Early Chicago Fandom, In Pictures

We offer this post in tribute to Alistair Durie on his recent passing. Alistair was a remarkable fan, collector and historian, and a lovely human being. He collaborated generously in our research, providing insight and access to unique artifacts from his extensive archive of early fanzines.

The upcoming second volume of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom will focus on 1940, a defining year for the movement. Much of the story centers around Chicago, site of the second World Science Fiction Convention — the first ChiCon.

To provide background and context, we felt it important to revisit the origins of fandom in Chicago. The two primary organizers of the 1940 ChiCon — Mark Reinsberg and Erle Korshak — were high school students at the time and represented a new generation of Chicago fans. But these young upstarts owed much of their success in pulling off the convention to older fans who established Chicago as a center of activity from the early 1930s. This post highlights one small part of the archeology behind the tale.

The first incarnation of a Chicago chapter of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Fiction League (SFL) was established in February 1935. Director William H. Dellenback was joined by established fans Jack Darrow (Clifford Kornoelje), Walter L. Dennis and Paul McDermott, as well as the budding writing duo Earl and Otto Binder. The group began publishing in November 1935 under the title The Fourteen Leaflet, a reference to the club’s designation as Chapter 14 of the SFL.

Click any image for a full-screen rendering.

The Fourteen Leaflet, v1n1, November 1935.
From Special Collections at the University of California Riverside

The fanzine survived for nine issues, the last appearing in late Spring 1937. While some individual club members remained active, others pursued diverse interests. The Binder brothers relocated to New York to promote their writing careers. Fortunately for history, the final Fourteen Leaflet gives us a rare pictorial glimpse of early fandom.

Prior to the wider availability of lithography, photographs in fanzines required the inclusion of actual photo prints. This was beyond the capability and budget of most amateur publishers. In the rare instances where this was undertaken, it was common for the prints to be glued to a page. If the page managed to survive, very often the glue did not. This decreased the likelihood that the photo continued to travel with the page.

In their fanzine’s 1937 swansong, Dellenback and his cohort undertook to publish nineteen separate photographs, all tiny prints attached to a single page. I first encountered this page in a copy that I acquired in 2015.

Given the extreme scarcity of any issues of this early zine, I despaired of ever finding the missing photos. But FFE has been supremely fortunate to collaborate with collectors and historians with astonishing abilities to fill key gaps in our stories. To the rescue came Doug Ellis, holder of much of Jack Darrow’s early material, and Alistair Durie, early fanzine collector non-pareil. Each shared scans of their copies of this page.

None of the three pages was complete, but between them we’re able to assemble the full rogue’s gallery. Alistair’s version was by far the most intact — not surprising, given the remarkable quality of his collection. Close examination of the various copies reveals that these weren’t all prints of the same photo — in at least some cases, each copy includes a unique snapshot.

The roster was provided by the publisher.

The Fourteen Leaflet, v1n9, November 1937

Sadly, the promised next issue with “shots of 1937 sessions in action” never appeared.

We’re eternally grateful to the many contributors who support our efforts to bring to life the history and impact of science fiction fandom.