To close things out for this Worldcon theme issue, it's time now for something we
haven't featured in a while, a three-way conversation between some of the better
known personalities from previous eras of fandom. This one was recorded in
Cincinnati, at the 1991 Midwestcon, and features stories about the people and
events of the earliest Midwestcons, and its predecessor, the great Cincinnati
Worldcon of 1949.
Bob Tucker: Before you can talk about the 1949 convention, you have to back up to 1948. The Worldcon was in Toronto that year, and back then, there was a smoke-filled room where all the SMOFs of that day got together and decided, 'Where shall we go next year?' They didn't even know where they wanted to go.
Rusty Hevelin: We knew where we didn't want to go, though. The reason we really got together in a smoke-filled room is that we didn't want the Worldcon to return to New York City. So we did a lot of talking, which ended up with a phone call to Cincinnati, and we got a commitment from Charlie Tanner, who was the head honcho here in Cincinnati at that time. He would head up the convention. So we took it in the next day, and won the bid for Cincinnati.
Tucker: There was a bunch of us in the room that day: Doc Barrett, Don Ford, Erle Korshak, Rusty, myself -- maybe a dozen of us altogether -- hashing around where we did not want to go. And at that time, New York City was a dirty word in convention bidding, shall we say, because of things that had happened earlier. As I recall, Doc Barrett said, "Hey, how about Cincinnati? Let me make a phone call home." So he called Charlie Tanner in Cincinnati, and of course, you could easily twist Charlie's arm. Don Ford and Doc Barrett were the two that convinced Charlie Tanner that he wanted to be Chairman the next year. And that's how we threw it to Cincinnati. I don't remember what the opposition votes were, but we easily overwhelmed them.
Roy Lavender: I was part of the committee for the `49 convention. When that call came through, it was at a Cincinnati Fantasy Group meeting -- I had hitchhiked down from Delaware, Ohio for it -- and I think Charlie accepted before anybody there woke up to the fact that something had happened.
Tucker: Did you know that the 1949 Cinvention was the first time fandom had ever been on TV? A local television station sent somebody down to the convention; they picked up five or six of us, took us downtown to the studio, and put us on camera. One camera, and there were five of us. If you started talking, the cameraman would slowly come around to you, and by the time he got there, you were done -- somebody else was talking. It turned out that the youngest person of the five of us there was an ordinary young fan who had spent about two hundred dollars for a painting. We all marveled at the fact that, of all of us there, including dirty old pros, only that fan had money enough to buy a painting. That got a big laugh on the air!
Lavender: My wife Deedee and I were corresponding secretary for that convention, and we wrote to every author who had appeared in an American English-language science fiction magazine. We got a lot of pseudonyms and house names, but we also reached about thirty people. Our message was quite simple: 'Please come to our convention, pay your own way, and be prepared to appear on a panel'. We used a rather fancy letterhead, and amazingly, it worked!
Hevelin: The Fan Guest that year was Ted Carnell, who was over from England. U.S. fans had been trying for several years to bring somebody over from Britain; Carnell's appearance was due to the Big Pond Fund that Forry Ackerman had started years before.
Lavender: The committee did not get to visit with Ted because we were busy running the con. Afterwards, Ted went through Chicago on business, then was back with Doc at his cottage up at Indian Lake the next weekend. Doc invited the con committee up there for a chance to visit with Ted, and that was so much fun, we decided we should do it some more. So the following spring was the first Midwestcon, and they've been going on every year since. The first two were held in Doc's clinic in Bellefontaine; we fans stayed in nearby motels. But Doc's wife had enough of fans after those two, so we moved out to Beatley's on the Lake Hotel. That worked fine; Beatley's opened their place one week early in order to accommodate the convention, which is how Midwestcon arrived at its current date of one week before the 4th of July. But it was just the older lady, Mrs. Beatley, and her son to run the place, and eventually they decided no more. So we moved back to Bellefontaine to the hotels there, and when we just plain outgrew those, we moved down to Cincinnati.
Tucker: You might mention the some of the incidents that got us kicked out of Beatley's.
Lavender: They didn't get us kicked out. Beatley's was used to incidents -- they had the American Legion in there at times. But those incidents did cause a certain amount of uproar. One involved Randall Garrett and a lady from Cincinnati -- he was climbing on the dresser and leaping into bed, yelling 'Geronimo!' And then the bed gave out and collapsed. Mrs. Beatley's son, who was on night duty, came up to see what had happened, and in the ensuing discussion, the whole thing moved out into the hallway. The lady came out, wrapped in a blanket. Somebody stepped on the blanket, and when she ran down the hall, the blanket stayed behind. And in the ensuing discussion, Mrs. Beatley's son cold-cocked Randall, but he hurt his hand in doing so. So the next day, at the banquet, we presented him with a blackjack.
Tucker: I remember Randall Garrett and his lady well, because my room was right across the hall; I was in bed, but not asleep, if you follow me. So when I heard the noise, I got up, opened my door, walked out and watched the whole damn thing.
Hevelin: This Midwestcon location went down in fannish history under a different name: 'Beastley's-on-the-Bayou'.
Lavender: After the convention went back to Bellefontaine, there was another incident, involving the Door...
Tucker: It was at the Hotel Ingalls. Jim Harmon and Harlan Ellison were involved. And also Doc Barrett, who kept Harlan out of jail. Harlan was up on the second floor, dropping paper bags of water out on passersby on the sidewalk below. Everything went well until Jim Harmon strolled by; Jim was a muscular young man in his early twenties, with a hair-trigger temper. All of a sudden, here came a paper bag down *bang* on his forehead. He looked up, saw Harlan, shook his fist and said, "You (expletive)! I'm coming up there!" So he raced up the stairs to get him, but Harlan had locked the door to the room. Jim banged on the door, but it didn't open, so he knocked it in. By that time, he had made so much noise that the hotel management was right behind him. Doc Barrett kept the both of them out of jail by passing a hat; we collected enough money to replace the door. It was a memorable weekend!
Hevelin: There was one other story that happened in Cincinnati fandom, about the time of the Cinvention. It had to do with Bob Tucker and a check he was expecting in the mail...
Tucker: You mean the 'Big Mail' story? Conveniently, I've forgotten every detail...
Lavender: I haven't, though! The convention committee received a letter from Bob before the `49 Cinvention. In it, he said that he was expecting a check for I think it was fifteen hundred dollars, for the movie rights to something he had written. When Charlie Tanner read that letter at a Cincinnati Fantasy Group meeting, he mentioned how lonesome he thought that check would be in Bob's post office box. This gave us all the same idea. Doc Barrett was at that particular meeting of the CFG, and he said, "I'll donate fifteen dollars!" So we bought some penny postcards with the money.
We used those postcards to 'help' Bob answer some ads in trade magazines like Billboard. Billboard, of course, is the magazine of the entertainment industry, which included carnivals. We found an ad for giveaway plastic dolls which, in the trade, are called 'slough'. They're purchased by the ton, and every free sample is rather generous. There was also a somewhat scummy publication called Whispers magazine, which had free samples of sex aids and things like that. Of course, a free sample is often the last gasp of some little business, and if they're out of business the postcard is going to be returned. But we didn't want the postmarks to indicate where they had originated, so Charlie Tanner, who knew some bus drivers, had them distribute the cards all the way across the country. An amazing collection of postmarks came back to Tucker!
I was working at Battelle Memorial Institute at the time, which had probably the largest technical library in the country. There was also another fan who was a librarian there, so I got all the information request cards out of all the technical journals. The library also had the big catalog from the U.S. Government Printing Office -- we didn't bother with these little 36-page reports on hog cholera, we went for the 800-page reports on conditions in women's penal institutions. Also, Bob is not an ordinary individual; he's Arthur Wilson "Bob" Tucker, alias Hoy Ping Pong. We had a lot of names to work with. So if a free product sample looked good, we got him several. Back then, he was also TuckeResearch, so we reproduced his letterhead for those things you could get only if you wrote using your company letterhead.
Tucker: I don't know how many thousands of pieces of mail I got within several months, but every kind of offer imaginable came in! And I only had a tiny post office box.
Lavender: Through correspondence, the Los Angeles fan club LASFS got involved, too. And then some LASFSian who was going to the Colorado School of Mines mentioned this project to his fraternity, and they helped. Bob might have to correct me on this, but Ben Singer claimed that Bob had to take the rear seat out of his car and make two trips a day to the post office.
Tucker: To find one check.
Lavender: There's one other part of it. At the Cinvention, Ted Carnell introduced Tucker as 'the man who will tell us how to get Big Mail'. Bob just sat there and didn't say a word! Now that's something you don't see very often!
All illustrations by Diana Harlan Stein