Posts tagged ‘Judith Merril’

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’ »

Grandma Judy

Grandma Judy

In the 1970s, both Judy and I had become active in Canadian television, Judy as the person who handled Dr. Who for Ontario Television, me as a sort of all-purpose guest correspondent for the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s coverage of the American space doings, ending with the CBC’s coverage of the rendezvous in orbit of the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and the American Apollo.

Things reached a point with Judy where I could do something for her. The Ontario TV authorities were getting difficult. Dr. Who had been sold to them as science fiction under the general principle that science fiction was educational and therefore good for children to watch. Educational authorities, though, were up in arms to say that such claims were ridiculous. Dr. Who wasn’t science. It was silly garbage, and it should be off the air.

And what Judy wanted to know was, “Listen, Fred, you’re pretty good at that space-program science talk. If we gave you time, is there anything you could say that would make Dr. Who sound a little more sciency?”

I thought that was a pretty funny request. I had also, for some time, been spending a lot of my time defending sf in general as healthy for people to watch. True, Dr. Who was a pretty marginal case. But you could find scientific lessons in almost any fantasy story once you allowed quantum reality to be defined as scientific, and I wrote a number of comments-on-the-air for Judy’s shows, and the problem passed.

It wasn’t just the opportunities for working together that brought Judy and me together at last. Most of all it was our growing number of descendants. Our daughter Ann had gone and grown up, and she had married a Canadian named Walter Weary, with whom she had two children, Tobias, who is now an excellent chef, with children of his own, and Emily, the granddaughter who won the Hugo Award.

After that marriage tanked, Ann married Juan Miranda, an Argentinean immigrant to Canada who was a high-tech electronics engineer. The reason he left Argentina for Canada is that Argentina had fallen under the rule of the brutally murderous “colonels,” who formed the habit of picking up people who criticized them on the street, torturing them, then murdering them and burying them in unmarked graves so their families could not even have the satisfaction of being sure whether they were dead or alive. Juan himself had been picked up by the death squads. But it was just at the end of their power. Legitimate law officials were arresting them and releasing their prisoners. Whereupon Juan very sensibly decided to get the hell out of Argentina. (His elder brother was less lucky. He had been picked up a year or so earlier and was never seen again.)

Anyway, Juan Miranda was one of my favorite sons-in-law of all time. He was smart, he was funny, he was crazy about Ann, and with her help, he gave us two more grandkids, Julia and Daniel. Judy was fond of him, too. Every time I (or, more frequently, Carol and I) managed to get to Annie’s house to view our descendants, Judy did her best to get there too.

Judy and I had one trait that united us. At the time, she and I were both unregenerate heavy smokers. Nobody else in our families was. When we needed a fix, what we did was go out on the front porch, light up, and spend half an hour chatting about things in general. You know. Like old friends do.

Part of that ended when Annie’s last marriage ended, and she moved way to the Atlantic Maritime Provinces of Canada. Then Judy’s health began to fail. She got really sick. And then, in 1997, she died.

I am pleased that, at the end of the last time I saw her, she gave me a hug. Do you know that it’s possible to have happy endings, at least reasonably happy ones, in the real world, too?

Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

I have one more little story that I want to tell you about our Custody Wars, and then we can leave that unpleasant subject forever. It concerns the way in which Judy was able to make people who should have been neutral declare loyalty to her.

I was working in my Fifth Avenue literary agency one day when the door opened and a man named Sam walked in. (His name wasn’t actually Sam, but I see no reason to tell you what his real name was, although there are quite a few people around who would have no trouble guessing it.) Sam said the reason he had come was that he had been working for the Scott Meredith agency, Scott had fired him and he needed a job. Would I like to hire him?

Such a thought had never occurred to me but, you know, it wasn’t a totally bad idea. To some extent the earnings of the agency depended on how much time I devoted to making sales. I didn’t trust anybody but myself with the major sales, but there were all those routine ones that required no more than putting a manuscript in an envelope with a friendly covering letter, and getting it onto the desk of somebody who might buy it.

I wasn’t deep in financial miseries yet, although I was beginning to get close, so I said, “All right, you’re hired for a trial month. Here’s a building pass and an office key, and come in tomorrow and start familiarizing yourself with the work.” Big executive, right? Shrewd judge of men. Quick to seize a random opportunity.

So the next day came along, and Sam began to familiarize himself with the locator cards, and which Western could go to, say, Mike Tilden’s Western pulps but by no means to those of the Thrilling group, and all that stuff. And then, just a few days later, one of my favorite writers came in, looking seriously annoyed. “Hey, Fred,” he said, “Horace bought that novelette of mine two weeks ago. Why haven’t you sent me a check?”

That was an unexpected embarrassing moment — truly unexpected and seriously embarrassingly embarrassing — and then there was another like it, and then I figured out what was going on. Sam, who is dead now, was using his office key to come back at night, after everyone else had gone home, and make a careful study of my deposit slips and check stubs. And then he passed it all to Judy. Who passed it on to my clients. With the result that now everybody knew as much as I did about my most private juggling of the funds that were keeping me going.

Was I pretty close to theft there? I was. The only thing that was different was that every last human being who had money coming was getting it in full, just a few days or weeks late. But no, I had no right to do it.

Just an overpowering need.

Of course I fired Sam five minutes after I found out what damage he had done, but of course the damage was already very serious. What Judy knew, if she chose to spread it, was enough to threaten the relation of trust I had with some of my favorite clients.

She did choose to do that, and it did have that effect, for a few clients. But it didn’t put me out of business.

And what about old Sam, here? How would you describe him? Stinking, treacherous, backbiting piece of human excrement? Something like that, maybe, or at least those were the kind of words that crossed my own mind.

But do you really think that that’s the way Sam thought of himself? No. I don’t think that for one second.

Remember what I said about Judy’s phenomenal ability to attract loyalty from others. I think he considered himself an indispensably good friend to someone who urgently needed his help in her righteous struggle with me. And that is why, for the purpose of these writings, his name will remain as just Sam.

To be continued.

Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9

Cordwainer Smith, 1965.

Cordwainer Smith, 1965.

Scanners Live in Vainwas the first published work by the pseudonymous Cordwainer Smith, but not of the real person behind the pseudonym, Paul Linebarger. Linebarger had published numerous nonfiction works and three novels before writing “Scanners.”

Two of these, Ria and Carola, both published under the pen-name of Felix C. Forrest, were parts of a single extended story, told from the point of view of a central character who has the good fortune to just happen to be on the scene when and where all of the significant events of the mid-20th century are happening. This is a device several authors have employed when they wished to write a commentary on that period, and had elected to write in the form of fiction in the hope that doing so would get some intellectually lazier citizens to read it. (I don’t know how well the stratagem worked. Certainly I, as an omnivorous reader, had never heard of either book until Paul told me about them.) While not as attention-grabbing as the Cordwainer Smith stories, both of these were reasonably good, if not compelling, reads. (Paul had also published at least two other early books, a cloak-and-daggerish near-future story called Atomsk and a collection of poems, the title of which he may well have told me but I don’t remember, under yet a third and fourth pseudonym. But I haven’t read either of these. )

Since my own addiction to the use of pen-names was total for the first fifteen or so years of my professional writing career, I probably shouldn’t speculate about why other writers choose to hide under a nom d’escrit. But it happens I do know something in Paul’s psychic makeup which bears on that question.

Paul rarely came to New York, but my ramblings did occasionally take me to Washington, where he and his wife lived, in a nice house with a huge, red and gold congratulations-on-your-birth banner from no less than Sun Yat Sen himself on the wall. (Paul’s parents, along with infant Paul himself, had spent years in China, in the course of which they had come to know that founder of the modern Chinese republic.) The house was in the exclusive district that I think is called Rock Creek, and if you had to live in Washington that’s the part of the city where you would like best to live.

One of those expeditions came about in 1963 because the peripatetic annual Worldcon was being held in Washington that year. As soon as I got there for that weekend, I paid a call on Paul at his home. His stories in Galaxy, I told him, had been attracting a lot of attention and scores or hundreds of his most devoted readers would be at this con, barely a few miles away. Why not drop by and let a few of them get a look at you?

It was a simple enough suggestion, but it seemed to fill him with alarm. No, he said, no, no, that wouldn’t be possible. But I could make sure it was painless. I promised. I would get the con to give us a room somewhere with a service elevator nearby for easy escape after his appearance. Indeed, I could keep him away from possibly unruly fans, by escorting him directly to the SFWA suite, where as a past president I could arrange a closed-door session with his science-fiction writing colleagues —

Continue reading ‘Cordwainer Smith: The Ballad of Lost Linebarger, Part 2’ »

Judy and Merril in happier days.

Judy and Merril in happier days.

Well, let’s not draw this out any longer than we have to. Judy asked if I wanted to buy the house back from her, I said yes, Judy went off roaming somewhere, I don’t know where, and my new Significant Other, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, and I began moving ourselves in.

There are a fair number of details about that period that I’m not sure I remember right in the area of what happened before which. One of those things is where the kids, Merril and Ann, were at that point. I think most probably that at least at first all three of them were with Carol and me. (Three. Judy’s Merril, our Ann and Carol’s Karen, daughter of her marriage to L. Jerome Stanton.) And for a time there, I don’t think a very long one, Judy and I were tolerating each other.

Then we weren’t.

We disagreed over how we were going to share Ann’s time, somewhat civilly at first, and then very uncivilly. I don’t know how that would have worked out, because it was around then that Danny Zissman appeared at my front door, and he was the bucket of gasoline that set our fires roaring,

Danny was Judy’s first husband, Merril’s father. Unknown to me, he had been having his own troubles with Judy, over custody of Merril, and he was fed up. He had been talking to lawyers, he said, and, on their advice, he was about to sue Judy for Merril’s custody. He thought he had a pretty good chance of winning, on the evidence, he said, listing fifteen or twenty things Judy had done, but he wanted to make winning a sure thing. Which it would be if I would join him with both of us suing Judy at once.

Oh, that was the siren song, all right.

I wasn’t at all sure Danny’s own case was as strong as he thought it was. His list of Judy’s misdeeds included some pretty trivial stuff. But there was also some stuff that might sway a judge, and I could see that the two of us suing her together would help both our cases … and, oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have this aggravation out of the way forever? So I mulled it over and then I said I’d join him.

I think there is too much suing of people for one thing or another, and I didn’t really look forward to all the bad stuff that was sure to come. I have only very rarely done that sort of thing in my life. Even now I would like to avoid suing that wretch for his vicious book if I can. I had those same feelings about joining Danny’s suit. But I got busy, and began to prepare for testifying.

The bad things began to happen right away.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 7: When It All Hit the Fan’ »

Unfortunately, by the time Judy’s novel came out, the stresses in our marriage were growing, and Judy and I were clearly finally heading toward a (hopefully civilized) divorce.

Before we reached that point, though, we still had a few good years. It looked as though, at whatever cost to our conflicting principles, we were able to function as married people and parents, and so we do what couples like us always did at that period in American life. We began thinking about buying a house.

So we spent quite a few weekends roaming around, mostly Southern Connecticut, northern New Jersey, western Long Island and so on. Judy picked the ads out of the newspaper listings, but there wasn’t much — at a price we could afford.

But Inga Pratt saved us. We had been spending occasional weekends at the giant house Fletcher and Inga Pratt owned, and called the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, on the Jersey shore. When Judy mentioned that we’d been house-hunting she said, “I know of some places. Want to go for a ride?”

We did.

It took Inga a little while, but she came through. She drove us to 386 West Front Street in the part of Middletown Township called River Plaza (though it always had a Red Bank mailing address), and there it was. Thirteen rooms. On an acre of land, with twelve or fifteen great trees. Surrounded on two sides by a pretty good-looking river, with a beautiful broad porch on those sides so you could sit and watch the river. Or play ping-pong, or have parties or whatever, because that was one fine porch. We could even afford it, because it was astonishingly cheap — though that didn’t matter much because I was a veteran and thus entitled to, among many other things, mortgage guarantees.

True, it did have a few little problems and quirks — problems like it was eighty or ninety years old and was going to represent a steady drain of payments for repairs and maintenance, quirks like it had nine bedrooms and each one had a lock on the door, this I think because of the fact that in World War II it had been a whorehouse for the GIs in Fort Monmouth.

We bought it, and began moving in.

I have to say that, in spite of probable sooner or later marital discords and what were a few newly worrying financial concerns, I loved the house. I had a great sun-drenched, third-floor room, overlooking the trees, lawn and river, for an office, with one just like it that wound up as Cyril’s.

Red Bank was a useful little town, too. It was across the river, but the bridge was right at the foot of our property, so it was about a ten- minute walk to the railroad or bus stations, about fifteen or twenty to Red Bank’s stores, rather decent public library, movie theaters and, say, McDonalds. There was no reason we couldn’t live quite happily there.

Well, one reason. Judy no longer wanted to be married, at least to me, and then time came when she wanted me to move out. The children? Oh, they would stay with her.

I didn’t know then, and don’t know now. what the precipitating thing was that moved her to that point. I don’t think she had taken up with Walter Miller yet, and if there was any other significant man, I didn’t know it. But, of course, the signs were beginning to multiply. We had simply stopped getting along very well.

Should I have refused to leave? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t. I left.

The next year or so of Judy’s life, I can’t write about very well because I was little involved

As for me, it wasn’t all bad. I took an apartment around the East 14th Street neighborhood in New York and lived my life. This included meeting, and a few years later, marrying, my fourth wife, Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton, who at the time we met was married to my good friend L. Jerome Stanton. I’ll tell you all about them, but this isn’t their story or, for that matter, mine.

It’s Judy’s, and in Judy’s life the next significant thing that happened that I know of was that one day she offered to move out of the house and sell it to me.

To be continued.

Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9