One thing that has gone on is that every time I show up at some Woffie event, they make sure that an interviewer shows up very soon, along with a cameraman and a recordist so they can get a few sound bites from me. They always have a lot of questions, and they all cluster around one particular subject. Since I am one of the few people still around who ever met him in the pre-Scientology days, they want to know what L. Ron Hubbard was really like.
Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect in logic there. I do know quite a lot about what Ron did and what sort of person he was, but the reason for that isn’t because he and I spent a lot of time palling around together. We didn’t. Oh, we did meet, all right, and we did have other contacts that did not happen to involve breathing the air of the same room at any time. For one, I was occasionally his editor — or, more accurately, one of his editors — first around 1940, when I was 20 years old and editing two sf magazines for the old Popular Publications — and then half a century later when I was executive editor for Ace Books, and we had a bunch of Ron’s titles on our backlist. (I might also mention that he dedicated his novel, Battlefield Earth, to me. However, that doesn’t prove much. He dedicated it to quite a few other people as well.)
But when those interviewers turn on their cameras I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of personal detail to give them.
I definitely met Ron in the flesh. With the help of my Woffie interviewers, I’ve repeatedly searched my memory for such occasions, and have come up with two periods when I know we happened to be geographically close. One was in the late 1960s when, briefly, I was executive editor at the rapidly failing publishing company called Ace Books. As such, I was particularly interested in Ron because I was pretty sure that if we rescued a few of Ron’s most successful old fantasy and sf novels from Ace’s backlist to new editions we could start making a little money from them, which at that time Ace really needed to do. Reissuing the books should have been no problem, but for various reasons connected with the disarray Ace had got itself into, I needed to talk to Ron first.
Fortunately, a convenient opportunity was coming up. At that time my two older daughters were majoring in copper-bashing and thinking good thoughts at a Rudolph Steiner School in England. I was in the habit of driving down to see them every time I was in London, and I knew that to get there I went right past Hubbard’s Scientology headquarters at Saint Hill.
But what with one thing and another that meeting didn’t happen. I think it came close. I believe Ron and I had some correspondence about a meeting, but things were getting sort of weird around Ace at the time. I would remember it pretty clearly if it had, and I don’t.
That leaves the 1940s in New York.
There was at the time a weekly custom of science-fiction writers and and editors getting together for lunch in a private dining room in one of the hotels just off Times Square in New York. I think it was on Thursdays, and I know Ron attended now and then, as I did. It’s likely we chatted from time to time, but, if so, I have to say that I don’t remember what about.
This leaves only one occasion that is really clear in my mind. That was a dinner party at the apartment of a retired naval officer — and science fiction writer — named Malcolm Jameson.
What I remember most about that party was Jamie’s daughter Vida. She was good looking and a writer and friendly. She was also successful at selling her stories to the Saturday Evening Post, which I had never come close to. So I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the Jameson home and chat her up.
Jameson himself was an infrequent writer, but I had published some of his work. That included a two-part serial of his called Quicksands of Youthwardness, which might be viewed as a sort of antecedent to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Anyway, I don’t remember who all was at the party, but I got there early. Jamie provided me with something to drink, and Vida with someone to talk to. Things were going swimmingly until the door opened and another guest arrived.
That was L. Ron Hubbard.
There is one thing about Ron that I do remember. He was a chick magnet. He was pretty good at getting an audience of any gender to pay attention to him, but on this occasion the conversational partner he was attracting was Vida Jameson, and he attracted her clear away from me.
And that’s pretty nearly all I remember of that meeting with Ron. I have a notion that if it had not been for Vida, I might not still remember that meeting at all.
Nevertheless I did, a moment ago, say that I knew a lot about Hubbard’s life and times from other sources, and what other sources were they?
There were a lot, but one of them stands out, and that is the then editor of Astounding/Analog, John W. Campbell, Jr. So, to carry on the story, we will switch to a new format. What we’ll call it is “Campbell and Hubbard,” and it will be starting in the blog soon.