Walt Willis returns, now, with another look back at the year 1954. The thread of Walt's correspondence file this time takes us through darkest Ireland (with knife, fork, and spoon) to the tower of the Enchanted Duplicator. In passage, we'll gather quotes from Eric Frank Russell, note fuggheadedness from F. T. Laney, and hear about a late-night phone call from Harlan Ellison. And there's more yet...
'I Remember Me' by Walt Willis; title illo by 
  Phil Tortorici
In April 1954, we published Hyphen 9. On 2nd May, Eric Frank Russell, as usual, returned his copy with a letter of comment:

Your MSS returned as unsuitable for publication.

After some thought, I've come to the conclusion that should have been obvious without the strain of thinking, namely that no faned can contribute more than about 50% of the success or failure of what he puts out. The other 50% is completely beyond his control because it depends upon the mood of the reader and a mess of fortuitous circumstances. You don't mind polysyllabic words, do you?

This ish of Hyphen may not be more than average for you. But to me it seems extraordinarily good because (a) it caught me in a mood to be humoured and (b) it came in the same post as another much inferior fanmag which I happened to read first; whereupon Hyphen's scintillating self-sufficiency was enormously magnified by contrast.

Anyway, I must say that I enjoyed this Hyphen very much and let half a dozen promags rest untouched while I read it. In fact, compared with one or two promags which shall remain unnamed, it's more value for money.

Some more items for you to use as you wish --

Here's a pathetic relic of the Pogo-Tigrina Dynasty... I'm starting a fan mag and would like you to write it for me... There's an active fanny club in Beaulieu... It's extremely hard to conceal mental uniqueness... How can anyone paint zebra crossings and still be a fan?... Why did the entire bunch get blackballed from the White Horse, answer me that? ... I suppose you know he can't cut a stencil without taking his corsets off... I'm one of the Old Guard, having started with the first ish of Galaxy... It costs quite a piece merely distributing my photographs... I've only just discovered that the keys are supposed to turn the ribbon reel... She's withdrawn into herself, a typical actifan's wife... I shall carefully time my entry into fandom.

This last paragraph was intended as a source for the quotes we used for the back cover of Hyphen. So far as I know, this lot was never used so they're available for use by any aspiring faned.

# # # #

In July 1954, Chuck Harris visited us in Belfast, a trip which he later wrote up as Through Darkest Ireland, With Knife, Fork, and Spoon. It gave rise to the one-shot we produced for FAPA called WAWCRHETC, possibly better known as Wilde Heir, after my own contribution, which was a satire on Francis Laney's denunciation of homosexuals in LASFS, with Chuck playing the role of Laney and myself as Charles Burbee. It was reprinted in Warhoon 28 {{ed. note: the massive, hardcover-bound 600+ page all-Willis issue }}. We sent a copy directly to Burbee, together with a Fandango Fugghead Award for him to pass on to Laney. It was described in this letter we sent to Robert Bloch:

As you probably know from the headlines in the sporting sections of your newspapers, I am far too busy to engage in much fanac. At this season of the year I am perhaps better known as Yaroslav Drobny, or Ken Rosewall, and it is particularly exhausting when I happen to meet myself in the final. You have no idea of the agility required to play both sides of a tennis match. I am glad I didn't go in for the doubles.

You'll understand, then, that I have only time for the barest minimum of fanac and must confine myself to works of mercy, like giving shelter to the needy -- as required by the traditions of Oblique House. Every day, people pass by crying "Succor! Succor!" and when this happens I send out neofen with casks of Amontillado tied round their necks. (This is part of a large supply I picked up for a song the other day when, for some reason, the bottom dropped out of the Poe market.) The other day, one of them dragged in a poor wretch who called himself Chuck Harris and claimed to be a friend of yours. In spite of his exceedingly unprepossessing appearance, I felt we had to give him asylum, because he would otherwise have been torn to pieces by the enraged forces of law and decency.

Judge of my horror to find that this refugee, a renegade from the Rainham Society for the Advancement of Science Fiction and Imaginative Literature with a price on his head (he has buck teeth, which makes 24 dollars for them alone), who only escaped the Society's agents through an ultimate sacrifice by the beautiful Miss Hepzibah Snoopwhistle, and whose life was not worth a moment's purchase... (HALP!) ... Judge of my horror to find that this human derelict, once I had fed and clothed him and given him instruction in the elements of civilised behaviour, began to try to usurp my position. Yesterday there were five items of delivered to this house. Every one was for Harris. Worse still, today he brought me a letter which, with many a sly smile and unctuous hand-rubbing, he claimed to have emanated from you. Almost at once I knew it was a forgery. Admittedly, the writer had succeeded, at heaven knows what cost to the balance of his mind, in emulating your style, but he had made one laughable mistake. He had represented you as suggesting that I might reply to your letters.

You may well say "Faugh!" It is well understood between us that you will write me brilliant and witty letters every month or so by way of penance for being a vile pro and that I may print them or file them away as I think fit. Henry Kuttner, Eric Frank Russell, damon knight, and others of your ilk know not to expect anything more... until the end of the tennis season, at least.

But now, so that you will see that my reports about Harris are correct, I am going to allow him to use the typewriter. I wish you could see him. It would gladden Mr. Pitman's heart to see someone typing with all fingers and toes.

Chuck here. Well, what else can you expect from just a faan. I travel 400 miles to get here and, instead of introducing me to hoardes of Connemara redheads, he forces me into the attic and presents me with three gross of the Vargo Statten magazine to autograph {{ed. note: which contained Chuck's one published story }}. Instead of whooping it up in Amelia Street, I am forced to stay home and play Laney to his Burbee. Furthermore, I spend my time washing up the dinner things instead of slavering over the promised Hot Dishes. O'Bleak House is a veritable home from home. (Although I must say that the room service is the best I've seen anywhere -- I'm told that even the Tucker Hotel doesn't slit open the envelopes before handing out the mail.) Willis is pestering me to be allowed to write something else to you and if you can bear with his pathetic attempts at literacy, you may find solace in the fact that I shall be writing again after I get home.

Walt here again. Well, as you can see, Harris has left the typer without producing the works of Shakespeare. Another 49,999,999 to try.

We did a Burbee-type oneshot the other day and sent you a copy. We also sent Francis Towner Laney a 'Fugghead Certificate' for stamp collecting. We got it out of a copy of Fandango...you know, one of the Awards printed by Laney himself, and added a citation, 'Francis Towner Laney earns this Award by squandering his fine mind and fabulous talents on the accumulation of small pieces of paper inherently limited as a medium of literate self-expression.'

We sent it care of Burbee, with a covering letter which read as follows.

Dear Charles. Perhaps you'd send the enclosed certificate to Laney the next time you don't see him. We're not sure of his present address.

Yesterday, we mailed you 68 copies of the enclosed oneshot for the August FAPA mailing. We sent them first class with a rich assortment of stamps for which Towner would probably trade a complete file of Acolytes. Let's hope you get them in time.

In Hyphen 9, mailed about two weeks ago, we used your "Al Ashley: Elfin Edison." If the comments of the English readers are anything to go by, it hasn't lost anything over the years. However, we don't know how you feel about our reprinting your stuff without formal permission, and maybe you'd let us know if there is anything which you specifically don't want reprinted?

When Hyphen 1 was published just over two years ago, I -- Walt speaking at the moment -- enclosed a note with Towner's copy to the effect that my ambition was to produce a mag that you and he might write for. I don't know whether we've done that yet or not, but the inestimable Redd Boggs tells us you enjoy Hyphen, and also that you were looking for a publisher, so here we are clamouring at your door. We would be proud, nay willing, to publish any material by you. Naturally, a regular column is what we would like most, but anything would be appreciated. It does not, of course, have to be aimed at British readers; we have some 200 US subscribers, fairly congruent with your old Quandry group. If you have any thoughts overflowing from your San Francisco report for Skyhook, for instance, they'd be very welcome.

illo by Phil Tortorici As far as I remember, I never got any reply to this letter, nor reaction to the Award to Laney. I did, however, get a letter from Harlan Ellison, about a phone call he made to me, an enterprise which was slightly handicapped by the fact that I didn't have a phone at the time. He got my father's house, which was a block away, and my sister didn't come and get me because it was raining.

To say I'm merely angry or hurt would be a gross understatement. I'm completely devastated.

You sent me "Mike Hammer at the Philcon," and I sent it out to be illustrated. Sure, it took me a year to get to it, but I was suspended with college work. Now when I have it on stencil and run off and announced as in the next issue with illos by Nasman Peterson, I pick up Mari Wolf's column and see Space Times has already pubbed it. I'm really in a mess with the thing, and personally I think it was both poor taste on your part and a gross injustice not to at least write and tell me what had happened, before you sent a carbon to anyone else.

I'd like a reply on this if you get the chance.

Tried to call you the other night, but they took so long I left the house where I was visiting, and the call didn't go through till noon of the next day, over fifteen hours later. Oh well...

Expectantly, Harlan.

I replied as follows.

Dear Harlan,

Come now, old Birdbath. In the first place, how do you expect me to know you wanted the MS if you didn't even acknowledge it? You wrote several times asking me to do something for you, but when I did send it there wasn't another peep out of you. In fact, you folded your fanzine, retired from fandom, and changed your address. Not that I thought all this was on account of the MS, but in the absence of any acknowledgement or mention of it in any of your blurbs except the last one, how was I to know you were going to publish it? Especially since it had been meant to be topical.

In the second place, I wrote you a postcard about six months ago asking you to send the MS back and you didn't reply to that, either.

In the third place, the thing as published in Space Times was at my request billed as a reprint from SF Bulletin. Space Times was running a regular series of reprints from prominent US fmz, and this was one of them. It wasn't my fault if the reprint was published before the original.

In the fourth place, Space Times has probably only about half a dozen Stateside subbers, and you have only about the same number in England, so I don't see where the injustice lies. The thing will be new to 95% of your readers.

I waited an hour and a half for your phone call that night and was disappointed at not being able to talk to you after all. I still am, because I don't imagine you'd have spent the whole time recriminating, but -- haw -- it was still good for something. Chuck Harris was staying with me at the time. The mail had just arrived, he had got five letters and there were none for me, and he was pulling my leg about my fan status having declined. Then my sister came round with the news that there had been a phone call from a Mr. Ellison of Ohio. Thanks, pal.

All the best. Walter.

This was at a time when transatlantic phone calls were almost unheard of in fandom. My recollection is that Chuck asked me, did I often get phone calls from American fans, and I said, "Only when it's something important."

Harlan apparently didn't bear any grudge against me, because we have been on the best of terms since. I have met him twice, on both my previous visits to America, and consider us to be close friends. I think he feels the same.

# # # #

While staying at Lee Hoffman's house in 1952, I accidentally came across a piece called "The Mind of Walter Willis," in which Vernon McCain attempted a psychological evaluation of me. It was never published, and I don't think I was supposed to see it, but writing to me in June 1954, Vernon raised it himself by saying, in the course of some remark I made about his writing that...

...I long ago learned to discount by about 60% everything favourable emanating from your typewriter (as I mentioned in "The Mind of Walter Willis") since you obviously feel a compulsion to buck up everyone's ego whenever possible.

In my reply to Vernon, I said...

...I do have a compulsion of that sort, though it's hardly the way I would have expressed it. I've noticed it since I came into fandom...I seem to have appointed myself a sort of clearinghouse for egoboo and spend quite a lot of time passing on complimentary remarks about people to those concerned. I have quite a guilty conscience when I omit to do it -- it seems to me almost a crime to allow pleasure like this to go to waste for the lack of a little trouble on my part. I also, as you've noticed, seem to have acquired a sort of Messianic complex. Ghod knows when this came on the scene, but I've noticed I seem to have developed a sense of responsibility for fandom. Instead of doing what I want to do, I spend time writing encouraging letters to neofans, in the hope of securing the continued existence of fandom, by as it were, promoting desirable recruits. I suppose if my basic motivation were revealed, it would be a desire to keep fandom alive so it could worship me, like God created mankind, but I do think there's a little more to it than that. I know I can never meet a beautiful woman without feeling a strong need to tell her she's beautiful, and though of course I'm all for the continuation of beautiful women as a species, even my subconscious is not likely to think I am ensuring their perpetuation by flattering them. Especially as I'm happily married with no urgent desire to assist towards that end myself. No, I must have some bee in my bonnet that virtue should be rewarded. I am the sort of person who writes to employers when their staff gives me particularly good service.

# # # #

Six months after the publication of The Enchanted Duplicator, we were still getting enthusiastic letters about it. This one, from Richard Geis, was notable for its use of outdated slang...

I lent my copy to Jim Bradley to read, and he thought it was the most to say the least. Real dark green with sheen. Simply cataleptic and gone. He flipped and lay there stoned and cold after he'd pinned your crazy diary.

Next time: My life with damon knight.
illo by Phil Tortorici

All illustrations by Phil Tortorici

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