Posts tagged ‘Dona Campbell’

Fantasy Commentator 59-60

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.
 

When John W. Campbell, Jr., washed out of MIT by failing to pass their German course, he didn’t stay in Massachusetts. Instead, he returned to his mother’s home in Orange, New Jersey. He had left some close friendships behind, though, and one of the first things he did after relocating was to write a letter to his Massachusetts friend Robert D. Swisher, a pharmaceutical chemist working for the Monsanto Corporation.

That was the first letter of many, and they were all carefully preserved, misspellings, factual errors and all, by Swisher, and then by his widow. Now they are published, under the guise of an article in the late A. Langley Searles’ fanzine Fantasy Commentator, published as a memorial tribute by Searles’ widow, Alice Becker, M.D. The issue contains nothing but the letters. Its length — 156 large pages — is within accepted book publishing standards. So let’s call it a book, the two of us, all right?

This book, then, contains all the letters John wrote to Swisher over a period of more than twenty years, from John’s early attempts at writing science-fiction stories of his own through his triumphal masterminding of the world’s best science-fiction magazine and his intoxication with L. Ron Hubbard’s invention of Dianetics, followed by his final rejection of that cause — though not of the validity of many of its principles which, called by one name or another, he apparently subscribed to until his death.

As a document bearing on these matters, this is not merely a good, readable book. It is an invaluable one, and the credit for the clarity and completeness that make it such a pleasure to read belongs in no small part to its editor, the late Sam Moskowitz. The source material Sam had to work with was a clutch of actual letters, many of them handwritten and some not easy to decipher, and a considerable fraction of them comprising little more than technical descriptions of the cameras, lenses and films for which the two correspondents shared an affection. All of that photography material Moskowitz skillfully redacted away. What remains is the next best thing to a detailed personal diary of the life of a stand-out major figure in the field of science fiction.

Continue reading ‘The Campbell Letters’ »

William Lindsay Gresham

    William L. Gresham

By the third or fourth year of the Ipsy, the great house in Highlands had pupped a fair-sized litter of clones. There was me and my family in Red Bank, the del Reys a quarter of a mile away, George and Dona Smith in Rumson and, at least briefly, the Kornbluths in Long Branch and the Budryses in Oceanport … and, perhaps most important, the Laurence Mannings in Highlands itself, next door to the Ipsy-Wipsy itself.

When Laurence Manning — Fletcher’s long ago collaborator from the days when science-fiction magazines had the square footage of telephone books (no, not in the number of pages, of course!) — and his family came out for a weekend, they loved the location as well as the company. And when Laurence mentioned that he was looking for a house to buy and move to, Fletcher was quick to say that when he and Inga had bought the Ipsy, they’d bought more acres of land than they had any use for, and the Pratts would be happy to hive off a few acres to sell to the Mannings if they’d care to build a house next door. Which they did, and so the Pratts and the Mannings were next-door neighbors.

Actually that seemed like quite a nice arrangement. Although Manning didn’t have much interest in science fiction anymore he still liked the company of writers, and the conviviality of an Ipsy-Wipsy weekend. And we liked the Mannings.

He knew everything about home plantings, which made him a useful resource for those of us who, like myself, had never had to plant a space much bigger than a windowbox before. He was good company and by no means limited to shop talk. So things went swimmingly, with the Mannings’ house guests walking the couple hundred feet of lawn to the great house next door on Saturday nights … until they didn’t.

Remember that I once said that, with all the social drinking that went on of an Ipsy weekend, I had only once seen anyone unpleasantly drunk?

This was the once. The man in question I did not know well, though I had read some of his work. His name was William Lindsay Gresham.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt, Part 5: Shadow Over the Ipsy’ »

Eugenie Clark

   Eugenie Clark

It’s hard to list the Ipsy’s guests in any sensible order, perhaps because they were not an orderly bunch. It does make sense for me to divide the guests into two classes. To begin with, there was the New York science-fiction crowd, all of whom I had known for some time.

In that group were most of the science-fiction people I have already written more or less extensively about in these pages. Among the ones most frequently present were Lester and Evelyn del Rey, Bob and Essie Bolster, George and Dona Smith, Cyril Kornbluth (first as a house guest of mine, then as a nearby resident on his own). Assorted other house guests of mine included Fritz Leiber from Chicago and Jack and Blanche Williamson from New Mexico.

Ted Sturgeon was definitely a regular in an unusual sense. For a couple of months one summer he never went home at all, since at the time, his finances being anemic, he didn’t have a home to go to.

The Pratts had no objection to Ted’s staying in the house when everyone else was gone. However, they didn’t offer to feed him. That was not a problem for Ted, who enjoyed a good dish of eel. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that by the time he finally moved out of the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, he had fished out the entire family of eels who lived by the boat dock. They never returned.

 
Any number of other New York-area sf people visited the Ipsy. Isaac Asimov, for instance, was there I think only once, but it was a significant visit, since Fletcher and Inga had plans for Isaac. They spent a lot of that weekend telling him what a wonderful place the Bread Loaf Writers’ Colony was for anyone with the desire, and the ability, to be a serious writer … and, I’m pretty sure, spent an equivalent period of time with the Breadloaf people telling them what a wonderful prospect Isaac was. The effort paid off. Isaac did give Bread Loaf a try; he loved the place, the Breadloaf people loved him and he became a Bread Loaf stalwart.

The other fraction of frequent guests at the Ipsy basically comprised the non-sf friends of the Pratts, many of them with ties to The Saturday Review of Literature. Some of those were actual celebrities of one kind or another, as for example Eugenie Clark, known worldwide as the “Lady with a Spear,” after her bestselling book with that name. Eugenie, as a child, had been fascinated by the works of William BeebeHalf Mile Down, the story of his adventures hanging at the end of almost 3,000 feet of steel cable in his “bathysphere,” a steel sphere about the size of a pup tent, or Beneath Tropic Seas, about his less spine-chilling but even more beautiful experiences walking through warm-water corals with only a mask for breathing.

I could understand her fascination. I had been turned on by the same books at about the same age. The difference between Eugenie Clark and me, though, was that she then grew up to become an actual ichthyologist, and I only to become a writer.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt, Part 4: The Friends of Fletcher’ »

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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Leslyn Heinlein, ca. 1933.

     Leslyn Heinlein, ca. 1933.

As I understand it (my information on this point is a little iffy), Robert A. Heinlein was married at least three times, maybe more. The only early wife I know anything about, though, was the one just before Ginny. Her name was Leslyn.

What I know about Leslyn is really just two things. First, she must have been a pretty nice person, because John Campbell and his then wife Dona named one of their daughters after her. Second, a few years after Robert had divorced Leslyn and married Ginny, I began to receive sad, wistful, lonesome letters from Leslyn reminding me over and over of the wonderful times she and Bob and I and other local science-fiction writers and fans had had sitting around her kitchen table in the old days.

This worried me. You see, it had never happened. I had never been in her kitchen, nor indeed had I met Leslyn anywhere else, either. The woman clearly was not in close touch with reality. I could think of nothing to do about it other than to reply to her letters as pleasantly and noncommittally — and briefly — as I could.

But I did, and still do, wonder what it did to a person with as hypertrophied a sense of duty as Heinlein’s to have been unable to save the woman he had vowed to love and protect.

 
To be continued. . . .

 
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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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