With all the things we've said previously
about Midwestcon being a fan nexus and one of our favorite conventions, it wouldn't
seem right to have a 'fan history' theme issue of Mimosa without at least one
article inspired by Midwestcon. So here it is. Its genesis was a Saturday night
bull session at Midwestcon 41, and all the stories seemed to revolve around fans
and events of the 1950s, which seems to be just about everybody's favorite fannish
Howard: Tell them how I kept you in SAPS, Roger.
Roger: I was derelict in my duties. It was deadline time, and I don't know where I'd gone. Was I living in New York at the time?
Howard: You might have been; I don't know.
Roger: Howard kindly decided he would keep me in SAPS. He did six pages and put my name on it. And to make sure everybody knew it was me, he misspelled every fourth word.
Howard: And nobody questioned it!
Roger: When did you come into fandom, Howard?
Howard: Yeah. I was aware of it a long time before that.
Roger: Why, you got in just about a year before I did.
Howard: I think it was last year I was out to this comics con, and I was talking to Julie Schwartz about fandom and conventions. I knew about the '39 Worldcon, but it never really occurred to me to think about attending. He says, "Well, why not? Ackerman loaned Bradbury forty dollars so he could attend." I said that in 1939, if my father had known anybody who had forty dollars he would have mugged him! My father had a failing; he drank.
Lynn: Passed it on, too, didn't he?
Roger: How did you get the nickname 'Big-Hearted Howard'?
Howard: The 'Big-Hearted Howard' name I started myself.
Lynn: Did you?
Howard: Yeah, I did. I, Roger, and Agnes Harook were all in SAPS for a while -- I had talked Agnes into joining. I was the only one with a mimeograph, and I was doing all the work. Agnes would cut a few stencils, and she would leave very wide margins. So after she turned the stencils over to me to print, I would proceed to add comments down the margins of her stencils -- about how nice I was, about how big-hearted I was for doing all this. Then, at some point, I admitted that there wasn't any Agnes, and I was carrying two memberships under different names. This upset Agnes -- she at least wanted to get credit for what she was doing. So, next time she brought the stencils, she waited while I printed them, and then took the finished pages with her to mail them to the Official Editor. At that point, I ran off a cover with my comments, mailed it off to the OE and said we'd forgot to put a cover on Aggie's fanzine, and would he staple it on? Two or three weeks later, the SAPS mailing came and here was a new cover on her fanzine...
The Adventures of Steve Metchette
Roger: Go back. What happened to bring you into fandom in the first place?
Howard: I was down in a big bookstore in Detroit, and ran into Arnim Seilstad, who told me about the local club, and convinced me that I ought to come to a meeting. So I went to a meeting at Ed Kuss's house, and while I was there we split up part of a book collection. Henry Elsner, who was a pre-war fan, was getting rid of everything. Steve Metchette, who was a Canadian, wanted reading material, so he took the cheap stuff to get more volume. At that point, the Canadians couldn't import anything -- they used to check Steve to see if he brought American cigarettes back when he crossed the border. So that summer we smuggled all the books that belonged to Metchette over to him in Windsor. And then, about 1953, he was in the American army in Korea and he sold all his books. I had to cross over to Windsor and smuggle the whole damn thing back again.
Roger: When was the last time that you saw Steve? Didn't he live in California for a while?
Howard: That was before he went into the Army. He moved out there and was living out there for a while. As a Canadian residing in the States then, he had a choice of being drafted into the Army or signing a release that he would never try and become an American citizen. They sent him a notice to either show up for the draft or sign the form. He stalled them a couple of days and then talked Hans Rusch into driving him back to Detroit. Didn't tell the Draft Board a thing! He signed up again with the Draft Board in Detroit without ever mentioning anything about San Francisco. It was probably a year before they got around to him. When he was drafted, I threw him a going-away party, and at that time he asked me if I would pick up his fannish possessions from the YMCA where he was living. He would notify his roommate that I was coming. A week or so later I showed up at the Y and went to his room. There was no one there, but the room was unlocked so I loaded everything up and carried it downstairs and past the desk clerk; it took maybe four or five trips. Later, I discovered that he'd forgotten to mention it to the roommate, so if anyone had stopped me I'd probably have been talking to the police until they found Metchette down at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Anyway, after he did his time in the American Army in Korea, he applied for citizenship and didn't have any problem getting it.
Lynn: I think I met him at the Cinvention in 1949, before all this.
Howard: I've got to tell about George Young and Steve Metchette. During the Korean War, Art Rapp, George Young, and Steve Metchette managed to get together over in Korea. Rapp stayed in the Army but George did his time, got his discharge, and came home. This was 1952, I think. George started taking classes down at Wayne State University, and rented an apartment somewhere around there. About the time George moved into the apartment, one of my neighbors brought over a batch of fish one night. I don't eat fish at all, and my wife doesn't think much of it either, but we took them out of politeness. So I cut the heads off about a dozen of them, got a fancy jar, put the fish heads in plus some ammonia for the smell. I added a little bit of iodine to give it a nice bloody look, then I wrapped a ribbon around it and I took it to George. I told him that Steve had sent this Japanese delicacy to him, knowing how he loved them. And since he didn't know George's address, he'd sent them in care of me. So George held the jar up at eye level for a couple of minutes and looked at all the little beady eyes staring back at him. Then he walked down the hall and put it in the incinerator.
Roger: Who mailed the fatback?
Lynn: Howard mailed the fatback to me, in a plain envelope that was greasy and smelly and terrible when it arrived! I had just moved back from the south; he said that's to go with my black-eyed peas.
Howard: This also inspired me to mail F.M. Busby a jelly doughnut in a plain envelope, but I never did know how that one came out.
Detention and the Longest Panel in the World(con)
Lynn: Tell us about the 1959 Detroit Worldcon.
Howard: How did we open it, Roger?
Roger: We opened it dragging a body across the stage.
Howard: I think you got up and announced in such-and-such a year, I had said that Detroit would hold a Worldcon over my dead body.
Roger: That's right. It was in 1954, at the Border Cities Con.
Howard: Anyway, there was the sound of a gunshot, and I fell to the floor, and they dragged me off to open the convention.
Lynn: At that convention I was on the longest panel of any Worldcon.
Howard: Well, so were a lot of people.
Lynn: John Berry and I left, and got Dave Kyle to replace us, because it was already two o'clock in the morning and we wanted to party.
Roger: It was a fanzine panel. The panel was supposed to have been Friday night, but something happened.
Howard: Every time we ran short in time, that was the panel we moved.
Roger: The panel started about nine o'clock on the Saturday night, and a beer party started at ten o'clock. People were going and getting beer, then going back to the panel.
Howard: Before long, everybody was carrying beer back and forth.
Lynn: And nobody would let us quit!
Roger: People would leave the stage and other people would get on.
Howard: I think it was around four o'clock in the morning before it started to die out. This was an audience participation panel!
Roger: Anyway, Howard did say that "We'll have a Worldcon in Detroit over my dead body." The reason why was because in 1954, George Young came up with the brilliant scheme that we would have a Border Cities Convention, and people would come not only from all over the United States, but all over Canada for our little convention in Detroit. We were going to have thousands of people there! And everybody was going to go to the banquet. We had to guarantee at least 300 dinners for the banquet; I mean, we had to! Well, we talked them down to 100, we sold 35, and the hotel only charged us for 75. At that point, Martin Alger suggested that since we were paying for 75 that we call the Salvation Army and ask them to send over 40 bums for a free feed. The only way we paid for it was because Howard donated a set of Astoundings, which we auctioned off.
Lynn: It was after that he said, "Over my dead body! I haven't got any more magazines!"
Room 770 and the 1951 New Orleans Worldcon
Roger: Let's tell some New Orleans stories.
Lynn: Okay. I drove my brand new Mercury convertible to the 1951 Worldcon. On the way I picked up Fred Chappell in Canton, North Carolina. I stopped in Charleston, South Carolina and picked up Bobby Pope, then I went to Atlanta and I picked up Ian Macauley and Walt Guthrie, and we took off for New Orleans. I met Rich Elsberry there, and we decided to leave the convention for a little bit and take a trip through New Orleans and see the scenery. Besides myself there was Ian Macauley, Max Keasler, Bobby Pope, Rich Elsberry, and Bobby Johnson. And every time we went past a Confederate statue, Bobby Pope had to stand up and salute, because he was a real southerner. And Rich Elsberry said, "You know, this is no ordinary convertible." I said, "Of course not; it's a new Mercury!" He said, "I don't mean that. Do you realize every one of us is a fanzine editor?" And we all were. That was something back in those days.
Roger: So anyway, you got back to the hotel...
Lynn: This was the first night. Max Keasler and I decided to go down to Bourbon Street and hear some of the jazz. We got back about one or two o'clock in the morning. Keasler said, "Come on up to the room and we'll have a drink." So Keasler went to the desk and said "I want the key to 770," and the desk clerk raised his eyebrows and said, "There's a wild party going on in that room!" We went up there and opened the door, and people started falling out...
Roger: Ed Kuss, Agnes Harook, and I decided we wanted to go. Well, Ed had money; he had a job at Ford Motor Company so he had money for plane fare. Aggie and I were poor -- we took the bus. We got to Memphis, where these two kids got on the bus. They walked to the back and I said to Aggie, "They're going to the convention -- they're fans." She said, "How do you know?" I said, "I'll prove it." So I walked back and said, "I'm going to New Orleans and the World Science Fiction Convention. Are you going there?" And they said yes. It was Max Keasler and Rich Elsberry.
Howard: They stayed with you at the convention, didn't they?
Roger: Yes. Ed Kuss had told me that since I was going to get there first, I should get a room for the two of us. Well, since Max and Rich didn't have a room yet either, I got a room for four people. Four single beds. It was a mammoth room.
Lynn: That was Room 770 in the St. Charles Hotel.
Roger: Ed Kuss didn't sleep in his bed for the first two nights, because his bed was occupied by Bob Johnson and Frank Dietz. I think everybody who was at the convention was in that room one time or another that night.
Lynn: How did the party get started?
Roger: Ed Kuss and Rich Elsberry were in the room talking when Lee Jacobs called and asked to come up. He arrived with a pitcher of Seagrams and four other fans. About five minutes later, twenty more fans arrived with whiskey, gin, and mix from a party in Frank Dietz's room that had just been shut down due to the noise. From that time to the end of the con, it seemed that the room was never quite empty of extra fans.
Howard: Tell us about the parade.
Roger: That was one of the 'highlights' of the Room 770 party. There was a parade around the room in which the marchers rather than walking around the furniture, climbed over it. The march was halted when the slats on one of the beds gave way, spilling fans all over the floor. The other 'highlight' had to do with the mess in the bathroom that I discovered on returning from watching a poker game down the hall. As I walked into the room I noticed that water was starting to enter the bedroom from the bathroom. When I pushed the door open and looked in, I discovered that the bathroom floor was covered with water; cold water had been left running in the sink, but the sink was stopped up with green-covered red stuff, which we later found out was regurgitated lobster combined with green creme de menthe. I cleaned it up as the party went on.
Lynn: And it lasted all night.
Roger: Yes it did. It went on until about 5:30 in the morning. Eventually, Bob Johnson and Frank Dietz had stopped talking and had fallen asleep in Ed Kuss's bed; Ed had gone down to the hotel lobby around two o'clock to sleep. Rich Elsberry and Max Keasler were asleep in their respective beds, and Dale Hart was asleep in my bed. The Detroit bid party for the 1952 Worldcon was planned for the following night, so about six o'clock I decided to prepare for the party by cutting out large letters from old Christmas wrapping which would read 'Detroit in 52.' When I finished, Dale woke up and went wherever he was meant to go and I laid down on the bed for a couple of hours of rest.
Howard: Detroit had a reputation for making last minute bids with no advance preparation. There was an announcement of bid being made for `53 as well. I managed to derail that one.
Lynn: What happened to that one?
Howard: The Detroit club was falling apart in `52, and Martin Alger announced that he was disbanding it. At that point, Hal Shapiro was in the Army in Missouri, and he announced that he would run the club from Missouri and that he was bidding for the 1953 Worldcon. Then I ran an advert in Bob Tucker's Science Fiction News Letter, a leading fanzine of the time. It was quite simple -- it just said "We the undersigned are not responsible for Hal Shapiro." It was signed by every active fan in the Detroit area. The Shapiro bid was Dead, Dead, Dead.
Lynn: There was also a bid for `55, wasn't there?
Howard: Yeah, that was at the San Francisco Worldcon in 1954, and it lost to Cleveland. It was rather funny. Cleveland sent perhaps a dozen people to the `54 con and had maybe $100 for a bid party, but they told me later that they almost abandoned the bid because they had heard of the huge well-heeled club in Detroit. Actually, George Young and Roger were the only two people there for the Detroit bid, and they were eating only one meal a day and had absolutely no money for party supplies.
Lynn: What else do you remember about New Orleans, Roger?
Roger: Lots of things. Walking down Canal Street with Frank Dietz in the middle of the night, drinking a mixed drink out of a glass. Trying to protect Lee Hoffman's honor in the room sometime before the first party started. Discussing how to make the jellied consommé at the banquet edible by heating it. Going to a jazz club with George Young and others to hear George Lewis. All too soon it was Tuesday evening, and Aggie and I boarded the bus for the long trip back to Detroit.
Lynn: It was a helluva convention, wasn't it...
All illustrations by Dave Rowe