I was so thrilled to hear from a fellow science fiction fan! I had time on my hands, just sitting up in bed, so my mother got me some stationery, and I hand-wrote three letters to Linus that same day. As soon as I finished a six or seven page letter, I'd think of other things to tell him.
At that time, science fiction was still called 'scientifiction'. In correspondence with Linus, he was the first one to get a little weary of writing 'scientifiction' all the time, so he wrote 'stf'. In the beginning, we pronounced it 'ess-tee-eff', and that got a little tiresome so he cut it down to 'stef', and then merged it with 'fan'; we had 'stef-fans' for a while, then 'stfans'.
Well, about that time I created a correspondence club called 'The Boys Scientifiction Club'. (I had nothing against girls, but they were as rare as a unicorn's horn in the fandom of 1930.) I personally was writing to 116 science fiction fans around the world, and had a correspondent in Russia, as well as several in England and Canada. Well, the way the Boys Scientifiction Club operated was that you sent in a little snapshot of yourself. You also sent in either three issues, consecutive, of one of the magazines that had a serial in it, or a hard-cover book, of which there weren't too many at the time. In return, you got to keep either three magazines or a book for a month. Pretty soon, it got to where I was staggering five or six blocks to the mailbox, just to send off the books or magazines to the members.
Anyway, this little correspondence club that I created had given me a thirst for writing. About that time, Francis Flagg, who was a well-known science fiction author of the day, was running out of ideas. I, however, had more ideas than I knew what to do with, but at age 15, I didn't have professional ability yet. So I would send him an idea and he wrote it up. In the last issue of Wonder Stories, April 1936, I had my first professional story published, together with Francis Flagg, called "Earth's Lucky Day." And that kind of convinced me that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I hoped to be another H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, or somebody else of considerable consequence, but when I grew up and looked around in my mind, there weren't these great book ideas -- instead, everything seemed to trend more toward the O Henry type of super-short story.
I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit, but some years later, I finally wrote I guess what must be the world's shortest science fiction story -- one letter of the alphabet, for which I got paid a hundred dollars. After its initial sale, I sold it four more times, so I got paid five hundred dollars for a single letter of the alphabet. Since a natural word, I think, is considered generally to have about five letters in it, I got paid at the rate of $2,500 per word. Later, I sold it in eight translations, and of course, I retained the serialization rights... Then I confess that I did a very sneaky thing, I copyrighted the remaining letters of the alphabet, so nobody can use them but me for one-letter stories...
I will reveal for posterity that letter of the alphabet. The story was called "Cosmic Report Card: Earth", suggesting that flying saucer aliens were going around checking out Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and so on. I'm afraid the Earth got an 'F'.
The 1930s was the era when Hugo Gernsback started the Science Fiction League. In Los Angeles, the fourth chapter was created, and one day in 1934, in the garage of an adult fan, there was a preliminary little meeting, but nothing happened until a year later when we finally got going. I was at the charter meeting of that club, which eventually came to be known as the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, or LASFS. By that time, Thrilling Wonder Stories was sponsoring the League, I believe. A young fan named Roy Test came to the club, together with his mother Wanda Test. She became our first secretary, and the minutes were called 'Thrilling Wanda Stories'...
At that time, Charles D. Hornig was a young fellow who put out a very fine professional-looking printed magazine called The Fantasy Fan. Gernsback, who was looking around for an associate editor, saw this publication and he asked Hornig to come and see about getting the job. Well, he was staggered when a 17-year-old boy walked into his office. I still remember that letter I got from Charlie Hornig: "Forry, can you imagine what's happened?!? I've become the editor of Wonder Stories!!" (When he was given the offer, he had said, "I'll have to go home and ask my mother and dad whether they will let me.")
Well, in 1939 I heard, through the pages, I guess, of Thrilling Wonder, there was going to be the first World Science Fiction Convention. Well, boy oh boy, gosh wow, I sure intended to be there! I trembled with every clickety-clack of the railroad track, from L.A. to New York, and when I got off the train, there was Don Wollheim and five or six fans to greet me. One of them, fifteen years old with a bit of a paunch and dribbling cigarette ashes, looked me up and down disdainfully, and said, "So you're the Forrest Ackerman who has been writing those ridiculous letters to the science fiction magazines." He introduced himself to me as Cyril Kornbluth. And then he punched me in the stomach! I thought, "Well, welcome to Fun City! For this I came three thousand miles??"
Both Wollheim and Kornbluth were among the fans who were excluded from that very first Worldcon. I still have sort of a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach about it. When the gavel fell, and the first World Science Fiction Convention became reality, six fans were left standing outside. I couldn't believe it!
Ray Bradbury was a member of that first Worldcon; back in 1939, he was busy getting autographs rather than giving them. My recollection to this day is that I lent him fifty bucks so he could spend three and a half days and nights on a Greyhound bus to get there. I am told that every time that Ray Bradbury tells this story, the loan keeps going up and up in value in his memory -- it's gotten up to ninety-five dollars now! It took him a year or two, but he finally managed to pay it back. Ray had deliberately gone to the convention carrying a portfolio of work by Hannes Bok. I remember accompanying him later to the office of Weird Tales, meeting Farnsworth Wright, who was a rather emaciated-looking individual. At that time he had Parkinson's Disease -- he could just barely sign an autograph for us, but he took one look at Hannes Bok's work and immediately accepted it.
Ray Cummings, the legendary author, attended the convention. We had hoped that A. Merritt might attend also, but he was busy being the Sunday section editor of The American Weekly. So the day after the convention, a little group of us -- 6 or 8 fans -- got together and visited him. Someone had phoned, and he was waiting to meet us in his office. The now-deceased fan Dale Hart was so excited he was going to meet A. Merritt that he got up and he brushed his teeth with shaving cream! He was really foaming at the mouth! While we were in the anteroom, waiting for Merritt, along came Virgil Finlay, who was doing work for The American Weekly and Merritt. He had a marvelous portfolio of these originals, and our eyes were popping out of our heads to see his incredible classy work. Well, about ten minutes later, we were ushered into Merritt's office -- he was a little on the deaf side, so we all clustered around. He was extremely cordial to us, and made us fans feel quite welcome.
Another event at that convention was my costume, which was based on Things to Come and Frank R. Paul's artwork. Many people have asked me over the years, "Forry, where did you get the nerve to wear that futuristic costume on the streets of New York?" But I think it was sort of like being mild-mannered Clark Kent, going into the telephone booth and coming out as Superman. When I wore that outfit in public, little children were running in the streets of New York crying, "It's Flash Gordon! It's Buck Rogers!" I even got the nerve to go out to the Worlds Fair in it; they had a platform with a microphone, and if you were from Spain, or from Sweden or France or Germany or wherever, you could come up and greet the world in your native language. So I got this quixotic notion to go up and speak in Esperanto to the world, and say that I was a time traveler from the future, where we all spoke this language.
One other memory I have of that first Worldcon is that the banquet was so expensive that only 29 people could afford it. It was one dollar a plate! I had the good fortune to sit with Willy Ley, the great rocket expert, on the left of me, and L. Sprague de Camp on the right. One hundred and eighty-five of us were at that first World Science Fiction Convention! Several years ago, my wife entertained one hundred and eighty-six science fiction personalities in our home, including two astronauts -- one more than that whole first World Science Fiction Convention!
- - - - - - - - - -Harry Warner, Jr. wrote us that he was very happy that Forry Ackerman was "finally putting into words some of his memories of fandom past. I feel confident that he could write five hundred or more sections equaling or exceeding in length this first part without even approaching the end of his recollections." To that, Walt Willis added: "The instalment of the Ackerman biography was fine, but instilled in me a great sense of guilt. Forry sent me a first instalment of his autobiography while I was publishing Slant, and I never used it., partly because it was too long for Slant and partly because what I really wanted was the low-down on his feud with Laney. So when a glowing prospectus arrived for a great new Canadian fanzine I sent him my entire Slant backlog. Nothing further happened. The great new Canadian fanzine disappeared without trace, along with the Slant backlog. I never explained or apologised to Forry, and he never complained, which is one of the reasons I regard him as the most saintly person I know." And Vincent Clarke commented that "I've been reading bits of Ackerman's autobiography for years, but it's nice to have it put together in Mimosa. I also have a fanzine by him called What's Wrong With Science Fiction? It is, of course, blank. It's a pity he drifted (some time ago) rather into film fandom than kept to simon-pure fanzine fandom, but he has a spot in all our hearts. I remember when I met him a few years ago, all I could say was that I admired VOM. He took being congratulated for a 40-year-old fanzine in his stride."
We've saved the final spot in this Fanthology for Mike Resnick's article from M16, which is not only a look back at ConAdian, it's also a story of his own personal introduction to fandom:
Bottom illustration by Alexis Gilliland
All other illustrations by Teddy Harvia