Posts tagged ‘Laurence Manning’

The Last Days of the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute


110 Portland Road, Highlands, N.J., one-time site of the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute. View larger map. (Thanks to Bill Higgins for geographical research.)


Back in Highlands, New Jersey, William Lindsay Gresham was soon forgotten. At least he was not spoken of. Around then, the Mannings became less likely to drop by on a Saturday night. A coolness seemed to have developed between the neighbors. I don’t think that is necessarily a coincidence, but I don’ know any details. Fletcher didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t press him.

The weekends were still pleasurable and the company generally good. If there was any significant difference in tone it was only that Fletcher himself seemed to be a little less bouncy in spirit. The billiard-room sessions with the portable typewriter in his lap were going a bit more slowly.

I haven’t, in these pages, said anything about Fletcher’s religion. I haven’t said anything much about anyone else’s, either. Personal religion was not high on the interest list among the people of the Ipsy-Wipsy. But I did know that Fletcher had been brought up Christian Science, back in those Buffalo days of his youth, and that he still had some sort of ties to Mary Baker Eddy’s church. Yet when Fletcher began to concede, under Inga’s questioning, that, yes, it was possible that he’d picked up a mild case of the flu, I was confident that if any symptoms became really worrisome, religion would not prevent Fletcher from taking the matter to a real M.D.

Indeed, it didn’t. But unfortunately Fletcher let it go a bit too late. When the surgeons opened his abdomen up on the operating table there was no longer anything they could do. They simply sewed him back together and let him die, which he did on the 11th of June, in the year 1956. He had been 59 years old.

That was the end of the Ipsy, for Inga didn’t have heart to try to carry it on without him. She put the big old house up for sale, and the buyer who appeared was, I think, a dentist from, I believe, Jersey City. The dentist didn’t have it long, though. Before long in a midweek a fire started there, with hardly anybody around, and the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute suffered a Viking’s funeral,

The dentist tore down the wreckage and put up a more normal-sized house on that great piece of land. But the new house had none of the Ipsy-Wipsy’s magnificence, and especially none of its well-loved people.

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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’ »

Admiral of the Little Wooden Navies and Dean of the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute

L. Sprague de Camp, left, and Fletcher Pratt, 1941.

L. Sprague de Camp, left, and Fletcher Pratt, 1941.

When I was eleven or twelve I uncritically, but obsessively, read every scrap of science fiction I could put my hands on. This primarily meant every back-number sf magazine I could buy for a nickel (as against the extortionate 25¢ cover price for current issues on a newsstand) in the second-hand magazine store. One of the first of those, I think, was an early Amazing Stories Quarterly, and its principal content was a novel called A Voice Across the Years.

It was, I must say now — though I didn’t realize it at the time — a quite undistinguished story, although an unusual one in two respects. In the story, a couple of human beings from Earth have somehow or other happened to land on a civilized planet far, far away, where they are welcomed by being given wardrobes of new clothing. The garments fit them perfectly, because each one was custom made by a machine that measured every part of them and then cut and stitched fabric to an exact fit.

I had not seen any such voluminous discussion of science-fictional tailoring, or indeed of any kind of haberdashery, in any other story, and I was fascinated. I am afraid that at the time I may have been suffering from the delusion that every marvelous invention I saw described in any story was probably going to become reality before long — after all, that’s what had happened with radio, the airplane, the submarine and many other marvels, hadn’t it? So I thought it likely that before long Macy’s would have these machines in their boys’ department to make my first machine-created pair of knickers. (Please remember that I was then maybe eleven years old.)

The other unusual thing about the story was its by-line. It was signed “by Fletcher Pratt and I.M. Stephens.” I had never seen a joint byline before. I had never heard of collaboration. Did it mean that two different people had somehow written a single story? And if so, how?

However they did it, it sounded sort of unpleasant to me — certainly not like anything I would ever want to do myself.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt’ »