I wandered into science-fiction fandom late in 1952, apparently having confused it with a gent's washroom. In those days, I resided in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and made my rather precarious living as a traveling salesman in sheet metal and heating supplies. The annual sheet metal convention was held in Milwaukee toward the latter part of a given January. By the time the SM con came along, I'd received enough fanzines to become aware that one Robert Bloch resided in Milwaukee and I was able to make arrangement to get together with him some evening when nothing demanding was on my schedule for the convention.
Thus it came to pass that Bloch was the first s-f fan I ever met. It's true he was also an s-f pro at the same time, but he was as much a fan as anyone who ever donned a helicopter beanie.
In those days, Bloch didn't drive automobiles although I understand he learned to do so after moving to the Los Angeles area, several years later. If he wanted to go from point A to point B, he usually took a Greyhound bus, seeming to prefer them over trains.
It was some time after that initial encounter in January of 1953 that the Blochs decided to move to Weyauwega, Wisconsin. I'm not certain but believe it was because he had relatives there. It was a tiny hamlet and I'd assume it still is; an unlikely spot to serve as home base for an author.
I made my tours of duty during the first four days of the week, calling on my local dealers on Fridays. I covered the lower eastern portion of Wisconsin and other salesmen covered the rest of our territory, on a three-week schedule. I didn't get into Milwaukee but I did make what I thought of as the Clintonville trip and that took me through the general vicinity of Weyauwega so it was a simple matter to stop at the Bloch house on the way back home. As you faced the house from the street, his office was in an upstairs room at the right front corner and it was furnished with a straight-backed chair, a desk supporting a typewriter, and some manner of chaise lounge or daybed over between the corner windows, plus several well-filled bookcases.
The right-hand end of the typewriter carriage was heavily encrusted with tars and injurious resins because Bloch kept an ashtray where the smoke would curl up past the end of the carriage. As a usual rule, he used a cigarette holder and I can't recall having ever seen him smoke without the holder.
Either the desk was short on the right rear corner or perhaps the floor sagged a bit at about that point; maybe it was a little of both. At any rate, the desk was prone to teeter back and forth in a manner Bloch found painfully distracting. Then, as now, I was into home shop woodworking -- which Bloch most assuredly was not -- so I volunteered to see about constructing a replacement for the nervous desk.
I made my rounds in a large Oldsmobile station wagon in those days and it was no great challenge to make up a few component pieces that could be hauled along on the trip and assembled on the site. At the right rear of the new desk, I included a little rotary cam with a lever to adjust it, and a locking bolt to make it stay put. It worked, as do most of my brainstorms and, as with few exceptions, it wasn't at all pretty. But it did support the typewriter at a comfortable working height and it did not rock nor teeter by so much as a fraction of an Angstrom unit. Bloch professed himself well pleased with the artifact and continued to use it during his stay in Weyauwega.
Which means, if I can claim no other distinction, I built the desk on which the manuscript for Psycho was written.
I used to flake out on the lounge while Bloch remained at his desk, and recall once noting a spider spinning a network across the ceiling. I pointed and said, "I suppose you call him Jack Webb?"
"No, it's a female and I'm surprised you spied her," was his rapid riposte.
I believe Bloch started working on a television show while they still lived in Milwaukee. The show was called It's a Draw! and featured a rapid cartoonist whose name -- if memory serves -- was Sid Snow. At the start, by way of an example, Sid would sketch a man in armor next to an apparatus for distillation and you were supposed to interpret that as, "In the still of the (k)night." The gimmick was that Sid would dash off a cartoon as Bloch and his co-panelists strove to come up with the correct title.
The year came to be 1956 and one of the hot news items of the day was the upcoming nuptials of Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier of Monaco. The Blochs were in Weyauwega by that time and Bloch would travel to Milwaukee via Greyhound to do his stint on the show. There was a short layover in Fond du Lac before he caught the bus that took him to Milwaukee, and I'd stop down at the Greyhound depot to visit for a bit as he passed through.
On this particular occasion, I asked him if he'd heard la Kelly's honeymoon plans. Ever the perfect straight man, he cocked an inquiring eyebrow.
"She's going to Mount Ranier [...beat...] or, perhaps, vice versa."
Bloch proceeded to generate more raucous mirth than I thought justified by the modest jape but that was one of his more admirable traits. The Milwaukee bus came fuming in, Bloch climbed aboard, and I went back home. Later in the evening, we tuned in his TV show and, rather early in the proceedings, the master of ceremonies made some passing reference to Grace Kelly.
Whereupon, Bloch and the other three panelists absolutely dissolved in madcap mirth and dribbled off the edge of the table onto the floor. The face of the master of ceremonies was a classic study in total befuddlement and it must have puzzled most viewers considerably. We, however, could tell Bloch's fellow panelists had gotten word on Grace's honeymoon plans, but the emcee remained in the dark about the matter.
Another time, Canadian friend Bill Stavdal was visiting and we'd tuned in It's A Draw! for his benefit. Bloch managed to work in a throwaway line: "I think it looks like Bill Stavdal!" Stavdal was totally, utterly mindblown.
# # # #
A lot of years have passed since that time. We both eventually moved from Wisconsin to California, but for one reason or another, never seemed to see much of each other after that. I think I'll always remember Robert Bloch as I knew him back in Wisconsin -- he was an inveterate humorist, a great writer, an even better friend.
And yes, I'll miss him a lot.
- - - - - - - - - -One thing we should mention about Robert Bloch is that he enjoyed and always had time for fandom. He was a recipient of Mimosa, and responded to every issue received by sending us a postcard containing a witty comment or two. There's probably a sub-sub-fandom consisting of people who have received Bloch postcards, we're guessing. Buck Coulson wrote us that "we have a fair number of Bloch postcards around here somewhere [commenting on Yandro]. I recall when our son was born, he sent us some advice for parents: 'Never feed the baby liquids. Dry food, dry baby.' And other such examples of Bloch logic." Steve George wrote us that "whenever I tried to explain to people why I published a fanzine and gave it away for free, I would tell them about my postcards from Robert Bloch. It always amazes me to think that one of my first letters of comment was from 'the guy who wrote Psycho'."
One other notable humorist of the 1950s was featured in M17 -- John Berry, a member of the legendary Irish Fandom for many years. He has also been one of the best, most entertaining fan writers, not only of the 1950s, but subsequent decades as well, as the following article shows:
All illustrations by Charlie Williams