Posts tagged ‘Elsie Wollheim’

 

Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John B. Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes and Donald A. Wollheim, from left. (Photo by Jack Robins, Tarrytown, N.Y., July 1939.)

Cyril Kornbluth, Chester Cohen, John B. Michel, Robert A.W. Lowndes and Donald A. Wollheim, from left. (Photo by Jack Robins, Tarrytown, N.Y., July 1939.)
 

Jack Robins

Jack Robins
 

 
Guest Post By Jack Robins

 
One of the articles I had written, “There Ought To Be a Law Against It,” described what had actually happened at one of the dinners we had at that Chinese restaurant we frequented.

 

There Ought To Be a Law Against It

Wollheim, Lowndes, Cohen and I were eating a Chinese dinner one Sunday evening and everything went well (except for the waiter’s giving Cohen’s order to Lowndes and Donald’s to me before we could get things straightened out) until it came to the dessert. We had all ordered mixed Chinese fruits but I was the first to finish it. I had put the last bit of fruit into my mouth and was fishing around for anything that I possibly might have left over when I noticed a brown-black speck floating around in the fluid remaining in the dish. I passed the plate around and asked the boys what they thought they saw in it. Chet Cohen said he saw a baby cockroach and then looked at me as if he wanted to know what the matter was and why I asked him such a silly question. Lowndes insisted it was a “chickroach.” Upon being challenged by Cohen, Lowndes declared that baby chickens were not called baby chickens but “chicks,” and that, therefore, you could not call a baby cockroach anything but a “chickroach.” Wollheim advised me not to show it to the waiter since the latter might charge me extra for it. Lowndes pointed out that, after all a “chickroach” is a Chinese delicacy. Cohen stated that I would undoubtedly have to pay a good deal of money for it in China. Wollheim declared that the waiter would probably swallow it right before my eyes to show me it would not harm me. They all assured me, however, that the waiter most likely would not charge me anything extra for it. In the meantime they finished off their portions of dessert with gusto. I did not show the baby roach to the waiter, however, since I was afraid he would give me another dishful of mixed Chinese fruits in exchange.

Once during the World’s Fair Days in 1939 around the fourth of July, Don Wollheim, John Michel (whose right arm was always giving him trouble until a doctor finally was able to treat it with penicillin), Lowndes, Chester Cohen, and I decided to go on a trip to Tarrytown. I don’t know why we wanted to go. But since that was what they wanted to do, we went.

We took the IRT to the last stop in the Bronx and walked, walked, and walked, all the way to Tarrytown, New York. I had taken along a cheap, used 35mm camera and I took pictures of all of my friends while we wandered the streets of Tarrytown. But being shy and humble, I neglected to ask any of them to take a picture of me, and none of them offered. After awhile we were all famished. We found a diner and went in to eat. Lowndes and I were too poor to order a meal but we noticed on the menu that we could get a quarter of a head of lettuce for 15¢. That was within our budget so we ordered it and asked them to put on it Russian dressing. I thought at the time that it was the most delicious meal I had ever had. For the return trip, we thankfully did not have to walk back. Donald led us to the Tarrytown railroad station and we rode a train back to the City and finally took the subway to our respective homes.

When Damon Knight was writing the book The Futurians, and I told him about the pictures I had taken during our Tarrytown trip, he became interested and wanted to see if he could use any of them for his pending book. I sent him the negatives. The only picture I know that he definitely used was a snapshot of the building containing the apartment that he and other Futurians shared, “The Ivory Tower.” Some say it was called that because of the ivory paint on the walls. But there is a secondary undertone that says, “Here abide writers, who live in their own ivory tower and look at the world through special lenses that provide a distorted view.”

Once at a Lunacon, the Wollheims (Elsie and Don), Robert Lowndes, my son and I were in the only restaurant at the hotel and we were talking about my son’s possible career as an artist, and the difficulties he was having. Robert, who was then an editor of magazines, recalled some of his own early difficulties in the writing field and then told us that we all ultimately end up working in some aspect of our dreams and aspirations, even though it might not be in the goals we originally started with. Elsie and Don agreed. I now realize Robert’s statement was really a summation of his life.

Years later I met Robert in an elevator at a Lunacon. We had not seen each other for a good number of years. Without much ado, he greeted me as if we had seen each other yesterday, and, referring to Edward E. Smith’s Skylark Duquesne, which had appeared in print as a serial in a science-fiction magazine, he said with a smile of appreciation, “Isn’t it wonderful that Doc Smith lived long enough to write this story?” I felt then a warmth, a continuation, a never-never ending to a relationship and I realized that here was a friend I would badly miss if he died.

And now I do miss him.

Related Posts:

Betty Ballantine

    Betty Ballantine

Husband-wife editing and publishing teams are not common in the real world of books. In fact, I only know of three, and, interestingly, all three made their biggest successes in the field of science fiction. Lester and Judy Lynn Del Rey were the first publishers to break sf and fantasy titles into the New York Times’ revered weekly lists of bestsellers. (We discussed them here some time ago.). A little later, Donald and Elsie Wollheim scored with their DAW (for Donald Allen Wollheim) Books. We will come to them in the (fairly) near future.

The third team to qualify for this rare distinction was Ian and Betty Ballantine, whom we will look at now, and in some ways the Ballantines were the most remarkable of all.

The Ballantines didn’t simply create one publishing house and build it into a great success. They created two of the most successful publishers, particularly of paperbacks, in America, as well as a number of less spectacular, but still quite successful, other imprints … and it all started with a term paper Ian wrote at the age of 21, when he was still a student at the London School of Economics.

 
Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine was born, on September 25th of the year 1916, into an interesting family. His father, Edward J. Ballantine, was a celebrated actor on the London stage and, although his mother, Stella, made few Page-1 headlines, her Aunt Emma made enough for any family.

Once, when I was chatting with Ian about books, I might like to write, I happened to mention that Emma Goldman, the famed anarchist, had been jailed once — not for planning assassinations (Henry Clay Frick, the railroad and steel tycoon known as “the most hated man in America” was her favorite target), but for distributing information about birth control.

Ian was grinning at me before I finished. “Did you not know that you’re talking about my Aunt Emma?” he asked.

Continue reading ‘Couples Who Mastered Publishing, No. 2:
The Ballantines’ »

 

Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)
Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet)

Quite a few years ago —well, about seventy of them, to be exact —I was the teen-age editor of two professional science-fiction magazines for the giant pulp firm of Popular Publications. I didn’t pay much for the stories that went into my magazines but I did pay something, and so most of the science-fiction writers of that era dropped by from time to time to see if I would care to relieve them of some of their stack of Astounding rejects.

People like hoary old Ray Cummings and bright-minted new stars like L. Sprague de Camp came by my little office at the end of 42d Street, just where it stops dead at the East River, and one day our switchboard girl, Ethel Klock, informed me that I had a new visitor named Lester del Rey.

Though I’d never met the man, I knew the name; I had seen it, enviously, any number of times on the Astounding contents page. “Shoot him right in!” I commanded, hoping that he would come bearing manuscripts, and a couple of minutes later there he was, short, angel-faced, no more than a couple of years older than myself — and, yes, with two short-story manuscripts in his hands!

There is an established procedure for such events. It doesn’t allow the editor to snatch the typescripts from the author’s hands, or the author to throw them in from the doorway without a word. There has to be a little chatting back and forth first, so I had to wait until Lester was back in the elevator to start reading. The stories were short. I finished them both in a quarter of an hour.

Then I rejected them both.

What was wrong with them? I don’t remember. What were they about? I don’t remember that, either. And not only did I bounce them, so did every other editor Lester showed them to. Years later I asked him what had become of them. He said he had no idea, didn’t remember anything about them, and hoped I would never ask him such an embarrassing question again.

So that was my unpromising start to knowing Lester del Rey. Fortunately, later on things got better.

 
Later on things did, but it took a few years. John Campbell got over his nasty habit of rejecting any of Lester’s stories, so Lester had nothing to sell me; and then the Air Force invited me to join them for World War II so I had no magazine to buy them for, anyway. Then, postwar, Lester and I ran into each other now and then at various gatherings, and then in 1947 we ran into a big one. That was the ’47 World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.

We were both there. When it was over we were having a cup of coffee together somewhere when we got to thinking. We had had such a great time mingling again with our nearest and dearest (as well as some of our farthest and dislikedest) from the world of science fiction that we decided we really ought to organize some sort of local sf group so we could do more of it. So Lester commandeered a couple of his friends and brought them to my Greenwich Village apartment, where I had collected a few of mine, and we sat down and created the Hydra Club. (Why Hydra? Because there were nine of us there, and the mythological Hydra had had nine heads.)

This was a definite public service, because for years thereafter the Hydra Club had become the place where sf writers from out of town visited when they came to New York in order to find people they could talk to. (Out of town sometimes meant very out of town — in the case of Arthur Clarke or W. Olaf Stapledon, the United Kingdom; in the case of A. Bertram Chandler, from about as far away as you could get without leaving our planet entirely, namely Australia.)

Nor was Hydra merely a place where you could exchange trade gossip with colleagues. Lester and I both found wives there, and we two couples made a habit of going to cons together. What made that easy was that after a while Lester and Evelyn del Rey came out to visit with Carol and me and our growing number of children in our big old house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The del Reys’ intention was to spend a weekend. They wound up staying seventeen years — well, seventeen years in the neighborhood, anyway, since after a while they bought a house of their own down the street. It might have been longer, but one day, driving to a small vacation in Florida, their car got entangled in the wake of an eighteen-wheeler and was sent spinning off the road. Evelyn was thrown clear, but then the car rolled over on her and she was killed.

After that Lester could not stay in their house. He sold it for a pitiful amount —furniture, books, wine cellar and all — to the first person who thought to make him an offer, and moved back to the city.

 
For all those years we had been keeping busy, Lester writing, me doing some of that but also fooling around with editing and other diversions. After putting together a string of anthologies for Ian Ballantine, I wound up as editor of a couple of science-fiction magazines, Galaxy and If. It was not a well-paying job but I loved it. It gave some welcome perks, including a full-time assistant.

When I needed to hire a new one I interviewed a recent Barnard graduate named Judy-Lynn Benjamin, who seemed to be bright and energetic enough for the job, but presented two worrisome problems. One was that her specialty was the works of James Joyce and she knew nothing at all about science fiction. That, I figured, could be handled; I would not ask her to make any buy-or-bounce decisions, and everything else I could easily teach her.

The other struck me as tougher. Judy-Lynn was an achondroplastic dwarf, not much over three feet tall, and I didn’t know how she would manage to reach the top drawers of the filing cabinets. But I took a chance, and actually she worked out rather well, turning out to be capable of managing anything at all. After I left the magazines, Judy-Lynn went to work for Ballantine Books, winding up running the enterprise, which is why its current avatar, Del Rey Books, was named after her.

Lester entered the picture when my publisher, Bob Guinn, urged me to add a fantasy magazine to my group. I had nothing against fantasy, but I didn’t have a great deal of interest in it, and anyway I didn’t want to add to my work load. So I persuaded Lester, now a widower for some years, to come aboard as its editor. He did well, and the three of us got along well, too, in fact better than I realized until I got a phone call from Lester to say that he and Judy-Lynn were getting married, and would I care to be his best man?

I would. They did it. And after a while, he joined Judy-Lynn at Ballantine, and — no surprise to anyone who knew them — with Lester handling the fantasy side of the operation while Judy-Lynn continued with the sf, they were fabulously successful, leading the field in the number of their books that wound up on the New York Times bestseller list.

What made Judy-Lynn successful? The answer to that is simply that she worked with (and/or married) three of the best editors around, studied what they did attentively and learned from all of them. (I know that makes me sound immodest, but I learned from the best there was, namely J. W. Campbell.)

Lester had a whole other style. Lester took as his model some of the historically great editors of the past and, like them, questioned every phrase and comma in every manuscript he accepted and made the authors rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. It paid off — once when I was having lunch with Lester’s boss he told me that he believed Lester was the most profitable editor in the publishing industry — but it was arduous. Some authors dumped the man who had made them bestsellers in favor of some other editor who might give them a less stressful life.

So the del Reys were riding high, but it came to an end. One of the penalties of being an achondroplastic dwarf is the likelihood of a short life span. After some very good years, Judy-Lynn had a massive stroke and then died of it, and a few years later Lester followed her.

Other husband-wife editorial teams in science fiction and fantasy — Ian and Betty Ballantine, Donald and Elsie Wollheim — have done wonderfully well, but in making that Times list, no one has done better than the del Reys, and I don’t really think anyone ever will.

Bloggng in our cabin. Photo by Elizabeth Anne Hull.

Blogging in our cabin aboard MS Ryndam.
Photo by Elizabeth Anne Hull.

So here I am, back home at last after visiting Kauai, Bora Bora, Tahiti and four or five others of the most beautiful tropical paradises God ever made — and now doggedly tunneling my way through mountains of letters, emails, contracts, phone messages and — what is most relevant here — comments from all you wonderful people who were kind enough to tune in on the beginnings of The Way the Future Blogs and drop us a line about it.

In regard to which there is something I must say. I care about you all — beloved grandkids, cherished old friends and just high-quality human beings in general — and wish it were possible for me to respond personally to each of you. Unfortunately, due to the useless condition of the witch’s claw that was once my sturdy right hand, it just isn’t. But please keep reading and letting us know what you think! (Did I mention that you did so in such unexpected volume that you burned up all our bandwidth and head blogmeister Dick had to run out and buy more?)

And what’s ahead? Oh, all kinds of stuff. In the universe of personal reminiscences of some of science-fiction’s giants, there are pieces on three of the field’s greatest married editor-publisher couples, Ian and Betty Ballantine first, because it is already on the computer, then Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey and Donald and Elsie Wollheim. Plus sketches on Jack Williamson, Isaac Asimov and Cyril Kornbluth and some added material on Sir Arthur C. Clarke … and, of course, whatever other fancies happen to occur to me as I sit before the keyboard. See you then!