All Our Yesterdays 14
by Harry Warner Jr.
(This article, written especially for Quandry, is based upon the author’s article of the same title in HORIZONS in the Spring ‘52 FAPA mailing.)
We’ve had fan histories, fancyclopedias, fan directories, fan dictionaries, even photo albums of fans. But the other day it occurred to me that no one has created the fannish equivalent of the baseball hall of fame. We’ve never tried to decide who our most important characters have been.
I’m referring now to the fans who have left the greatest influence on fandom. I’m not interested in the fans who did some particular thing first, or those who did that same thing in the most skilful fashion. The historian can dig out facts about the first group, and, the polls take care of the latter category. The topic for today’s sermon is the fellows whose activities in specific ways caused a lasting change in fandom, exerting an influence which is still felt today.
My list contains two extreme old-timers, one who is fairly recent in fan history, and the remainder are from fandom’s middle ages. Originally I wanted to figure out the ten most important fan pioneers, but I couldn’t recall anyone else of the same calibre as these eight.
The mastodons are Forrest J Ackerman and Jack Darrow. R.D. Swisher, Bob Tucker, Ray Bradbury, Claude Degler, and Jimmy Taurasi date from the middle ages. Francis T. Laney is the closest thing to a modern figure, for his fandom-shaking activities are centred around the last five or six years, despite his presence in fandom quite a bit earlier.
Ackerman isn’t on this list simply because he was voted number one fan so often. His interest in Esperanto never acted contagiously on fandom, his collection wasn’t unique for size, and for so famous a fan, he did remarkably little publishing and writing. But he’s one of fandom’s pioneers because he was the fellow who proved that you can make a full-time hobby out of science fiction without ending up in the booby hatch. You’re liable to starve, your friends will think you’ve gone off the deep end, and you’ll lose your sense of proportion, if you spend the time on fandom that Ackerman did, year after year. But no lasting harm will come to you, the police will let yon alone and eventually you’ll snap out of it. If Ackerman’s reason had snapped at some dramatic moment, in the midst of a feud or convention, parents all over the nation would have snatched their adolescents away from hecto pads and staplers.
Jack Darrow is probably the least familiar name on the list to the current generation of fans. He was never an active fan, for that matter. He simply wrote letters to editors of the pro-zones with machine-gun regularity, letters that set down his likes and dislikes in non-spectacular fashion. Such letters would seldom be published by the prozines these days. But they proved that you can get a lot of ego-boo and fannish fame, simply by writing to the prozines. Ever since, the prozine letter columns have been the main recruiting ground for new fans. Jack didn’t have anything remotely resembling a brain. He published no fan-zines and has now disappeared. He attended only one convention, the Chicon, I believe. There was quite a bit of preliminary publicity about the manner in which fandom’s two elders, Ackermm and Darrow, would come face to face for the first time at this convention. When they die, they said: “Hello.” history does not record that Darrow said anytning else during the entire convention.
It’s hard to put a finger on the single individual who is responsible for today’s bibliography. Catalogues and listings had been published from time to time in the earliest fanzines. But I think R.D. Swisher’s is the important bibliophile. Before he came along, such work was tentative, clumsy and aimless. His checklist of fanzine titles was a model of accuracy and conciseness. He showed, too, that a really mature individual can do this sort of thing in spare time without alarming his whole community or alienating his wife. Furthermore, Swisher gave a graceful example of how to forget the whole thing when your research has become too much for you. I suspect that the monumental fan research projects of recent years were partly inspired by the huge pile of S-F Checklists: the Checklists showed that it can be done, even if it is a job.
Bob Tucker did the simplest, most obvious thing. He displayed a sense of humour in fandom. But that’s enough to insert him into this hall of fame. Before he came along, no one had consistently kept any eye open for the ridiculous side of science fiction and fandom. Humorous articles in the fanzines were well compartmentalised: you didn’t find bright remarks except in the items that were supposed to be funny from beginning to end. Tucker was older than the average fan, even fifteen years ago. He was more of a man of the world than most of us, and he realised that the average fan regarded himself and his hobby with too much intentness, too great a sense of mission. But it took real genius for Tucker to jab steadily at fandom’s most sacred cows, without getting himself hated. He succeeded so well in injecting humour into fandom even the most serious young fans today lack the monumentally grim qualities of their ancestors.
This list must include Ray Bradbury. Other fans had sold stories to the prozines before he came along, usually because they were friendly with the prozine’s editor. Ray, after a brief and undistinguished stretch of time as a fanzine publisher and dipper into Los Angeles fan politics, set a whole generation of fans writing fiction persistently. He proved that even though you can’t become number one fan, you might have talents in other directions. He wouldn’t have made such am impression if he had been an obvious genius in his fanning, but he wasn’t spectacular as a fanzine publisher or contributor to other fanzines. If he can become famous, I can, too, was the reaction that his success caused. in the thoughts of a hundred or a thousand other obscure fans.
The list must also include Francis T. Laney. He introduced realism into non-fiction fan writing. Before he came along, policy had been to hint darkly at scandals, drunken brawls, sexual deviations, and other unpleasant characteristics of fans. Laney made it a point to describe in detail these things. It made unpleasant reading for some. But it drove some of these unpleasant people away from fanning, it snapped some adolescents into realising just how their actions seemed to others, and I think fandom is the better for it.
In a left-handed way, Claude Degler is among the most influential fans in history. He was the ideal horrible example who put fandom onto its guard against all-out screwballs. His sponging resulted in complete revision of the unwritten laws of fan hospitality. His Cosmic Circle was an unintentional parody on all fan organisations, showing by exaggeration the ways in which they are ridiculous. His insistence that fans are star-begotten and misunderstood but destined leaders of mankind was so startling that we no longer hear the old half-serious cry, “Fans are Slans!”
Jimmy Taurasi is probably the fellow who has done the best work in liaison between fandom and the professional division of science-fiction. His knack of getting along well with almost all people came in very handy during the muckraking and all-out feuding in New York from ten to fifteen years ago. While mightier minds than his turned out childish mud-slinging, his journalism and reasonably calm conduct was a valuable force. Without his activities, I suspect that New York’s professional editors and writers might have given up altogether on fandom and that would have been hard on conventions, municipal fan groups and recruiting. Fantasy News under Taurasi broke every rule of journalism, but it did give a fairly accurate picture of the day’s fandom.
People like Wollheim and Lowndes completely upset fandom in the days of their activity. But they can’t go onto the list. They were household names wherever fans lived at one time, but today’s fandom is as if they had never touched a typewriter or said anything nasty about Sykora. They didn’t leave any lasting imprint. Fandom today ignores the implications of the vombis, and looks blank at the word “Futurian”.
It’s hard to be sure which of today’s prominent fans will eventually end up in the hall of fannish fame. Rotsler might, if he could convert fanzine editors to the principles of good makeup and unmuddied art. Lee Hoffman is the first all-out girl fan who isn’t hanging onto the coattails of a brother, husband, or boyfriend, and she might be the start of a matriarch fandom for the future. Unfortunately, hindsight is the only kind of 20-20 vision that does any good in viewing this type of a situation.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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