Time now for the third in Forry Ackerman's mini-autobiographical series. In
Mimosa 17, Forry described the early 1940s, from the second World
Science Fiction Convention through his science fictional activities during the
second world war. This time it's on to the post-war 1940s and the early 1950s,
including the beginnings of Forry's famous science fiction collection, international
/ fan activities, the very first Hugo Award, and more...
People often ask me about my collection. Back in the 1940s, it was a bit smaller than it is now, but I still had 1,300 books. And when I went off to war, the question arose: What's to become of my collection? Well, when I entered the military, it looked to me like E. Everett Evans and some of the other elderly fans around town would never be called up unless there was an actual invasion of America. So I said, "In case I don't make it back, why don't you take my collection, and rent some little store front and put it in there?" When the war ended, they seemed kind of disappointed that I survived, because they were sort of looking forward to having the collection on display. At that point I said, "We don't really have to wait for me to die, you know. We can still exhibit it." And that's basically what happened. The collection became known as The Fantasy Foundation, and it was publicized at the next year's worldcon, which was in Los Angeles.
Prior to the 4th World Science Fiction Convention, the Pacificon, which was the last worldcon I ever nicknamed, we had one of the pre-con meetings up in my apartment. It was then that the question arose of who we should have as a Guest of Honor. I don't think I've ever told this tale -- it's one that made me very unhappy at the time, but I guess it made me a great hero with the feminists of the day. I said, "Well, what do you say if we have our Guest of Honor for the first time be a female?" The leading lady writer of the time was Catherine Moore, who lived right there in L.A. "You know, we might also have a female editor, Mary Gnaedinger, who edited Fantastic Mysteries. And maybe we could get Margaret Brundage, the great artist."
But right away, somebody complained: "No, you can't! Henry Kuttner is going to be very upset -- you have to have Kuttner along with his wife."
I objected loudly. "No! That would destroy the whole notion! Kuttner should be proud, that of all the women possibilities, his wife is the one that's honored. We're not saying that she is better than he is, we're just saying she's the best woman writer of the time." But everybody hollered me down. We did have a nice substitution, though -- A.E. van Vogt and his writer wife, Edna Mayne Hull. But I always felt kind of cheated, that they couldn't see it my way. And we never have had an all-female Worldcon Guest of Honor list.
But back to The Fantasy Foundation... I thought we wanted to have something to show the fans rather than just the name, so I knocked myself out -- I recorded information on all 1,300 books I had at the time. I got kind of wrapped up in that, and I thought, I don't want to just enter 'The Man Who Mastered Time by Ray Cummings' -- I should tell whether it was a first edition, then I should say who drew the cover, and then I should mention its subject matter if it's a title where you'd have no idea what the book is about, and so on. I was really going all-out. My listing got called I Bequeath -- I said, "All these books I freely give to the world, for posterity."
Well, when the great day dawned on the day the convention began, I was the first one at the convention halls, about 8 o'clock in the morning, but I had so knocked myself out prior to the convention, that by 4 o'clock that afternoon I absolutely collapsed. I lasted just long enough to tell them, with a very halting, husky voice, about the idea of The Fantasy Foundation. After I collapsed, they took me upstairs. I was trembling all over; I was icy cold. They covered me up, and I think I passed out for a little while. That evening, at 8 o'clock, I heard Robert Bloch arriving downstairs. Over the microphone he said, "Well, folks, here I am in Los Angeles, all the way from Milwaukee. Before I left, I made three sales, that made it possible for me to be here -- my overcoat, my typewriter, and my car."
It was the first time, I believe, that we had a four-day science fiction convention. Well, they carried me home, and I thought, I'll have a good night's sleep, you know, and I'll be up. But the second day of the convention went by, and the third, and the fourth... I was in bed for 19 days! It was a total physical collapse...
At about that time, it occurred to me that the term 'Worldcon' was actually a misnomer. We had been calling it the World Science Fiction Convention, but actually nobody had yet come from outside the continental U.S.A. So I proposed creating what I called the 'Big Pond Fund'. It was evident who the greatest fan in England was at the time -- it was Ted Carnell. It was also evident that it would be a good idea to find a way to bring him to the next year's worldcon. You know, I honestly believed that I had only to mention it and the dollar bills would appear all over the place -- we'd have a thousand bucks, and he would come.
Well, at the end of a year, I had a measly one hundred and two dollars or something like that, and I saw that altruism wasn't going to work. So I went after greed, and got a raffle going. I got Arkham House and the various magazines of the day to offer free subscriptions. I also personally put in a lot of stuff; for one dollar you had an opportunity to get the whole thing. I even disappointed a lot of my friends at Christmas; instead of giving them some kind of present, I bought five chances on their behalf. But even after the second year, I still wasn't much further ahead. We had three hundred bucks, or so, and it still wasn't enough to get Carnell over. So in the third year, I gave up on everybody else. I put in enough money, I think, out of my own pocket to get Carnell over. He finally came in 1949. And that was the end of organized fan funds, at least temporarily; the idea lay fallow for several years until the Walt Willis Fund, and then the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund started up. The second time around, it all worked!
I should say at this point that not all international fan visits were the result of fan funds. In 1953, a Japanese fan named Tetsu Yano came over, using his own resources.
After the second world war, the G.I.'s stationed in Japan had been burning a lot of paperbacks. Tetsu happened by one of the times this was going on, saw a science fiction book, and grabbed it out of the flames. And then, by Japanese standards, he did a rather daring thing -- he wrote a letter that was published in Thrilling Wonder, in which he said, 'I'm just a poor know-nothing Japanese boy bitten by the science fiction bug. Could anybody conceivably send me an old cast-off magazine?' So I sent him over some care packages, we started a correspondence, and finally I mentioned that in 1953 we were about to have what we called a Westercon. I got back quite an excited letter, in which he wrote, 'Gee, if I could manage to get there, would I be permitted to attend?' And I wrote back, 'Permitted! Oh, my god, you would be the Guest of Honor! This would be grand! You could stay at my home; we'd be thrilled to have you!' So, somewhat later, I got a telegram that read, 'Tetsu have bought ticket, come and go. Please be waiting 29 days from now.' He had gotten on a cattle boat, I think -- with just six human beings aboard. Twenty-nine days later, we were down at the dock when he arrived. The first day he was with us he was so excited -- he couldn't sleep all night long. Well, he'd only planned to stay two weeks, but we kept him here six months.
He had some adventures while he was here in the U.S.A. Besides the Westercon, we also brought him to that year's World Science Fiction Convention, the 1953 Philcon. He, Wendy and I, and H.J. Campbell, the editor of the British magazine Authentic Science Fiction, made some kind of sight as we were driving cross-country to Philadelphia. Campbell had a big, black beard, and sitting beside him was this little oriental chap. There was a time or two that I wasn't sure we were even going to make it to Philadelphia. I remember we got up to the top of a high mountain pass. My wife Wendy was driving, and our car couldn't quite make it over the top. So the three of us guys got out and pushed it to the top, and when it started going down the hill on the other side, we were all running after the car!
Another reason I'll remember that 1953 Philcon is because, at the hands of Isaac Asimov, I received the first of all Hugo Awards. And then I gave it away. What actually happened there was mis-reported, so let me use this opportunity to clear it up.
When I received the Hugo, I felt that my best years of fanning were behind me. If they only had said it was a career award, I would have felt comfortable in accepting it. But it was supposed to be for the Best Fan of the preceding year, and I was convinced that Best Fan was actually Ken Slater, over in England. I didn't really feel worthy of it. It was like giving a guy a check that doesn't belong to him, so I sort of endorsed it. I said, "I certainly appreciate this, folks, but I really believe that Ken Slater should have it." And with that, I left the stage. I really don't know who took possession of the trophy; if my life depended on it, I couldn't say. The most obvious individual would have been H.J. Campbell, who was going back home to England after the convention, and would have been in a position to deliver it to Ken Slater.
Well, when I sat back down, Wendy was furious. She said, "What have you done, Forry? You've insulted the entire convention! They voted this to you -- how could you give it away??"
What can I say? When I got up there, I had said what I felt - that I didn't really deserve the award. But Wendy managed to so convince me that everybody was going to clobber Forry Ackerman, that for the only time in my life, I didn't go to the masquerade. I was just too embarrassed and upset. The next day, I crept down early because I didn't want to see anybody. I went down about six o'clock to have breakfast, and I bumped into Robert Bloch. He came over, grabbed me, and said, "Oh, Forry, what a magnificent gesture! Why, you did more for international fandom..." and so on. It did make me feel better. But I all the time I was thinking, "I'll kill her! I'll kill her!!"
Some years later, the award was returned to me. People had kept asking me over the years, 'Didn't you get the first Hugo? If so, where is it?' Well, that eventually got me wondering about Ken Slater. I finally wrote him and said, "I gave it to you, it's yours, fair and square. I'm not an Indian giver. I'm not asking for it back, but I'm just wondering if you've given any thought what is to eventually become of that award. If you have a son or daughter who would appreciate it, fine, think nothing more about it. But if not, I'd like to preserve it."
Well, I understood he might have taken that the wrong way. So Dave Kyle went to bat on my behalf, and explained to him I wanted it back only if he hadn't anybody to pass it on to. The next time I saw him in England, he very generously gave it to me then and there.
But back to the Philcon... I don't remember that my speech endorsing Ken Slater was very long at all. But one of the people up on the dais must have thought otherwise. One photo, apparently, was taken at the moment I received the award and was accepting it. It showed Isaac Asimov, the rascal, standing behind me looking at his watch, as if I had been talking on for too long!
Next: The series concludes with more about Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and even a visit to Northern Ireland.
All illustrations by Teddy Harvia