I don't believe I've ever worked harder in my life than I did in 1956 when I was chairman of the Newyorcon, the 14th World Science Fiction Convention, in New York City. By summertime, I took off two months from my radio station in northern NY state to work full time at the job. When the con was over I was exhausted.
Disappointed, too, for I saw all the failures and didn't appreciate the successes. Over the years, however, I've come to enjoy the remembrance. The bad things have receded and the good things have blossomed in my memories, and for others, too. I had three goals and they were all fulfilled. My greatest pleasures were having Arthur C. Clarke as the first non-American guest of honor and seeing the next Worldcon voted to London as the first outside of North America. My greatest satisfaction, my contribution to fandom, was the establishment, as ratified by the convention, of a national body, the World Science Fiction Society, Inc.
From the start, we had trouble. The committee was highly organized, the most sophisticated organization to date except for Chicago 1952. But although there were plenty of local bodies, there was a dearth of hard workers. Only a handful of fans did the bulk of the work, in particular Dick Ellington, Ruth Landis, and Art Saha. In those days, there were very few non-local fans who made any significant high-level contribution to the work. Such out-of-the-area fans mostly filled in as registrars or voluntary assistants when they showed up for the weekend. Thank your lucky stars that today's conventions have an enormous body of experienced personnel available and willing to assume responsibilities under complex multi-track programming.
We had been voted the site at the 1955 Clevention. We had only one year official notice, unlike now with years ahead for preparation, so planning, especially with hotels, was difficult. Our greatest soul-searching came months after the winning vote when we decided to raise the membership rates by 50%. I confess I wanted the increase. And because so many paid no attention to registration until the day they attended, there were a lot of disgruntled people to find out that instead of the two bucks they expected for the weekend, they had to shell out three bucks. (Some difference nowadays!)
The biggest outcry from some was the "outrageous" price for the banquet. Sure, The Biltmore was a world-famous hotel but the cheapest choice was $7.95 (if we rightly recall). That was what caused our greatest failure, going into the red. We weren't able to pay all our bills in full, and the committee and helpers received no dividend or expense reimbursements. What happened was that the banquet department broke their promise and wanted an earlier commitment on the number dining on Sunday "because of the Labor Day holiday weekend." Imagine, we were supposed to sell all our banquet tickets on Friday, when the opening day of the convention was actually Saturday at one o'clock! So I got a Saturday noon deadline instead and then took a guess. Instead of being conservative by underestimating (and thus disappointing some fans), I picked a reasonably optimistic figure. Although our official attendance was 850, we had over a thousand when the gate crashers and guests were counted. We had probably a hundred extra dinners charged to us. (We compromised that debt.)
The banquet, however, was a great affair, with Bob Bloch as M.C. Behind the head table was a huge banner which read, white on dark blue, WORLD SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY, which had that day flown above the hotel entrance. Arthur Clarke made a provocative talk. Isaac Asimov amused us.
There was a special banquet guest, Al "L'il Abner" Capp, who, of course, made a witty speech. He sat next to Ruth, my wife-to-be, and gave her his telephone number and his Park Avenue penthouse flat address, while I was being bugged by one problem after another. That's where the notorious line comes from: "Dave Kyle says you can't sit here." (Like "Yngvi is a louse.") One of the go-fers told me the Fire Marshal was complaining that the stairs to the balcony were blocked by those non-eaters sitting there, planning to take up positions to listen to the after-dinner speeches. "What do we do?" "Tell them," I said, "that they can't sit there." That's what he did. "Dave Kyle," not the Fire Marshal, was identified as the grouch who issued the command.
The official program was a single track for just three days. There were a number of failures. The deficit, of course. The penthouse ballroom, not air conditioned because there was no need — it was open on two long sides to the outside air — became uncomfortable because NYC had record heat wave. Hugo winner Kelly Freas' stolen painting and the stolen models from the exhibition area — due to that Fire Marshal again who prevented the security doors from being locked. (An unexpected expense was hiring security for these rooms which was not quite adequate.) Worst of all — the natal flaw which crippled the WSFS, Inc. and led it into lawsuits and a tumultuous and ignominious death. But that's a long, fascinating story in itself.
There were many, many successes. An sf ballet, "Cliche." A fan movie by the PSFS. A live band and dancing at the Costume Party. A cocktail party with free drinks sponsored by the book and magazine publishers. A terrific art show. An exhibit area, with industrial and business participation, including the Martin Company's Vanguard rocket (expected to lift the first satellite into space) (arranged for by the Martin PR man, Ben Bova, whom I introduced to the sf world). Hugo trophies which were extra special (in the days of home-crafted ones).
The Hugo trophy won by Arthur for his short story "The Star." (Also, Bob Heinlein for his novel Double Star and Bob Silverberg as Most Promising Author, just beating out Harlan Ellison.) An opening-night performance of a Karel Capek sf play at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village to conclude Monday evening.
Hmmm, come to think of it, after 33 years, I see it really was a darn good convention! I wish I'd had the time to enjoy it.