In the Midst of Life, Dr. Fandom
by Ted White
Lou Stathis is dead.
Like most of my friends, I have a hard time dealing with this. It was not unexpected, especially after he was moved into a Brooklyn hospice, but Lou was young (well, younger than I) and, in his healthy days, so full of that peculiar energy and drive that I identify with native New Yorkers.
I met Lou in the seventies, more or less through his Queens roommate, Barry Smotroff. It is doubly ironic that Barry was murdered in his apartment only a few years after that. Lou and I became close friends in the seventies, and I saw in him great talent as a writer, which I encouraged editorially. I first published him, as a (brief) columnist, in Fantastic. Then, when I moved to Heavy Metal, I launched his career as a music writer by giving him a rock (or, as he spelled it in those days, "rok") column. After I left HM, Lou succeeded Brad Balfour as HM's "magazine section" editor -- responsible for the short text bits that ran as a section in the magazine. And that launched his editorial career, which continued through High Times (Senior Editor), Reflex (editor), and, more recently DC Comics as an editor of the Vertigo line.
I always knew Lou could do it -- although his columns always butted against deadlines (and, once, missed) -- he had the talent and the drive. His grungy little penthouse apartment on West End Avenue was a frequent refuge for me. Many a night after working at HM until 8 or 9 I'd go up there and hang out with Lou until midnight, reluctantly returning to the apartment I was sharing with Brad (and several others). And, both before and after HM, when I visited New York City, it was with Lou that I stayed.
Dan and I were talking about this the other night, after we'd gotten the news of Lou's death. "You know, Ted," Dan remarked, "you always said that after Jerry Jacks' death, you didn't feel the same about visiting San Francisco. I feel that way about New York now." I knew exactly what he meant, because I felt it too. I mentioned this in a phone call with Frank Lunney, and he said, "Me too. I always stayed with Lou when I was in New York." So many of us did.
Lou developed a brain tumor a year ago. They operated to remove it -- twice. It kept growing back. Then they turned to chemotherapy, wiping out his immune system. At some point his back began to go, and he was placed on heavy pain medication. He died of respiratory failure, probably caused by an "opportunistic" disease. It is not an end I'd wish on anyone, much less Lou.
He is survived by a great many friends.
Sam Moskowitz died on April 15th. The date is moderately ironic. My reaction is not.
I read his The Immortal Storm when I was in high school, within less than a year of the time I read The Enchanted Duplicator. The version I read was published by a fan house (ASFO Press? I'm working from memory here), and had the dubious distinction of being typeset on a Varityper. This machine, a first-cousin to the typewriter, used interchangable type fonts, and had variable spacing, producing the look of set type . . . more or less. Until the advent of IBM's Executive typewriter, it was as close as you could get to a typeset look with anything less than the Real Thing -- but it wasn't that close. Reading the pinched, crammed together type of The Immortal Storm could lead to eye strain. But I devoured it.
It was in that same period that I was buying SF+, the Gernsback-published magazine that Sam edited. It was a strange magazine, somehow time-travelled out of the mid-thirties to the early fifties, and decked out with glossy paper and fancy production values, its stories reeking of mustiness, as though exhumed from the authors' basements or attics. I read every story in every issue (there weren't that many). (Years later I published in my fanzine a piece by Randall Garrett called "The Bite of the Asp," in which he complained bitterly about how Sam, as editor of SF+, ruined with his editorial interference a story by Philip Jose Farmer -- a story which had struck me at the time I read it as atypical of Farmer.)
Those -- the book, the issues of the magazine -- were my introduction to Sam Moskowitz. Neither painted a very flattering picture of the man, and neither prepared me for my first experience of him, at the Cleveland Worldcon in 1955 (my first convention). In person, Sam was friendly, outgoing, ebullient, and loud. He had a voice that didn't require amplification, and when he was running the auction he didn't use a microphone. (But -- even then -- Harlan Ellison was a much better auctioneer . . . the best I've ever seen, in fact.) Thus it was grimly ironic when Sam lost his voice to throat cancer, years later.
In the course of the fifties, I acquired more knowledge of fanhistory, saw more of Sam at various conventions, and gradually formed an overall opinion of him. My opinion was a mixed review: I felt Sam had made some genuine contributions to sf and to fandom, but that he was, in a jazz term of the fifties, a "moldy fig." He was dedicated to the past, not the present or future. (Later, when he began profiling sf authors for Amazing, he did so in a manner which offended many of them, using a "tune detective" approach to their stories and what influenced them, which seemed plodding and pedestrian -- not unlike Sam's prose, which Sid Coleman once suggested read as if badly translated from a middle-European language. At one point in the fifties, Dick Ellington "edited" Sam's writing for him, significantly improving it. One wishes Dick had kept doing it longer than he did.) Sam was still a member of FAPA when I joined it, and it was in FAPA that I finally collided with him myself.
In 1960 or thereabouts, NYC fandom had been divided into two general factions: the sercon types, exemplified by Sam, his new wife Christine, and Belle Dietz, who ran the Lunarians and ESFA -- and the Fanarchists, exemplified by the Riverside Dive/Nunnery group that included Dick Ellington and Bill Donahoe. They socialized together to some extent, but took potshots at each other in the pages of local fanzines.
A major topic of argument was the discovery of peyote, a source of mescaline (a psychedelic), by the fans at the Nunnery. Christine Moskowitz, presuming on her reputation as a doctor, published a piece in Belle Dietz's fanzine confusing peyote with the mescal bean, and condemning both for causing "mescalism." Nunnery fans laughed, and Tom Condit published a refutation.
Into this I blithely stepped as a newcomer to NYC fandom in 1959. When Sam extolled, in his FAPAzine, his new wife's virtues (surgeon, fencer, softball player), I cattily remarked that she sounded, from Sam's description, like a better man than he was. My mistake. Christine wasn't bothered, but Sam was. He sent a Harlem storefront lawyer, one Stanley Seitel, to Towner Hall to throw a scare into me, and when that didn't work, he instituted a libel suit against me (in Christine's name), for calling her a lesbian and impugning her professional reputation. (This suit, filed in 1961, dragged on for more than five years before getting a court date assigned to it -- at which point Christine dropped it.) It was Sam's hope to financially ruin me with this action, but Larry Shaw thwarted that hope by finding me a First Amendment lawyer who defended me pro bono, thank ghod.
And that was my introduction to the vindictive Sam Moskowitz.
I've often wondered how he felt when, in 1968, I became the editor of Amazing -- the prozine founded by Gernsback, whom he had idolized for so many years. Another irony, I guess. In the late seventies I ran several pieces in Amazing by Tom Perry, who researched how Gernsback had lost Amazing in 1929 -- actually going to New Jersey and digging up all the court files -- and Sam became livid on behalf of Gernsback, actually threatening a lawsuit from Gernsback's estate. Why? What Tom learned directly contradicted the story Gernsback had told Sam, which Sam had been telling in articles and books for at least forty years. It must have hurt. (There was no lawsuit. Wiser heads prevailed.)
The last time I saw Sam was at the New York Corflu. It was a pleasant meeting, our disputes long behind us. By then I think he saw me as One Of Us (in his terms), no longer a kid and assimilated into the history of the sf field. By then I'd been around for forty years myself.
I am listening (on headphones) to the late-seventies Metro album by Peter Godwin and Duncan Browne as I try to organize my thoughts and write about Lou Stathis' wake. I think that's appropriate. Lou and music were inseparable, and Metro's combination of decadence and sensuality captures for me at least some of the feelings that swirled around Lou at the wake, where tears mixed with laughter and Lou was celebrated by divers people.
I took the day off from work and drove up to New York City with Dan and Lynn Steffan. It was a smooth drive that got us there in only about four and a half hours. I haven't driven a car in Manhattan traffic since 1980, but I hadn't forgotten how, and we found a parking lot only two (short) blocks from our destination, the funeral home of John J. Barrett & Sons, on West 51st Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues. We strolled up 53rd Street to 9th Avenue, and found a good Italian restaurant, where we had an excellent luncheon. (Lou loved food and delighted in discovering good restaurants.) We arrived at the funeral home shortly after 2 p.m. I met Lou's sister, Marguerite, who knew of me although we'd not met before. She was very like Lou in the important ways, and we liked each other immediately. She thanked me for launching Lou's professional career, and I was grateful for that.
Lou had a great many friends, among them people I hadn't seen for years, like Mike Hinge (no beard now; "I'm semi-retired"), and John Workman (my art director at Heavy Metal, and my first and best friend there). And I met Shelly Roeberg, Lou's girlfriend and constant companion throughout his illness, on whose shoulders many of the burdens of his death fell. Others who showed up during the afternoon were Moshe Feder, Lise Eisenberg, Brad Balfour, Rob Hambreck, and Frank and Mike Lunney. When the funeral home closed at 4 p.m., a group of us adjourned to a nearby bar (an Irish pub) for drinks, and then moved on to a Thai seafood restaurant (excellent) for dinner. Then it was back to the funeral home for the evening session. It was much more crowded, more than a hundred people there. I encountered old friends among editors (Bob Mecoy), agents (Don Maas), and comics professionals (Matt Howarth). And many of our mutual friends, like Chris Couch, Susan Palermo, and Gary Farber. DC Comics people were out in force. Mixed into this large group were members of Lou's family.
After a religious service (much of it in Greek), various people, including Dan and Matt, spoke about Lou, but the emotional climax came with Shelly's tearful reading of her prepared words, which had most of the women there crying by its end.
I was struck my how any people there felt they owed Lou a great deal -- for discovering them, encouraging them, and prompting their best work, as their editor or boss. As someone who had played that role for Lou, it was fascinating to hear how well he'd passed it along to others. And it was odd to hear Lou -- 14 years my junior -- referred to as some sort of senior eminence by those who were younger yet. The wheel keeps turning.
I felt far sadder about Lou when I left than before; here was physical evidence of his impact on so many people. He was so much more than just my friend; he was so many people's friend . . . and he was remembered with so much love by his former girlfriends, many of them there to support Shelly.
We got back to Virginia around 2:30 in the morning. I slept very little before getting up to face another day of reality. Life goes on.
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