It seems incredible. A half century has passed since a group of about two hundred science fiction fans and pros met in New York City at the first "World" SF Convention. The term "world" was largely wishful thinking, thought I believe some Canadian fans were present. Oddly, even the passing of time has not obliterated some of the trivial details. I remember the stairways, four flights to climb to get to the convention hall. I recall someone giving me a yellow pamphlet with a melodramatic warning about dictatorship among some of the convention leaders. At the time it seemed rather silly to me; and the years haven't changed my opinion.
The speeches, like almost all speeches at conventions whatever their nature, were quite forgettable. And the time-honored custom of arranging for a sequence of panel discussions had not yet been thought of. But despite a somewhat shaky beginning, the result of the Manhattan area fan conflicts, the First World SF Convention became a greater success than even its sponsors expected.
The people who attended made it so. But then, this too has never changed — for me, at any rate. The fans, writers, editors, and agents (the latter in later years) make the travel, the time, and the money spent worthwhile. Fans I have met over the years or with whom I have corresponded. Writers I have enjoyed reading, and meet in person for the first time, or meet again and again over the years. Editors who have bought my work (or who haven't). Agents who form an indispensable link in the chain.
At Nycon I a few personalities stand out in my memory. There was Ray Cummings, who looked like a science fiction writer is supposed to look. Handsome, dignified, with a mass of snow-white hair and a white stock about his neck; whose "Girl in the Golden Atom" I had read in 1919. Almost forgotten today, he was a legend in 1939… John W. Campbell, Jr., L. Sprague de Camp, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Manly Wade Wellman, and others whose names escape me at the moment, men who later became my friends. I was greatly impressed by meeting them, talking with them.
Isaac Asimov was there, just having made his first science fiction sale. I recall ribbing him about his letters in the magazines' letter columns signed "Isaac Asenion," the editors' handling of his (then) unfamiliar name. And there was Ray Bradbury, a bushy-haired, enthusiastic young fan from California, successfully touting the artwork of Hannes Bok, but failing to sell any of his own fiction. No one could foresee that these two — Asimov and Bradbury — would outshine all the rest as writers of world renown.
In retrospect I find the total situation amusing. By the time of the convention I had sold twenty-eight of my stories, most of them science fiction and fantasy, a fair number of them novelettes or novellas by today's measurements, at least four of these featured on the covers. (I know; I just checked.) Yet I was counted among the fans. And that's how I felt — a science fiction fan who happened to sell some of his own fiction, thrilled to meet the pros.
One incident stands out in my memory — the introduction of Leo Margulies, then Editorial Director of Standard Magazines, and a comment of his quoted in Time Magazine. In responding from the floor among other things he said in effect, "I didn't think you could be so damned sincere."
No doubt about it, Leo; and we still are, as this convention confirms.