There aren't many down-sides to having a worldcon in Australia, but its long distance from North America did limit the presence of First Fandom, relatively few of whom could afford to make the trip. First Fandom is comprised of science fiction fans who were active before 1938 -- the so-called 'dinosaurs' of fandom. But there are many different eras in fandom and some of them have just as much legendry associated with them as the oldest one, as the following article illustrates.
'My Own Personal First Fandom' by Joe Mayhew; 
  title illo by Joe Mayhew
Whether you found Science Fiction Fandom before 1940, or you recently stumbled into it as late as 1999, it is your own first fandom. Mine started back around 1960, when I became a member of The Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). By then, I had already been devouring the stuff for around ten years. My dad had been an avid SF reader since he was a boy, and so, our house was always chock-a-block with pulp magazines. I started to get interested in the stuff somewhere in the late 1940s. At first, I was mostly daydreaming at the covers and illustrations -- which were astounding, amazing, fantastic, thrilling wonders, and even worlds beyond the daily life of a very small neofan. In time, I actually began to read the words, and got hooked on science fiction.

I have often heard fans complain that their parents didn't want them to read science fiction. My mother never complained about that. She was glad her sons were reading anything! My brother Bill and I were both reading whatever we could get our hands on, from comic books to encyclopedias. Dad had a wee problem with it, though -- he didn't want us to read those pulp magazines until he had finished with them. Looking back, I'm not sure the poor man ever got to finish any issue because they all would wind up in the chaos of our bedroom, no matter where he hid them. It really wasn't safe for him to bring any SF home, as we would promptly spirit it away.

I don't think Dad ever wrote a single fan letter to any magazine, though when I was in grade school he submitted manuscripts to several. My favorite, "The Purple Nightmare," was an SF-horror adventure tinged a bit with "The Colour of Outer Space." I thought they were great stories. Sadly, the hard-hearted editors he sent them to did not concur.

By the time I reached the 11th grade, I still had no idea that there was such a thing as a fannish community. While I was interviewing a Senior for our school newspaper, a friend of hers, who had graduated the previous year, joined us. His name was Don Studebaker (who now writes as 'Jon DeCles'). After the interview, Don told me he had met the author of the SF novel I had on top of my school books, and also told me about a group called WSFA' which had a lot of awesome members and, wouldn't it be neat for me to go to a meeting? We could use my dad's car!

So the following Friday I picked him up and went to my first WSFA meeting. I think there were all of 17 members at that time (the winter of 1959-60). George Scithers was President. Seated around the large parlor were Bob Madle, Bill Evans, Phil Bridges, Dick Eney, Bob Pavlat, Jack Chalker and many others whom I soon learned were mighty BNFs. They were very accepting people, and my being a pimply faced teenager with more opinions than experience, didn't seem to put them off. Best of all, they cared about books.

I started to go regularly and got to know these people as friends. Our hostess, Miss Elizabeth O. Cullen, had been the Railroad Association's librarian. One day, she showed me a letter Lawrence of Arabia had written, apologizing for creating extra work for her. It seemed she would have to re-do her Syrian railroad maps, as he had just blown up several miles of the Ottoman Empire's tracks.

illo by Joe Mayhew Miss Cullen often rode to the hounds with multibillionaire J. Paul Getty, but always hunted the foxes from a western saddle -- after all, she was a Texan. Her home held a fascinating assortment of curious things from the Southwest: ancient Mexican spurs, hand woven Indian rugs, and her fine Texas saddle as well as numerous bits of well worn tackle. The room didn't just have atmosphere, it had personality. As WSFA's Secretary, she did her best to record the daunting babble of smoffery, puns, obscure tangents, and personal notices which was (and still is!) the main business of a WSFA meeting.

In the early `60s, WSFA's annual Mother's Day weekend convention, Disclave, often had as few as 40 people attending. But some of those came from distant New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. The program was whatever happened. Someone might bring a 16mm projector and show neat stuff the local library had available. Perhaps a whole flock would go out 'Great Walling', that is, descend upon some hapless Chinese restaurant for dinner. At the 1962 Disclave, I collaborated with Don Studebaker on a one-shot fanzine called The Well-Tempered Dis-Clavier. What it lacked in quality, it made up for in peculiarity (I do hope I have the only surviving copy).

At 16, Jack Chalker already could talk like a major SMOF. His fanzine Mirage was nominated for a Hugo in 1963. He had been coming down from Baltimore on Trailways buses to attend the meetings and gradually recruited others for the semi-monthly trip. In 1963 he founded a science fiction club which actually met in Baltimore (I was a charter member, but only went up there for it when I could borrow the car). This group, BSFS, eventually would sponsor of Balticon, and collaborate with WSFA to produce two WorldCons.

Sometime after a stint in the Army, Jack started selling short stories. When his first novel, A Jungle of Stars came out, he dedicated it to WSFA. Jack also 'Tuckerized' most of WSFA in the seventies, including them as characters or even places in his later novels. If you want a deeper critical understanding of the works of Jack Lawrence Chalker, get out the old WSFA roster. He was twice nominated for the Campbell Award, and has published some very successful books with his Mirage Press. He has had several series of popular novels, yet he is still essentially a fan (a three-propeller grand SMOF). Jack is also a ferryboat fan. I performed his wedding to Eva Whitley aboard a small ferry in the middle of the Susquehanna River. I suspect that when I finally cross the River Styx, Charon will ask me, "Say, how's Jack doing?"

Don Studebaker's speech was charged with 'elder gods and elves'. He was sort of a one-man Society for Creative Anachronism, before there was such a group. He organized strangeness -- for example, he made a 'Nazgul' crown for the President of WSFA, and actually got George Scithers to wear it during a meeting. Don could have jammed with the Pied Piper of Hamlin -- to great rat applause. When the insensitive dolts at the local draft board invited him down for a physical, I helped him skip town.

Don was welcomed in Philadelphia by 'St. Neo', Harriet Kolchak, and lived with her for a couple years before moving to California and being more-or-less adopted by Marion Zimmer Bradley. He was living at her home 'Grey Havens' when the SCA was founded there. Don married another of Bradley's 'adopted kids', Diana Paxton, a fantasy writer. Don, or 'Jon' by then, had a couple stories in Fantasy & Science Fiction and eventually talked someone into publishing a novel. He is still in California, busking as Mark Twain. Diana has had a somewhat more successful writing career.

Phyllis and Bill Berg always came to WSFA meetings with their tiny daughter. The first time I ever saw her, she was peeping out between Jack Chalker's ankles. Betty Berg was usually there under the Victorian sofa, cuddled up with Miss Cullen's Scottie. There weren't a lot of woman in Fandom in those days, but those who were there made their presence felt. Phyllis Berg definitely had "had the keys to the tree house."

Bob Pavlat and George Scithers could actually entertain us with parliamentary procedure. For example, George proposed some action to the club, and called for the 'aye' votes. He thought he had enough, so he didn't call for the 'nays'. Pavlat objected elaborately, and called for a vote of censure. George thought about it briefly and agreed. He called for the 'ayes' to censure himself, and then didn't call for the 'nays'. Scithers eventually won Hugos for his fanzine Amra and as editor of the Asimov's prozine, and is presently editor of Weird Tales. Bob Pavlat married the belle of Philly fandom, Peggy Rae McKnight (who chaired the 1998 WorldCon, Bucconeer).

Discon, WSFA's 1963 WorldCon, was by today's standards rather a small affair. I think there may have been 700 memberships bought, but closer to 400 actually attended. The exact attendance would be hard to construe as several very bizarre series were involved so that everyone could have a low number.

Discon Chairman Scithers decided to have a live band for the Masquerade, so it was essentially a dance with a costume parade for anyone who cared to walk across the stage and explain their costume. My date and I went in costume. The problem for me was that I had to hitchhike from East Riverdale to downtown Washington, D.C., carrying my costume and a pair of swords for the opening ceremonies duel Don Studebaker had arranged between L. Sprague de Camp and Fritz Leiber. Most folks sped up when they saw me. My date's problem was that she was having increasing difficulty walking, due to her advancing Multiple Sclerosis, but she made it across the stage while her friends cheered.

The great SF artist Ed Emshwiller was kind enough to look at some of my SF art at Discon and let me in on one of the mysteries of the illustrator's profession. After shaking his head and suppressing a giggle, he said, "Don't do illustrations in blue ballpoint pen, it doesn't reproduce well."

There was another guy from my high school in WSFA, Tom Haughey. Tom and I worked together on all sorts of hare-brained things for Discon. Scithers, noting our need for recognition, wrote that, like Bun Rabbit in Pogo's fire brigade, we "carried the hose." In 1963, Tom published a fanzine called Mirth and Irony. I did most of the illustrations, including some for a story by Jack Chalker called "Jungle of Stars," the original version of his first novel.

Tom was probably as much of an atheist then as I thought I was, but after his conversion to Republican, he became a Mennonite radio preacher down along the Rio Grande. Fundamentalist Bethany Press published a few of Tom's 'Christian Mystery' books. One had the classic locked-room' scenario, but with a difference: the murdered victim wasn't found dead inside the room. Instead, it was the murderer. The victim had been 'raptured', that is, swooped up into heaven.

Tom's surprising conversion rather shocked WSFA, and I suppose my own overnight conversion from the militant village atheist to Roman Catholic caused heads to wag (particularly as I came from a nominally Protestant family). In 1965, I gafiated off to Canada to study for the priesthood and would not find my way back to WSFA until February of 1974, just in time for Discon II -- and my second fandom.

All illustrations by Joe Mayhew

'Chat' cartoon by Teddy Harvia

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