Fanzine reviews: The Harp Stateside
The Harp Stateside (February 1957) Part One
Faned: Walt Willis
Last column I reviewed the trip report Walt Willis wrote BEFORE he crossed the Atlantic to attend the 1952 Chicon II Worldcon in Chicago. This column I begin a series reviewing the trip report he wrote AFTER his trip. Chapters originally appeared OOPSLA!, QUANDRY, and CONFUSION. This version is a oneshot representing the first time it was all put together, with some additional material added. It was published by Walt in February 1957. Part of the proceeds were donated to TAFF. Most of the stencils were done by Gregg Calkins of OOPSLA! The illustrations were done by Atom (Arthur Thomson).
His actual trip report is titled “The Harp Stateside,” based on his longest-running column “The Harp That Once or Twice.” What’s with the harp already? “The harp that once or twice” is a line taken from James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Good enough for Joyce; good enough for Walt.
It all started with an innocent remark I’d made at the end of a report on the ’51 London convention … “Sometime it might happen that I might attend an American convention and see how it should be done.” The next thing I knew, Shelby Vick had started a whirlwind campaign to import me for the Nolacon the same year. After it had been whirling for a couple of months he remembered to write and tell me about it. This was only a month before Nolacon and I figured it was just a fine bit of fannish foolishness best nipped in the bud before it gave anyone any trouble. I airmailed Shelby that I couldn’t get away.
After that blew over I assumed the thing was finished. You know what fan projects are … I was still underestimating not only Shelby Vick, but fandom. Manly Banister donated an electric mimeograph for a raffle, the Chicon Committee offered to put me up … and leading fans like Lee Hoffman, Gregg Calkins, Forry Ackerman, Dick Ryan, Robert Bloch, Henry Burwell, Ian Macauley, Dave English, G.M. Carr and Dave ish were behind Shelby … people were actually sending in money.
I put SLANT into suspended animation and began to try to do my bit by writing for other fanzines … It is quite a job for someone who isn’t naturally prolific and it got more difficult as time went on and I began to feel as if I were performing in a shop window … I always find it difficult to write short articles … later I would find to my horror that it was being run … with introductory remarks on the lines of “Look what genius this man has! Wouldn’t it be worth paying money to meet him?” It was all very embarrassing.
Unlike his pre-trip report, THE HARP STATESIDE has no footnotes. I’ll add a few covering the more obscure individuals.
Manly Banister was famous for publishing his zine THE NEKROMANTIKON out of New York. He set the text by hand and cut the linoleum block illustrations himself. He published 200 copies per edition and estimated he’d have to sell 10,000 copies to break even. Harry Warner Jr. described him as “that rarest of phenomena, a pro turned fan.”
All I could find about Dick Ryan was that he was later disappointed that Sputnik, the first satellite, wasn’t quite “the mighty space platform” everyone had been hoping for.
Henry Burwell, according to Harry Warner Jr., “played a major role” in helping Harry Moore of New Orleans put together the first complete edition of Sam Moskowitz’ THE IMMORTAL STORM (history of 1930s fandom). It was intended for the 1951 Nolacon Worldcon but problems with stencils prevented it from being ready in time.
Both Ian Macauley and Dave ish were later infamous as leading lights of the “subversive” Seventh Fandomites (led by Harlan Ellison). I know nothing about Dave English.
Round about April Shelby & I began to think it was time we started making some tentative inquiries about berths and things. We knew there were was more to crossing the Atlantic then going down to the seaside and waving a boat to stop, but we didn’t know how much more.
We found out.
We approached a few travel agents and were rather startled to find that passages were scarce. How were we to know that most people apparently have their berths booked before the ship’s keel is laid down?
There was no trouble getting a passport—apparently the British Government had no objection at all to getting rid of me—but when it came to a visa the US government wasn’t nearly so accommodating … first step in getting a visa is to apply for a form applying for permission to obtain a form on which to apply for a visa … They refused to let me even start applying until I had my tickets.
I persuaded the (travel) agent to perjure himself by giving me a letter to the effect that he was getting me tickets, and talked the consulate into accepting it … Eventually a pretty girl came along and held my hand, which would have been rather nice if she hadn’t kept sticking my fingers on an inkpad and a piece of paper describing me as an alien.
Something to bear in mind was that Europe, and in some respects the UK in particular, was still labouring under the financial impact of WWII in the early ‘50s. Air travel across the Atlantic was available, but very expensive, rather risky, and not common. Willis did attempt to book a flight with TWA but found the earliest flight he could get was a couple of days AFTER the convention.
Getting a berth on any sort of ship, he found, was near impossible. But he got lucky.
The boat, the S.S. Neptune, was due to call at Cobh, a port at the other end of Ireland, some time on Monday the 18th of August. The last few days were like that spaceship factory in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, except that we hadn’t had time to make a schedule to be behind in …
Next day began my grim struggle with the transport systems of the world.
Walt’s trials and tribulations getting to Cobh by train and bus are too complicated (though quite hilarious) to include here. Suffice to say he could not find any way of going directly to Cobh on land. The water route turned out to be something less than anticipated.
One hour later I got off the Monkstown bus at a windswept huddle of cottages and looked round for the Ferry. All I could see through the driving rain and spray was a little stone jetty running or rather staggering out to sea, and a small boy sheltering in a tin hut. I asked him where the ferry was and he pointed out to sea. At first I couldn’t discern anything but more rain and spray, but then suddenly there it was. Lifted briefly into view on the crest of a tidal wave was a tiny rowing boat, manned … if that is the word … by two little boys. I stared at it as it bobbed in and out of sight. “That’s the ferry,” I said. It wasn’t a question. I just knew it was. “Yes, said the boy, “That’s the ferry.”
I looked at the ferry for almost ten minutes, but I couldn’t make up my mind about one little point. “Is it coming or going?” I asked finally.
“Coming,” said the boy. “It’ll be here in about fifteen minutes.” He seemed to feel that some sort of explanation was due and added comfortingly; “The proper ferry gave up when the storm started and these fellows don’t know much about it.”
I felt that explained a lot. “A bit rough today,” I said casually after a while. “Yes,” said the boy, “This will likely be their last trip.” I thought so too, but I wouldn’t have been so callous about it.
Once across to Cobh, Walt was forced to spend the night in a hotel where no one was allowed to drink and everyone was forced to go to bed at 10:00 PM. The old lady who ran the place was quite fierce, apparently. No playing the gramophone, either. What made up for it was the black kitten who came with the room. Next morning Walt was a bit disconcerted to find out his ship had no plans to dock at Cobh. Fortunately a solution was at hand.
The tender that was to take us out to the Neptunia was over an hour late starting and when we got to the rendezvous out at sea the ship wasn’t there. I was coming to expect this sort of thing. Eventually a speck on the horizon developed into a big and rather shabby looking ship … Although the ship was supposed to be Greek it had been built in Holland, registered in Panama (where apparently you can register anything that isn’t actually sitting on the sea bed) and was manned almost entirely by Germans …
I was too thrilled to settle down that day and spent the rest of it trying to find where everything was, principally my cabin. Every time I let it out of my sight it would nip around to the other side of the ship, but after a while I wore it down and retired victorious.
Walt actually had a good time aboard ship. When asked what he did for a living he said he was a pulp fiction author going to America to pick up his earnings. The “Greenwich Village” pseudo-intellectuals on board coming back from bumming around Europe stood in awe of this creative type who actually earned money. Late in the voyage he was asked if anyone was meeting him in New York and he replied (more or less honestly) “Just a few fans.” This only increased his reputation. Sometimes fannish ploys work very well on Mundanes.
At last we docked, and hordes of officials swarmed on board … I had a whole stack of documents in an old Galaxy envelope and every time I came to an official I would shuffle them and deal him a hand. If I’d won I’d be allowed to go on to the next table, like a bridge tournament. I’d had some practice in this game already and at last I won the first prize, a clear view of the gangway. I found to my shocked surprise that suddenly there was absolutely nothing to stop me walking ashore. I promptly walked ashore.
Someone in a blue suit came up and shook my hand … It was Dave Kyle … Joe Gibson came along in a few seconds. After a few minutes chat the two revealed conspiratorially that Will Sykora and his henchman Calvin Thomas Beck were lurking outside to meet me. They suggested a cloak and dagger scheme by which they would go out and wait for me a couple of hundred yards outside the shed, while I strolled out by myself past Sykora and Beck, who wouldn’t recognise me.
I was thrilled. Nobody could have arranged a more fannish welcome. Not two minutes in the country and already I was up to my neck in New York fan feuds. However I temporized; I had nothing personally against Sykora … I had never been able to sort out New York fandom anyway … and I rather wanted to meet such a legendary figure. Besides, I knew Shelby had in his innocence asked Beck to meet me …
Outside, in the fresh clean smog of Hoboken … I had my first hamburger, closely followed by my second. As far as I was concerned, the food problem in America was now solved …
I’ll just mention that Calvin Thomas Beck was quite the character, being thoroughly dominated by his mother throughout his life. Fortunately for him, she thoroughly supported his fannish lifestyle. Thus she accompanied Cal who drove Walt all over New York city to see the sights before it was time for him to catch his bus. At one point Cal was stopped for speeding, but his mother intervened and forcefully informed the officer Cal would never do it again. As Walt put it “the policeman was so taken aback at this he let us go and went away by himself to think it over.” Cal later, with his mother’s support, became famous for publishing CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, a rather more adult competitor of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND put out by Forrest J Ackerman. Real monster fans (like me) collected both.
I would like to defend the Greyhound Company against an unfair accusation … that my bus broke down three times between New York and Chicago. I am happy to say that this is not true. There may have been three different breakdowns, in fact there were, but they were three different buses. Not once, in all my long and eventful association with the Greyhound Company, have I known that noble and generous organization to foist me off with a patched-up bus. Every time one broke down they would simply throw it away and bring on a new one. Their courage in persisting with this policy in the face of financial ruin …
Joe and I didn’t talk much at first. He’d begun the journey by remarking that he didn’t like the stuff I wrote and since I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything at all he had written, a whole field of conversational gambits was closed … I knew I should get some sleep because I’d none the night before and I wasn’t expecting to get much in the next few, but it was all too exciting. I did drop off through sheer fatigue …
Joe Gibson was a pro of some sort, but I don’t know what he wrote. As a fan he had attempted a hoax in 1950 by publishing twenty issues of a one-sheet zine allegedly written by a female fan name of Jay Gibson, but this failed to catch on. It’s entirely possible Walt couldn’t remember reading anything by him because he may not have been all that prolific, may not have appeared in the high quality zines Walt tended to read. Still, Joe was very much a good egg to volunteer to accompany Walt to Chicago.
The next few columns will provide excerpts from Walt’s accounts of Chicon II and his travels around the US after the convention. I’m trying to capture the flavour of early 1950s fandom by providing you a quick peruse of some of the choicest bits. It was a time when legends were born.
BY THE WAY:
You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines
You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project
You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive
And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine
And then check out my newest new website, devoted to my paying market SF&F fiction semi-pro zine Polar Borealis, at Polar Borealis Magazine