Sam Moskowitz' Detention Reminiscence

1959Detention, Detroit
The Play is Ended But No Memory Lingers On by Sam Moskowitz
From the Noreascon Three PB

The Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel, Detroit, Michigan, September 4, 5, 6, 1959. Chairmen, Fred Prophet and Roger Sims. Guest of Honor Poul Anderson.

I drove out to this one with my wife Christine and for the first time participated in the costume ball, with the two of us, Belle & Frank Dietz, and Barbara Silverberg dressed as various characters from The Wizard of Oz. We put a lot of effort into the costumes but there were too many others even better that year.

John Berry, who was Fan Guest of Honor, later put out an account of his three-week trip to the USA which was an inch thick and ran over 100,000 words and included a convention report. The best account was composed by Belle Dietz for the second September, 1959 issue of Science Fiction Times, which despite its excellent coverage made me realize that a lot of important background information is being lost, perhaps irrecoverably.

For example, the Detroit convention had written for it and produced a play, not unlike the one in Cleveland. I had completely forgotten everything about it, but Science Fiction Times said that both my wife and I were in the play. The play was titled Beyond the Unknown, and those who participated were Tom Scortia, Karen Anderson, Barbara Silverberg, Cele Goldsmith (then editor of Amazing Stories), Fritz Leiber, Randall Garrett, Djinn Faine, Joe Christoff, and Rosemary Becker.

I checked my files and, by God(!), there was a copy of the complete play, four scenes. My copy bracketed all the lines spoken by a character, apparently a subordinate in a detective agency, named Marmaduke. Did I play Marmaduke? Somebody tell me, I don't remember a line. I have a duplicate page of one scene where the character of "Chief" is underlined in green ink everywhere it occurs and written in alongside it is "H. Schwartz." Whoever H. Schwartz is, he paid at the door, because he is not included in the roster of members in the program booklet.

But what I am most curious about is, who wrote the play? The most likely member of the cast to have written it would be Randall Garrett, it's his type of humor. But Fritz Leiber is in the play and he has a background in the theater. Karen Anderson is in the play, so Poul could have allowed his arm to be twisted. I know I had nothing to do with it. The play is a heavy-handed spoof of several of the then-current magazine editors, most authentically John W. Campbell, with whom Garrett worked very closely. There are also jibes at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy, but they are much less insightful.

One coverage of the convention indicates that the scripts were read, which indicates there was virtually no rehearsal and some of the actors may not have seen their lines until they went on stage.

On the serious program, Bob Silverberg embarked at length on why science fiction was dying and why he appeared to have left it. In truth, he said, he had not really left science fiction, it had left him, and he secured a major part of his income by writing for the men's fact magazines. (At that period there were dozens of them flourishing, both the non-fiction macho publications and the pallid imitations of Playboy which also ran fiction, including science fiction.) Bob wept for the unborn science fiction writers of the future who would have no market to break into the field (the digest magazines were collapsing at a great rate at the time). Bob was to repeat his act again later on, but this time he was to leave the field, it did not leave him, and so very many new writers had managed to find openings to enter the field that they could not be identified without the Science Fiction Writers of America's annual membership directory.

There was a lot of programming and it was generally of a high level of interest, but particularly fascinating were the convention expenses released sometime later. Today, when the cost of conventions runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars and a mismanaged event can rack up a six-figure loss, the statistics will prove fascinating. The total cost of The First World Science Fiction Convention in 1939 had been $269.94. The Detention, 20 years later, still only ran $3,277.42 and $377.00 of that was profit which was donated to the next convention, the Transatlantic Fan Fund (TAFF), and the John Berry Trip Fund. Banquet tickets, counted as an expense, were $1,038.00, nearly one third of the total.

The bidding for the next convention site smacked of the same sleight-of-hand that had won the bid for Philadelphia in Chicago. Bids were made by Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. I was somehow in on it, in what detail I no longer recall, but I joined Willy Ley and P. Schuyler Miller in making seconding speeches for Pittsburgh. With no warning, Earl Kemp, speaking for Chicago, withdrew his bid (somewhat questionable to begin with) and threw the support of that city to Pittsburgh. Since there was a substantial Chicago-area representation in attendance, as well as my Eastern Science Fiction Association and Willy Ley's Hydra Club, and since Pittsburgh wasn't too much of a trip for Philadelphia supporters, Pittsburgh steamrollered the other contestants.

One fact stands out. On every side, whether on the platform, in the audience, or accosted in the corridors, John W. Campbell was excoriated for the excessive employment of psionics in the plot lines of his stories. There was no surcease; he was bombarded incessantly throughout the entire course of the convention, with virtually no defenders. A brilliant debater, he nevertheless found himself hard-pressed either to stem the criticism or to remain unaware that what he was doing was unpopular with his readers.