One of the highlights of 1950s fandom was the first non-North American worldcon, the
1957 Loncon. It was probably the most fannish and informal worldcon to that date,
with the presence of about 70 North Americans creating the first-ever mass meeting
of fans from the Old World and the New World. Slightly more than 55 of those North
Americans came over on a special charter flight, an epic adventure for those who
participated. And it was an even more epic adventure for the coordinator of the
whole affair, as the following article describes.
Taking 53 other people on one's sf fannish honeymoon is Amazing. Bringing along the mother and father of the groom is Astounding. And having a worldcon as the destination is a Wonder -- actually an Air Wonder Story because a chartered airplane was involved.
This article will be an abbreviated history about what happened to me and my bride and all those people on the famous overseas 1957 Fan Flight. I think fandom ought to honor their pioneering pilgrimage and to know the names of those who completely filled the seats in the four-prop DC-4 Skymaster.
It all began in February 1956, while I was Chairman of the upcoming 1956 Newyorcon and pretty fanne Ruth Landis was con Secretary. I had made a promise then that if the 15th World Science Fiction Convention site were voted for London for 1957, I would make arrangements for a trans-oceanic air flight for the greatest number of fans.
London did win, and the London Trip Fund swung into high gear, handled by Ruth and me. Ours was a combination sure to work, because by then we had gotten engaged. So Ruth bore the brunt of the administration in Manhattan while I was 350 miles away establishing a radio station in upstate New York. I went to the city as frequently as possible for two important reasons, the LTF and, most certainly, to see my sweetheart.
There were many ups and downs during the year and a half in the complicated process of accomplishing this mission. My first attempt resulted in a remarkable bargain of a $130 one-way fare to London (this assumed fans would arrange for their own way back at whatever time they were ready to come home). But it turned out that most of the fans who were planning to go on the trip actually wanted a round trip fare. That came in at $285, based on availability of planes (and there were to be no complimentary seats, not even for Ruth and me). So we set September 2nd for departure and September 20th for return, as the convention was scheduled for September 7, 8, and 9. The deadline for reservations was April 30th, but June 30th was the moment of truth when cancellation of the flight might happen if we didn't have enough confirmed (and paid) reservations, and all monies would then have to be returned.
The biggest challenge developed in late April. Ruth phoned me that Pan American Airways couldn't furnish the west-bound flight. I immediately flew to the city for a three day attempt to solve the problem. Pan Am was dropped in favor of the Royal Dutch Airlines, KLM. The KLM Charter Director described my task as "virtually impossible," but we worked hard and eventually obtained a two-way trip under the original budget. I crossed my fingers and signed an agreement stating that "I may be held personally liable for default of the contract" and "I will make arrangements personally for return passage insurance." I was greatly encouraged to know that everyone pledged to go was enthusiastic and optimistic.
It was that crucial June 30th cancellation date which now suddenly had me frantic. Last minute commitments by individuals were bouncing around like crazy. In May, one drop-out was replaced by getting my brother Arthur to sign up. Then came the really disappointing news that Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett, the famous husband and wife authors, couldn't go because of a Hollywood script assignment. What to do at this last minute? Increase the fare? Or cancel? The solution was in convincing my mother and father that they should become convention members and make the trip. My parents were going on my honeymoon!
Finally, the passenger list was considered settled. And then it was time for the next step, the biggest one of all -- marriage for Ruth E. Landis and David A. Kyle.
On August 31st, in the chapel of The Little Church Around the Corner in midtown Manhattan, the Kyle nuptials were performed. I'd originally intended that Dick Wilson was to be Best Man. Years earlier I was his Best Man when he'd wed Doris "Döe" Baumgardt (aka Leslie Perri). However, my brother, the last minute trip substitute, was in town with my parents for the London trip so he became best man, and Dick served as an usher. (Afterwards, Dick lent me his Volkswagen to whisk Ruth away for our wedding night and I ran out of gas on the Palisades Interstate Parkway. I struggled back with a gas can only to learn the next day from Dick that there was a reserve tank that could be used by simply flipping a hidden switch.) With flight departure only days away, a few of the con-bound travelers attended our simple wedding ceremony and the reception which followed. The presence of Forrest J Ackerman has to be specifically mentioned, as it was he who maintained that 'KLM' really meant 'Kyle-Landis-Marriage'.
There were 55-and-a-fraction fans who boarded the plane at New York's Idlewild International Airport two days later (Harry Harrison and Joan had brought their infant son Todd). We each carried a small, bright blue, canvas carrying bag with the letters KLM stenciled boldly in white. We were bound together then forever friend and foe. ("Foe?" Yes, there were two of them, but that's another long, long agonizing story. What would fandom have been in those turbulent days without some kind of spectacular fan feud?)
The trip was eventful for Ruth and me. KLM presented us with a bottle of champagne, sparingly shared, and a large wedding cake trimmed in bright blue and white icing. The colors matched our overnight knickknack bags, and a sliver of cake was tasted by all. The flight was long, 16 hours or so, this being before the age of jet airliners. There was a refueling stop at Gander in Newfoundland which allowed us some leg-stretching, but while on board the airplane most of us drowsed or slept. This was Ruth's first airplane ride. She was by a window, on the left side to the rear behind the wing, able to see what there was to see. Her head had been nestled against my shoulder. But then, in the droning silence of the night, she moved and stirred me awake. "David!" She was alarmed. "David, we've stopped!" Stopped? Outside dawn was breaking. I looked out the window. Far below, the low carpet of clouds did indeed seem from our great height to be stationary.
The site of the 1957 Loncon was the rather small, old-style King's Court Hotel in Bayswater, and it was completely taken over by the convention members. The result was outstandingly fannish, especially with the intimate lounge and timeless bar service. Our ground floor bedroom was large. A big bay window near our bathroom jutted out toward the sidewalk, great for a view but with all that glass giving us pause for caution. The official attendance was 268, including about seventy North American fans who found the $2.80 daily accommodation (with breakfast included!) absolutely incredible.
The BBC gave us wonderful TV coverage with renown interviewer Alan Wicker. The costume party participants were interviewed and televised. (Some Fan Flight persons had brought their own costume materials, but I went shopping that Saturday morning at the big department store a few blocks away and purchased all kinds of penny items and hardware gadgets, using them to build costumes for Ruth and me which were surprisingly photogenic.) As described in Harry Warner, Jr.'s A Wealth of Fable, "The imaginative BBC devised a smash ending for its coverage. Ruth Kyle's zap-gun, identified as a positron pistol, was made to zap the interviewer out of existence."
So who, exactly, went on the flight? Not unsurprisingly, metropolitan New York furnished the most travelers, but strange to say, the majority of them were not active fans: Mary Dziechowski (Forry's friend), Milton Spahn, Judy Grad, Arlene Donovan. Even more obscure were those whose first names I've forgotten: K. Leerburger, H. Hausman, R. Gutstein, L. Shapiro, J. Rock, and the two Leedhams, C. and B. Better known were Sheldon Deretchin (who was a prominent fan then) and Cynthia Margulies (the wife of Leo, big time sf publisher and editor), Frank and Belle Dietz, and Nims Raybin.
Philadelphia furnished nine people, which included some prominent fans: Jean Bogert (frequent PSFS officer), Will Jenkins (often confused with the Murray Leinster one), Herb Schofield, Bob Madle (who was really from Hyattsville, Maryland by then), Ozzie Train (fan and pro), M. Hawthorne, the Fahringers (husband and wife), and H.S. Heap (whom I remember as the mother of George R. Heap, who fully paid but received a refund when he couldn't get away).
From Newark, New Jersey came R. Miller and, of course, Sam Moskowitz. C.M. Brennan came from Irvington, New Jersey. But who was the mysterious traveler P. Moskowitz (#34) also from Newark (Sam was #20)? Does anyone know?
Two came from Chicago: Ed Bielfeldt (a regular con-goer) and W. McGill. Two came from Strongsville, Ohio: R. Pierce and H. Neuberger. Two came from Clarksburg, West Virginia: D.L. McCulty and G. Barker. From Springfield, Virginia was Lee Sirat, and Val Anjoorian from Waltham, Massachusetts. R. Callahan came from Dearborn, Michigan.
Coming from farthest away (except for Forry from California) was Bob Abernathy of Tucson, Arizona. The lone Canadian was active fan Art Hayes. And from Detroit we had a future worldcon co-chairman, Fred Prophet. It turned out that four Fan Flight tickets were split into separate east-west passages. They were I.J. Hall, R.D. Cahn, and Jerry Josties, all of Swarthmore Pennsylvania, A. Frey, M.P. Graham, Nella Hellinger, Z. Benowitz, and S. Gerson, all of New York. Joan and Harry Harrison went on to live in Denmark, but I don't have a record of who flew back west in their place. Four well-known couples who hoped to go but didn't were Ian and Betty Ballantine and, with their wives, Bob Sheckley, Charlie DeVet, and Jack Speer. Three who paid their full fare but received last minute refunds were F. Rae and D. Nillo of New York and R. O'Rorke of Detroit. The final tally brought all 55 voyagers an unexpected $19.60 refund.
Once upon a time all these persons came on my honeymoon and we shared an adventure. Many of them may still be alive, and I wish I could better remember them all. Maybe somebody knows more details. If so, I'd love to have them drag my thoughts back to that time of the Loncon, almost half a century ago.
All illustrations by Kip Williams