Bruce Pelz was a science fiction fan active in the LASFS. He co-chaired L.A.Con I in 1972 and was Fan Guest of Honor at Noreascon Two in 1980 in Boston. He was smof #2, wrote filksongs and was a master costumer. He was married first to Dian Pelz and then to Elayne Pelz.
Bruce Edward Pelz, who led Los Angeles sf fandom for over three decades and chaired the 1972 Worldcon, suffered a massive coronary and died on May 9. He is survived by Elayne, his wife of nearly 30 years; and Cecy, daughter of his first marriage.
Bruce also was chairman of the forthcoming Westercon (host to the Locus awards.)
If a list was made of every significant contribution Bruce made to fandom or every honor he received, a reader couldn't tell whether he was holding a fanzine or the telephone book, and if a list was made of every fan Bruce’s life influenced, he would be holding the telephone book. He went all-out for anything that interested him. He was famed for being a “completist” collector of fanzines, comics, etc., though he must have had the trait before he became a fan. Milt Stevens recalled, “Bruce was an Eagle Scout. Really. I guess once he started collecting merit badges he had to have all of them.”
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of fanhistory. He made a lot of history, too. He co-chaired the L.A.Con I, the 1972 Worldcon, with Chuck Crayne. He was fan guest of honor at the 1980 Worldcon, Noreascon Two. (They also published his Fan Tarot Deck, a set of cards made from original sf/fan art.) He chaired the 1969 (and helped run Los Angeles in '69) and 1976 Westercons (the former with Chuck Crayne). He founded Loscon and chaired the Loscon 10. He worked at innumerable other convention jobs over a 40-year span. He won the Evans-Freehafer Award in 1966 and 1969 and the Sampo Award.
He was appreciated by worldwide fandom as only a few others have been. He was selected a Fellow of NESFA, no small accomplishment for someone on the opposite side of the country from Boston. He was even an honorary Kentucky Colonel, thanks to the connections of Louisville fans.
Trying to capture the spirit of the man for anyone who never met him brings to mind words like Edwardian, Dionysian: Bill Warren called him, “the reincarnation of Henry VIII.” The image Pelz cultivated in the 1960’s was best phrased by Lenny Bailes: “When Puck made his declaration about ‘what fools these mortals be,’ I’m sure Bruce was probably sipping mead somewhere in the background and trying on a cape of some sort.”
The mythic quality was enhanced by Bruce’s habit of naming the things around him. Wherever he lived was “the Tower.” In the 60s and 70s a host of LA fans took crosscountry road trips to conventions in “the Ox,” Bruce’s blue Ford van, named after “Babe the Blue Ox” from the Paul Bunyan legends. (The name was carried over to his next van, although it was red.)
Bruce discovered fandom at the University of Florida. He was part of a group of cave exploration enthusiasts who were members of the Florida Speleological Society. Around 1957 the cavers discovered they shared another interest, science fiction, and they started an sf club called SCIFI that met weekly. He also began publishing Profanity, Speleobem (for SAPS), and Savoyard (for N'APA and OMPA) at that time.
Bruce finished undergraduate work and moved to LA in 1959 to study library science at the University of Southern California, a choice probably determined by the new friendships he made with LA fans at that year’s Worldcon in Detroit.
Pelz first lived in LA with John Trimble, Jack Harness and Ernie Wheatley: they rented a house in the hillside area above LA civic center, ’til John married Bjo in July, 1960. (Pelz published A Fanzine for Bjohn in celebration.) Then the whole “Fan Hill” group moved to the soon-to-be famous house on 8th Street. John Trimble wrote: “As might be expected, with fans packed beyond critical mass (as F.M. Busby put it), there was a fair amount of tension and discord, along with all the fun and fanac. So it was no surprise that the group splintered when the house was sold to a developer. Bjo, Al Lewis, Ernie Wheatley and I, along with others, had been the moving force in the LASFS for several years. Bruce, Ted Johnstone and some other fans saw themselves as our competition. We let them be the loyal opposition until we were convinced they’d do a good job with the club and then let them take it away from us. Obviously, looking at where the club is today, it was a sound move.”
Bruce definitely had a hard time breaking into LASFS leadership. The first three times he ran for club office, he lost. He even opposed the creation of the building fund to purchase a LASFS clubhouse when it was proposed in 1964, according to Bill Warren.
Paul Turner got the club to adopt the goal and by 1969 the fund contained $7,000, not bad for a fan group but still only a fraction of the money needed to buy a property. That year Bruce was elected treasurer. His persistent fundraising allowed LASFS to purchase its own clubhouse just four years later, the first club ever to do so. Club membership was booming and the first building was barely big enough to contain the first meeting in it. Under Bruce’s impetus LASFS was able to move into a larger property in 1977. Bruce’s vision and energy helped reshape LASFS and fandom at large.
In 1964, Bruce persuaded LASFSians to copy the idea of a local weekly apa from New York fandom’s APA-F. APA-F folded within a couple of years but APA-L survived a months-long break and has appeared for over three decades. Bruce helped create the first conventions for mystery fans in 1970. Len Moffatt explains, “It was Bruce’s idea to make the convention a memorial to Anthony Boucher, who had died the year before.” So Bruce Pelz and Chuck Crayne held the first annual Anthony Boucher Memorial Mystery Convention (to become known as the BoucherCon) in Santa Monica in 1970. The con is still going, under the name of the World Mystery Convention and Bruce Pelz was its Fan Guest of Honor in 1991. He was a member of the hoax Say Da to Moscow Worldcon bid.
In the mid-70s Bruce convinced LASFS to start holding its own proprietary convention. His vision of Loscon was that it would support the club and provide a training ground where members gained experience running conventions. Bruce was the catalyst for a number of projects carried out by other fans. In the mid-70’s he began a project to get fan fund trip reports back in print. In the late 90’s he persuaded SCIFI, the group that ran L.A.con III, to undertake publication of a hardcover version of Harry Warner Jr’s Wealth of Fable. Richard Lynch handled the editorial chores and Warner won a well-deserved Hugo. Bruce conspired with others to launch the Fan Photo Gallery as a surprise for 1997 Loscon fan guest Geri Sullivan. He was a member of the ISL.
Bill Warren said of Bruce, “He had many friends and some enemies in fandom, but even his enemies respected him. But he only had a very, very few truly close friends over the years, including Ted Johnstone, Drew Sanders, Elayne, Larry Niven and, for a while, people such as me and Craig Miller.”
Drew Sanders shared Bruce’s Santa Monica apartment in the early 70s. Sanders once compared them to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Larry Niven celebrated his friendship with Pelz by writing a story about the character “Gregory Elephant.” And Niven’s story “What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers,” published in 1971, was partly inspired by a party Bruce and Dian Pelz threw in connection with their amicable divorce (there actually was a cake with a bride and groom on top, facing in opposite directions.)
Few of today’s LASFSians knew two friends that Bruce greatly missed after they passed away in the 1960s, Ron Ellik and Lee Jacobs. However, club members often heard about the pair because Bruce named his annual wine and cheese party in their honor.
Ron Ellik edited the newszine Starspinkle from 1962 to 1964. Bruce published the zine and later became unofficial coeditor. During the zine’s heyday Bruce ran for TAFF, finishing third in the 1963 race behind Wally Weber and Marion Zimmer Bradley. He published Glamdring and I Palantir (for The Fellowship of the Ring).
Starspinkle ceased publishing when Ellik moved to Washington, D.C., so Bruce started his own newszine, Ratatosk in November 1964. The zine was named for the squirrel in Norse mythology that ran up and down Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life, carrying rumors from the eagle at the top and the dragon at the bottom, and passing them on to other various creatures that resided on the tree. The title referenced Ellik’s fan nickname, “The Squirrel.”
Bruce’s greatest claim to fame was his fanzine collection. It began growing dramatically when he acquired the holdings of The Fanzine Foundation from Alan Lewis in 1965. There was over one ton of fanzines, including the partial or complete collections of Alan Lewis, Howard DeVore, Phyllis Economou, Larry Shaw, Martin Alger, and R. D. Swisher. In the 1970s he spent many lunch hours at UCLA keypunching data about the collection onto Hollerith cards, then proudly showed off the updated list printed on great wads of 11 x 16 computer paper.
Bruce’s collection filled many filing cabinets. He had the most worthy zines custom bound in hardcover. The results were usually beautiful, though once he complained bitterly when he discovered the binder trimmed the pages of Locus. He took it all apart, replaced the damaged issues and had the job redone. Bruce’s penchant for binding fanzines in hardcover was the subject of a satirical article in the quite tardy (and evidently unexpected) final issue of Dick Lupoff’s Xero. Dick described Pelz’ “stubby peasant fingers” opening the envelope and his frustration at having his complete bound collection marred by a loose issue. Since I happened to read the article from the copy in Bruce’s bound volume of Xero, I was puzzled. Bruce said Lupoff had credited him with too much efficiency—the run of Xero had been sitting in a stack to be bound real soon now when the last issue arrived.
Bruce was very active in apas: SAPS, N’APA, The Cult, OMPA, and FAPA. He coined the reference to the Cult as “The nastiest bastards in fandom.”
By the end of the 1950s Bruce Pelz and Jack Harness had achieved their ambition to join every single apa and were dubbed 'omniapans.' But there was a backlash. Members of CRAP took umbrage at the presence of omniapans, who wanted to be in an apa only for completeness, rather than supposedly a genuine interest in the organization. So they conspired to declare CRAP dead. Two versions of the official organ containing the announcement were sent to members. Everyone but the omniapans received the version announcing the creation of a successor apa, APA-X, and were invited to join. The effect was that the omniapans were dropped: Harness, Pelz, and also Ted Johnstone (who was in many, but not all, apas.)
In addition to collecting fanzines, Bruce was a comics enthusiast. His extensive collection once included a bound set of Fantastic Four starting at #1. His other interests and collections included, to greater or lesser degrees: books collecting newspaper strips (a la Peanuts or Dilbert) but including a lot of unusual and foreign strips; historical mysteries; Gilbert & Sullivan; sweet wines; miniature liquor bottles; and stuffed/plush animals.
Pelz was long active in the field of filk songs. He wrote the music for three songs from John Myers Myers’ Silverlock: “Little John’s Song” (published October, 1960), “Widsith’s Song” (along with Ted Johnstone, aka David McDaniel) and “Friar John’s Song” (published in December, 1960). He made an epic trek along with Ted Johnstone to Myers’ home, half-way across the US, to sing him these melodies—plus Gordon Dickson’s tune for “Orpheus’s Song” (aka “I Remember Gaudy Days”), and got Myers’ permission to legally publish the words along with the music.
Pelz later republished these songs and a number of other ones in his first Filksong Manual (published for the 1965 Westercon). This was the first compilation of filksongs that published not just the songs’ lyrics but (where legally possible) the sheet music, thus enabling filkers who had never heard the tune to still attempt to sing it.
Pelz also appeared as an actor/singer in the Westercon XX production of “Captain Future Meets Gilbert and Sullivan” (by Stephen and Virginia Schultheis), playing the Master of the Universe, at the 1967 Westercon.
Pelz also earned fame in convention masquerade competitions - and afterwards. Walt Willis reported that after the 1962 Worldcon “fancy dress parade” contestants “were mutely challenging people to guess who they were… The most remarkable transformation was that of Bruce Pelz, who had performed the notable feat of wearing fancy dress throughout the convention until he looked quite normal in it, and then had changed his clothes, shaved off his beard, had his hair cut and left off his glasses.”
Sandy Cohen recalled, “One of my earliest memories is seeing him with dyed hair for a costume and hearing him almost gleefully discuss how his co-workers would react.”
And Lenny Bailes wrote, “When I met him in person at the 1963 Discon, his hair was dyed blond, he had a shaggy blond beard and he carried a huge broadsword—all in preparation for his appearance as Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd at the Masquerade Ball. (None of this got in the way of his selling me a copy of the Filk Song Manual, taking my application for membership in the Spectator Amateur Press Society, and selling me a subscription to Starspinkle, the newszine he published/edited with Ron Ellik.)”
Pelz won Costume Awards at several Westercons: 1963, Heavy Trooper from "Dragon Masters"); 1965, Gorice of Carce (with Dian Pelz as the Lady Sriva); 1966, The Fat Fury (with Dian as Ticklepuss ) from the Herbie comics; 1967, Barquentine (from Titus Groan); 1978, Nick van Rijn from the Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League series. He won awards at Worldcons, too: 1963, Fafhrd (with Ted Johnstone as the Gray Mouser and Dian as Ningauble); 1966, Chun the Unavoidable; 1968, Heavy Trooper (from "Dragon Masters"); 1969, Countess Gertrude of Groan (from Titus Groan); 1970, Gorice of Carce.
Lee Gold wrote, “Of these costumes, the one I particularly remember was Countess Gertrude (1969). Bruce wore a green and gold caftan, a green cap, and a string of snails. He spent the presentation murmuring to a dove which perched on his finger (and was actually stuffed). No one recognized him including old friend Charlie Brown, who actually helped ‘Gertrude’ up the ramp. The panel of judges was sufficiently impressed by the whole affair to award him MOST EVERY THING, including Most Beautiful, Best Presentation, and Best Group (after all, there was Gertrude and the Dove). When the name of the winner was announced, the entire audience burst into applause.”
Bruce’s interests and activities changed over the years, but he gave them everything he had. At one time or another he avidly played contract bridge, LASFS poker, “Oh Hell”, and mah jongg. He loved conventions, of course. When he retired as a librarian at the UCLA Engineering school, Bruce started huckstering books. It accomplished the dual purpose of paying his way to conventions and giving him a dealers table. Whether huckstering or bidding, Bruce enjoyed camping out someplace where everyone gravitated to talk to him. As a dealer his elephantine memory served both business and friendships, because people loved the way he would remember the books they’d bought and recommend comparable writers they’d enjoy - he was a living Amazon.com.
Bruce loved cruising on passenger ships. He and Elayne went often, once taking a 65-day cruise up the coast of Africa and around the Mediterranean to places most of us have only heard about in Hope and Crosby pictures. Bruce took advantage of Internet cafes around the world to e-mail news from port. Good eating and good shopping were always worth a headline. Bruce and Elayne were such good customers of Princess cruises their photo was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Captain’s Circle - though, amusingly, they hadn’t noticed until people started reading copies at a Westercon committee meeting and made the discovery.
Bruce continued mentoring the latest generation of fans, and investing in his family. In March, Bruce’s daughter Cecy was about to wed Judith MacQuinn and he asked if she really wanted him to walk her up the aisle. MacQuinn wrote online, “He was not trying to back out of it; he was concerned over his ‘hobbling gait’, as he referred to it. He was concerned about being too slow and holding up the ceremony. Cecy told him she didn’t care if he held up the ceremony—she wanted her father to be there to give her away. He replied that if he had to crawl on hands and knees, he would do so.”
It is inconceivable that a man so richly endowed with every gift for living could be taken away. Once gone, it’s impossible that he could ever be forgotten by anyone who enjoyed his company.
Other Awards, Honors, and GoHships: