Here's a bit of closure we'd promised back in Mimosa 27, the completion of an
article from Mimosa 27 which described the beginnings of Philadelphia fandom
and some of the notable fans who were part of that fan era of the 1930s and `40s.
This concluding installment brings the narrative into the 1950s, where the writer
(a true Fan for All Seasons) was involved in many events of great historical
importance, including the invention of the Hugo Awards, the origination of First
Fandom, a very contentious Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund election, and even a
less-than-successful attempt to bring fandom to another part of the country.
After World War Two, the dreams we had of having our own clubroom materialized. We rented a basement apartment in Philadelphia and had our own club rooms. We soon began to pick up membership, and even had David H. Keller and Lester del Rey come to speak. I remember at that meeting we broke our attendance record; we had more than 50 people -- incredible for a local club having an attendance of 50 people at a meeting. Among the new members were L. Sprague de Camp and George O. Smith, both of whom had moved to Philadelphia. We became known as the new Mecca of fandom.
Probably the biggest year for the club in that era was 1953, when it hosted a worldcon. But this brought about an interesting situation -- now that we had the convention, who would be chairman? There were only two nominees, myself and Milt Rothman, who had founded the club way back in the 1930s and had chaired the first Philadelphia worldcon six years earlier. But Milt had just gotten his PhD in Nuclear Physics and was expecting to go to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, at any time. And I had applied for a job in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I'd heard through the grapevine that I would get that job. So neither one of us really wanted the chairmanship.
It turned out that I did go to North Carolina, but Rothman did not go to Tennessee. There was an author named Chan Davis who was a member of the Communist Party and who was a science fiction correspondent of Rothman. This was in the middle of the McCarthy era, and it turned out that the FBI had been conducting surveillance on Davis for some time. They finally raided his house and took all his correspondence, and what should they find but all these letters from Milt Rothman, who was being considered for a security-clearance job in Oak Ridge. It came out that Chan Davis had asked him to become a member of the Communist Party and Rothman had said no. But in the FBI's belief, he hadn't said 'no' definitively enough! So he didn't get the job.
Anyway, it turned out Rothman was better off not going to Tennessee because he became employed by the prestigious Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton University. It was a better job, and it was only a half hour drive from Philadelphia. This allowed him to accept the chairmanship for the 1953 Worldcon.
That worldcon was the one where the Hugo Awards were first presented. The idea for the Awards was the brainchild of one of our club members, Hal Lynch. He came running over to my house one night, and said, "Hey, Bob, I've got a great idea! Why don't we give awards for things like Best Novel and Best Magazine -- sort of like the Oscars."
And I said, "Gee, that's great! We could call them the ‘Hugos'." At the time I was writing a column, "Inside Science Fiction" for Robert Lowndes, and I used that to play up the idea of the Hugos before the convention. But how were we going to do it? Money didn't flow freely in those days. In the end we decided to make them ourselves. Milt Rothman suggested we use a rocket design based on a Chesley Bonestell cover for a Willy Ley book, and one of the club members, Jack McKnight, did the machining. But they almost didn't get them done in time! Milt found out that the person who had originally been responsible for making the Awards had never even gotten started, so Jack stepped in and had to spend the entire convention in his machine shop.
After the convention I took the job down in Charlotte, a public relations position for a company that made women's stockings. After I got there I wrote a letter to the Charlotte News announcing that I wanted to form a science fiction club, and not long afterwards I got a call from a writer named John Borchert -- he wanted me to come down to the Charlotte News for an interview. So I went down there and talked about science fiction, and the article appeared in the next day's newspaper. There was a large photo that accompanied the story that showed me holding copies of Wonder Stories and Science Fiction Quarterly. I was amused to see that, in another story on that page, there was a much smaller photo of President Eisenhower.
John Borchert mentioned in the article that I was trying to form a science fiction club; in fact he joined himself -- he was a science fiction fan; that's why he'd called me back. In just a few weeks we had 12 or 15 members and were meeting every other week. The amazing thing about this club was that, for the first time, I noticed that there were people who were science fiction fans but who had never heard of the science fiction magazines; they'd become fans from paperbacks and book clubs. Most of the members of that club are pretty much forgotten now ...Randy Warman, George Cole, Bob Shrader, Al Alexander... One of the most famous non-members was Fred Chappell. He never joined the club, though he was in communication with me a few times. One time I was in the Asheville area I dropped in to see him; his mother ran a motel there. He went on to become a famous poet, though back then he was just a thirteen-year-old kid.
It was a fun club and we had some great times. In 1955 we came up with the idea to hold a convention, one of the first southeastern science fiction conventions, which was held in Atlanta in conjunction with Ian Macauley's Atlanta Science Fiction Organization. The following year we held another, in Charlotte. Dr. C.L. Barrett from Ohio came down for that and we made him our Toastmaster; he was quite interested in our group, and he thought we should try for a worldcon in the South. We were quite intrigued with that idea, but it never went any further -- soon after that I got a job with the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C., and after I left, so did the club.
I should mention that 1956 convention was notable for another reason -- it hosted the world premiere for MGM's Forbidden Planet. I was in my office one day not too long before the convention and got this telephone call from a reporter at the Charlotte Observer. He told me that MGM was shipping a print of Forbidden Planet to Charlotte, and that it hadn't yet been shown in theaters anywhere. The reporter had taken it upon himself to inform MGM about the existence of our science fiction club and of the upcoming convention, and was told that they wanted to talk to me. So I called them, and it turned out that they wanted our convention to be the first place the movie would be shown to the public. We were very happy to oblige. Just the idea of premiering Forbidden Planet was something special, but then so was the movie -- we all thought it was fantastic, no pun intended.
By 1958, I had been transferred by the Department of the Army to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, which was only about a hundred miles from Cincinnati. Don Ford, a member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, called me up one day and said, "Hey, we're all going to meet at C.L. Barrett's house in Bellefontaine, Ohio for a weekend party. Come and join us." Doc Barrett was a well-known person in Midwestern fandom -- he was an M.D. but also a very active fan, a great collector. Some of the others there were Lou Tabakow, Dale Tarr, and Ben Keefer. All of us had been active fans, at that point, for more than twenty years.
At one point during that weekend we all decided that there really ought to be an organization that would recognize the people who were active in fandom's earliest years. Legend had it that somebody had seen, somewhere on a Mens Room wall, where somebody had written "First Fandom is not dead!" So I came up with the idea, why don't we start an organization called First Fandom? It would include only the old-time fans who had been readers or collectors prior to 1938, and the idea would be to give awards to the famous writers who had never received one.
Don Ford thought that was a great idea, and ran with it. He said, "Okay, Madle, it was your idea, so you're the President. I'll be Secretary-Treasurer and Lou will be Vice President." We needed an Official Editor, so he picked up the phone and called Lynn Hickman, who was quite a fan magazine publisher, and Lynn also was very enthusiastic about the whole idea. We were the founding members of First Fandom.
One of the other things that happened to me during the `50s was being elected the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate in 1957. I'd actually been nominated for the 1956 TAFF election, by Forry Ackerman, but I had to turn it down -- there was no way I could get enough time off from my job down in Charlotte because the company I worked for only gave me a one week vacation each year. But the following year, after I'd taken the Army job, Ackerman nominated me again, even though he was one of the candidates as well. As it turned out, there were eight people nominated in 1957, and it was a controversial election. One of the other candidates, Stu Hoffman, had put out a flyer offering to pay a dollar if you voted in the election, not necessarily for him. This was looked upon as vote buying. But somehow some of the British fans got me confused with Hoffman; to this very day there are British fans who think that I bought that election.
When I won, some British fan wrote, 'What the heck does Madle know about science fiction fandom anyway? He hasn't been active in so long, he's nothing but a fakefan.' And I thought, gee, that's a good title: A Fakefan in London. So I used it as the title of my TAFF trip report, which Lynn Hickman published in installments in his fanzine.
So that was the 1950s. It really was an interesting time to be a fan, and the term "Fandom is a Way of Life" was all too true much of the time. But to me, the very best times were my early days in fandom, in the 1930s, when I was just absolutely completely obsessed with it. I really did have a personal sense of wonder. Back then, to me every science fiction author was a god. Every day was an adventure. Every fan gathering was an exciting event.
Those were great times.
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen