WSFS, Inc.

Yearning for a national fan organization dates back to the earliest days of fandom — see the Fancyclopedia article on Locals — and in the 40s this yielded the N3F. In the 50s, the increasing complexity of Worldcons and the increasing importance of conventions to fandom suggested to many that Worldcons should be run by a central group of experts rather than catch as catch can by whatever local group of fans was selected. WSFS, Inc., was the first attempt to make this real.

What happened, exactly, is hard to tell, but the article from Fancyclopedia 2, below, appears to be basically correct. (More detail follows it.)

from Fancyclopedia 2 ca. 1959
The World Science Fiction Society, Incorporated.
_The PhilCon II in 1953 had rumblings of a "permanent convention organization", and at the NYCon II this group was actually voted into authority. It was alleged that incorporation was necessary to prevent local fans being sued for debts in case the convention ran into the red — a real danger, with the Big Convention movement — since it could declare itself bankrupt when its funds were exhausted, under the laws governing corporations, while individuals could be sued for their personal funds if debts exhausted the Con-committee's resources. Tho a well-taken point, the fact that the NYCon II and the LonCon following it both ran into debt without rescue from the WSFS casts doubt on the value of this feature. Certain dragooning tactics used in getting the Incorporation adopted as sponsoring organization of the NYCon II (mostly George Nims Raybin's public remark that iff'n the attendees en masse didn't vote for that measure at the business session the society would gather a group of Con-committee members who would put it into effect anyway) were strongly resented at the time and later.

The WSFS in addition to other duties was supposed to "help with convention planning and production, acting as a reservoir of experience". It is reported to have given a good deal of valuable assistance to the LonCon. Its bylaws regularized some important fannish convention practices, such as the Rotation Plan. Tho the language of the organization's charter was suspected of concealing crafty legalisms by which the WSFS directors could "take over fandom" (i.e. dictate to convention committees) neither London nor South Gate had any complaints to make about officiousness.

After the Plane Trip hooraw, and, some alleged, as a result of the animosities therefrom arising, the New York WSFS officers (Frank Dietz, Recorder-Historian; Belle Dietz, Secretary; George Nims Raybin, Legal Officer) dunned Dave Kyle for about $100 in funds outstanding since the NYCon II, and, receiving no satisfaction, attached his bank account. Kyle brought suit for damages to his reputation in the amount of $25,000, the attachment and a libelous article by one "Edsel McCune" in fanzine Metrofan being important exhibits. (To make things clearer, this "Edsel McCune" was not the original owner of the pen-name.) The other 3 filed counter-suit for the same amount and a series of articles, most of which probably were actionable if the truth were known, were produced by each side. Kyle cited some of these and raised his claim to $35,000, while the Dietzes and Raybin offered to let Kyle designate a lawyer to handle their end of the suit. Dave refused this offer, since taking over would let him end the matter as he pleased but make him liable for all the court charges (several hundred dollars) accumulated to date.

Meanwhile, back in fandom, various others had taken an interest in the matter, the Falascas reacting by attacking the legality of the whole WSFS as at that time constituted and alleging irregularities in the Incorporation's operation that would get it in trouble if it ever came under the scrutiny of the courts. Inchmery Fandom and some others rallied to the support of WSFS and the Dietzes, but the majority reaction appeared to be active or barely suppressed nausea at the goings-on in New York. Motivations for the last appear to have been (1) dislike of legal action on the general principle that fandom is too esoteric for a fair judgement to be reached by a mundane court or jury, and (2) horror at the size of the damages claimed, $25,000 being more than sufficient to throw the average fan into debt for a decade. Such feelings easily passed into opposition to the existence of the WSFS.

To make it easier for the contenders to back down, Kyle was accused of vindictiveness in maintaining his suit, while the "Unholy Three" were accused of "trying to wiggle out from under a bad case" in not maintaining theirs. Since withdrawal by either side would undoubtlessly be followed by denunciations for having admitted to a bad case, the lawsuiters appear to be in an insoluble dilemma.

As mentioned above, disgust at these carryings-on, which were generally linked to the name of WSFS, easily became the source of opposition to the existence of the corporation. The Falascas and the Berkeley Bhoys were generally the spreaders of anti-WSFS and down-with-lawsuits sentiments, tho they had enthusiastic seconding. During 1958 fandom's intent to fight against the WSFS at the SoLACon became so evident that the con committee decided not to associate the convention with the WSFS, a decision which Anna Moffatt announced amid tremendous cheers at the business session. A resolution was passed there calling for dissolution of the WSFS by the directors. (Since the SoLACon wasn't WSFS-sponsored a resolution, which was probably set to go, "that the WSFS be dissolved", couldn't be introduced.) The later history of the organization remains in doubt, since no such action was taken, but it is improbable that the WSFS Inc. will be important in fandom henceforth.

from Fancyclopedia 2 Supplement ca. 1960:
On the shock and horror generated by a genuine lawsuit occurring in fandom, Jack Speer comments: "It's funny how laymen react to a claim of damage, such as $25,000, as if the claim settled something. I often have clients telling me to sue somebody for all he's worth, just as if the plaintiff could decide how much the verdict should be.
WSFS, Inc., was taken very seriously for a while. Solacon, the 1958 Worldcon gave pride of place to WSFS, Inc. in its PRs:
putting it above the con committee itself. Yet six months later, WSFS, Inc., was effectively dead, destroyed by the fairly general revulsion of fandom and Anna Moffatt's gavel.

At this point, the Board of WSFS, Inc., was Belle C. Deitz, Dave Newman, Forrest J Ackerman, E. Everett Evans, Dave Kyle, and James V. Taurasi. Frank Deitz was Recorder, George Nims Raybin was Legal Officer, and there was also an advisory council of E. J. Carnell, Nick Falasca, Noreen Falasca, Sam Moskowitz, George Nims Raybin, and Roger Sims.

(Note that the Falascas were also major movers in the dissolution of WSFS, Inc.)

See also Fandom's Burden.

WSFS, Inc. was still a hot topic in 1959. Detention's (the 1959 Worldcon) PR 1 included the text:

The Incorporation & Us
By now most of you have heard that the WSFS, Inc was "dissolved" by a vote of the membership of the 16th World Convention. It's unfortunate that so many people are using the word "dissolved". Actually the only action taken was the approval of the following petition: "We, the general membership of the World Science Fiction Society, Inc., hereby petition the Board of Directors and/or the Convention Committee to dissolve the World Science Fiction Society, Inc. and return the Charter to the State of New York, as soon as the bills of the present convention have been paid."

The petition was subsequently submitted to the Board of Directors of the WSFS, Inc. by Anna Sinclare Moffatt, Chairwoman of the 16th World Science Fiction Convention. What action said Board of Directors plans to take concerning the petition we do not know.

Detroit was selected to produce a convention by a vote of the membership of the 16th World Science Fiction Convention not, as Mrs. Moffatt made clear during the meeting, The World Science Fiction Society, Inc.

Your convention committee is operating under the assumption that it is completely outside the WSFS, Inc. We are willing to accept any assistance or advice they may offer us, but we are in no way obligated to, or dependent upon them.

WSFS, Inc. was a really big deal in the fanzines of the day. (Walt Willis wrote a sccreenplay of it called "The Raybin Story".) You can get a good feel of the debate by reading a newszine like Fanac and the affair unfolds week by week. Material can be found in:

Fanac 4 p2
Fanac 6 p2
Fanac 8 p2
Fanac 9 p3
Ground Zero 1