Fletcher Pratt, 1952

   Fletcher Pratt, 1952.

Let me tell you about the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, which is the name that Fletcher and Inga Pratt gave to their enormous old house in Highlands, on the New Jersey shore. The house had something over thirty rooms. The ground floor, which was embraced by a wide, 360-degree veranda, comprised a kitchen, a billiard room, a dining room capable of seating 20 or more, a room I would call a sitting room, another, slightly larger, which I would call a living room but think should be given a more elegant name.

On the second floor were six or seven bedrooms, a couple of them with private baths and little sitting rooms of their own. And on the third floor there were another half dozen or so bedrooms, with a couple more baths.

Do not make the mistake of supposing these third-floor rooms were servants’ quarters. They all were for guests. There was plenty of room for the guests’ servants, but they were to be accommodated in another wing of the house entirely, essentially a six- or seven-room home attached to the main residence. It had its own kitchen and bath, the only connection between it and the residence being through the two kitchens.

Since the Pratts employed no full-time servants, they rented this attached house to Esther Carlson, a young woman who was beginning to appear regularly in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and her handyman husband, Bob Bolster. They didn’t stay the course, though, and when they left — and when George O. Smith at last succeeded in divorcing his first wife and Dona Campbell did the same for her husband, John W. — the newlywed George and Dona Smiths took over the conjoined space until they bought a home of their own a few miles down the shoreline in Rumson.

The Ipsy-Wipsy Institute was set on something over half a dozen acres of lawn, descending about a hundred vertical feet from the roadway to the ocean. There was a little beach there for swimming and a pier for boating — or for fishing, though about all anyone ever caught was eels. A lot of quite tasty eels, though.

Fletcher Pratt was a dear man who had a few eccentricities. One of these was his inclination to run the Ipay-Wipsy Institute as a sort of road-show version of an English country home. Weekend guests were expected to arrive early enough on the Friday evening for a few drinks and a modest dinner, generally prepared by Grace the Cook and followed by a drink or two and conversations in the billiard room, until the guests began retreating to their rooms. (There was, by the way, no billiard table in the billiard room, only the report that once there had been.)

Saturday began with a Grace-made breakfast buffet whenever anyone came down for it, after which Fletcher would set up his typewriter in the billiard room, and sometimes I would set mine up as well. For both of us, the procedure was that we would type a few words, or a few lines, as they occurred to us, then chat a bit with whoever else was there, then maybe another line or so of copy. When there was no one else to talk to Fletcher might divert himself by tossing playing cards into a hat and I by getting myself a cup of coffee and glancing at the morning papers.

Others might sit in the sunny porch and read, or play cards or an African board game called K’bu that the Pratts fancied, or explore the neighborhood, or make the trek down to the water’s edge for a swim. At some point, Grace would set out the materials for a pick-up lunch, to be eaten, probably in small groups, in one of the first-floor rooms or on the porch. Then more of the same until five.

Then the more structured part of the weekend began.

Someone — preferably someone who could play, or at least get some sort of a sound from, a bugle — was given the bugle and a homemade flag bearing a drawing of a martini glass and instructed to march around the porch, tooting the bugle and waving the flag, in order to notify the guests, and a few of the neighbors as well, that the cocktail hour had arrived.

I should say, right about here, that although there was a lot of drinking at the Ipsy-Wip, I almost never saw anyone really drunk. (With one exception that I’ll tell you about later.) But the drinking was steady, from the beginning of the cocktail hour at five until dinner was served at seven. With the dinner there was wine for those who wanted it, of course, and then, when Grace had picked up the plates, Fletcher brought out the bottle of port.

The thing about the port was that it always had to be passed clockwise around the table. Fletcher, sitting at twelve o’clock at the head of the table, would start the service by giving the bottle to (say) Essie Bolster, at the one o’clock position to his left. Who would help herself to as much as she wanted of it and then pass the bottle to, say, Fritz Leiber to her left at two o’clock, and so on, always passing to the left, until the bottle finally made it back to Fletcher, at the head of the table, who at last was allowed to help himself to the port.

To be continued.

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  1. Stefan Jones says:

    Screw witnessing the Gettysburg Address or the Great Oregon Whale Detonation.

    This place would be destination number one when I get that time machine.

  2. Ace Lightning says:

    Does the house still exist, or was the property sold for “development”? And was it vaguely near Twin Lights?

  3. David B. Williams says:

    Well, it sounded quite idylic until the part about no table in the billiard room. How can people live like this?!

  4. jean-bernard says:

    hello, this is a message (in the bottle-of wine, ’cause I’m french-, i’m afraid…) TO M F. POHL :
    sorry in advance for my poor english writing.
    I talked for a few hours with friends about my passion since 35 years : science-fiction.
    and, during this very long evening, I realised that on the best three works I ever readed, two were written by you :”The Space Merchants”(and the sequel) and “Gateway” (and sequels). The third is “the hitchiker guide to the galaxy” from M. D. Adams(and the famous four other books of the trilogy…)

    So I hope you will read this e-mail ’cause i wish your mind will be transfered in the best computer ever made (after the next twenty years I hope for you) So will you continue to imagine for us all the futures we could dream !! Nice to read you!! J-Bernard

  5. Bill Goodwin says:

    Sigh. Paradise. The Natural State of Man. The Ideal of which the science fiction convention is merely a degraded form.

  6. Richard Moore says:

    I never met Fletcher Pratt but I’ve seen enough pictures and read enough descriptions to know that Pratt is not the full-faced, bearded man facing the camera in the picture accompanying this blog post. The back of the gentleman’s head in the photo must be Pratt. This is a quite wonderful series of posts on Fletcher and Inga Pratt and their wonderful home.

  7. the blog team says:

    The photo was taken at Chicon 2 and came from the collection of Margaret Kiefer online at Fanac.org.

  8. Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey says:

    I have determined that the Institute was located at 110 Portland Road in Highlands, New Jersey. Looks like a nice neighborhood.

    Previously, the Pratts had lived at 32 West 58th Street in New York, near the southern edge of Central Park. I presume this was the site of the legendary naval games.

  9. SM says:

    Ah, so that’s where “ten thousand revolving heliotropes from the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute” in “Day of the Moron” came from. Was Beam Piper a regular?

  10. Vinnie Mendes says:

    I “grew up” at the Ipesy from age 12 until Inga sold it after Fletchers death, then helped move her and most of the contents up to Greenpond NJ and was in close touch with her, John D.(Doc) Clark, Esse, George O. and many others up until their deaths. If Fred’s story seems idylic and whimsical, it’s not. The reality was moreso by far! I still preserve many of the memorabilia from that era. One of the many tales form the Ipsey was friom 1947 when L.Ron Hubbard pounding on the the long diningroom table ans declaring that “The only Way to become a Millionaire in this day and age is to invent your own religion!”