Time now for Part 4 of Forry Ackerman's autobiographical series about the earlier decades of fandom, but first some good news: we were able to do a taping session with Forry at L.A.Con, so there will be some future installments in this series. This installment includes a visit to Irish Fandom in 1951, lingering controversy with Robert Heinlein in the late 1950s, some clowning around with Isaac Asimov in the 1960s, and more...
'Through Time and Space with Forry Ackerman (Part 4)' 
  by Forrest J Ackerman; illo by Teddy Harvia
I'm happy to say that Walt Willis has been my friend for over forty years. A lot of people think that I met Walt Willis for the first time when he was brought over to the Chicago Worldcon in 1952. But I had actually met him the year before that, when I traveled to the United Kingdom.

In May, 1951, British fans had put on the first international science fiction convention, and I was a Guest of Honor. It was there that I first met Walt, but with everything going on, that first meeting doesn't stand out very well in my memory. Anyway, one day, after the convention, I found myself in Scotland, and it suddenly occurred to me that, gee, I was only about 45 minutes away by air from Ireland. If I went, I could see the Big Three fans there. And so I hopped in a taxi and got over to the Glasgow airport.

I was the last one aboard an old-fashioned propeller airplane. I was a bit nervous; it was the first time I had ever flown! (I had crossed the ocean by ship.) I had earlier phoned ahead and talked with Walt Willis, and he said they would be in Belfast to meet me. So as my first flight left the ground, I looked out the porthole and saw a cemetery! As the plane climbed, we went three times around a cemetery, and all I saw out there were gravestones. Not a good omen for my first flight! When we touched down in Belfast, it turned out they were having a transportation strike -- the only thing they could get to pick me up with was a hearse!

I'd left a cemetery and was picked up in a hearse! And that's how I really met Walt Willis.

And now, speaking of being ready for a hearse, I have to tell you the story that involves Robert Heinlein and Cyril Kornbluth, and myself. The year was 1958, and I had just received a flaming mad letter from Heinlein: "How dare you accept my Hugo in my absence, hang onto it for over a year, and then when I found out you had it, drag your feet for another month before returning it?"

Well, I went pale and trembling to my wife, and I said, "Honey, is this the way senility starts? Did I ever have Heinlein's Hugo?" And she said, "No, no, no..."

So I phoned Isaac Asimov, and I told him, "Help! Save my life -- tell me I didn't take Heinlein's Hugo." The fact was that Heinlein and I were more or less on the outs by then; the time had come if I had said 'up', he would say 'down', if I said 'black', he'd say 'white'. Finally, I wrote him and said, "Bob, I admire your work. You've entertained and educated me about as much as anybody ever has in science fiction. But, obviously, as social beings, we just can't get along. We might as well give up on each other -- you've got all your fans and activities; I've got plenty to keep me busy." And we'd just nod when we'd meet at a convention.

So we had given up on each other, and I was certain that he was absent in 1956, when he got that Hugo. I'm sure if somebody had come to me and said, 'Forry, you know Heinlein, don't you? Will you accept on his behalf?' I know I would have said, 'No, I don't think I'm the proper person. He wouldn't appreciate it.' Well, Asimov just couldn't remember the circumstances, so he said, "Robert Bloch was the Master of Ceremonies, and he would have had to physically hand it to you. Ask him."

So I called up Bob, and he said, "Oh, Forry, I've been to sooo many conventions; I've been Master of Ceremonies so many times, that I don't even remember my own Hugo. But Dave Kyle -- he'll be able to tell you."

Well, at that time, Dave Kyle was over in England, and it was 4:30 in the morning for him. But I thought, if I'm not going to sleep, why should Dave Kyle? So I called him, and I said, "Help, help! Save my life! Tell me I didn't accept Heinlein's Hugo!" Well, to my dismay, he began laughing uproariously! "What's so funny?? C'mon, this is serious!" More laughter. I said, "Dave! This is costing me big bucks! This is a trans-Atlantic phone call! Stop that laughing! What's so funny??"

And he said, "Forry, don't you remember? That was the time the Hugos didn't arrive! It was a big embarrassing scene! We had nothing to give to anybody! You couldn't possibly have taken his Hugo!"

Well, I thought that Heinlein might not even accept this unsupported word, but we had our own Watergate tapes -- Franklin Dietz, who had taped the entire convention. So I called him, and said, "Save my life! You find those tapes and play them. If I hear myself say, 'It's a proud moment as I accept this Hugo', you will have a scoop, because three thousand miles away, you will hear me put a bullet through my brain."

Well, he was busy then and didn't have the time to look through miles of tape. It was about a year later that he finally found it, and of course, it never happened! So then, finally, I contacted Heinlein and told him the whole story. Then I asked him, "Why did you ever accuse me?"

This is when I learned of Cyril Kornbluth's involvement. Heinlein told me, "When I came back from Europe, Forry, Kornbluth met me, shook my hand and said, 'Congratulations, Bob, on your Hugo!' When I said, 'My Hugo??', Kornbluth replied, 'What!? You mean Ackerman didn't give it to you?!?'" Well, unfortunately, at this point, Kornbluth was dead, so I couldn't call him up and get the straight of that story.

There was never any explanation or apology. And matters eventually went from bad to worse. In the 1970s, there was a new science fiction magazine called Vertex Science Fiction. The editor called me up and said, "Forry, we'd like to feature Heinlein in our first issue. Do you think we could get an interview from him?"

At this point, Heinlein had said about the most insulting thing to me that's ever been said to me, in my entire career in science fiction. He said, "I can conceive of no circumstances under which it would be necessary or desirable for you to have my telephone number." For twenty-five years, I could call Vincent Price or Robert Bloch or Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke, and I'd always give them full protection and never abused the privilege. But that's what he said to me. So I said to the editor of Vertex, "Well, I don't speak for Heinlein, but I know he's just been interviewed by Playboy." And up to that time, being interviewed by Playboy was the apex of your existence. But Heinlein insisted on being paid for it -- the first time anybody had ever been paid for an interview in Playboy. I told him, "I really doubt that, on top of that, that you'd get either an interview that you could afford, or that he'd give the second one."

Well, they called me again, three days later: "Oh, god, you were absolutely right. No interview from Heinlein. Boy, we're on the spot! We've got his name on the cover, we were so certain that we'd have something by him. Help!" So I thought of his previously-discussed Guest of Honor speech that he'd given in 1941 {{ed. note: see part two of this series, in Mimosa 17 }}, and somewhere in my eighteen rooms I knew I had a copy of it. So I searched it out, and I read it, and I thought, well, this makes Heinlein a prophet-with-honor -- many things that he had prophesied had indeed come true.

Anyway, I thought it was still a great speech, and that it was time for fans who missed it the first time around to get the opportunity to read it. So I gave it to them to publish, and I said, "Now look, this is public domain; it was never copyrighted. The minute it's out of my hands you can thumb your nose at me and say, 'Thanks, sucker', print it and pay nobody anything. But I feel by putting his name on the cover, you're using several thousand words by him, so you should pay Heinlein, regardless of public domain." And then I said, "It sort of seems to me you wouldn't know of this; you wouldn't have a copy if I didn't provide it to you, so I think I ought to get a few bucks out of it, too. And finally, we ought to recognize that if Walt Daugherty hadn't made the original recordings, nobody, including Heinlein, would have it." In my mind, I sort of thought that eighty-five percent for Heinlein, ten percent for me, and five percent for Daugherty would be fair.

Well, it was published; it saved the editor's life. But about a year later I got one of these flaming letters written on asbestos. Heinlein wrote, "How dare you give my work away to that magazine and accept a payment for it?!" Well, I'd been sent a check for two hundred dollars -- this was from the magazine that later paid me a hundred dollars for one letter of the alphabet {{ed. note: see part one of this series, in Mimosa 16 }}. So I sort of thought they probably sent him about seven hundred and fifty dollars, and maybe fifty bucks to Daugherty. Well, it developed that they had sent me two hundred dollars, expecting me to make the division -- exactly what I didn't want to happen! So I wrote Heinlein, explained what happened, and I wrote him a check -- not for two hundred dollars, but taking in consideration inflation, I added twenty dollars to it, and considering in a year he could have had five percent in a bank, another ten dollars; I wrote him a check for two hundred and thirty dollars.

At this point, I was out thirty bucks for all my activities. I thought the decent thing for him to do would be to calm down and say 'I'm sorry, here's fifty bucks for your trouble; give twenty-five to Daugherty'. But no -- he called and he wasn't too sure this was exactly the way things had happened. He sort of felt that I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar, and I had given him $230 just to assuage my conscience. And then he said, "I'm taking the curse off this money by giving it to my favorite charity." How about my favorite charity??

It was "Solution Unsatisfactory" as far as I was concerned...

Speaking of agenting, though, I should say something about my career as a literary agent. It all began in the 1940s -- after three years, four months, and 29 days of World War Two, when I was weary of saluting and wearing a tie, I looked around for something to do to support myself without a boss, and representing science fiction writers as their literary agent seemed like it might be a good idea. But my first year at it, I made a thousand and seventy-five dollars in commissions, and spent a thousand and twenty-five dollars in postage. I made a big fat fifty bucks.

That would have been the end of it, but young Ray Bradbury, and Asimov, and other ascending stars came to my rescue. Although they already had agents, they'd let me occasionally sell something abroad for them. Well, I hate figures and love words; I don't like to quibble around with nickels and dimes, so I generally just evened things off. The first time I made a sale for Asimov, I sent him a check, we'll say, for an even hundred dollars when it might have been a hundred dollars and eleven cents I owed him. He immediately wrote back and said, "Well now, Forry, I don't want a penny more than I'm entitled to, but on the other hand, I don't want a penny less." Well, maybe I should have expected that; the next time I made a sale for him, after I figured it out, his payment actually came down to a certain amount and an extra one-half cent. And in those days, the Post Office still produced one-half cent stamps, so I sent him his check and attached a one-half cent stamp to it.

Isaac Asimov in correspondence may have been a little predictable, but there was no telling what he might do in person, especially at conventions. At the end of three days in Asimov's company, he was such a clown, I had to push my cheeks together, they were so sore from laughing! There was the time, at a worldcon in the 1960s, that the publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland had recently started a new satyrical magazine called Help. And in order to publicize it, he had a classy model in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny polka-dot bikini wandering around with a sign on her back: 'If You Need Help, Follow Me'. She would bring people to a kiosk, and they would get a complimentary copy of Help magazine.

Well, Isaac Asimov got out of an elevator, and you know, he gloried in his reputation of being the Dirty Old Man. He saw this fair derriere about 25 feet in front of him, and he broke the world record for the 25-foot dash. The floor was made of marble, and in the final two feet he went down on his knees, and slid right up to the back of the unsuspecting model. In this position, on his knees, his lips were directly behind her hips. And then the world-famous author of the Foundation series bit her... right on her foundation.

illo by Teddy Harvia
All illustrations by Teddy Harvia

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