As we mentioned earlier, 1992 is the 40th anniversary of Walt Willis's first visit to North America. He celebrated that trip with two memorable trip reports: "Willis Discovers America" which was written before the trip, and "The Harp Stateside" after he returned home. Both of these were compiled some years ago in the mammoth 28th issue of Richard Bergeron's fanzine, Warhoon, which contains over 600 pages of Willis's fan writings. Included in this collection is an annotated series of excerpts from letters Walt received called "I Remember Me", which was billed by Bergeron as "...a relevation of high fannish secrets, low fannish secrets, gossip, eavesdroppings, skeletons, skeleton keys, opened letters, and glimpses into Machiavellian machinations..." Starting in this issue, Walt continues the series, beginning with a look back at the fannish year of 1953.
title illo by Kurt Erichsen for 'I Remember Me' 
  by Walt Willis
I remember 1953, but dimly. That was the year after I went to America for the first time, in a trip that proved to be the precursor of TAFF, but all I could say about that is in the report I wrote, which has taken the place of actual memories. The only original document that has survived from 1953 is the following letter from Robert Bloch, which I obviously thought worth preserving. I still do, and I reproduce it here in the hope that it will be as much help to you as it was to me. It's on the note paper of the Gustav Marx advertising agency in Milwaukee, where Bloch worked before he went to Hollywood. There's no date on it, but it obviously originates from early 1952 or late 1951...

- - - - - - - - - -

Your apologies and explanations are accepted but are entirely unnecessary.

So are your fears about the Convention.

Perhaps I had better explain a few things to you about conventions. The first explanation is that I am a timid and retiring soul. I go through agonies every time I am called upon to make a speech. So I never go to conventions unless I am sure they are going to let me speak.

This is not as paradoxical as it may sound, paradoxical as it may seem. It's not even doxical.

You see, Conventions are filled with, roughly, two kinds of people -- and for the sake of argument we will temporarily classify fans as people, though I have my doubts and even some anatomical research to prove otherwise.

There's Class A (the type who carries a ray gun and drops bags of hot water out of hotel windows) and Class B (the type that watches this activity and writes it up for fan magazines, meanwhile commenting on the horror of it all).

Class A has a lot of fun at the Con, and Class B has a lot of fun gloating about it afterward.

Now this puts me on the spot. By temperament I'm a Class B, but I don't have a fan magazine, and by profession I must diplomatically temper my remarks; not hypocritically, but merely through courtesy.

And I cannot be Class A, because I'm a pro and too many people are watching. Also it doesn't express the true me, because there are laws and stuff. And also, in some hotels, not enough hot water.

But I'm on the spot, as I say, because I'm a pro, and pros are expected to do something besides play poker and drink and talk to other pros.

So I figure the easiest thing to do is make a speech. You make a speech, people remember you did something, and your duties are automatically fulfilled -- anything else you occupy your time with during a Con is forgotten as long as you've spoken. It's official, then.

Now, how can I make a speech, being shy?

Well, I haven't any trouble writing speeches. So that part is simple. Same goes for you.

And when it comes to delivery... here's the gimmick... I merely PRETEND I AM READING SOMEONE ELSE'S STUFF.

I go into their character and let fly.

I commend this viewpoint to you.

I might also point out that from what I have seen, you won't be facing any terrific elocutionary competition. Some of them are pretty long, and some are pretty loud, but they're all amateurs.

And the crowd is on YOUR side. You have a reputation as a wit (what with stealing my stuff, that is) and so anything you say will be automatically accepted as funny. And if you slap it to them, they'll thereafter let you alone to be yourself during the remainder of the Convention.

So have no fears. My only additional advice is this -- avoid subtlety. The spoken word is not the written word, and the mot juste is for the small audience. When you face them en masse the effects must be broad and burlesqued.

Enough of advice. I am looking forward to seeing you at the Con... I will bring my wife, and she has never seen a live Irishman in person, but I anticipate no great adverse reaction. We will have to get together. I have no idea how I'm going to recognise you, but imagine you'll be the one between Lee Hoffman and Shelby Vick. (There is some remark about Christ being between two thieves which I could work in here, but won't.)

As for me, I am short, fat, fair-haired, and walk with a pronounced stoop, named Tucker. And I shall be walking faster in anticipation of our meeting.

I'd say hello to Madeleine, but since I am fairly confident that she reads your letters to you aloud, that is unnecessary.

Hoping you are the same...

- - - - - - - - - -

The speechifying, such as it was, went off pretty well. I remember defending crudzines, on the grounds that what is worth doing is worth doing badly. Years later I found that this proposition should have been attributed to G. K. Chesterton, and welcome this opportunity to apologise for the unconscious plagiarism.

Altogether, I was fairly pleased with how the trip had gone, and plunged right into a report. A large section containing the report of the convention was sent off within a few weeks, and I started on the second half, which contained a report of the cross-country trip by car to Los Angeles, via Utah, with the Ackermans, Rog Phillips and Mari Wolf, and back to New York via Kansas (Manly Banister), Florida (Shelby Vick), and Georgia (Lee Hoffman). Lee Hoffman wanted to split the con report between two issues of Quandry, but I pleaded with her to keep it together, and she published it as a double issue of Quandry. That must have been towards the end of 1952. A piece about being back in Ireland had already been published in Shelby Vick's Confusion, and the first two installments of the postcon travelogue appeared in the issues of Confusion dated May 1953 and February 1954. Meanwhile, Lee Hoffman had bought a horse, Kehli, and entrusted the future of Q to local fan Charles Wells. This development was noted in the Oblique House Christmas Card for 1953...

- - - - - - - - - -

There is a knock at the door.

BOB SHAW: I hope that's Little Mother with the samovar. Who's there?

VOICE: An Agent of the Galactic Federation, with tea.

BOB: It's Madeleine all right. Open the door, someone.

Enter MADELEINE with a tray. As they sit drinking their tea, the sweet sound of childish voices raised in song is wafted through the open window.

WALT: Do you feel a waft from that window?

JAMES WHITE: Yes, it almost sounds like childish voices raised in plaintive sound.

WALT, looking out: So it is. Why, it's Seventh Fandom. Listen.

illo by Kurt Erichsen CHILDISH VOICES:
Good King Charles Wells looked out.
He surely was a grand homme.

(JAMES: This must be a French window.)

He watched Lee Hoffman gallop past And founded Seventh Fandom.

(BOB: Has anyone here seen Kehli?)

Hari Silverberg has said
That cycles run in fandom.
But surely Q's one isn't dead
That cycle was a tandem.

WALT, pleased: Why, I think they want me to accompany them on The Harp.

BOB: Are you going to?

WALT: Yes, in the new Oopsla!. Let's all try to be Big Wheels in this new cycle.

- - - - - - - - - -

My correspondence file for 1953 is thick, but largely taken up with explanations for not answering letters. These were of a varied and picturesque nature, like the belated reply to a long letter from Vernon McCain...

- - - - - - - - - -

I'd just finished stapling Hyphen and Slant last February and was reading the things when a wave of nausea and weakness swept over me. Ghod, I thought, they can't be as bad as all that, and I started to send a few out, starting with Zimmerman this time instead of Ackerman by way of redeeming the balance in favour of the unfortunates at the end of the alphabet. I'd got to somewhere along the 'W's when I had to go to bed. The doctor came up, gave me some sulfa pills, and went to bed himself with the same type of flu. The second doctor came up and then retired to a dugout, sending a nurse daily into the area with penicillin injections. I tried mailing out a few from my death bed. They remonstrated with me, but I told them I was thinking of my pals. A clear case of cerebral palsy. Actually, it was pneumonia, and to cut a dull story short, I was off fanac for about eight weeks.

As a matter of fact, the damned mailing isn't finished yet, because after I was able to get up I started learning to drive on my father-in-law's car so we could go down to Shannon to meet Bea Mahaffey and drive her round Ireland before taking her over to the London Convention. So altogether, I've been out of fandom since the end of February. Meanwhile, it seems that something calling itself Seventh Fandom has arisen and I'm now relegated to the status of a legend. I thought of taking up the post permanently -- the work isn't hard and the hours are good -- but I've got so many things I want to do yet that I think I'll postpone it for a decade or so. All I'm wondering is whether I should represent my second fannish existence as of 6th Fandom or as a harbinger of 8th Fandom. Anyhow, look out for my reappearance on the fannish scene. You can recognise me by the reincarnation in my buttonhole.

- - - - - - - - - -

In 1953, I also heard from:

Eric Frank Russell, Vince Clarke, Harlan Ellison... "Whether you are aware of it or not, you dirty low down sneaking slob, I've been holding up my annual since February on the promise of an article from you..."
Come now Harlan, I'll have to speak to you like a Dutch Uncle. Luik Mynheer, you can't expect me to believe you've been holding an annish on account of me, especially as I didn't promise you anything definite...

...Eric Bentcliffe, Eric Frank Russell, Fred C. Brown, Charles Wells, Jim Harmon, Les Cole, James Rattigan, Joel Nydahl, Pete Campbell, Vic Waldrop, Don Cantin (Invention), Grayson & Grayson, Wrai Ballard, Ken Slater, Vernon McCain, Ethel Lindsay, Bryan Berry, Ken Potter, Bob Johnson, Dick Ryan, Henry Oden, Groff Conklin... "To me, the idea of a personal letter like Quandry, to which all friends contribute their own madness, whether or not it deals with science fiction, is genuinely delightful. Science fiction is not a be-all and end-all. People are. If a little more of this lovely intercommunicating nonsense on a strongly intelligent, imaginative, humorous, screwball base could be built up in this world, we might (I say might) have a little less animosity between nations and a little more peacefulness -- and fun."

...Joseph Semenovitch, Harry Turner, Charles Wells, Mack Reynolds, Dave Ish... "I no longer worry about Harlan. We have, due to some unexplainable but binding force, become the best of friends."
Don't you find most fmz today are rather dull? I think you and I will have to do something about this. Anyway, I mean to get right back into fandom this autumn and see if I can help to keep the old 51/52 type fandom from perishing altogether. It's funny how we all went into semi-retirement at once. Lee with her horse, me with pneumonia, Max Keasler with whatever it was, and now Shelby with polio. The Golden Age seems to be withering away, but there's no reason why it shouldn't come back as long as there's some of us left. Bloch and Tucker are as keen as ever, and so are we over here.

...EJ Carnell, Ray Palmer, Pete Taylor, Hal Shapiro, Herbert Warren, International Fantasy Awards Committee, Peter Hamilton, Paul Enever, Paul Mittlebuscher, Bert Campbell, Bryan Berry, Karen Kruse, Charles Duncombe, Fred Robinson, City Lights, Don Ford, Dick Ryan, Nigel Cadell, Colin Parsons, Paul Enever, Andrew Harris, Bob Stewart, Redd Boggs, Shelby Vick, Paul Enever, Dave Cohen, Pete Taylor, Joel Nydahl, Harry Turner, Rich Elsberry, Horace Gold... "You were no disappointment to me. Remember that I move among writers and fans, and am used to finding poets' souls in truckdrivers' bodies and vice versa, or discovering that someone who is hilarious socially goes wooden on the typewriter and the other way around. You are one hell of a nice guy by mail and an armadillo in person. I'm the same by mail and a terrier in person. Your armor goaded me into a yelping hunt with muzzle and claws to find the chinks, and my ferreting made you pull into a tighter ball. Internally, we felt alarm and frustration and fear that we were not measuring up. Hell, we don't have to measure up: we're already there with each other."

...Bill Morse, Lyle Kessler, Groff Conklin, Leo J. Harding, HP Sanderson, Tony Thorne, Archie Mercer, Mike Rosenblum, Pete Campbell, Terry Jeeves, EF Russell, Mike Tealby, Gregg Calkins, Bert Campbell, Robert Bloch, Forry Ackerman, FL Smith, Walter Gillings... "While I'm writing, I must take the opportunity to thank you, as I should have at the time, for the rather pertinent things you said, or questions you asked, in some fanzine or other, following the Convention at which I bowed myself out (?) so ungracefully"...

...LE Bartle, Maurice A. Weekly, Norman Wansborough, Dean A. Grennell, William Rotsler, Redd Boggs, Don Ford, Rory Faulkner, William F. Temple, Marie-Louise Share, Richard Eney, Kenneth G. Hall, Stuart Mackenzie, George L. Charters, Dean Grennell, Bob Kvanbeck, Ted K. Wagner, DR Smith, Don J. Nardizzi, Addie Huddleston... "I am very proud of my complete file of Slant"...

...David Rike, Sid Gale, Claude R. Hall, Julian Parr, John D. Roles, Max Keasler... "Rising from the grave is always such a try, but here I am. Obviously wondering whatever happened to 'Good Ole Max' (tell Madeleine she no longer has to wear black), I shall tell. I'm one of Uncle Sam's Blue Boys -- yes, a sailor. I wanted to wait until I got permanent station before dipping back into channel of activity in fandom. Thanks a million for faithfully sending Hyphen without receiving any acknowledgement. I'm reading them now and will comment later on."
Max!!! Am I glad to hear from you! There was me thinking you were fannishly dead, nothing more than a source of interlineations in other people's fanzines, and shedding a silent tear over your memory, while telling everyone 'but you should have been in fandom when Keasler was there' ... By the way, did you ever know I called at your frathouse in St. Louis on the day you were supposed to be back at school? I got a ticket with a six hour stop-off in St. Louis, and made my way to the address you gave me. There was no one there, so I waited a while on the porch, and then went in to look round for some fannish mail. Couldn't find any, had a wash and shave and went out again on the porch. After a while I gave up waiting, went downtown again for something to eat and went to a movie house showing burlesque queens. One of them with an Irish name wasn't bad. Look, we have a U.S. naval base here in Londonderry, just a couple of hours away. Just run along to the Admiral and tell him you want posted (as a first class mail) to Londonderry. What a fan group we could have then. It'd be bigger than when Battle Creek, Michigan, moved to California...

-- To Be Continued --

{{ Editorial Annotations: The Christmas poem was previously published by Tom Whitmore in A Fan's Christmas in Ireland. Also, many of the names listed by Walt in this article might not be familiar to contemporary fans, but Walt's 'I Also Heard Froms' is a veritable Who's Who of 1950s fandom. Unfortunately, too many of them, like Vernon McCain and Max Keasler, are no longer with us. Others have been inactive or only semi-active for decades; one of the things we're trying to do is to coax some of them back to activity in Mimosa and other fanzines...

All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen
Key: Excerpts from letters written to Walt are in brown typeface; Walt's replies are in green typeface

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