Jack Williamson at Cinvention, 1949.

Jack Williamson at Cinvention, 1949.

Well, no, it doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t begin quite right away, because in order to describe how Jack Williamson and I became really tight lifelong friends, I have to digress by telling you something about another dear friend, Dirk Wylie.

Dirk — old Brooklyn Tech chum, fellow Futurian, et many a cetera — didn’t have nearly as nice a war as most of us did. When, in 1946, he was at last a civilian he had a souvenir acquired in the Battle of the Bulge which left his spinal column always painful and frequently incapacitating. He had a full disability pension, but he was still in his twenties and in full possession of his faculties. He spent the first time after the end of the war going through hospitals and doctors and courses of treatment. But when nothing cured his spine and the medics told him he was as good as he was going to get, he wanted a job.

So one day, he and I conspired to see what he could do. It was impossible for him to go out to work, so it would have to be something he could do at home. If possible, it should have something to do with his interests in writing and publishing. On consideration we took the easy way out. We made him a literary agent.

I knew that was easy, because I had done it myself as a teenager. Of course, I hadn’t made any money out of it, though it did lead to my first editorial job, but I had some ideas that should produce a growing, though initially small, income for Dirk, and with his disability pension he could weather the thin times. So we rented a mail drop at a good address on Fifth Avenue in New York, and we printed up some stationery listing Dirk as the agent and me as an assistant (because I had promised to help him get started), and we were in business.

All we lacked was clients.

Fortunately for us, the climate was favorable. Book editors in America had always turned a blind eye to science fiction. But the times were prosperous, and a few fan groups had started publishing some of those great old serials as hardcover books. Startled salesmen for the real publishing companies had noticed that these oddities seemed to sell when the amateurs could get them into a store. When they got back to their home offices, they reported this fact to their company’s editors. Who scratched their heads, cautiously tried a title or two and realized there was some money to be made in this sf thing.

Accordingly, Dirk and I wrote letters announcing this new fact to all the pro writers we could think of. Jack Williamson was one such, and he responded by shipping us a couple of his own stories that he thought might work in this exciting new format. (They did.)

The first of them was a manuscript stitched together from two long novelettes Jack had recently sold to John Campbell’s Astounding, “With Folded Hands…” and “…And Searching Mind.” I tried them out on Jack Goodman, the managing editor at Simon & Schuster. Goodman (I should finally confess, since it no longer matters) was one of the most terrifyingly intelligent human beings I have ever met, and in my dealings with him I was always aware that, with his smarts and his vast publishing experience, he could swindle me and my clients whenever he chose. Fortunately, he didn’t choose. His offers were all fair, in line with what other publishers were agreeing to.

When the book came out, retitled The Humanoids, it did well. That sale was the first of many for Jack through our agency.

And that was what developed into one of the most cherished friendships of my life.

To be continued. . . .

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One Comment

  1. John Armstrong says:

    After reading his memoir, it’s hard not to feel that he was probably one of the nicest humans around, in any era