Posts tagged ‘George O. Smith’

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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After Judy Merril and I realized that the one thing we both most wanted from the life we had been living was to have a baby, we started looking for someone to marry us so the baby would be legitimate. Judy quickly found someone. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was a fairly well-known lefty New York Justice of the Peace.

So we were married in 1948. Then we began the process of knocking Judy up. It didn’t take long. Judy handled pregnancy quite well, so we simply went on with our lives.

Which, at the time, were actually quite nice. We still both had our jobs and were therefore well fixed for money. I had bought a car — secondhand, a giant Cadillac eight-seater that Jack Gillespie said was a gangster car and quite possibly once had been. It was very easy to imagine half a dozen criminals with tommy-guns shooting up an enemy’s hangout out of its windows.

We used it to roam around the countryside, and to transport friends to cons if they wanted to go. We’d driven it up to Toronto for the 1948 Worldcon with a party of half a dozen or so passengers — George O. Smith, I think Chan Davis and his wife, and I don’t remember who else. (The reason I clearly remember George O. is that as we passed through Niagara Falls George got out of the car, ambled over to the railing and fulfilled a lifelong ambition by urinating into the Falls.)

And then, all of a sudden we had come to the time when Judy’s belly was as big as a washtub and we needed to watch for signs of needing to get to French Hospital for the birthing.

I have to confess I was not the most useful Father in Waiting. What I very much feared was that she would start in labor when she was in bed with me, or something of the sort, and I would have to deliver the baby. I’m afraid I chased her off to the hospital too early at least once, when she thought it was barely possible she was beginning to feel labor pains, and they sent her back home. But then the labor did start.

I don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when the baby came. I hope I was at least considerate enough to have been in the hospital while Judy was giving birth. But I don’t remember whether I did.

Anyway, our baby daughter Ann — I insisted on naming her after my mother and Judy was willing to let is be so — was born in 1950. Both Judy and I were then exactly as happy and contented with parenthood has we had thought we would be.

For a while.

But then it all came crashing down on us, when Judy came to me and said she was sorry but she just couldn’t help it. She couldn’t go on without the sexual freedoms that had meant so much to her. She didn’t want to get a divorce. Our marriage, she said, was working quite well and she didn’t want to change a thing. Well, one thing, that was … she wanted to change the rules a little. How would I feel about making it an open marriage?

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 3: Life with Judy’ »

John W. Campbell in 1957

John W. Campbell in 1957
(via efanzines.com)
 

The home base of Street & Smith at the time that John Campbell came aboard to edit Astounding was a remarkably rickety old building at the corner of 17th Street and Seventh Avenue in New York. Well, that’s not strictly true. It wasn’t one old building. It was several of them, stitched together by knocking through walls and rerouting hallways to connect them.

This imposed a class system for getting into the offices. When John arrived for work each morning, he had to enter through the doorway on West 17th Street, because that was where the time clock was. (Yes, John Campbell had to punch in and out on a time clock, at least in the early days.)

Whereas when someone more important, like me, wanted to visit John in his office, we entered through the main door at 79 Seventh Avenue, like gentry. After telling the receptionist what we wanted, and providing we passed inspection, she summoned a guide to convoy us, through passages lined with thousand-pound rolls of pulp paper for the presses on the ground floor, to the ancientest and most decrepit elevator in the city of New York. Its controls were not push buttons, as we degenerate moderns suppose that every proper elevator’s are. They were not even the up or down handles that our parents remember from their youth. A rope dangled from rooftop to bottom of the elevator shaft, and if you wanted to make the Street & Smith elevator go down you caught the rope and pulled it downward, for up you pulled it upward, and the elevator stopped when you gave a little reverse tug on the rope.

That wasn’t the end of your journey. When you got to the right floor, you still had a country mile to hike before you got to John’s modest office. We were no longer in the original Seventh Avenue building — though we might as well have been when the presses began to roll and all the linked buildings began to shake. Then, at long last, we’re there … and John Campbell puts down the DeVilbiss with which he’s been spraying his throat.

“Good morning, Pohl,” he says — we knew each other for ten years before he ever addressed me as Fred — “Do you know why television can never replace radio in the American home?” And I knew that all was well with the world and John Campbell had begun work on his next month’s editorial.
 

That was one of the things I learned from John Campbell. He began each new month with some such polemical statement, trying it on everyone who came into the office. We were all encouraged to disagree with it, which meant that by the end of the month John had heard just about every disagreement that could be registered against his thesis, and had had time to think of rebuttals … so that he was ready to write his next editorial. (In which he proved that TV could never replace radio in the home because TV required attentive watching. Therefore housewives couldn’t turn it on just for company as they could radio.)

In John’s office, he sat at a rolltop desk. Why such an old-fashioned piece of furniture? I once asked him. “Because,” he said, poking a Camel into his long cigarette holder and lighting up, “these buildings are firetraps and smoking in them is against the law. So when the fire inspectors come by the switchboard girl gives everybody a special ring. We put our cigarettes out in the ashtrays and put them inside the desk with the top rolled down, and open the windows. Then we just wait for the inspectors to go away again.”

John was not alone in the room. He shared it with Catherine Tarrant, listed on the masthead as “Ass. Editor” until I pointed out to John that that might lead to unintended readings. Kay Tarrant had come with the job. Her official description was secretary-assistant, but as John preferred to do most of his own typing, she spent most of her time copy-editing the manuscripts he bought (and those bought by his successor, Ben Bova, as well) to prepare them for the printer.

That was not necessarily an arduous job. John did not normally go in for the kind of lavishly creative editing that characterized, say, Horace Gold’s tenure at Galaxy (and infuriated so many of his contributors), and when John took a notion to rewrite sections of a particular story to make it more like John’s image of what it should have been, he did it himself.

But Kay Tarrant, too, had impulses that went beyond the simple correction of faulty grammar, spelling or punctuation. She hated — hated! — smut. And she devoted her life to erasing every trace of it from the magazine.

This, of course, had an effect on the corps of science-fiction writers, a sadly rowdy lot. The more troublesome ones initiated a contest to see who could get something bawdy past Kay Tarrant. Many of them tried. All saw their best inspirations slain on the copy desk until George O. Smith stepped up to the plate. He won when he got past Miss Tarrant’s eagle eye his definition of a tomcat as “a ball-bearing mousetrap.”
 

I can’t avoid a personal reminiscence here. When John left us and Ben Bova took over as editor of Astounding, the first story Ben bought was my “The Gold at the Starbow’s End.” As those who remember the story can attest, it is simply riddled with naughty words and impure thoughts — not because I can’t express myself without them but because there was no way to tell this particular story in their absence. (It’s a pretty good story, too. I think it’s my best novelette.) When he gave the ms. to Kay Tarrant for copyediting, he warned her that it would have to be edited with a very light hand.

All the same, he told me later, she got no more than about three lines into the first page before clearing her throat and saying, “Oh, Ben? Do you really want me to leave in this — ” “I do,” he said. “Leave it.” And three minutes later, when she cried, “Ben! Really!” it was, “Leave it again.”

Mine was the first example of what is loosely called adult prose that Ben bought but by no means the last, and ultimately Kay learned to live with the new rules and soldiered on.

 
More follows whenever I find time to write it.

 
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