Posts tagged ‘Dirk Wylie’

Jack Williamson at Cinvention, 1949.

Jack Williamson at Cinvention, 1949.

Well, no, it doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t begin quite right away, because in order to describe how Jack Williamson and I became really tight lifelong friends, I have to digress by telling you something about another dear friend, Dirk Wylie.

Dirk — old Brooklyn Tech chum, fellow Futurian, et many a cetera — didn’t have nearly as nice a war as most of us did. When, in 1946, he was at last a civilian he had a souvenir acquired in the Battle of the Bulge which left his spinal column always painful and frequently incapacitating. He had a full disability pension, but he was still in his twenties and in full possession of his faculties. He spent the first time after the end of the war going through hospitals and doctors and courses of treatment. But when nothing cured his spine and the medics told him he was as good as he was going to get, he wanted a job.

So one day, he and I conspired to see what he could do. It was impossible for him to go out to work, so it would have to be something he could do at home. If possible, it should have something to do with his interests in writing and publishing. On consideration we took the easy way out. We made him a literary agent.

I knew that was easy, because I had done it myself as a teenager. Of course, I hadn’t made any money out of it, though it did lead to my first editorial job, but I had some ideas that should produce a growing, though initially small, income for Dirk, and with his disability pension he could weather the thin times. So we rented a mail drop at a good address on Fifth Avenue in New York, and we printed up some stationery listing Dirk as the agent and me as an assistant (because I had promised to help him get started), and we were in business.

All we lacked was clients.

Fortunately for us, the climate was favorable. Book editors in America had always turned a blind eye to science fiction. But the times were prosperous, and a few fan groups had started publishing some of those great old serials as hardcover books. Startled salesmen for the real publishing companies had noticed that these oddities seemed to sell when the amateurs could get them into a store. When they got back to their home offices, they reported this fact to their company’s editors. Who scratched their heads, cautiously tried a title or two and realized there was some money to be made in this sf thing.

Accordingly, Dirk and I wrote letters announcing this new fact to all the pro writers we could think of. Jack Williamson was one such, and he responded by shipping us a couple of his own stories that he thought might work in this exciting new format. (They did.)

The first of them was a manuscript stitched together from two long novelettes Jack had recently sold to John Campbell’s Astounding, “With Folded Hands…” and “…And Searching Mind.” I tried them out on Jack Goodman, the managing editor at Simon & Schuster. Goodman (I should finally confess, since it no longer matters) was one of the most terrifyingly intelligent human beings I have ever met, and in my dealings with him I was always aware that, with his smarts and his vast publishing experience, he could swindle me and my clients whenever he chose. Fortunately, he didn’t choose. His offers were all fair, in line with what other publishers were agreeing to.

When the book came out, retitled The Humanoids, it did well. That sale was the first of many for Jack through our agency.

And that was what developed into one of the most cherished friendships of my life.

To be continued. . . .

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Part 2 of my memories of Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry

  Gene Roddenberry

When the studio announced that Star Trek had been canceled after its second year, I took the news philosophically. I had more or less stopped watching it, and Gene Roddenberry had already taken me to previews of a couple of other science-fiction shows he was developing. (None of them actually did much.)

Gene, however, was not so easily defeated A few weeks after the announcement I got a letter from him asking if I would be willing to sign a letter asking the network to reverse itself and give Star Trek at least one more season to show its legs. Gene was not very specific about just what sort of letter it would be. I supposed it would be some sort of group letter signed by a bunch of old sf codgers. I had no objection to that, or indeed to any imaginable kind of letter he might have in mind. I could not think of any serious trouble such a thing might cause me, and I was quite willing to do Gene a favor.

I then forgot about it for a few weeks, until one day I got a letter from an eleven-year-old in some place like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and addressed to “Frederik Pohl, editor of Galaxy, If and Analog.” Its burden was a heartfelt plea for me to change my mind about canceling Star Trek and put it back on the air for at least one more year.

That was a rather puzzling letter. How did he get my home address? What made him believe I had anything to do with canceling the program? Most of all, what made anyone think that I was the editor of Analog, a post that had belonged to John Campbell since the Early Silurian?

It was not a great concern, though, and it had receded to the shadowy recesses of my consciousness when. A couple of days later I got a similar letter from a nine-year-old in a place like Freehold. New Jersey … and then more, many more, from youngsters all over the country, and all displaying the same errors concerning my control over Star Trek‘s fortunes and what magazines I happened to edit..

So I got in touch with Gene to ask, just as a matter of interest, what he knew about those letters.

I already had figured out the basic structure of what was going on. TV shows get a heavy dose of fan mail — in the case of Star Trek largely from young boys — and somebody connected with the show had saved all those return addresses on the envelopes and converted them into a mailing list. (I knew all about such lists. Dirk Wylie and I had got his literary agency started by mailing an invitation to a list of the same kind, although much smaller, this one taken from the return addresses on manuscripts submitted to Popular Publications’ pulp magazines.)

In his reply Gene admitted that they had written a letter to all those thousands of fans, suggesting they write letters to get the program extended — but phrased a little confusingly, which is no doubt how come so many of them thought I was the executioner. He hoped I wasn’t mad because, in the heat of the action, they had sent out the letter — bearing my signature — without showing it to me. I wasn’t mad, and wrote back to tell him so.

Bjo Trimble, in costume, with William Shatner on the set of Star Trek, ca. 1969.

Bjo Trimble, in costume, with William Shatner
on the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, ca. 1979.

I wasn’t the only string to Gene’s bow. As I learned later, Harlan Ellison was trying to whip up pressure from the TV professionals, and Bjo Trimble and her husband were attempting to do the same among fan groups.

How well they did, I don’t know, but how well that letter under my name did was very. I have a statement from a person actually on the scene at the network that the executives were astonished and in no small degree worried at the volume and vigor of (correctly addressed) mail it produced.

And, in fact, the network did suddenly announce that they’d thought it over and, after all, they would let Star Trek stay on the air for one more season.



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Gene Roddenberry

Jack Williamson

Jack Williamson

The first “Worldcon” wasn’t quite as globally representative as one might have wished; I don’t know that any of the attendees came from any country but the U.S.A and, maybe, Canada. But it was the last chance we had for a real international gathering, because that year of 1939 was the beginning of that event that interfered with everyone’s plans for that sort of frippery, namely World War II.

America didn’t get involved in actual combat until Japan took its ill-advised crack at Pearl Harbor, late in 1941, but that was the end of even the so-called Worldcons. Most fans were male and mostly in their late teens or early 20s, and thus the natural prey of the draft. So, whether called up or volunteering, most of us were soon wearing uniforms.

By 1943, both Jack Williamson and I were in the Air Force and both had wound up as weathermen. I was just beginning. After doing basic training in Miami Beach, I was ordered to Chanute Field, Illinois, to learn how to read a theodolite, plot a synoptic map, operate a teletype and release a hydrogen-filled pilot balloon to investigate the velocity and direction of the winds aloft, after which I would be sent to join some weather station in the capacity of its lowest professional level, as a weather observer, Army Specialist Number 784.

Meanwhile, Jack, ahead of me as ever, had already done that a couple of years earlier. He had then served as a working observer at an actual weather station in the field, until he applied for promotion as a weather forecaster, ASN 787. This required going back to Chanute Field for additional training, and, by the grace of that useful Someone, his orders put him there over the same weeks as mine.

I don’t mean to exaggerate the significance of this chance meeting. It wasn’t a case of two dear buddies getting together for a long-desired reunion. We barely knew each other. What’s more, we didn’t have much free time on either of our schedules, and what one of us did have didn’t always mesh with the free time on the other’s. But I think we both enjoyed the chance to talk science fiction again, even if briefly.

Then our courses ended. Jack went off to an American air base on the way to his permanent assignment, which was to be forecaster for a landing strip on one of the myriad tiny islands that usefully dot the Pacific Ocean for the benefit of bomber crews that can’t quite make it home after a mission, while I went off to spend a year at the weather station on the base at Enid, Oklahoma, before my orders for Italy came through.

Then the war ended. (How quickly I write that down … and how slowly that event arrived in the real world.) All of us now being civilians once more, I wrote a letter to Jack that started one of the longest-lasting and most rewarding relationships of my professional life.

None of that might have happened, though, if it hadn’t been sparked by what was happening in the life of the person who was then my oldest friend, Dirk Wylie. But for that we need a digression, which will happen in Part Next (of I don’t know how many) in the Jack Williamson story, coming up shortly after I get it written.

To be continued. . . .

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Jack the Wonderful Williamson: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Wonder Stories, April 1933

I don’t know what kind of a writer I would have been if I hadn’t met Dirk Wylie and, through him and with him, the whole world of science-fiction fandom. Much the same, I imagine. I almost certainly would have been some kind of a writer — I’m hardly fit for anything else. And I had been trying to write sf at least a year before I met Dirk, in idle moments in classes in the eighth grade. But it would have taken a lot longer.

I owe a lot to fandom. From Don Wollheim, John Michel, Doc Lowndes — and later from Cyril Kornbluth, Dick Wilson, Isaac Asimov and others — I learned something about what they were learning about writing; we all showed each other our stories, when we weren’t actually collaborating on them. In the fan mags, I acquired the skills necessary to prepare something for public viewing — and the courage to permit it.

What I am not as sure of is whether all the things we learned then were worth learning.

Science fiction was purely a pulp category in those days. Sometimes the emphasis was on gadgetry, sometimes on blood-and-thunder adventure; when it was best, the high spots were vistas of new worlds and new kinds of life. In no case was it on belles-lettres, nor was it a place to look for fresh insights into the human condition. What we learned from each other and from the world around us was the hardware of writing. Narrative hooks. Time-pressure to make a story move. Character tags — not characterization, but oddities, quirks, bits of business to make a person in a story not alive but identifiable. So I learned how to invent ray-guns and how to make a story march, but it was not for a long, long time that I began to try to learn how to use a story to say something that needed saying.

In fact, when I look back at the science-fiction magazines of the twenties and the early thirties, the ones that hooked me on sf, I sometimes wonder just what it was we all found in them to shape our lives around.

I think there were two things. One is that science fiction was a way out of a bad place; the other, that it was a window on a better one.

The world really was in bad trouble. Money trouble. The Great Depression was not just a few million people out of work or a thousand banks gone shaky. It was fear. And it was worldwide. Somehow or other the economic life of the human race had got itself off the tracks. No one was quite sure it would get straight again. No one could be sure that his own life was not going to be disastrously changed, and science fiction offered an escape from all that.

The other thing about the world was that technology had just begun to make itself a part of everyone’s life. Every day there were new miracles. Immense new buildings. Giant airships. Huge ocean liners. Man flew across the Atlantic and circled the South Pole. Cars went faster, tunnels went deeper, the Empire State Building stretched a fifth of a mile into the sky, radio brought you the voice of a singer a continent away.

It was clear that behind all this growth and acceleration something was happening, and that it would not stop happening with huge Zeppelins and giant buildings but would go on and on. What science fiction was about was the going on. The next step, and the step after that. Not just radio, but television. Not just the conquest of the air, but the conquest of space.

Of course, not even science fiction was telling us much about the price tag on progress. It told us about the future of the automobile; it didn’t tell us that sulphur-dioxide pollution would crumble the stone in the buildings that lined the streets. It told us about high-speed aircraft, but not about sonic boom; about atomic energy, but not about fallout; about organ transplants and life prolongation, but not about the dreary agony of overpopulation.

Nobody else was telling us about these things, either. A decade or two later science fiction picked up on the gloom behind the glamour very quickly, and maybe too completely. But in those early days we were as innocent as physicists, popes and presidents. We saw only the promise, not the threat.

And truthfully we weren’t looking for threats. We were looking for beauty and challenge. When we couldn’t find them on Earth, we looked outside for prettier, more satisfying places. Mars. Venus. The made-up planets of invented stars somewhere off in the middle of the galaxy, or in galaxies farther away still.

I think we all believed as an article of faith that there were other intelligent races in the universe than our own, plenty of them. (I still believe it! What puzzles me is why we haven’t seen any of them as visitors. I wish I could swallow the flying-saucer stories — I can’t; the evidence just isn’t good. But the absence of hard facts hasn’t shaken my faith that Osnomians and Fenachrone are out there somewhere.) If polled, I am sure we would have agreed that wherever there’s a planet, there’s life — or used to be, or will be.

Now, alas, we know that the odds are not as good as we had hoped, especially for our own solar system. The local real estate is pretty low quality. Mercury is too hot and has too little air; Venus is too hot and has too much, and poisonous at that. Mars is still a possibility, but not by any means a good one — and what else is there? But in the mid-thirties we didn’t know as much as we do now. The big telescopes hadn’t yet been completed, and of course no spaceship had yet brought a TV camera to Mars or the Moon.

But we believed.

Stay tuned. . . .

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Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at a meeting of the Queens Science Fiction League in 1948.

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at a meeting of the Queens Science Fiction League in 1948.


This arrived without warning from my old friend Andrew Porter, once the editor and publisher of Algol/Science Fiction Chronicle, the only real competition Locus ever had. Andy didn’t say why he sent it, but I guess he just thought I would like to see it again — it’s a part of a chapter taken from a book of mine called The Early Pohl that I haven’t looked at in years. Well, I did get a kick out of some of it (although other parts did just repeat things I’ve written here and elsewhere). Considering how many said that you had enjoyed the chapter I inadvertently reprinted from The Way the Future Was, some of you might like this, too, so I’m going to take a chance and reprint this as well. (Having cut out much, though probably not all, of the stuff that already was in the earlier piece.)

The title of the piece is Andy’s. (It refers to the fact that if you wanted to start an sf club in New York in the ’30s, it helped to have a basement that you could hold the club’s meetings in.) It was also Andy’s decision to include a picture of Will Sykora and Willy Ley at the beginning, although only Sykora has anything at all to do with the piece, and then not much. So I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. As afterwords I’ll attach a little bit about who they are, and I’ll also tell you a funny, if a bit embarrassing to me, story about The Early Pohl, the book this piece came from.

From the book The Early Pohl, copyright ©1976 by Frederik Pohl. (Abridged.)

In the winter of 1933, when I was just turned thirteen, I discovered three new truths.

The first truth was that the world was in a hell of a mess. The second was that I really was not going to spend my life being a chemical engineer, no matter what I had told my guidance counselor at Brooklyn Technical High School. And the third was that in my conversion to science fiction as a way of life I Was Not Alone.

All of these new discoveries were important to me, and in a way they were all related. I had just started the second semester of my freshman year at Brooklyn Tech. It was a cold, grimy winter in the deepest depths of the Great Depression. There was not much joy to be found. Men were selling apples in the streets. The unemployed stood in bread lines and prayed for snow — that meant there would be work shoveling it off the sidewalks. Roosevelt had just been elected President but hadn’t yet taken office — Inauguration Day, still geared to the stagecoach schedules of 1789, had not yet been moved up from March 4. Banks were going broke.

There was not much money around, but on the other hand you didn’t need a lot. Subway fare was a nickel. So was a hot dog at Nedick’s, which was enough for a schoolboy’s lunch. You could go to the movies for a dime or, sometimes, for a can of soup to be donated to the hungry.

Brooklyn Tech was an honor school, which is possibly why I decided to go to it in the first place. Like many of my colleagues, I regret to say that as a kid I was always something of an intellectual snob. (I do not wish to discuss what I am now.) Tech had been born in an ancient factory building, next to the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in the grimiest part of Brooklyn’s industrial riverside district. It had outgrown that and was now spread around a clutch of decrepit ex-grammar schools in the same area. We commuted from building to building, class to class.

I found myself walking from my Mechanical Drawing class in P.S. No. 5 to my Forge and Foundry class in the main building in the company of a tall, skinny kid named Joseph Harold Dockweiler. Along about the third time we crossed Flatbush Avenue together I discovered that we had something of great urgency in common. He, too, was a Science-Fiction Fan, Third Degree. That is, he didn’t merely read the stuff, or even stop at collecting back issues and searching the secondhand bookstores for overlooked works. He, like me, had the firm intention of writing it someday.

Six or seven years later Joseph Harold Dockweiler renamed himself Dirk Wylie. Later still, he and I went partners in a literary agency and later, but tragically not very much later, he died, at the appalling age of twenty-eight, of the aftereffects of his service in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

Dirk was the first person I had found like myself. Having learned that we were not unique, we contemplated the possibility of finding still others who would be able and anxious to compare the merits of Amazing vs. Wonder Stories and discuss the galaxy-ranging glamour of E.E. Smith’s Skylark stories. In a word, we went looking for science-fiction fandom.

The bad part of that was that fandom did not yet quite exist.

The good part was that it was just about to be born, when Wonder Stories started a circulation-boosting correspondence club called the Science Fiction League. We joined instanter, and began attending club meetings as soon as a local chapter was formed, where we met others like ourselves.

More to come. . . .

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I don’t know if you’ve ever met Vince Monte, who holds the title of My No. 1 Fan. He’s a well informed person with a collection that, apart from foreign editions, is much better than my own, and when he asks a question, I do my best to answer it.

This time the question had to do with pen names, of which I admittedly have, over the years, used a number. Vince sent me a list of 14 names that I have at some time or other used, and what is noteworthy about the list is that it does not include Frederik Pohl, a name I have used quite often. So let me try to answer Vince’s question, as follows:

  • Ernst Mason
    This is the name I used for my nonfiction biography of the Roman emperor Tiberius. I wanted a name that was not identified with me or with science fiction, though when I then wrote about Tiberius for the Encyclopedia Britannica, the editor encouraged me to go back to my own name. Ernst Mason was created by taking the family name of my maternal grandfather, William Mason, and adding it to the given name of my paternal one, Ernst Pohl.

  • S.D. Gottesman
    Name used on some early collaborations with Cyril Kornbluth. He picked it, I think taken from the name of one of his high-school teachers.

  • Dirk Wylie
    Not my name, the name taken by my high-school pal Joseph Harold Dockweiler when he got tired of the name his parents had picked for him. The precipitating incident was the plan of Dirk, Dick Wilson and Don Wollheim to rent an apartment together, and Dick and Donald demanded that Dirk had a name starting with a D.

  • Charles Satterfield
    Horace Gold laid this one on me. He wanted me to use a new pseudonym for one of my stories in Galaxy, I said I was tired of inventing pseudonyms, he said, “Then I will.” He had a prizefight going on the TV, Ezzard Charles against Bob Satterfield, and he said, “There’s your name.” What we didn’t know was that there was a real man named Charles Satterfield, but he apparently never saw the story, or didn’t care.

  • Jordan Park
    Jordan Park was a pen name of Cyril’s. I just wrote part of one Jordan Park story.

  • Paul Dennis Lavond
    Used for a few three-way collaborations; P for Pohl, D for Dirk, L for Lowndes.

  • Elton Andrews
    Sometimes Elton V. Andrews, once or twice just the initials, eva. My first professional sale, a poem to Amazing Stories, was signed with this. I have no idea why I picked it.

  • James MacCreigh
    My most frequently used pen name, not just for sf but for other pulps and for my first attempts at non-pulp sales.

  • Edson McCann
    Joint penname with Lester del Rey. After we had written the book we used that name on, Lester realized that the name could be written as EM.CC and read, if we chose, as E = mc2.

  • Donald Stacy
    I think, repeat THINK, that this was the name (or pseudonym) of someone who had written a novel about TV called The God of Channel One, which Ian Ballantine had bought but was dissatisfied with and asked me to do a rewrite on.

  • Paul Flehr, Warren F. Howard, Scott Mariner
    They sound sort of familiar. I think I did use them, but I don’t remember where or why.

There may have been others.

When I was quite new to all this, I confess I had a romantic view of pseudonyms. By “romantic,” I mean as in a boy-meets-girl scene like this one:

I imagined myself sitting at a soda fountain — I didn’t say cocktail bar, I said soda fountain, which gives an idea of how old I was — and there was an extremely good-looking girl sitting a stool or two away, reading a story of mine, and my plan was to wait until she had finished it and then let her knows that the pen name on the story was me.

Never happened, though. Probably just as well. My wife probably wouldn’t like it.