Posts tagged ‘Fritz Leiber’

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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I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate.

I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate.

Let’s talk for a bit about my career as an agent.

Mark Rich has a lot to say about my failings, especially my financial woes, which were considerable. A J Budrys told a funny story about them in one of the last speeches he gave, at the Heinlein Centennial, a year or two before he died. He had discovered what a great agent I was, he said, when I sold John Campbell a story of A J’s that Campbell had turned down cold before A J became my client. And then when he got my check, it bounced.

Funny story? Sadly, also a true one.

But the interesting thing there is that A J didn’t quit the agency. He remained my client until the waters finally closed over my head. And almost all of my other clients, Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement and John Wyndham and Fritz Leiber and all the other household names and the lesser names that I was bringing along gave me an amazing amount of patience, and most of them didn’t want to give up until I did.

And, most interesting of all, most of them were my good friends for the rest of my life.

Do you wonder why?

I’ll tell you why. It was because I was a hell of a good agent.

First, I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate, and then I worked with the — magazine writers to turn them into book authors, and I kept looking for new and better markets they could sell to. A few I managed to get into television deals, even into syndicated newspaper cartoon strips. Some I managed to promote from the pulps to the slicks, at many times the rate.

In short, I did everything a good agent did for his clients. (I would like to say that, even today, not all agents are quite that good.) But I did something rather more than that.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what made a good writer — almost any of my dozens of good writers — sometimes be productive and profitable and sometimes be unable to get anything written for days or weeks at a time. I tried several different ways of, first, encouraging the writers to write, and, second, to do so at the top of their form. I finally invented one that worked.

I made a promise to eight or ten of my best (but not always solvent) writers that any time they brought in a new story I would hand them a check for that much wordage.. My rate was low for these incentive checks, at a half cent a word, but then when the story actually sold to a publisher the writer would be credited at the publisher’s scale, not that of my advances.

As a result, if you look at the stories published in the last year or so of my agency’s existence you will find that there were a larger number than usual of really good stories by Budrys, James Blish, Damon Knight and a dozen or so other clients who took me up on that offer. It worked. It got the writers writing more, and sometimes better. It even increased my sales to those markets, a little. And if I were unfortunate enough to become an agent again, I would at once start up something like that for at least a few clients.

But it also represented one more outflow of capital, and there wasn’t enough capital left to flow. Most of my clients didn’t want to leave, but finally, I gave up and folded the agency, and started paying everybody back.

Interestingly, maybe I should say ironically, then two unexpected new lifesavers were thrown to me.

Continue reading ‘What My Clients Thought’ »

C.M. Kornbluth

C.M. Kornbluth

I think Cyril Kornbluth knew he wanted to be a writer at the age when most of us did, that is in his early teens. His first efforts, or at least the first I knew anything about, weren’t stories. They were poems.

He owned a book, written by one of his high-school teachers, I think, which gave the rules for composing every kind of verse I ever heard of. Cyril and I studied the book and resolved to write one of each. We made a good start, actually writing a haiku (we spelled it “hokku”), a villanelle, a sestina, two sonnets (one Petrarchan and one Shakespearean) and I think a couple of others. We bogged down when we came to the chant royal (the chant royal is HARD) and, like most of the other Futurians, we decided to try our luck with science fiction. At that time, I think Cyril was maybe 14, and I three or four years older.

If Cyril had favorites among his stories, he didn’t tell me about them. He did take his work seriously and got really testy when editors messed them up. (Particularly Horace Gold.)

Cyril had excellent work habits. When he sat down to write he wrote. I am not aware that he ever sat unproductive, staring into space, for more than a few minutes at a time before putting words on paper, and he rarely rewrote.

F&SF, Jan. 1959
Although Cyril was doing reasonably well in economic terms, he suffered the usual beginner’s cash flow problems. A writer’s income does not arrive in the form of a check delivered every Friday. It comes in lumps of various sizes at irregular times and (with two kids) Cyril felt the need of a more regular income. Happily, he had been offered an assistant editor job on F&SF, which he took and liked a lot. The job included being first reader for the editor, Bob Mills, and Cyril took pleasure in finding something worth passing on to Mills. (He was, I remember, particularly delighted with Fritz Leiber’sThe Silver Eggheads.”)

Unfortunately Cyril’s health was deteriorating. Partly this was due to the quantities of coffee, cigarettes, hot pastrami sandwiches and alcohol he had been ingesting since his teens, but mostly it was due to the war. Cyril’s draft number had come up early, but he caught a break. He had worked for a time in a machine shop and thus had experience of operating metal-working machinery. This was just what the artillery people wanted, so they recruited him to work in cannon-repair shops, always located far enough from the front lines that the enemy couldn’t sweep down in a lightning raid and steal the precious machines. It was the kind of a safe and cushy job that several million GIs would have traded their right testicle to get, but in 1944 what looked like a better deal came along.

Higher-ups in the Army’s command circles were calculating that the war was likely to last for years yet, and if so there might be a serious shortage of college-educated candidates to serve as commissioned officers. They didn’t want to get caught short of these valuable resources, so they quickly set up what they called the Army Specialized Training Program, under which the GIs lucky enough to be accepted would be relieved of all duties except going to college. This sounded like a dream of heaven to most GIs, not least because the service’s unrelenting drafts of manpower had left most college student bodies heavily weighted with an excess of young single women.

Cyril applied, was accepted and went happily back to school, though in uniform … until some person higher still than the higher-ups noticed that both the Germans and the Japanese were losing most of the recent battles, and the war might end sooner than they had feared. So ASTP was peremptorily abolished and all its personnel transferred willy-nilly to the infantry. For which branch of service the Army had a great and unanticipated immediate need, since Hitler had managed to launch an immense surprise Christmas attack on the unsuspecting Allied troops in the Ardennes Forest.

His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth
So Cyril, who was always a slightly pudgy and definitely unathletic young man, found himself lugging a 50-caliber machine gun around the freezing temperatures and unremitting combat of the Battle of the Bulge. He survived, having acquired for his efforts, 1) a Bronze Star, and 2) a serious case of what the medics called severe essential hypertension.

The hypertension won. Cyril’s editorial career was cut short — a pity, because he would have been an outstanding one. Early in spring of 1958 he had a meeting scheduled with Bob Mills in New York. It had snowed heavily in Levittown, where Cyril lived. He had to shovel out his driveway, which made him just barely able to catch his train, so he ran to the train station and died of a heart attack on the platform.

 
C.M. Kornbluth works online

C.M. Kornbluth on Amazon

 
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