It's back to the 1950s, now, for a bit of history. That influential decade was
cluttered with small fan clubs that appeared, flourished for a short time, then
disappeared leaving little trace behind. One of the more obscure ones was a
Detroit-area organization called The Morgan Botts Foundation, which is described in
the forthcoming new edition of Harry Warner, Jr.'s 1950s fanhistory A Wealth of
Fable as being named for a legendary fan fiction hero, and being dedicated to
beer drinking and poker. Here is more about it.
Once upon a time, back in the 1940s, there was a science fiction fan named Art Rapp. As many fans did back then, he decided to become a fanzine editor, and started publishing Spacewarp, which became one of the best-known fanzines of that fan era. After a while, Art decided that fan fiction was easier to write than fan fact. And so into this world entered the legendary Morgan Botts, hero extraordinaire of fan fiction, and the man who single-handedly (and without the spilling of even one drop of beer) changed the shape of Detroit Fandom.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Morgan Botts was everything that a fan of his day wanted to become. (Read: What Art wanted to be.) He was a grizzled old beer-swilling fan who looked back upon the hobby from a future which seemed unimaginably distant. In 1959, Morgan Botts became only the second fictional fan (that we know of) ever to become a member of a world science fiction convention.
All together, there were twenty-nine Morgan Botts stories that were published, mostly in Spacewarp. All are known to exist in one form or another except number 13 (according to Art, this one may have appeared in TNFF or some Canadian fanzine in 1948), and possibly number 29 which is buried someplace in Art's filing system. The first story appeared in July 1947 and the last sometime after July 1959. The titles are at least as interesting as the stories: "The Man Who Murdered Fandom", "Whiffingham's Revenge", "Anniversary", "The Barber Enigma", "How To Write STF", "Case of the Schizophrenic Promag", "Please, You -- Quiet!", "Vindication", "Once In A Long, Long, While", "The Lost Chord", "Time and the Torcon", "Botts By His Bootstraps", "... But Zeno, Don't We?", "Lunatic Fringe", "Probability .28", "Mastermind", "Crisis", "Deadly Peril", "Machiavelli", "Solubility", "The Ultimate APA", "Alcoholics Unanimous", "Zap!", "Crusade", "Judgement", "Betrayal", "Warning", "Security", and "Coup de Grace."
It was at a meeting of the Detroit Science Fiction League (DSFL) sometime in 1952 that George Young, then president of the DSFL, asked the question that led to the formation of the Morgan Botts Foundation. As I remember it, it was a very serious constructive question. (George was known for his serious constructive questions.) This is what it might have been: "We have not had an election of officers for almost three months, I think that we should have one now."
I think that this would be a good place to explain that George, for some unknown reason, scheduled the DSFL meetings on the same night as meetings of the Boy Scout troop for which he was the Scoutmaster. And for some other unknown reason, he asked DSFL members to arrive at the club meeting about five minutes after the end of the Boy Scout meeting. This meant that George had those five minutes to cover the 25 miles between the two places. Ordinarily, this would be no mean feat for George, because he has always been known for his lead foot. However this was always a problem the nights of DSFL meetings, because he could never convince the bus drivers that he was late and they should drive faster.
Anyway, thirty-five minutes later we had finally convinced George that we didn't need an election for at least six months. He then asked for reports from the treasurer and the secretary, and upon hearing none, in exasperation said, "Why can't we have more serious constructive meetings -- ones in which we really do something that is important?"
At his point Howard DeVore who had been around fans longer that all the rest of us, stood up and exclaimed, "That's it! No more, I here now and for ever make it know to all fen in attendance that the Morgan Botts Foundation is now a reality and that the .... "
Here George interrupted: "What has that got to do with the question?"
"Everything and nothing," replied Howard. "But the point is that I will not be a party to anymore of this." And with that he departed the meeting.
Several weeks passed. The phone rang in the home of Roger Sims. "Hello?"
"This is Howard. I'm having a meeting of The Morgan Botts Foundation at my house Saturday night. We'll have beer and poker, small stakes nickel-dime, that sort of thing. Interested?"
"But," I said, "that's the night of the next DSFL meeting."
"Precisely," Howard answered. Thus the Morgan Botts Foundation came to be.
About two years later, George finally began to notice that recent meetings of the DSFL were not as well attended as the ones before Howard made his pronouncement. So he decided to go to Howard's house on the night of the DSFL meeting instead of staying home (which was where he had told DSFL members that the meeting would take place) to see if he could find out why no one was attending his DSFL meetings anymore. Arriving in accordance with his accustomed timeliness, he found that several fans were sleeping off their beer and the rest were enjoying an excellent game of poker. (If I remember correctly, that was the night that Bob Tucker was present. He'll probably always remember that night as the one in which his five jacks lost to my five queens.)
Well, George was and still is to this day a beer drinking poker-playing person. So as he surveyed the scene, he noticed an empty seat. Taking it, he exclaimed "Well, I guess that this is better than some old dry meeting of the DSFL! Someone get me a beer."
Thus, George Young became not only the reason that the Morgan Botts Foundation started but in the end, the reason that it ceased. Because with that simple act, the Foundation and the DSFL became one and the same again.
Here is the first Morgan Botts story. It first saw the light of day in BEMBOOK, July 1947. The reader will notice that in the story that fanspeak has changed since this story was written. In 1947, the word 'bheer' had yet to make an appearance. Also, 'mag' and 'promag' were in use rather that today's 'zine' and 'prozine'. I'll leave the term 'stfan' to the reader's interpretation. It would also helpful to read that story as if it were written sometime in the 1970s. Good Luck!
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THE MAN WHO MURDERED FANDOM
"I see you're a fan," mumbled the disreputable character, settling himself furtively into the chair on the other side of the greasy, marble-topped table.
Annoyed at the interruption, I raised my head from the new issue of Ghoulish Science Stories, where I'd been trying to find my letter in the readers' column. My self-invited companion was leering nastily at the scantily-clad fem being chased across the cover by a livid purple BEM, while he absently poured my stein of beer down his parched throat. Obviously he was one of the pests who haunt these less reputable taverns, cadging drinks they cannot buy for themselves. Ordinarily I would have told him to get the hell away from my table, but a certain familiarity in his appearance checked the words on my tongue. Where had I seen him before?
I ordered a couple more beers and we discussed the decline in the quality of stf, as exemplified by GSS. He had read all the classics, and knew much fascinating lore of fandom and the authors of yesteryear. I began to wonder what part he had taken in the annals of stf and what had caused him to sink to the level of degradation in which he now existed.
After six beers apiece and a bitter argument over the most efficient drive for interstellar travel, we finally reached the proper stage for confidences. The bum leaned forward until his unshaven face was close to mine, and began his strange tale...
"Yes, I was once prominent in the fantasy field. You say I look familiar to you. Were you at the Michicon in `47?"
"Of course!" I answered indignantly. "That was back in the year the so-called Golden Era of fandom began, and the Michicon, held amid the splendors of Detroit, broke all records for attendance. Why?"
"Perhaps that was where you saw me," he said. "Remember the discussion about the future of stf?"
Suddenly I knew who he was! Morgan Botts, the stfan-inventor, who had set the Michicon in an uproar by his eloquent and unorthodox theories in regard to promag publishing!
Botts had maintained that the futuristic tales in promags should be accompanied by an equally modern physical appearance of the publications themselves. Microfilm the promags, he suggested, or use sensitized aluminum-foil pages to print the tales on by a photographic process. Use the three-dimensional illustration method which the U.S. Navy used as far back as 1947. He had even more sensational ideas, Botts told the Michicon delegates, which he would reveal when the time was ripe.
"You nearly broke up the convention," I told him reminiscently. "Fandom immediately split into two factions, the Traditionalists who claimed that changing the stf mag format would take all the fun out of fandom, and the Radicals who hailed you as a prophet of new and glorious heights of fantasy."
"Yes, those were the days," Botts sighed reminiscently, brushing a furtive tear from one bleary eye. "Remember when fist fights broke out between the two groups and the Detroit police had to raid the convention hall and restore order?"
"More fun; more people hurt," I agreed. "But go on with the story. I remember that several of the promag publishers were interested in your theory and it seems to me you were finally made editor of a new mag."
"You have a good memory." Botts replied, hiccoughing slightly. "Yes, I took the helm of Stupendous Ecstasy Tales, and turned it into a best seller overnight. Each issue I tried out a new innovation, and made a careful note of those which the fans liked.
"Well do I remember the day when, quaking with horror at my own boldness, I OK'd the cover for the issue of March 1950," he continued.
I recalled instantly the ish to which he referred. It had stirred fandom to the depths. Imagine -- a blue sky on the cover!
"You were famous," I breathed, "The world was at your feet. How, then, did you come to -- this?" My pitying gaze took in his shabby clothes the cracked and mud-caked leather of his shoes, the horny calluses on his palms, signs of years of manual labor.
"I have only myself t'blame," Botts sobbed, blowing the foam from a brimming stein into my face. "After I had determined the ideal for which other promags were striving, but were always too timid to attain; after I had tested, feature by feature, all possible improvements, I began work on a super issue of Stupendous Ecstasy Tales. It was to be the promag that had everything! Trimmed edges -- extra staples so the pages wouldn't come loose! Every illustration by Finlay! Those were only a few of the attractions. Gad, what a mag it was, that SET for August 1952!"
"Yes, I've heard of that issue," I said. "Unfortunately, I was employed at the time as a Fuller Brush man in the wilds of Tibet, and was unable to buy a copy. I've been trying ever since to get hold on one, but all fandom seems to be joined in a strange conspiracy of silence regarding it. Tell me -- what happened?"
"I outdid myself," Botts wailed, the tears flowing freely down his stubbled cheeks and tinkling musically into his beer. "It was a perfect stf mag. The circulation broke all records. Only a few unfortunates, like yourself, missed reading it. And in that lay my downfall."
"What do you mean?" I asked, breathless.
"You see," he concluded, "with that answer to a stfan's prayer in his files, who would buy any other mag? We sold only thirty copies of the next month's SET, to new fans, ones who had not read the super issue.
"Naturally, I was fired. That was bad enough, but I was also ostracized by every other promag publisher and editor, not to mention the writers. Had it not been for the restraining influence and cool counsel of Hank Kuttner, some of the hotheads like Padgett and Kelvin Kent would have lynched me from the nearest lamp post.
"I had utterly destroyed fandom, and it had to be built up again from the very beginning. That is why a real old-time fan like yourself is so rarely seen these days."
Sobbing brokenly, he shambled through the swinging doors and was swallowed up in the vastness of the night.
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen