First, some bad news. A few months ago, Walt Willis wrote us an apologetic letter,
saying that due to recent upheaval in his life (a back operation followed by moving
to a different house), he was unable to do a new installment of "I Remember Me" for
this issue of Mimosa. Luckily, there is a silver lining to this, as it
gives us an opportunity to present some vintage Willis. The following was edited
together from Walt's column "The Harp That Once or Twice" that appeared, in the
early 1950s, in Lee Hoffman's legendary fanzine Quandry; we begin at the
1951 British National Convention, and Walt's recollection of that first encounter
with Forry Ackerman.
Friday, 10th May 1951, at the First International Convention
When we arrived from our lunch, Forry Ackerman was just about to start speaking. From his articles and letters I had formed quite a clear mental picture of a thin, dark and neurotic type, eccentric and egocentric in his ways, quick and impatient in his speech. Instead, his appearance came as a great surprise! I found a big easy-going giant of a fan, quiet-spoken and gentle-mannered. There was no loudness or ostentation about him at all, and he was very easy to talk to, once you got used to a disconcerting habit he had of going "Mmmmmmm?" with a rising inflection, whenever you paused for his reactions to what you were saying. Maybe everyone does this in California, but it certainly derailed my train of thought the first couple of times.
Forry Ackerman is a true fan in a way that most of us don't come within a mile of being. Forry really believes in fandom; he still insures his life for $5,000 every time he sets out for a convention, in favour of the convention committee, so that if he is killed by some traveling accident on the way, he will be worth more to the convention dead than alive. (From what I saw of what Ackerman did for the convention, $5,000 wouldn't be nearly enough.) His will still provides for his priceless library to go to fandom. It will be inadequate compensation. There are two things that every neofan learns: one is that John W. Campbell, Jr. is the editor of Astounding Science Fiction and the other is that Forrest J Ackerman is the No.1 Fan. For my money, Ackerman's position is infinitely stronger. I am sold on Ackerman.
Sunday, 23rd June 1951
I might have realized this was no ordinary day. In the first place, this was the day of our tennis club's annual garden fete, and it wasn't raining. Definitely, they had slipped up. In the second place, the July Astounding Science Fiction arrived only three days after publication date. Not only that, but it had some good stories. It's lucky I didn't read them all at once. I would never have gotten over the shock of finding that they were all good. On top of that, one of the letters in 'Brass Tacks' actually looked as if it hadn't been written by Campbell. How can such things be?
Round half past six that evening I was sitting outside in my slippers -- sometimes I wish I could afford a chair -- when a telegram boy arrived carrying, of all things, a telegram. I opened it. It seemed the only thing to do.
MEET ME GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY STATION GLENGALL STREET 7:40 THIS EVENING BRITISH EUROPEAN AIRWAYS TERMINAL FORRY
"Steady now," I said to myself and clambered down off the roof. I dashed through the front door to show the telegram to Madeleine. I think she suspected the moment she saw me that something was up. Feminine intuition I suppose, or it may have been the fragments of wood and glass hanging around my neck. I really should have remembered to open the door first. If you have ever seen a woman who has just been told to expect an important visitor in less than two hours you'll know what happened next. I stepped hastily out of the path of the blur of motion and tore off to borrow some money from my father and order a taxi. Don't think I spend my life ordering taxis -- there was a strike of public transport at the time. Don't ask me how they knew Forry Ackerman was coming. Then I went back to the house; it was vibrating rapidly like a power station. There were all sorts of things to be done. I won't bore you with the complications -- I haven't decided yet just what else I will bore you with -- but at the time, it seemed to me that I had spent the better part of my life knocking beds to pieces, carrying them up and down stairs, and putting them together again. It was a scene of utter chaos and indescribable confusion, something like the subscription department of Galaxy magazine.
Finally the taxi came and at exactly 7:41, I found the World's No.1 Fan standing quietly in the middle of the railroad station, like a petrified Forrest. I brought him home in triumph and left him with a copy of Lee Hoffman's Quandry No. 11 while I mounted my rusty steed once more to send telegrams to James and Bob. I thought of telephoning them, but it would have been difficult since none of us happens to have a telephone. I found they couldn't be reached that night, so I told them to come early the next morning and went back to Forry. I got the distinct impression that he liked Quandry; the first thing he asked me when I got back was whether he could get his suit cleaned and pressed. I looked blank, and he explained that he got it all dusty from rolling around on the floor. And the Irish are supposed to have a reputation for making extravagant compliments. As far as I can see, the Americans are way ahead of us. For instance, Forry told us later about one Dr. Keller paid to his wife. They were both seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was a romantic and impressive sight. "You know," said Keller, "when God made the world He thought it needed something like the Grand Canyon, so he just scored His thumbnail across it and made all this." He paused and looked at his wife. "But," he said, "when God made you, dear, He had to use both hands." I thought that was perfectly charming, and I should imagine the Kellers are very happily married. It will take more than Dianetics to break up that home.
James and Bob arrived about ten o'clock the next morning and stayed for lunch and tea. Whether through delayed airsickness from his first flight or some mutated virus, Forry wasn't feeling too well, for which we all felt unreasonably guilty, but he didn't let it get him down. He revealed an unexpected talent for mimicry and his impersonations of various fans were delicious. Incidently, I found the reason for that habit I mentioned he had of going 'Mmmmmmm?'. Apparently he had great difficulty in understanding what people were saying and didn't want to be asking them all the time to repeat themselves. We were a bit surprised at this -- after all, we only talk about four times as fast as he does and, of course, we have no accent at all.
In the afternoon, I showed him my magnificent collection of books and magazines, which covers the whole field of science fiction from A to B. It must have taken all of two minutes. Then, showing a laudable freedom from envy, Forry wrote a couple of little commemorative pieces for the next Slant, and we set up one of them and ran a proof. The other was an unbelievably complicated pun which we didn't feel strong enough to tackle just then. Doubtless, after time has exercised its healing influence, we will be able to face it again.
Not quite twenty-four hours after he arrived, Forry had to fly back to Edinburgh. It seemed an awfully long way to come for such a short visit, but we thought it was worth every penny of Forry's money. I only hope he thought so, too.
All illustrations by Teddy Harvia