Posts tagged ‘Jay Kay Klein’

Unknown #1 (Photo by Jay Kay Klein).

Unknown #1 (Photo by Jay Kay Klein).

As I mentioned yesterday, the late Jay Kay Klein gave me permission to use his photos and sent me a box of them before he died.

Unfortunately, not all of them are captioned. I’ve been sorting through them, and trying to put names to the faces. Here are two of them, and if anyone can identify the people in them, please let me know.

Unknown #2 (Photo by Jay Kay Klein).

Unknown #2 (Photo by Jay Kay Klein).

Jay Kay Klein

Jay Kay Klein

If you have been going to sf cons for more than a handful of years you have probably been blinded now and then by the photoflashes of the World’s Number One Fan Photographer, Jay Kay Klein.

It’s our sad duty to say that won’t happen any more, because on May 13, Jay Kay passed away. He had known it was coming for some time, and last winter said good-bye to those he loved and checked himself into a final care facility, asking all his friends not to try to communicate with him any \more. His enormous collection of photographs, taken at scores of world and other cons over the years, he left to the University of California, Riverside Libraries Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which will make them available for research eventually.

And I must add, as a personal note of gratitude, that when already long ill but not yet preparing to die, he gave me permission to use several dozen of his photos for this blog and the books that will follow.

The continued life and loves of Isaac Asimov

Janet Jeppson and Isaac Asimov (Photo by Jay Kay Klein.)

Janet Jeppson and Isaac Asimov (Photo by Jay Kay Klein.)

There was one woman whom Isaac met in that period when his marriage to Gertrude was crumbling but had not yet got to the stage of a divorce who became both large and permanent in Isaac’s life. She was a New York psychiatrist named Janet Jeppson, who now and then wrote science fiction.

Janet and Isaac had once or twice bumped into each other at science-fiction events in the city, but nothing much came of it until they were both present at an annual banquet of the Mystery Writers of America. They found themselves talking mostly to each other, and thereafter Isaac regarded her as a good friend — at least until he came to regard her as the woman he would wholeheartedly love until the end of his life.

I didn’t at the time know Janet, and I was pretty curious about this woman who had so smitten the normally somewhat reticent Isaac Asimov. Isaac was, also uncharacteristically, always willing to talk about her; in fact you could say that Janet was his favorite topic of conversation in the years around 1970. When, a little overloaded with Janetiana, I finally asked him why she was incontestably the most desirable woman in the world for him, he thought for a moment and then said, “Because Janet has never once failed to make me feel welcome.”

One story Isaac told me says something about the degree of Isaac’s growing devotion to her — and about some of the problems that come with a degree of public recognition. Isaac had just finished delivering a lecture to a group in Boston when he got a phone message to say that Janet had collapsed with some sort of a brain problem in New York and was now in the emergency room of a hospital. There were few details. Shocked and frightened, Isaac said a quick goodbye to his hosts, ran out of the building, jumped into his car and was off.

It is a good couple of hundred miles from Boston to New York, with good highways but highways that are exceptionally well policed. It is astonishing that Isaac wasn’t pulled over along the way because the length of time he took to make the trip was incompatible with speed limits, but he got to the hospital in one piece and managed to locate Janet’s doctor. Who said, “Yes, I’m Dr. Jeppson’s attending and I’ll take you to her, but first, Dr. Asimov, may I tell you how much I’ve always enjoyed your Foundation stories?”

Isaac being a nonviolent person, he didn’t cold-cock the man. And he did get to see Janet, and she recovered from what had caused her collapse.

Unfortunately that was not the total of their medical problems in that period. In 1972, Isaac discovered that there was something going on in his thyroid gland that might well be malignant, requiring dietary changes and medications to take, while Janet found a lump in her breast that was definitely so, requiring surgery.

That made a problem in Isaac’s mind, because he had always admitted that he couldn’t stand the sight of blood or of the visible results of surgery. (That was one of the things that had made his long-ago rejection by the medical schools quite bearable.) He was sure that the removal of one of her breasts would make Janet worry that her body would become repulsive to him.

He was also sure that that could not happen, that no imaginable change in Janet’s physiology could make him love her less. But the person he had to convince was Janet herself.

So he practiced not looking away, controlled the expression on his face and made a habit of cracking jokes about “single swingers.” It worked. Before long he had Janet herself able to laugh about the subject, as she has been ever since.

Then, as 1972 was coming to an end, something nice happened. The Holland-American cruise line put on a special event, a cruise to some lovely Caribbean islands which included a special stopover off the coast of Cape Canaveral to view the launch of the Apollo 17 Moon rocket. It was a night launch, the first one ever attempted, and the last launch scheduled to take human beings to the surface of the Moon. (And none have been added since.)

The ship’s manifest included fellow sf writers Robert A. Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova and myself (each including a nearest and dearest, and in Ted’s case a small son who explored every part of the ship, giving all the rest of us employment in keeping him from falling overboard), along with various celebrities like Marvin Minsky, Hugh Downs, Katherine Anne Porter, Norman Mailer and Carl Sagan, among many others. Nearly all were either old friends or people one would be happy to have become so.

Isaac, of course, usually retired to his cabin between meals, and anyone who passed could hear the steady tappety-tap of his portable. This, I explained to those who didn’t know him, was because of an incurable addiction Isaac suffered: he had never seen a sheet of paper he didn’t want to write on. (Well, to be fair, I rather often did the same thing myself.)

The book Isaac was writing at the time was one of his works on humor, and before adding a joke to the collection in the manuscript it was Isaac’s practice to tell it to his companions at meals to get a reaction That added to the already impressive amount of laughing and jesting that went on at that table over the Holland-America’s quite good food, but my then wife Carol and I were excluded. We were both still dedicated cigarette smokers, and Isaac and Ben Bova, who had claimed that table early on, were even more dedicatedly not. (Though Barbara Bova still did enjoy an occasional cigar.)

That didn’t really matter, anyway. With so few passengers aboard we were all clustered in one corner of the ship’s vast dining hall. Also, with so few of us to be fed there was only one seating for meals, too, which meant we could linger over them as long as we liked, and banter between tables was the norm.

Taken all in all it was definitely a joyous cruise, although perhaps not so much so for the Holland-America line. Because of some incomprehensible mixup hardly any tickets had been sold to paying customers, so that we freebies pretty nearly had the ship to ourselves. But Janet greatly enjoyed it … and therefore so did Isaac.

And then, in the fullness of time, in 1973, the divorce from Gertrude was granted, and then it was less than a week before Janet and Isaac were married.

(Coming up soon, I think, the final, and mostly sad, part of my memories of Isaac.)

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Gertrude and Isaac Asimov

Gertrude and Isaac Asimov. (Photo by Jay Kay Klein.)

When World War II ended, Isaac Asimov’s stint as a war research scientist came to an end. Then he said good-bye (or at least au revoir to his associate researchers, because he was pretty sure to be seeing at least Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp again) and headed for the normalcy of a return to civilian life.

That, however, was not to be. His draft board had other ideas. His work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard had preserved him from being called up as long as he was doing the work. Now he wasn’t doing it any more. He was quickly promoted to become classified 1A in the Selective Service’s eyes, and shortly thereafter promoted again, now becoming Asimov, Pvt Isaac.

This was not a development Isaac had sought. Worse, it soon became a development he couldn’t live with at all, because the Army had a plan for him. With his education and his record of writing about the future, he was a natural to be selected as an observer at some upcoming military tests.

They were not tests Isaac wanted to observe. Indeed, he saw nothing but trouble, bad trouble, if that scenario was followed.

The USA had invented the atomic bomb and used it to speed the end of the war. Now it wanted to set off test bombs under experimental conditions, several of the things, so it could learn as quickly as possible just how to use this ultimate weapon. The higher-ups had scheduled several such tests, far off in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the plan was that formations of GIs would be present at every firing — to observe and protect, they said, but the suspicious-minded wondered if the tests were also likely to provide useful information about the effects of radiation on healthy young men.

There was also a political problem. The Soviet Union, America’s most potent wartime ally, had with the peace become its deadliest rival. The papers were filling up with lurid stories about Soviet spies lurking everywhere, trying to steal America’s secrets — trying hardest to learn everything that could be learned about the atom bomb and how to make one of their own. And, Private Asimov, in what country did you say you were born?

Private Asimov pointed out that he had warned of this problem to every authority figure he could find who would listen. It took a while before he could find one who was willing to do that, and by then he was well on his way to the test site. But then things improved. Isaac not only was taken off the A-bomb detail, his draft status was reviewed and he was a civilian again.

There was one bad feature. They insisted on flying him back to the States. But Isaac put up with that, confident that if he survived that ordeal he would never have to get in a plane again.

Since, being Jewish, Isaac was not going to be allowed to attend any decent medical school, he had no hope of ever putting the letters M.D. after his name. Next best, he thought, would be a Ph.D., and the discipline that he wanted to get the award in, he decided, was organic chemistry. And while he was working toward that goal there was one other accomplishment he wanted to achieve. He wanted to get married, because Isaac had a girl.

Her name was Gertrude Blugerman. If you picked out the letters D-E-A-R-E-S-T on your telephone keypad in those years she was the person (assuming you were dialing in New York City) who would answer.

I think that tells you an important fact about Isaac right there. Oh, of course it was only dumb luck that gave Isaac’s girl an endearing phone number. That sort of pure chance could have happened to anyone. But if it had happened to almost any other young man, it is likely that neither he nor the girl would ever have known. It takes a certain kind of mind to ring up changes on all the numbers and phrases and facts that come one’s way — the kind of mind that Isaac Asimov was born with, and that made him the writer he was.

All this time, of course, Isaac was writing science fiction, mostly for John Campbell but now and then for others. He had already established the two main currents in his fiction: The positronic robot stories (Why were they positronic? I asked him that once and he said, “Because the positron had just been added to the list of particles and no one knew what it could and couldn’t do.”) and the Foundation series.

So what else can I tell you about Isaac Asimov at this stage? His favorite breakfast was a can of Campbell’s vegetable-beef soup. As far as his general dietary choices were concerned, his family didn’t keep kosher but were not very adventurous in diet. But Isaac liked to try new things when he and I ate out together. Not all experiments were successes, When the two of us lunched one day and discovered the restaurant was offering soft-shell crabs, which neither of us had ever tried, we gave them a shot. Once was enough for me — I didn’t like their slippery feel in my mouth — but Isaac’s verdict was that he didn’t really like them but might give them another chance some time.

(More parts to come, as I write them.)

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