The third Chicon was held ten years after the second. Even though it's overshadowed
by its more famous predecessor, Chicon III was memorable in its own right it once
again featured a trans-Atlantic visit by Irish fan extraordinaire Walt Willis, it
was the only time Theodore Sturgeon was a worldcon Guest of Honor, and it was the
only time that a series of short stories (Brian Aldiss' "Hothouse" series), rather
than a single story, won the 'Short Fiction' Hugo Award. But, as we'll see, there
was a lot more going on than just that.
The 20th World Science Fiction Convention -- Chicon III was rapidly approaching in 1962, and I had just met Bill Bowers for the first time. Being 'veteran' of two Worldcons already, Pittsburgh and Seattle, I was looking forward to my third in a row. For Bowers, however, it was his first-ever convention, so I advised him to just take it all in and not to let it overwhelm him. Bill and I agreed to travel to the convention in my car, sharing expenses and a suite at the Pick-Congress Hotel in Chicago. Before we left, during one of our conversations at his parent's house, I said, "Say Bill, if you ever want to co-edit a fanzine with me, just let me know..."
Upon arrival and after checking in, I was faunching to meet Walt Willis, famous Irish BNF extraordinaire. Walt and his wife Madeline were attending the convention due to a Special Fund set up by Larry and Noreen Shaw, and after all I had heard and read of his sharp punnish wit I was determined to avail myself of his vast repartee. I think it was in the hotel lobby where I first spied him, with all kinds of busy fans bustling about, talking in groups. I was very nervous, being just a wide-eyed neo, as I introduced myself to him. He was very gracious even though he didn't know me from Adam. We shook hands, and then it happened...
You've all heard of the dreaded affliction: "My mind just went blank!" I never had it happen to me until that very moment, and what an inopportune time! But it did; my brain just shorted out, and there was nothing in my head (no comments please!), and I was totally embarrassed. There was a long, loud silence, and I'm sure Walt thought I should be committed. Luckily he was in such demand by everyone that someone else inadvertently rescued me by coming up and distracted him with their conversation. I don't think we ever did have a decent conversation the whole con, just snippets during parties. But Walt was very kind to me, and along with Ethel Lindsay who was the TAFF winner that year, made the con very enjoyable for me and everyone else. Ethel was a lot of fun at the parties, friendly and easy to get along with.
I definitely recall two things from Chicon III -- the fact that there were two other conventions going on at the same time as ours -- not a Good Thing. One was the Seabees Reunion, a group of World War Two survivors of the Navy Construction Battalions in the Pacific. They were loud, rowdy, and most of the time as drunk as a skunk. Sometimes they even tried to crash our parties. Once, after leaving an elevator on the floor where they had their meetings, I heard some yells and turned to see what the commotion was. There, in the hall outside their meeting room, a bunch of burley, drunk Seabees, in suits and ties, were shouting at each other. Suddenly one of them picked up another fellow bodily by the seat of his pants and scruff of his neck, walked over to a water fountain, and stuck his head in as someone else turned on the water! I decided I didn't want to stay around to see what would happen next.
There was also a group of Catholics at the hotel -- priests, nuns, and teen-aged girls and boys. They were all a bit leery of us 'weird science fiction people'. There were fans in all kinds of dress and appearance, including beards and sandals, so I'm sure many of us looked like the original hippies to them. I'm a Catholic myself, and I really thought it humorous how they reacted to us -- as we walked down the halls of the hotel, the girls and boys would almost literally hug the walls as we passed them. I can only imagine what the nuns and priests must have told the youngsters about how 'evial' we were. Apparently they didn't mind the music from the orchestra after our Masquerade Ball, though, because when the band played Twist music the Catholics danced more than the fans did. I also recall one funny bit described to us at a quiet party that Jim Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, held one night. He had been going from party to party, up and down elevators from floor to floor, with a drink in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other. While waiting for one particular elevator to arrive, the door slid open, revealing some nuns and a priest. They frowned at him severely as he stepped in -- complete silence the whole trip, and he, feeling-embarrassed, tried to hide the bottle and glass under his sweater. When the elevator stopped and they got off, he said, meekly, "I'm sorrreeee..." And the elevator closed.
Memories fade, and I'm not sure if Bowers and I held a party in our room one night, but we did attend all the other parties we could find, including the all-night filk sessions (I love folk songs). Plus, at 10pm on Saturday night, Ted Cogswell, Juanita Coulson, and GoH Theodore Sturgeon played their guitars and sang. The Masquerade Ball started right afterwards. There were many good costumes, but I really liked Karen Anderson's costume of a moth-girl with large feathery antennae and a full head mask with bulging reflective eyes and wide-spreading filmy wings, almost all of it in blue. She went on to win the 'Most Beautiful' category in the judging. The only problem with it was when the contestants marched around the room and Karen turned, everyone had to watch that the wide wings didn't poke their eyes out. I had my camera with me and took many pictures, even setting up some shots. For example, I spied Larry Ivie and Les Gerber as 'Batman & Robin' near beautiful Sylvia Dees in 6 or 7 filmy veils (and not much else), so I asked them to 'threaten' her in a menacing manner; they did so and she leaned away with outstretched, hand, feigning terror. It seems like every picture I've seen of them was in that pose, since many other fans rushed over to take that shot, too. (By the way, if you look at the back cover of the Chicon III Proceedings -- the one with Jon Stopa on the cover as a menacing caveman -- you will see another shot of Sylvia posing in her veils, and on the far left in the background, kneeling on the floor camera in hand, a very young Bill Mallardi, while behind him stands Ted Johnstone, both entranced by Sylvia.)
One of the highlights of the con for me was the Robert Bloch slide show, "Monsters I Have Known," with rapid commentary by him as the slides were shown; the puns ran wild and Bob had all the fans in stitches most of the time. And at the Awards Banquet, Bowers and I ended up at a table in the extreme rear of the large hall, so far to the rear, in fact, that my back was to the double doors which was the hall's entrance. Just as Betsy Curtis stepped up to accept the Hugo Award for Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, I felt a draft as the doors behind me silently opened and in walked Heinlein himself, dressed in a black and white tuxedo to accept his Hugo in person. He had apparently only just arrived at the convention. Was it perfect timing, or just a dramatic ploy? At any rate, he received a standing ovation as he walked up to the podium.
I enjoyed the whole convention, very much, as did Bowers; we were really hooked on fandom after that. After packing up and checking out, we started back to Ohio in my car, and I think it was somewhere in Indiana, eastbound on the turnpike, when, after a small silence, Bowers said to me, "Say, Bill, remember what you said to me about starting up a fanzine?"
Quickly I leaped into the breach: "Yeah, and we can call it Double-Bill" Thus Chicon III was responsible for the birth of our fanzine.
But that's another story!
All illustrations by Charlie Williams