Discon 1 Guide: The Banquet

[This is Chapter 4 from George Scithers' Con-Committee Chairman's Guide, the story of Discon I, the 1963 Worldcon. Retyped in 2001 by Tim Illingworth, from a copy of the original 1965 publication.]

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IV. THE BANQUET

Without a doubt, the banquet represents more work, on the part of the con committee, than any other part of the convention.

The really big items are the preparations long beforehand. First, the whole of the Hugos; voting, preparation of the awards, trying to get the winners to the con without letting them know they've won… Another big item is the hotel arrangements for this; fixing a price and a menu, preparing Banquet tickets. And then there's picking a Guest of Honor and a Toastmaster, getting them to come (of course, you tell them that they're supposed to be Guest of Honor and Toastmaster), and, if you're as cautious as we were, you'll pick out an alternate for each. (Our first choice on Guest of Honor, Will F. Jenkins, made it, but personal affairs called Ted Sturgeon away and Isaac Asimov did the toasts instead - and very well too - but more of that later.)

But that isn't all. During all the rush and confusion of registering people for the con, it's a good idea to keep tabs on the hotel room assignments too; it's customary for the con committee to provide a free room for the Guest of Honor at the con hotel. (If you're lucky, the room will be one provided free by the hotel to the committee.) However, you've got to get the Guest of Honor into that free room. Our problem was complicated: (1) none of the committee had ever met Will F. Jenkins, and (2) there is also a Philadelphia fan named Will J. Jenkins. The hotel almost put the wrong Jenkins in the complimentary room; only a visit by one of the committee and a casual question prevented a Ghastly Mistake.

And there's the sale of the banquet tickets. On this, were we lucky! Instead of asking a guarantee, the hotel - in the person of Mr. Tristano, the banquet manager - asked for our estimate of eventual ticket sales, and asked to be kept informed of how sales were going. Our estimates weren't very accurate; we guessed variously between 250 and 400. However, through registration Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning, just about every two hours, we told Mr. Tristano what the total sales were at that point and asked "Shall we keep selling?" And he'd always smile and say yes. Eventually sales reached 442 - at least 50 sold in the last couple of hours - and Bill Evans even sold a few tickets at the door of the banquet itself.

Now, this isn't as simple as it sounds, really. Since the banquet is on a weekend, the hotel has to buy the food a few days in advance. And since a banquet is a large affair, a lot of waiters have to be notified a day or so in advance that they must show up. A lot of hotels will demand a guarantee; you guarantee that X tickets will be sold, and they'll (usually) agree to have X +10% places set, in case you have a few more than the guarantee show up. In our case, the hotel made a guess of its own, and when our sales seemed to be heading for this figure, they let us keep selling. If sales had outrun the hotel's estimate (they had figured 447) we would have had to shut ticket sales off early.

Unfortunately for future cons, this sets a Bad Example to the con members. Fans have always expected to be able to get tickets at the last minute; this experience could reinforce the expectation - and for most cons and hotels, this simply won't be the case. I remind you again: the NYCon II went broke largely from guaranteeing to the hotel more tickets than were actually sold.

The Guest of Honor and his wife, and the Toastmaster, got free banquet tickets. Everyone else paid, including the committee. As for who sat at the head table? That we decided late Saturday night, as I remember. It was simply the basic, four man con committee, plus the hardest-working of our assistants. And, I might add, it is only during the con that you find out who, of the group that are supposed to be helping, actually are. Let me stress that it is the assistants, the hose- and spear-carriers, that make it possible for a con to run smoothly. Certainly a con needs new and original ideas, but the people who think up the ideas must be the ones, by and large, who will carry them out. If the DisCon had any success, it is in surprisingly large part due to people like Joe Sarno, Larry Breed, Steve Russell, George MacMullin, Tom Rutherford, and Tom Haughey.

Anyway. We got all the head-tablers positioned. Larry Breed and Steve Russell (two folk from Stanford, California, who spent a week before the con Helping Out (and who were largely responsible for completing the Hugos) brought in a trunk containing the seven Hugos and the two plaques. They spread the Hugos out on a piano behind the head table (carefully covered) and we began to eat.

[About this time, things began to run themselves, and the release of pressure threw George into a brief tailspin. The rest of the committee, or at least Bill Evans and Dick Eney, who were close enough to notice what was happening, sprang to the rescue (nerved to't by the thought of having to tackle George's job, otherwise) and plied him with fortifying drinks until he perked up again. About three large glasses of milk, it took to do the fortifying. I'm afraid George doesn't read these conreports that explain what formidable guzzlers fans are…]

A word on scheduling: the banquet started at 2PM; we had to clear the hall at 5PM. (It turned out our successors in the room were a pack of high school fraternity kids, who screamed their goddam little heads off for the rest of the evening.) We expected that there'd be just time for the banquet, the Guest of Honor speech, and the Hugos. Therefore, we had firmly removed all other award presentations to the Business Meeting.

Anyway, the food was brought on, people began to eat, and in due time they finished. That is: when the last waiter has delivered the last dessert, and the last table has had time to eat the dessert, and the general noise has gradually changed from dishes-and-silverware to conversation, then the chairman has to decide that they are finished, and that he's got to get on with it.

I began by introducing the committee - calling their names, alternating names of people on the right and left. As I called names, the committee stood up, one by one. On a verbal cue, the whole committee sat down together. Then I introduced the Toastmaster, Isaac Asimov, and handed him the bronze plaque we'd prepared as a memento for the occasion. I had previously given him the plaque for the Guest of Honor, but the plaque for the Toastmaster was a surprise to him. The Good Doctor thanked us, spoke briefly, introduced Will Jenkins (Murray Leinster), and gave him his plaque.

Will Jenkins spoke his piece - not long, but interestingly. When he showed signs of coming to the end of his talk, I scribbled a note "plenty of time!" But by then he had started an anecdote designed to lead up to an ending, so I had no chance to get him to talk further.

When Will finished, Isaac took the floor again. He fired off a few jokes and then got down to business: the Hugos. Since the winners are a strictly-kept secret until the last instant, we managed it this way: when he was ready, I passed him a slip of paper with the title of the first category: Best Professional Magazine. Then I put the first Hugo up on the podium, while he read off the category and (from the Program Book) the nominees. He the unfolded the paper to read the winner: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. To accept the award: Isaac Asimov.

Now, Isaac had never received a Hugo before, and he said as much when he started his talk. I thought that receiving the Hugo for F&SF would quiet him. Instead, he Pulled Out All the Stops. He plained at length about how, now that he was no longer writing much science fiction, Hugos were being given out. He said…well, read the Discon Proceedings for his exact words; enough to say he went on and on about never getting a Hugo, while he passed out Hugos to Dick Lupoff (Best Amateur Magazine, Xero), Jim Blish on behalf of Philip K. Dick (Best Novel, The Man in the High Castle), Fred Pohl on behalf of Jack Vance (Best Short Fiction, "The Dragon Masters") and Don Wollheim on behalf of Roy Krenkel (Best Artist). The last slip of the series was for Best Dramatic Production.

There was a Hugo on the table when Isaac opened the slip and read "No Award". He looked puzzled; obviously there were more Hugos to be awarded, but the categories were exhausted. I handed him a slip and he read: "Special Award No. 1: P. Schuyler Miller, for The Reference Library". And there I sat with another Hugo in hand. Another slip of paper. "Special Award No. 2", he read.

At this point Isaac paused to speak a few words on the subject of Other People getting Hugos. For the first time during the whole con, I relaxed. I felt like leaning back in my chair and putting my feet on the table; I knew exactly what was going to happen next — and, of course, it did. Isaac finally opened the slip of paper, read it, looked blank, turned away from the audience for a moment, and then turned to me and wailed: "You've ruined my whole bit!!!" What with all the applause, I don't think anybody actually heard him announce the second special award: "To Isaac Asimov, for putting science into science fiction".

Later, on his way to his hotel room to deposit his loot, Isaac claimed that we had led him on; the change of Toastmaster from Sturgeon to Asimov, the Toastmaster plaque, even the F&SF Hugo which he accepted — all these, he said, convinced him that he was not getting a Hugo, and so he could really go to town on the subject.

[See 1963 Hugo Results for details.]

Yes, the banquet represents the most work of any item on the program. But it can be the most fun…

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