Robert A. Madle in 1930s Fandom

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Robert A. Madle celebrated his 100th birthday on June 2, 2020. His life as an active fan began in 1935 and continues to the present. As one privileged to have visited with Bob and spelunked his legendary basement, on behalf of the FFE team I’m honored to present highlights from his first contributions to fandom.

(Photo c1938 from the collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III)

Ted Ditky’s concise biography from 1940 only scratches the surface of Madle’s prominent role in early fandom. His consistent presence contributed to the stable and collegial atmosphere in the Philadelphia fan scene — a sharp contrast to the rancor rampant among fans in the New York area.

From Ted Ditky’s “Who’s Who in Fandom,” 1940

Madle’s first foray in fan publishing was the single issue of The Science Fiction Fan (February 1935), developed with his fellow-Philly friend and frequent collaborator John V. Baltadonis.

This title is not to be confused with the fanzine of the same name launched in 1936 by Olon F. Wiggins.


Philadelphia fans (left to right) Jack Agnew, John V. Baltadonis, Robert A. Madle, c1935.
From the collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III

Like many of his contemporaries, Madle was an active correspondent and regularly offered his views to the professional pulp magazines that he read religiously. Below are some of his earliest, from Pirate Stories (July 1935), Amazing Stories (August 1935), Weird Tales (December 1935) and Astounding Stories (February 1936). In a 2006 conversation with John L. Coker III, Madle recalled:

“My very first letter appeared in the July 1935 Pirate Stories.  I was a Gernsback fan, and anything he published I picked up.  I read his editorial in the first issue.  He said that they will publish pirate stories of the past, the present, and yes, even of the future.  So, I wrote a letter saying that they ought to publish a novel about a space pirate and they should get Edmond Hamilton to write it.  They printed the letter and I won a year’s subscription to Wonder Stories.  I was fourteen years old and I thought that this was one of the greatest things that ever happened.”

Madle’s second-ever letter to a magazine at age 15 demonstrates that he had already begun his nine-decade career as a dealer in science fiction.

Madle and Baltadonis made their next fanzine attempt with Imaginative Fiction in October 1935. According to the Pavlat & Evans fanzine index, there were only two copies of the two issues created by the duo.

On the back cover of the second issue of Imaginative Fiction, we find the first glimmers of the most-indelibly-famous perennial listing of Bob’s collection and want list — The Amazing Madle Catalogue.

As early as October 1936, Madle was offering advice to other aspiring collectors of science fiction.

Madle’s short story “Devolution,” originally published in Imaginative Fiction v1n2, was reprinted in C. Hamilton Bloomer’s Tesseract, v1n5, November 1936.

After a pause, Imaginative Fiction was rebooted in June 1937 with v1n3, which included a short article by Madle. The run totaled five issues, the last appearing in July 1938.

On October 22 1936, Madle joined fellow fans from Philadelphia and New York in an impromptu gathering that Donald Wollheim declared to be the “First Science Fiction Convention.”

Attendees at the October 1936 First Eastern Science Fiction Convention.
Left to right: Oswald Train, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, Frederik Pohl, John B. Michel, William S. Sykora, David A. Kyle, Robert A. Madle.
Photo by Herbert E. Goudket, from the collection of John L. Coker III.

Also in October 1936, Madle led a cadre of Philadelphia fans in publishing Fantasy Fiction Telegram. This digest-sized zine featured content from contributors beyond the Philly sphere, including Donald Wollheim of New York and Duane Rimel of Washington State. The fifth and last issue was published in June 1938.

In the final issue of Fantasy Fiction Telegram, Madle offered his defense of science fiction and fandom.

Fantasy Fiction Telegram, v1n5, June 1938

In July 1937, Madle began contributing a regular news and gossip column, “Fantaglimmerings,” to John Baltadonis’ prominent fanzine, The Science Fiction Collector.

Madle’s role as Director of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society (PSFS) was honored in the first issue of PSFS News in November 1937. The PSFS has survived through the decades and remains active today.

The biography continued in the next issue of PSFS News (v1n2, December 11 1937).

Madle’s next publishing venture, Fantascience Digest, first saw print in December 1937. The fifteen-issue run continued until December 1941.

Ad for Fantascience Digest, distributed to the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), March 1939

In the first issue of Mark Reinsberg’s Ad Astra, Madle celebrated science fiction’s emergence into the mainstream in 1938.

Madle was an active attendee at the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York in July 1939, meeting prominent professional authors…

Robert A. Madle and Manly Wade Wellman, July 1939 at the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York.
Photo by Conrad H. Ruppert, from the collection of John L. Coker III

…adventuring with fellow fans from across the country…

SF Fans at Coney Island, NY (July 4, 1939), on a side expedition from the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention.
Rear – V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle M. Korshak, Ray Bradbury. Front – Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne.
Collection of Robert A. Madle, courtesy of John L. Coker III

…and manning first base for the PSFS Panthers at the first ever fan convention softball game, July 4 1939.

New Fandom, v1n6, January 1940

In Ad Astra v1n3, September 1939, Madle shared his some highlights from his experience at the WorldCon.

In November 1939, Madle penned an impassioned endorsement of Philadelphia fandom and its gatherings. This set the stage for the Fourth Annual Philadelphia Conference.

Later that same month, Madle welcomed his fellow fans to the 1939 Philadelphia Conference, extending the yearly tradition that continues today.

PSFS News, v2n3, November 1939. This issue served as the program for the conference.

A sizable book would be required to give full justice to Bob’s 1930s legacy. He wrote extensively for his own fanzines and others’. We’ll add additional artifacts and observations as we dig them up and sort out the gems. Perhaps said book will emerge spontaneously from this thread.

Thanks to John L. Coker III, Sam McDonald, Doug Ellis and for their vital contributions to this post.

Happy 100th birthday, Bob!

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