married author Rog Phillips.
The Hydra Club in the late `40s and early `50s was the big deal in New York for the serious old-time fans who were becoming professionals. The meetings started off in Inga and Fletcher Pratt's apartment on West 56th Street, down from the Plaza Hotel corner. By now, sex was rampant in the sf fannish world. People were getting married and un-married right and left (an appropriate phraseology). Helen married Lester, Lester married Evelyn, Evelyn married Harry, Harry married Joanie, Damon married Helen, Fred married Doë, Doë married Dick, Jay married Carol, Carol married Fred, etc., etc. Even I got involved when I drove Fred's exwife Tina (Dorothy Les Tina) to the Torcon of 1948, but that doesn't really count. And this is just in the New York City area. More sexy details about me and my friends are spelled out in that fascinatingly candid exposé of the 1930s and `40s called The Futurians, written by Damon Knight.
Hundreds of words can be written about these relationships of the times, social and business and otherwise. (Torcon's strongest memory for me was meeting the elusive, fiery-headed L. Ron Hubbard for the first time, although I had published his Typewriter in the Sky and Fear at Gnome. He had been ostracized from the Hydra Club. Fletcher and Sprague -- also Gnome authors -- were said to be responsible. The only charge, undemonstrated to me, against Ron which I remember -- except for his over-bearing ego -- was that he was a womanizer.)
Maybe sf fans invented the 1960s in the 1950s. (Although I must say that, whatever the excesses, the only drug prevalent to a minor extent was alcohol.) By 1953, women were now a fixture in the sf firmament. Bea, Katherine MacLean, and the two Evelyns had a panel at Philcon II and there were talks on "The Future of Love" by Irvin Heyne and "SF and the Kinsey Report" by Philip José Farmer. Phil Farmer really broke the sex barrier in sf, and Kate MacLean was an unabashed advocate of "free love" and took explicit photos with Charlie Dye.
Philcon II produced another sex item: Bert Campbell (British editor of Authentic SF) and I met young, prim Phyllis Scott there. She was a native of Maine, living in New York City, and soon became very much part of the sf scene. One day to my horror I learned she was threatened into white slavery by a thug. By her cooperation with police and attorney Marty Fass (my security head for Newyorcon 1956), justice triumphed and she moved out of danger to California.
Ruth Kyle, my wife, entered fandom as Ruth Landis, a minister's daughter from New Jersey. Months before the 1955 Clevention, she read about the worldcon in Astounding Science Fiction. A genuine sf enthusiast, she decided she wanted to meet those who were bringing her such enjoyment. Knowing no one and not being familiar in any way with fandom, Ruth showed up alone at the Manger Hotel in Cleveland. I became aware of her presence when Ken Bulmer and his wife Pamela alerted me.
Ken was the first TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) winner to come to the States, although Vin¢ Clarke had been voted as the inaugural representative from Britain the previous year and couldn't make it. I had met them the previous spring in England when I had hocked everything to get there. I was pushing for the first worldcon to be held outside of North America, materializing as the Loncon of 1957.
Knowing me as an eligible bachelor limited to the sf arena, they thought of my welfare. "Upstairs, in the convention suite," they told me breathlessly, "there's a very pretty girl sitting alone. Get cracking!" I went there, peeked around a corner into the room and saw a rather plump and plain girl sitting alone on the sofa. I left quietly.
Downstairs, Ken and Pam were a bit surprised when I said, "she wasn't my type." A short while later, an attractive brunette came through the con hall doorway and I got unobtrusive yet frantic signals from Ken and Pam. They finger pointed behind sheltering bodies, waggled eyebrows and cast glances. Intrigued, I walked toward the girl, hesitating alongside the Bulmers. They whispered, "She's the one! Go, Dave, Go!" or words to that effect.
Not being a fool, I went -- and introduced myself and learned that Ruth Landis was there on her own and knew no one. I always have taken it upon myself to introduce the neo to the scene. Most everyone used to do that hospitable chore in the olden days. Was she really an sf reader? Did she really read the magazines? Who did she particularly want to meet? She was very attractive and I considered myself lucky. (Bless Ken and Pam!) For one brief moment I left Ruth unattended while I crossed the lobby to speak to a new arrival. "Excuse me, Ruth. Be right back." My back was turned, the unexpected took place, and Isaac Asimov torpedoed me. He touches upon this in his autobiography. What happened next was a simple case of TDOM (The Dirty Old Man), the Good Doctor, spiriting off this pretty young thing for himself. He saw her, grabbed her arm, wondered what she was doing all alone and, commanding, "C'mon!" started to rush her toward the elevator. "We're going to a party!" "I'm with someone," she protested feebly. "Who?" he asked. "Dave Kyle," she said. "Fine! Dave's going to the party, too." And without further discussion, whisked her away. I returned. She was gone. Obviously, I had struck out. Maybe I really was expected at 'the party,' but the rest of the day I dodged embarrassment by avoiding her and 'the party.'
The next morning I met her as the con-goers multiplied around registration and mentioned, casually, that I was sorry we hadn't visited more before she disappeared. "I'm sorry, too. Mr. Asimov said you would be there." And then I heard the story of the great betrayal by that sly and wicked and fast-moving "Ike." She told me she regretted not being with me. Encouraged, I invited her to sit with me at the banquet, leading to our linkage as a convention couple. Later, she told me how uncomfortable she had felt in the presence of Evelyn Gold, Horace's wife.
Evelyn, holding the title of an editor at her husband Horace's Galaxy Science Fiction, was a dark-eyed, dark-haired sophisticate who considered herself the rightful center of masculine attention. She quite naturally resented one of her entourage, Isaac Asimov, showing up with a young and pretty girl, and let Ruth know it in those subtle ways some women have. "She thought she was the Queen Bee," Ruth told me years later. Sam Moskowitz captures the essence by his description of Evelyn's part in a fannish play staged at the con: "Unquestionably the show stopper was supplied by a cameo appearance by Evelyn Gold, who, in a short, tight-fitting, low-cut dress, slowly slunk across the stage. She stopped when asked: 'Who are you?' She replied: 'I'm the man-ageing editor!'"
At a typically intimate con for those times (less than 400 attended), gossip traveled fast. Everyone knew what Isaac had done, doubtlessly with expressed satisfaction by "Ike" himself. That evening at the awards banquet, for all to enjoy, Isaac stamped the event with his good humor. "Ike" opened his Guest of Honor Speech with the statement, wistful but firm, "Tonight I will be Ruthless!" Dr. Asimov, unlike the old days, does not like to be referred to any more as "Ike." So this is a small moment of revenge on "Ike" after these many decades.
Between that con and the next, Newyorcon 1956 for which I was chairman, Ruth came to New York City from Princeton where she had been working. She became great friends of the local crowd and attended most fan meetings. Most of my time was upstate at Potsdam, where I had built and was running a radio station with my father, although I still had my new cold water flat in the sixties, this time West Side on the corner of 67th and West End Avenue. (Many years before, I had walked down West End Avenue in the seventies and looked for and found the bronze professional doctor's plaque with Donald A. Wollheim's father's name on the front of an apartment house. Such demonstrates the strong personal ties one developed in fandom.) A pleasant surprise at a New York SF Circle meeting was finding Ruth in attendance. Our romance then really blossomed. I'm glad she chose me to pursue it -- it helped make her a dedicated worker for the forthcoming Newyorcon. In fact, she became Secretary. I must say, as I have said so many times before, she and Dick Ellington carried most of the load for me. Also important on the committee was another female fan of long standing, Jean Carrol, now Jean Engels.
As I was pushing for the next site to be London (only one year planning was necessary then), I organized a chartered airplane flight. It was a promise that a lot of hard work made possible when London won the bid. Ruth was Secretary for that London Trip Fund, keeping things in order because I was so often back in Potsdam (350 miles away). What was more natural than that our plans should crystallize around a honeymoon trip on the fan flight to the Loncon? Accordingly, we were married a few days before. The old four-prop DC-4 carried only 55 passengers. This is still a great story to tell: that we had 53 people along with us on our honeymoon. The topper is that my parents went, too! (I talked them into it when Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett had to cancel because Leigh had to be in Hollywood writing Rio Bravo for John Wayne.)
Our Loncon/honeymoon travelers were gracious enough to vote us a five dollar apiece wedding gift out of excess funds returned to them. Almost all the trippers, that is -- two unfriendlies claimed it was a shakedown and their actions mushroomed into an international feud. Lawsuits and libel actions went on for years, and destroyed the World Science Fiction Society as a corporation. Harry Harrison (one of the trippers with wife Joanie and infant son Todd) wrote a scathing letter excoriating the troublemakers and ("expose their imbecility") prompted me to issue three fannish publications: "The Bell Tolls," "Bell the Cat," and "The Final Bell." And who was responsible for the most widespread nasty fan feud in all of fannish history? Obviously, for this bit of history, the fan was a woman -- Belle Cohen, no relation to Roz nor to the Futurian, Chester. (But she and the trip with its aftermath is another incredible story for another time.)
Briefer, but even nastier, was a much-publicized "sex scandal" which almost destroyed a world convention in Oakland (was it in 1964 or 1968?). It was another Exclusion Act, ostensibly for sexual rather than political reasons. The background: Dick Ellington and wife Patty had moved from New York to Oakland years before, along with most of the others of the famed Riverside Dive in New York. They had a baby girl, Poopsie. Poopsie, at a fannish party, was "molested" by a very prominent fan. The Ellingtons didn't make a fuss, but others (especially those who didn't like the offender) did. They raised an enormous protest against him attending the con. No criminal charges were instituted, but the con was kept "pure" by his non-attendance. Not so unforgiven is an even more prominent fan. This fan was at the birth of fandom, active from 1930 in the Scienceers and the (International) Cosmos Science Club. His zenith of power was as the Triumvirate chief (not the chairman) of the first worldcon (1939) with its ban of his arch enemy Wollheim and friends. Sad to say, this fellow was convicted and jailed as a pervert, the lurid charges published in newspapers. For those who know the history of fandom, he is notorious as a troublemaker over many decades. He was given a sort of fannish immortality in song by the lyrics of the "Ballad for Futurians," written by Cyril Kornbluth and Chester Cohen; as reported in Damon Knight's history The Futurians, one of the sly lines goes, "In thirty-eight ... Dirty Will couldn't sleep in his bed."
So here's my piece on Sex in SF Fandom. The genuine article should be written by Wilson "Bob" Tucker, who knows more about these things than I do. Not to say sex ended here with my marriage and honeymoon. But gone is that past for me and my old-time friends when we were free and footloose.
All illustrations by Julia Morgan-Scott