For obvious reasons, the World SF Convention held in Cincinnati in 1949 stands out more clearly in my memory than any others of the older cons, since I was Writer Guest of Honor. When Don Ford wrote telling me the convention committee wanted me to accept the honor, I told him I thought they were crazy. There were a lot of famous people out there far more deserving than I. I didn't refuse, but I gave them time to reconsider. Don's reply: "As they say in the Army, you're in like Flynn. You deserve to be Guest of Honor."
I was certain then and still think I was chosen more for my accomplishments as Fantasy Press, publisher, than as Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, writer, and said so in my speech. Fittingly, my three partners in the publishing venture as well as our wives made the trip to Cincinnati, though they spent little time in fannish activities. As the only fan among us I spent all my time conventioneering.
Of the one hundred ninety people who attended, ten percent were professionals, among them (in alphabetical order) Poul Anderson, Hannes Bok, Arthur J. Burks, Lester del Rey, Vince Hamlin (creator of the famous cartoon character Alley Oop), Dave Kyle, Fritz Leiber, Judy Merril, Sam Moskowitz, Ray Palmer, Frank M. Robinson, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Wilson "Bob" Tucker, and Jack Williamson. There were several others including, as I remember it, Edmond Hamilton, though his name does not appear on the official list.
E.J. Carnell, brought over from England, was the Fan Guest of Honor, though he had just turned pro, having launched the second British science fiction magazine, New Worlds. Tales of Wonder had preceded it by almost a decade. Ted, to everyone who knew him, was a major force in British science fiction until his death in 1972. The Cinvention was most noteworthy for the publicity it gained, both local and national. Dave Kyle was responsible. Two friends of Dave's, Dick Wilson and Cyril Kornbluth, both SF writers, were then heading Transradio Press in Chicago and New York, and each evening Dave phoned them reports of the day's happenings, with said reports going out over the Teletypes to the radio stations of the nation. And it worked, relatives of fans telling of reports on local broadcasts in all parts of the country.
But an even more innovative publicity ploy came out of the Cinvention, also arranged by Kyle. This was the appearance of a discussion panel on TV station WLW, Cincinnati. Dave made all the arrangements — but when it came to the actual program he received quite a surprise. He has assumed the interview would be conducted by station personnel, but he was wrong. After the announcer made preliminary references to the Seventh World Science Fiction Convention, he said: "So, at this time I'd like to introduce to you a gentleman who knows much more about science fiction than you or I, I'm sure, of the Gnome Press, formerly connected with radio stations in New York State, Mr. David Kyle." And with that he vanished into the woodwork, leaving the startled and unprepared Dave to moderate the interview. And Dave did an excellent job. He had the help of the following writers and fans, listed in the order of their appearance:
Fritz Leiber, Jr., E. Everett Evans, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Jack Williamson, Hannes Bok, John Grossman, Forrest J Ackerman, Ted Carnell, Bob Tucker, Melvin Korshak, Lloyd A. Eshbach, James A. Williams, and Dr. C.L. Barrett. Judy Merril was on the panel, too, but time ran out before Dave got around to her. (All of this half-hour discussion is recorded in my book of reminiscences, Over My Shoulder, Reflections on a Science Fiction Era, from which many of my comments on past Worldcons have been adapted.) There was nothing remarkable about our TV appearance. Certainly our comments were hardly brilliant — but since there was no preparation by anyone, I think we did quite well. Certainly we did not disgrace ourselves or science fiction. And it was an important first.
The convention itself was one of the last of the smaller and less formal fan gatherings. By comparison with today's mammoth affairs with 7,000 and more in attendance, it was simply a more sophisticated version of local SF weekends. It was unhurried, with none of the hectic pace of the later conventions. There were the usual speeches, Lester del Rey discussing "Sex and Science Fiction," Jack Williamson speaking about "Science and Science Fiction," my subject, mostly extemporaneous, "Science Fiction Comes of Age," and untitled talks by Ted Carnell, Doc Smith, and Arthur J. Burks. Hamlin also spoke about Alley Oop.
But on the whole the weekend was one long gabfest among people with the same interests. Just plain fun.