Robert A. Heinlein with his parents at Annapolis in 1927. (Photo from The Heinlein Centennial Souvenir Book.)

Robert A. Heinlein with his parents at Annapolis in 1927. (Photo from The Heinlein Centennial Souvenir Book.)

While I was writing something about my memories of Robert A. Heinlein, it occurred to me that I might also have something worth mentioning to say about his interior and private life. That is, about the aspects of one of my most admired writers that I would never have dared to write about in his lifetime — not because he would have come after me with a bullwhip or a summons, but because it would have caused him serious pain and immediately, and irrevocably, would then have lost me his friendship.

But that was then. Now is now. He is past the period when anything any of us might do could cause him pain. What’s more, I am convinced that he was too important a writer, and too complex a person, to leave major portions of his life and his works undiscussed … so here goes.

The first thing to know about Robert A. Heinlein is that he was a peacetime naval officer and an Annapolis graduate and therefore exposed to the service academies’ old-fashioned and sometimes amusing notions of honor. In Heinlein’s case, they took. Throughout his life, honor was of major importance.

I can perhaps give one illustrative example. Both John Campbell and his then wife Dona considered Heinlein a dear friend and, at a point when the Campbell marriage was getting seriously frayed, wrote long letters to Heinlein about their problems.

Then, years later, something triggered Heinlein’s honor glands. He decided that it was wrong for him to possess so many of other people’s secrets so he bundled up both batches of letters and mailed them back —

To John. All of them. Both sets.

I don’t think Dona ever forgave him for that.

Another example. In the early 1970s, Heinlein and I and a raft of other writers and celebrities (Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Mailer, Carl Sagan and several dozen others) were comped by the Holland-America Line to cruise to Florida to watch the launch of the Apollo 17 lunar spacecraft from the waters just off the Cape. (A grand experience, which remind me to tell you more about another time.)

At some point on the trip, Robert had a disagreement with the ship’s personnel, I am not sure exactly what about, but the effect of it was that Robert thought they were saying he had failed to do something they expected in return for his free tickets. In a service-academy mind that sort of failure to carry out an agreement for services can translate as theft, so Robert whipped out his checkbook to reimburse the line for the cost of his and Ginny’s tickets. (I think the line refused to accept it; anyway, the whole thing was settled amicably and the Heinleins enjoyed the rest of the cruise. But while it might be considered a question of honor, Robert could not let it stand.)

To be continued. . . .

 
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11 Comments

  1. John H says:

    I’m betting on the bullwhip over the summons…

    I find it fascinating that Bob would have rather reimbursed the cruise line for the cost of their tickets than engage in whatever activity (I’m assuming some kind of speech or meet-and-greet with the paying passengers) they expected him to do. Was that just Bob being stubborn, or was it something else (perhaps his ongoing health issues)?

  2. Matthew Davis says:

    from Theodore Sturgeon’s May/June 1973 Galaxy Bookshelf column:

    “Let me share a joy with you: watching Robert Heinlein on the Apollo Cruise, neat and sharp in a white dinner jacket, at 2 A.M. tipping the orchestra leader to give him a tango, and dancing it beautifully on the slowly slanting deck with his lovely wife.”

  3. James Gifford says:

    Mr. Pohl, the photo you have used at the head of this column was in the Souvenir Book for the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial, in Kansas City, July 2007. The photo was provided to us from a family album by Heinlein family member Andrew Lermer.

  4. Andrew Love says:

    “I find it fascinating that Bob would have rather reimbursed the cruise line for the cost of their tickets than engage in whatever activity (I’m assuming some kind of speech or meet-and-greet with the paying passengers) they expected him to do. Was that just Bob being stubborn, or was it something else (perhaps his ongoing health issues)?”

    I interpret Fred to be saying that the time for whatever Bob thought the cruise line had expected was already past; I’m picturing the hapless purser mentioning as the passengers departed that he wished Bob had been able to give a reading or some such.

    Eagerly awaiting more of Fred’s tales…

  5. barbara (kitten) says:

    Thank you so much, Mr. Pohl. You are a treasure and I sincerely hope that your blog posts are being archived with the thought of publishing them. So many valuable insights into the world of science fiction and fandom have disappeared because they weren’t captured. I hope you are around and writing for a long, long time.

    hugs,

    kitten

  6. John H says:

    @Andrew Love: “I’m picturing the hapless purser mentioning as the passengers departed that he wished Bob had been able to give a reading or some such.”

    Except for the part where Fred says, “…anyway, the whole thing was settled amicably and the Heinleins enjoyed the rest of the cruise.”

  7. Andrew says:

    John H: I don\’t know how I missed that. Sorry.

  8. Brian Dunbar says:

    It need not have happened as the Heinleins were debarking. Mr. Pohl did write that the expected ‘something’ was in the past when it was brought to Mr. Heinlein’s attention.

    An amusing anecdote. Thank you for sharing, Mr. Pohl.

  9. Johnny Pez says:

    Isaac wrote his own account of that cruise in one of his F&SF essays. It was called “The Cruise and I” and can be found in The Tragedy of the Moon.

  10. Cissa says:

    I think it was exceedingly dishonorable for Heinlein to send Dora’s letters to John. That was a serious breach of trust, and makes me doubt all the “honor” he might otherwise claim- since it seems to be “bros before hos” and not actually honorable in terms of respecting trust.

  11. Scott says:

    “bros before hos”?! There could be many reasons for the mailing. Or it might not have even been him who mailed the letters back. I know my wife has “gotten rid” of things I would have rather not lost. Anyone who lives with a neat-freak can tell you this. It may have been done by Robert during his illness; I recieved a little of the effect of that at a convention. When I was leaving the table, Ginny touched my arm and told me “don’t take it too seriously, it’s one of his bad days” and sure enough, the next day he saw me and said “sorry, I shouldn’t have bitten your head off like that; you were wrong, but…well, it’s been a hard few days”. His medical problems were REALLY affecting him. Don’t make judgements about a time, situation and man you don’t know anything about.