FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — February 1, 2021 — Cambridge, Massachusetts
First Fandom Experience, a collaborative publishing project based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is pleased to acknowledge the selection of two of its titles to the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List.
According to Locus: “Published in Locus magazine’s February 2021 issue, the list is a consensus by the Locus editors, columnists, outside reviewers, and other professionals and critics of genre fiction and non-fiction… The final list comprises our best recommendations for your consideration.”
“The definitive history of fandom’s earliest days. A remarkable book!“ — Robert Silverberg
“…a sumptuous scrapbook of photographs, magazine covers, artwork and hundreds of articles, letters and typescripts, everything beautifully held together by the Ritters’ concise but enthralling text.” — Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“This is a wonderful paean to a wonderful person, an educational, informative, exciting, visually stimulating and page-turning adventure that will bring you far closer to its subject than most have ever been.“ — Steve Davidson, Publisher, Amazing Stories
Both books were written and edited by David Ritter and Daniel Ritter, and supported by the essential work of Principle Historians John L. Coker III and Sam McDonald.
Olon F. Wiggins was at the center of early science fiction fandom in Denver. By August 1940, his seminal amateur publication The Science Fiction Fan (TSFF) had sustained an amazing run of 49 consecutive monthly issues since its founding in July 1936.
Born in 1911, Wiggins was a First Fan of the old guard — but at the turn of the decade, science fiction was also spawning a next-generation of new fans. Lew Martin was thirteen years Wiggins’ junior, and was a high school senior when the second World Science Fiction Convention convened in Chicago.
For Wiggins and Martin, attendance at the Chicago gathering was essential, for they had already hatched a plan to propose that the following WorldCon in 1941 be held in Denver. So — how to get to Chicago?
According to Martin:
“It all began one meeting of the Denver Science Fictioneers when I asked Chairman Wiggins if he planned to attend the Chicago 1940 World’s Science-Fiction Convention. He replied that he was and I told him of my desire and determination to go. He planned to go via bus and I had planned to hitch-hike, picking up Al McKeel at Jefferson City, Missouri. Several meetings elapsed before we had compromised on accompanying each other via freight train.”
From “Via Freight Train” by Lew Martin, TSFF, v5n7, April 1941
Martin provided no further explanation of this odd ‘compromise,’ only adding, “After all, we could have paid our way if we wanted, we chose romance and adventure, and despite the hardships we would gladly do it again.” (Emphasis his.)
This ‘romance and adventure’ is well-known in fan history. In our research for Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, we came across a contemporaneous reference.
Harry Warner also mentions this trip in All Our Yesterdays:
“Among the first to arrive were Olon Wiggins and Lew Martin, who made the trip from Denver in thirty hours by courtesy of several boxcars. A fellow traveler failed to complete his journey in a bloody manner, but he wasn’t a fan.”
Ted Dikty provided the most graphic anecdote of the fatal mishap:
Naturally we assumed that one or both of the bold sojourners must have documented this extraordinary expedition. But finding a full, detailed account has been something of an adventure as well — one that’s sadly incomplete.
Indeed, Martin captured the journey in depth. His essay, “Via Freight Train,” began appearing as a serial in TSFF beginning with v5n7, dated February 1941. Additional installments were published in v5n8 (March 1941), v5n9 (April 1941), and v5n10 (April 15 1941).
Martin’s account is rich and engaging, It captures a remarkable experience and paints a picture of life at that time that we found unique and compelling. Though a bit repetitive and uneven, the narrative represents some of the best writing we’ve encountered in early fanzines.
However, as 1941 progressed, the attention of the leading Denver fans was increasingly dominated by preparations for the 1941 WorldCon — the first “Denvention.” The issues of TSFF dated from the Spring of that year weren’t actually published on their cover dates. Material was accumulated, but the issues were produced after the July convention and back-dated. Ardent historians will note that v5n7 is the last issue cited in the Pavlat-Evans Fanzine Index.
Tracking down the trailing issues of TSFF required significant archeology. The February issue was excavated from the Ackerman archives held by Jim Halperin. It wasn’t clear that the March issue existed at all until John L. Coker III was able to surface a copy. The April issue is on file with the Hevelin collection at the University of Iowa, but Alistair Durie was able to provide us with an excellent scan of this very scarce artifact. We were fortunate to acquire the April 15 issue from another collector.
This gave us four installments of Martin’s epic. But on inspection, we were distraught to discover this at the end of Installment Four:
We have no evidence to suggest that a “Next Issue” was ever produced. Nor have we seen any trace of this essay anywhere else, in part or in whole. Equally frustrating, none of the four installments we’ve found contain the account of “one of those horrible accidents so common to boxcar transportation.” Lacking the conclusion, we also don’t have the happy ending of the pair’s arrival in Chicago.
We’re pleased to present Martin’s narrative in its incomplete fullness, likely the first opportunity for contemporary fans to share the ride.
Further, we appeal to any interested parties: Does the missing conclusion exist somewhere? Did Martin ever publish the essay separately? Does anyone who knew Wiggins or Martin recall conversations where they related additional details?
And and all insight will be greatly appreciated!
Click the crossed-arrows icon for a full-screen view.
In our never-ending quest to capture and preserve the history of fandom, we encounter mysteries that stick in our brains like splinters from old barn wood. We can’t stop picking at them. Unless dug out, they fester. Herein lies the tale of Three Vs that got under our skin until the precision tweezers of research extracted the root of the inflammation. (I pronounce this metaphor bled dry.)
V is for Vincent
Below is one of early fandom’s most iconic images. On Independence Day, 1939, this carload of irascible youth from states far and wide ventured forth from the World Science Fiction Convention in New York to Coney Island. It’s a who’s-who of prominent First Fans: Madle and Agnew from Philadelphia, Korshak and Reinsberg from Chicago, Rocklynne from Ohio, and one very tanned Ray Bradbury from Los Angeles.
But among the who’s-who, there’s a “who’s that?” V. Kidwell. Upper left, looking awkward and perhaps slightly embarrassed — though warmly embraced by the adjacent Robert A. Madle.
What do we know about V. Kidwell? An exploration of contemporaneous accounts of the WorldCon yields but one tidbit — Kidwell manned center field for the PSFS Panthers, the Philadelphia team in the fan-v-fan softball game of July 4.
Fortunately, the person who could shed the brightest light on the obscure V. Kidwell is still with us. In a conversation with John L. Coker III, Bob Madle provided the answer:
“V. Kidwell is Vincent Kidwell — my uncle, even though he was three months younger than me. He was not an sf fan. Jack Agnew and I stayed at my grandmother’s house (Vincent lived there too) in New York. Vincent played in the softball game and then went to Coney Island with us and was included in the photograph.”
As the only non-fan, it’s understandable that Vincent felt somewhat out-of-place.
V is for Vernon
FFE’s current project is a retrospective of fan-artist Roy V. Hunt. An introduction to Hunt and his work can be read here. We expect to publish a richly-illustrated ~160-page volume in January 2021.
Like many early fans who engaged in publishing, Hunt’s citations often included his middle initial. But in all of our reading, we never saw his full middle name. Shame on us if we hoped to provide a definitive look at a personage we couldn’t fully identify.
In this case, Ancestry.com came to the rescue. Among other artifacts, Hunt’s definitive identify can be found on his draft card from 1940.
V is for Vytautas
Among early fans, John V. Baltadonis stood tall. Literally, as he towered well over six feet — and figuratively, as one of the most prolific editors, authors and artists among his peers.
Although “JVB” almost always included his middle initial when stating his name or signing his work, his middle name has remained a mystery. He’s known to have stated that — for reasons he refused to provide — he would never reveal his mysterious V.
Again we’re fortunate to have a primary source for the answer. According to JVB’s son Steve:
“So, the middle name. I was told it had to do with an ancestor. Great grandparents and previous family maintained inherited land — maybe from black plague days, 13th century — through 1910 or 1915. When the Bolsheviks took over? Anyway, my dad said an ancestor’s ‘giant sword’ was over the fireplace mantle, and that he used it to fight off invaders in the 13th, 14th century. Lithuania was apparently much larger then. So, thus the name Vytautas. In some records on the internet it is spelled Vytold.”
From Wikipedia, it seems Vytautas was a pretty big deal:
Vytautas (c. 1350 – October 27, 1430), also known as Vytautas the Great, was a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which chiefly encompassed the Lithuanians and Ruthenians. He was also the Prince of Grodno (1370–1382), Prince of Lutsk (1387–1389), and the postulated king of the Hussites.
In modern Lithuania, Vytautas is revered as a national hero and was an important figure in the national rebirth in the 19th century. Vytautas is a popular male given name in Lithuania. In commemoration of the 500-year anniversary of his death, Vytautas Magnus University was named after him. Monuments in his honour were built in many towns in the independent Lithuania during the interwar period from 1918 to 1939.
For our part, we’d be bragging about such an august ancestor.
Our work on early fan history has often focused on “crossovers” — fans who first published in amateur journals but later achieved success as professional authors, editors and publishers. The Earliest Bradbury is a deep exploration of one notable example. We’ve now begun to turn our attention to artists who rose from the ranks of fandom in the 1930s and 1940s. Our first subject: Roy V. Hunt.
The Cthulhu Mythos wrought by H.P. Lovecraft coalesced from earlier hints into his seminal story, “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, February 1928). Unlike traditional monsters, Lovecraft’s terror manifests through beings fully other. Vampires and werewolves are people, transformed. Ghosts, mummies and zombies — dead people reanimated. Frankenstein’s monster — assembled from parts of people. But Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep — even the names make clear that these trespassers from other dimensions have little to do with Homo Sapiens.
It’s not surprising that tales evoking these unthinkable, uncaring bringers of chaos would unlock new avenues in the imaginations of readers and artists, some of whom found inspiration to capture Lovecraft’s vision on canvas.
Lovecraft himself made attempts to sketch his horrors.
Shortly following Lovecraft’s untimely death on March 15 1937, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei organized the publication of the first anthology of his writing. After its appearance in 1939, The Outsider and Others struggled to find buyers willing to pay its $5 cover price. In the first issue of the fanzine The Alchemist, February 1940, Derleth issued an appeal in support of the book.
But The Outsider was embraced enthusiastically by the fantasy fan community. An early review was penned by one R.V. Hunt, also in the premier issue of The Alchemist.
Hunt describes being “swept completely into the outer realms by Lovecraft’s vivid word pictures.” Hunt, already a long-time fan and an aspiring artist, had drawn the front cover for this very fanzine.
[An image of Hunt’s cover for The Alchemist v1n1 should appear here. However, the editors of this zine (by their own admission) were not experienced with hectography and all copies we’ve seen to date have a cover which appears utterly blank. This is especially saddening, since fellow fan-artist Tom Wright wrote to the magazine describing the cover as “one of the best s-f drawings (fan or pro) that I have ever seen.” If anyone has a legible copy, we’d be more than keen to see it.]
Hunt also effuses over the “beautifully drawn jacket by Virgil Finlay.” This iconic imagery is well known to Lovecraft fans, and recently made its television debut in the HBO series “Lovecraft Country.”
When viewing the bestial cacophony of this illustration, I can’t escape the term “psychedelic.” It’s not clear that either the author or artist were under the influence of anything but unfettered imagination, but still.
From early writings, we know that Finlay and Lovecraft influenced each other. In 1937, Lovecraft wrote an ode to the artist that appeared in Weird Tales (February 1937). The poem was inspired by another outre image from Finlay — his illustration for Robert Bloch’s “The Faceless God,” published in the May 1936 issue of Weird Tales.
Roy Hunt’s fascination with Lovecraft’s book and Finlay’s cover didn’t stop with his review. Following Hunt’s work over the following months brings us to several stunning examples of the impression made on the young artist.
Hunt’s work is both derivative and original, taking us even further down the path of psychedelia. Fortunately for Hunt (and for us), fanzines of this period had just begun to reproduce images using lithography. The detail and clarity seen in “Star Spawn” wouldn’t have been possible without this technology.
We believe the web of influence and inspiration among early fans and fan artists warrants further exploration. Roy Hunt’s artistic career continued for several decades but never fully blossomed. FFE is considering the development of a robust retrospective to give this talented illustrator his due consideration. Other artists on our radar for similar treatment include Morris Scott Dollens, John V. Baltadonis, Nils Frome and John Giunta. Stay tuned!
The latest video from First Fandom Experience brings to life a three-page screed by a young Ray Bradbury addressing the issue of the incongruous and annoying ads in pulp magazines.
The piece appeared in the Spring 1940 issue of Sweetness and Light, an edgy, satirical fanzine from a faction of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. A full reading of the piece is presented along with historical context and a selection of the offending advertisements. Enjoy!
The Earliest Bradbury is the result of a year-long effort to celebrate the centennial of Bradbury’s birth with a deep exploration of his earliest writings as a science fiction fan. We sought to bring these stories and articles to life by presenting them in full facsimile form, as they originally appeared in amateur publications from 1937 through 1941. The book owes its existence to the dedicated work of the core FFE team — and to the contributions of a remarkable group of writers, scholars and Bradbury associates whose support has been invaluable.
Two threads of research came together to inform the book’s content:
Understanding Bradbury’s introduction to early fandom and how these associations laid the foundation for his later career
Sourcing the 1930s and 1940s fanzines in which Bradbury’s first stories and articles appeared, and in which his fellows fans wrote about him
For the story of Bradbury’s life as a teenager in Los Angeles, we leaned heavily on three core biographies:
Sam Weller’s authorized Bradbury biography,The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury (Harper Perennial, 2005). In addition to illuminating the vital stories and details of Bradbury’s early life, this book demonstrates how to make a biographical narrative flow.
Also essential were interviews and photos with Bradbury and his associates captured by John L. Coker III. John collaborated with Bradbury and others to produce Surround Yourself With Your Loves and Live Forever (Days of Wonder, 2008), a collection of Bradbury’s memories, stories and appreciations from prominent contemporaries. John’s curation of the First Fandom community has played a vital role in preserving and honoring the people who founded organized fandom and launched the science fiction and fantasy industry we know today.
Ray Bradbury selling newspapers at the corner of Olympic and Norton, Los Angeles, c1940.
From the collection of John L. Coker III
Additional details describing Bradbury and his activities were drawn from amateur publications of the period. In particular, Bradbury’s friend and fellow fan T. Bruce Yerke’s 1944 essay “Memoirs of a Superfluous Fan – Volume One, The Old L.A.S.F.S.” provided valuable insight.
Uncovering the original artifacts containing Bradbury’s early work is a quest that’s spanned almost twenty years. The background research for The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom – Volume One: The 1930s established a base archive from which many of the items could be reproduced. However, developing a comprehensive list of Bradbury’s fanzine contributions required intensive effort by the FFE team and others.
Fortunately, there was a clear starting point: the first and most numerous of Bradbury’s fanzine appearances are found in the club organ of the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (LASFL), Imagination! This title ran for thirteen issues from October 1937 — the same month that Bradbury joined the group — to October 1938. The FFE archive includes a full set of these rare issues, and we read them exhaustively to find anything written by or referring to Bradbury.
This seemingly straightforward task soon revealed a key challenge: Bradbury and other members of the LASFL frequently published under a variety of pseudonyms. We puzzled over a number of articles that might have been penned by Bradbury, but sported whimsical bylines like “D. Lerium Tremaine” and “Kno Knuth Ing.” (A previous blog post discusses our early attempts to sort this out.)
To the rescue came Jonathan R. Eller, leading Bradbury scholar and Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University. The Center curates and preserves Bradbury’s legacy, and has access to a comprehensive collection of his papers. Jon worked extensively with Ray during his life, and his 2010 volume (with William F. Touponce) The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, A Critical Edition, Volume I: 1938 – 1943 provides a remarkable tour of Bradbury’s early work — including a partial bibliography of fanzine appearances. The Center’s archive includes photocopies of the extensive Bradbury-related fanzine publications collected by Bradbury’s long-time friend Donn Albright.
Drawing on Donn’s knowledge and his own, Jon gave us clear direction on Bradbury’s known pseudonyms and suggested a rule we observed throughout the project: if it’s not certain that something was written by Bradbury, don’t speculate. This prompted us to keep a separate file of material whose authorship was unclear. The most interesting of these items were included in Appendix Three of The Earliest Bradbury.
In parallel, FFE core team historian Sam McDonald embarked on an extensive search of other period fan material for anything related to Bradbury. Sam has developed a research process that taps his own extensive collection and a wide range of online resources related to early fandom. His exploration of these repositories — and others — supplied vital insight into the full range of Bradbury’s early work:
The team’s work generated an initial list of about 60 Bradbury stories, articles and items written by others that referred to Ray. These spanned most of the publications of LASFL members (Mikros, The Damn Thing, Sweetness and Light, Voice of the Imagi-Nation, Shangri-LA) and other fanzines to which Bradbury contributed (Le Zombie, D’Journal, Spaceways…).
We thought we’d done a pretty through canvas of likely sources. Again, Jon Eller set us straight. “You missed some things,” he noted in response to our inventory. With his help, we filled a number of gaps and redoubled our own digging. In the end, the combined search yielded over 150 relevant pieces and an additional 20 candidate items.
Building the list was one thing; actually securing these elusive artifacts from 1937 – 1941 was another matter. Fanzines of this period were already scarce when they were originally issued — most had print runs of 50 copies or less. Quality of reproduction varied from decent to illegible. Fortunately, many early fans were also fanatical collectors. We owe the survival of these fragile pages to the hording instincts of their first owners and the dedication of the next generation of obsessive archivists.
Some early fans later achieved success as professionals and eventually donated their papers to universities. For example, Syracuse University holds the manuscripts of both Frederik Pohl and Damon Knight. Some institutions have undertaken the daunting and generally thankless task of cataloging or digitizing the fanzines in these collections. In other cases, the donated material appears to have been crated and wheeled into some dark corner of the warehouse seen in the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The FFE archive includes copies of many of the Bradbury-related fanzines, but others hadn’t been seen in the wild for decades. Beginning in February, we began to reach out to the curators of both public and private collections that might be able to help.
Key contributors in this “last mile” of research were:
Alistair Durie, holder of one of the most extensive fanzine collections, many of which were acquired from the estate of Sam Moskowitz
Doug Ellis, whose exhaustive collection of early pulps provided access to Bradbury’s letters to professional magazines
This work was complicated by the onset of the corona virus pandemic, which closed all of the university libraries. Our sincere thanks to the members of the collection staffs for their vital assistance.
Not all of the fanzine issues we procured were of sufficient quality for high-resolution reproduction. To address this, we turned to the gig economy — specifically Upwork.com — to find folks who could digitally retouch the least-presentable artifacts. We kept the changes light to preserve the original appearance as much as possible. Each restored image is tagged in the book with a small icon.
To further bring Bradbury’s early work to life, we enlisted award-winning illustrator Mark Wheatley. His striking cover art was extrapolated from Bradbury’s own 1938 illustrations for covers of Imagination! A narrative comic rendering of Bradbury’s roller skating adventures in Hollywood and a professional pulp-style interior illustration for Bradbury’s 1940 tale “Luana the Living” are highlights of the book’s visual impact.
Our research on fan history has also led us to dig up early work of artists who contributed to amateur science fiction publications. Prominent among these was Bradbury’s close friend, Hannes Bok. During the development of the book, we acquired a copy of Emil Petaja’s illustrated 1968 Bok biography, and flights of angels: The Life and Legend of Hannes Bok. This volume is rife with small accent drawings by Bok that we felt would be perfect additions to The Earliest Bradbury. With the kind permission of the Petaja estate we were able to thread Bok images throughout.
With the artifacts assembled, we just had to write the book. Without proper context, we’d simply have a scrapbook, a paste-up of pictures of fanzine pages. Perhaps interesting to some, but not accessible to most modern readers. We drafted the supporting narrative and iterated intensively within the FFE team and collaborating Bradbury scholars through March, April and May. Essential guidance and corrections were contributed by all reviewers.
In parallel, our outstanding design team took our crude Powerpoint prototype pages and transformed them into compelling visual form, extending and adapting the text in the process. Jeff DiPerna and Wendy Gonick of tabula rasa graphic design are ideal collaborators who have informed and shaped our work profoundly.
To round out the book, FFE core team historian Sam McDonald compiled the comprehensive index that enables the content to be discovered and navigated.
But… is it okay?
As we completed work on The Earliest Bradbury,we were anxious to understand how the book would be viewed by the people who were closest to Ray during his life. Would they deem it a worthwhile contribution to the author’s legacy? Were we unearthing youthful scribblings that Bradbury would have preferred remain buried in the musty archives of the past?
Much of the work included in the book can properly be described as juvenilia—literally, and in the sense that it’s not representative of Bradbury’s later prowess as a writer. Still, in the arc of his material from ages 17 through 20, we saw insight into his future development. We chose to present the material in chronological order of its appearance in various publications to allow the reader to sample Bradbury’s experiences and evolution over this period—capturing “four years in the life of the author.”
Why did we feel we were on solid ground in exposing the origins of Bradbury’s life in science fiction? In his biographies and interviews, Bradbury reflected fondly on his experience as a science fiction fan in 1930s Los Angeles — but he also expressed a dim view of his earliest work in fanzines, saying at one time: “I did some terrible covers for [Imagination!] and I wrote some awful articles.” One prominent author and Bradbury contemporary suggested to us that Ray wouldn’t have wanted this early work re-issued.
Still, Bradbury re-published his most visible amateur work from his LASFL days: the fanzine he personally edited. Futuria Fantasia (FuFa) spanned four issues from Summer 1939 through Spring 1940 and included Bradbury material not unlike his contributions to other publications at the time. The 2007 facsimile edition of Futuria Fantasia issued by Bradbury (with Michael and Craig Graham) demonstrates the author’s willingness to share his teenage musing with his modern readers. The existence of this lovely volume led us to focus The Earliest Bradbury on works that were not included in FuFa.
When we posed the question to John Coker, he shared his thoughts:
“The material that Ray wrote / illustrated / published during 1937-1941 was specifically created by him for publication and for circulation. He was proud of it when he wrote it and proud when it appeared in publication. “These were not just snippets or first drafts. And, many of the stories built upon each other in succession. He (and his collaborators) took them all seriously (with a wry smile) and defended them. “There is purpose in collecting and publishing this rare material for the first time. Many fans (and collectors) have not seen all of these stories before, and it can be especially appealing to be able to comparatively read an entire thread of stories in one sitting. The contents of ‘The Earliest Bradbury’ are presented in such a way as to show the evolution of Ray as an author, artist, humorist and playwright. The editor’s underlying narrative ties everything together, revealing themes among different stories that were passionately important to Ray, both at that time and throughout his life.“
Other feedback emphasized the importance of the contextual and historical narrative that’s integral to the book. From Robert Silverberg:
“I thought [The Earliest Bradbury] was going to be simply a collection of his fanzine writings, which were mostly pretty naive and juvenile. But now the book is here and I see that what you have really done is create an important historical document portraying an entire era in Los Angeles fandom, with the young Bradbury as the focal point. It’s a beautiful job and I’m very glad you sent it to me.”
We’re also very grateful for the support expressed by some of Bradbury’s closest associates:
“The Earliest Bradbury is a wonderful volume. Beautiful reproduction and complete coverage of Ray’s early years! An almost impossible feat. Congratulations.” — Donn Albright, principal Ray Bradbury bibliographer and special edition editor
“The Earliest Bradbury represents the first comprehensive effort to bring together the full visual spectrum of Ray Bradbury’s interactions with the many fanzine editors who constituted the First Fandom universe across America in the late 1930s and early 1940s. These archival images from original publications breathe life into the elusive record of the young Ray Bradbury satirizing, imitating, and experimenting with the craft of writing on the eve of beginning his seven-decade professional career.” — Jonathan Eller, Chancellor’s Professor and director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University
Finally and importantly, we sought and received permission from the Bradbury family to publish the specific material that makes up The Earliest Bradbury. Although we believe that the fanzine sources are not formally restricted by copyright, we would not have proceeded had the heirs of Bradbury’s legacy expressed objections.
We hope that today’s readers enjoy exploring Bradbury’s origin and emergence as a science fiction master as much as we enjoyed bringing the story to life.
Click the images in this post to see full-sized renderings.
June 29 2020 marks the centennial of the birth of Ray Harryhausen (June 29 1920 – May 7 2013), iconic pioneer (though not inventor) of stop-motion animation. Most science fiction fans are familiar with his filmography, which spans four decades (1942 – 1981).
As with many of the genre writers, artists, editors and publishers who became prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, Harryhausen’s first involvement with science fiction was fostered by organized fandom in the 1930s. He connected with the active fan community in Los Angeles and became an early member of the local chapter of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Fiction League.
In Harryhausen’s own words, from a 1998 conversation with David A. Kyle, recorded and transcribed by John L. Coker III:
“When I was young my mother bought for me a series of books called Wonder Books. They had wonderful illustrations and photographs of strange things such as Egyptian temples, and charts on how long it would take to go to the Moon and to Mars and all the different planets. That started to stimulate my interest in science fiction.”
“I didn’t know much about stop motion at the time when I saw The Lost World.King Kong was the one that did it. It sent me spinning out of Grummen’s Chinese in a tailspin. I haven’t been the same since. This big gorilla was responsible for introducing me to Fay Wray, Willis O’Brien and Forrest Ackerman. I owe a big debt to this gorilla, who was fifty feet high, sometimes forty feet, sometimes thirty feet. He was a big inspiration to me.”
“I was more interested in the visuals than the science fiction literature, such as the covers of Imagination that Forry [Ackerman] used to publish. The magazine covers for Wonder [Stories] and the artwork of Frank R. Paul were a stimulus.”
“I became interested in Gustav Doré, and he was my mentor. He was a wonderful Victorian artist who was noted for his engravings, although he was a sculptor, an oil painter and many other things. I learned about Gustav Doré from Willis O’Brien.“
The Kraken debuts
More from Harryhausen’s conversation with David Kyle:
“In the mid-1930s when I was still in high school, Forry told me about the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria where the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League would meet every Thursday. Members included Russ Hodgkins, Morojo, and T. Bruce Yerke. Robert Heinlein used to come around, and a guy named Bradbury. We were a group who liked the unusual. There was a fellow named Walt Daugherty, who was an anthropologist by trade, and a photographer. He would make presentations about Egyptology. Another young fellow named Ray Bradbury would arrive wearing roller skates. After selling newspapers on the street corner he would skate to meetings because he had no money. He used to go meet the stars at the Hollywood Theater where they did weekly radio broadcasts. Ray was writing for Forry’s magazine called Imagination. I did one of the covers for an issue, which was mimeographed.”
You may be thinking: The Kraken, you say? But, The Kraken didn’t appear until Harryhausen’s 1981 classic “Clash of the Titans.” We submit that the evolution of The Kraken occurred in clear steps beginning with Harryhausen’s 1938 cover for Imagination! For example, in October 1942, Harryhausen rendered this cover for the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society’s fanzine Voice of the Imagi-Nation.
Perhaps imprisoned by the creative gods, The Kraken railed at the bars of its watery cage for fifteen years. But in Harryhausen’s 1957 film 20 Million Miles to Earth, this charming Kraken progenitor (or spawn) emerged:
And again, in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from 1958, another Kraken ancestor (or descendant):
The creature Harryhausen originally conjured from his imagination in 1938 evolved over the decades, until at the height of his powers in 1981, the ultimate Kraken was released.
How many times did Harryhausen see King Kong?
Fans had many opportunities to see the seminal 1933 icon of Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation, King Kong. After its original release, RKO distributed the film again in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956. Harryhausen was known to pursue these opportunities relentlessly.
In the Forward to Ray Harryhausen: An Illustrated Life (Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton, Aurum Press, 2003), Ray Bradbury wrote:
“My happiest memories are of Ray calling me during the years just out of high school and telling me that King Kong was playing somewhere, in some obscure theater in L.A., so we had to rush over and buy 15-cent seats to watch that glorious animal perform again…”
The count of Harryhausen’s viewings of King Kong became something of a legend within the Los Angeles fan community. Expanding reports appeared in fanzines of the period.
Inspired by King Kong, Harryhausen began to experiment with animating his own models. Between 1938 and 1940, he filmed the ambitious short “Evolution,” featuring a dramatic Brontosaurus-versus-T-rex-versus-Triceratops battle. From his interview with David Kyle:
“I met [Willis O’Brien] when I was still in high school. He was my mentor. I noticed his name on King Kong, Son of Kong, and The Last Days of Pompeii. So, I called him up once at MGM when he was making War Eagles. He kindly invited me over to the studio. “I brought over a suitcase full of my dinosaurs. I was particularly proud of a stegosaurus I had, for which I had won an award in an amateur contest at a local museum. I had made a diorama that I think won second prize. I was rather proud of it. He looked at it and said ‘Those legs look like sausages. You must learn to develop muscles. Every animal and every person has muscles to make the shape of the leg.’ I should have known this, but it was a shortcut. He said that I had to go to art school, so I went to high school during the day and went to art school three nights a week. USC started a course on film editing, photography and art direction and I signed up for it.”
Harryhausen as mask-maker
Harryhausen’s talent for model-making extended to masks. He contributed to the prankster culture in LA fandom by outfitting his fellow club members.
Ackerman later recounted the tale of his award-winning Harryhausen mask in Space Cadet n12:
“Ray Harryhausen chaneyed me into ‘The HunchbAckerman of Notre Dame’ in 1941 and his effective mask won me a prize at the 3rdWorld Science Fiction Convention that year in Denver. He started out to make me an ‘Odd John’ mask – albino hair, bulging frontal lobes, and all, as described by Olaf Stapledon in his superman novel of the same name – but the mask somehow came to grief (after quite a bit of grief of my own, lying on my back in his backyard, breathing through my mouth, my face baking in a plaster mold he was making of it, while his great dog Kong padded around occasionally sniffing me or licking my feet); the odd john mask was not completed to Ray’s satisfaction by the time of my departure for Denver and so a substitution was made of the Hunchback mask which he had previously created. I could only hope that my teenage years were going to turn out as cool as his. (They didn’t.)”
Harryhausen’s early art
Harryhausen’s occasional illustrations for fanzines reflected his passions for dinosaurs and macabre creatures.
FANS OF SCIENCE FICTION first flocked together in the 1930s. They connected through letters written to the magazines they cherished—Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories. They exchanged correspondence, formed groups and began to issue their own amateur publications. Prominent among the early clubs were chapters of the Science Fiction League (SFL), an association founded in 1934 by pioneering publisher Hugo Gernsback. Los Angeles became home for chapter #4 of the SFL (LASFL) in November 1934.
Shep’s Shop — a bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard — drew young fans hungry for science fiction. Used bookstores played a vital role in fueling young fans’ passion. They offered access to current and back issues of pulps, both the core genre organs and others such as Argosy, that periodically carried science fiction yarns. Pre-owned copies could often be acquired for as little as a nickel.
Imagination! v1n7, April 1938
In 1937, among the eager young patrons of Shep’s was 17-year-old Ray Bradbury. There he met members of the LASFL, was invited to join and first attended the club’s regular Thursday meeting on October 7. About this period, longtime Bradbury friend and fellow member T. Bruce Yerke wrote:
LASFL meetings convened at Clifton’s “Brookdale” Cafeteria, 648 South Broadway in Los Angeles. This establishment wasn’t what one might imagine from its name. Founded in 1931, Clifton’s has endured (with interruptions) as a Los Angeles landmark to modern times. Images from the 1930s portray something like a Disneyland of cafeterias. It was a venue with a purpose, openly promoting Christian faith and a generous philosophy that included the “Multi-Purpose Meal (MPM)”—priced at a nickel, but free to those who couldn’t pay.
By the late 1930s, Clifton’s was already a notable institution. At its peak, the restaurant could seat 15,000 people. Hunter Oatman-Stanford describes the venue’s unique, progressive model in a marvelous article in Collector’s Weekly:
“In the thick of the Depression, Clifford Clinton built his restaurant as a place of refuge for those unable to afford a hot meal (one of the neon signs out front read ‘PAY WHAT YOU WISH’). Soon after the first Clifton’s opened, customers began referring to it as the ‘Cafeteria of the Golden Rule.‘ “Long before the Civil Rights movement allowed black Americans to freely patronize white-run establishments, Clifton’s restaurants were integrated. In response to a complaint about his progressive policy, Clinton wrote in his weekly newsletter, ‘If colored skin is a passport to death for our liberties, then it is a passport to Clifton’s.’ Regardless of income or skin color, Clinton wanted everyone who ate at his restaurants to be completely satisfied, so the phrase ‘Dine free unless delighted’ was printed on every check. Though many patrons ate for free, enough customers gave significantly more than they were asked to keep the business afloat.”
“There was nothing in there … When we met there on Thursdays, they’d put a double row of tables in the middle of the room, and twelvechairs on one side, twelve chairs on the other side. We sat facing each other. It was very social.”
In those days, Bradbury earned his living — about nine dollars a week — selling newspapers at the corner of Olympic and Norton in Los Angeles. In Surround Yourself With Your Loves and Live Forever, edited by John L. Coker III, Bradbury’s friend Ray Harryhausen later recalled:
“In the mid-1930s when I was still in high school, Forry told me about the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria, where the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League would meet every Thursday. Robert Heinlein used to come around, and a guy named Ray Bradbury. We were a group who liked the unusual. “Ray would arrive wearing roller skates. After selling newspapers on the street corner he would skate to the meetings because he had no money. He used to go meet the stars at the Hollywood Theater where they did weekly radio broadcasts.”
In later years, Bradbury recalled his involvement with the SFL in Tales of the Time Travelers: Adventures of Forrest J Ackerman and Julius Schwatrz, edited by John L. Coker III:
“I was in high school when I joined the Science Fiction League in October, 1937. I remember poking my head into the little brown room in Clifton’s Cafeteria. Forry invited me in and immediately gave me a job writing for his hectographed fan magazine Imagination. I did some terrible covers for it and I wrote some awful articles.”
Bradbury’s cover illustration for the March 1938 issue of Imagination! (v1n6)
Over the years, Bradbury and other LASFL alumni would periodically reunite at Clifton’s.
Bradbury was inspired and mentored by fellow fans he met in the Little Brown Room — Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Hannes Bok and others. Bradbury’s first science fiction writings appeared in the LASFL’s fanzines, including Imagination!, The Damn Thing, Sweetness and Light, and his self-published Futuria Fantasia. Many of these rare works can be found in The Earliest Bradbury, coming in July from First Fandom Experience
[Click the images in this post for improved readability.]
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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…
…adventuring with fellow fans from across the country…
…and manning first base for the PSFS Panthers at the first ever fan convention softball game, July 4 1939.
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.
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 Fanac.org for their vital contributions to this post.