Dave Kyle's Discon Reminiscence
Discon (The Original), the 21st Worldcon, at Washington, D.C. in 1963, brought the convention back to the East Coast for the first time since the heavily attended 1956 Newyorcon. Pittsburgh representing the Eastern zone, but not in the megalopolis along the coast, had hosted the event in 1960 with only 300 attending. As seven years had passed since the East Coast population center had been the site, the expectation was that the attendance for Discon, the 21st Worldcon, would skyrocket. It didn't happen, although the attendees numbered a respectable 600. This was despite the one honored guest being the legendary Will Jenkins aka Murray Leinster, whose sf writings went back nearing a half century.
The modest size of the attendance did not overcrowd the Statler-Hilton hotel and thus made the convention particularly enjoyable. With the growth of con membership, finding a hotel which could accommodate our conventions was becoming an increasingly difficult process. This committee was well organized and very dedicated, primarily composed of the Washington Science Fiction Association, an intensely fannish group aided by the nearby Baltimore fans. The object of all con committees once upon a time was to get everything we did, including eating and sleeping, all under one roof. Those were wonderful days. It happened here, and this event, for these reasons, was one of the better weekend get-togethers, almost -- from my then quarter century of con going -- relaxing.
In earlier days when the average age of fandom was still much younger, alcohol seemed more important. So, local liquor restrictions (the minimum age for hard stuff was 21) were very much woven into the fabric of that three-day-plus party: No Sunday hard liquor sales, Saturday night 11:45 drinking curfew, no walking around with drinks in your hands -- and enforcement was strict. Personally, I'm happy to see today's trend toward soft drinks, fruit juices, and some beer, and the relief from committee headaches over drunkenness and the need for "benevolent vigilantes" roaming the hotel corridors.
Conventions, world or regional, used to be notorious for not starting on time or holding to a scheduled time. By necessity, with so many simultaneous programs, audiences today assemble with less procrastination and starting times are prompt. Discon I made a point of adhering to a schedule. The opening gavel fell at exactly 12:30 -- and no one paid any attention. So, a pre-arranged noisy, dramatic scene was staged with swords clashing, a costumed wizard incanting -- and the audience's attention was captured. The weekend programming was judged later by the chairman to have been "overprogrammed." However, in the retrospect of more modern times, the program then was straightforward and uncomplicated, held for the most part in the huge Congressional Room and well controlled.
During that Saturday afternoon, following the slam-bang opening, there was supposed to be an introduction of "celebrities." This used to be an essential part of all conventions, when we got to learn for the first time who was present "of any importance," which meant BNFs (Big Name Fans) as well as the pros. This time there was an inexplicable slighting of this ego-boo tradition, with hardly a handful publicly recognized from the audience. Nowadays, such a roll call (and the inevitable frequent masculine response of "He's down at the bar!") is impractical. The mid-afternoon break had an inevitable, and necessary, auction. In the evening was the Costume Ball, quite properly labeled, as there was live music for the parade fanfare and for dancing. The program began Sunday afternoon and ran into the evening a bit later than expected. Monday was a very short day, noon to three o'clock. In fact, the printed program consisted of a mere two pages in the thin, fannish 8´5 official Program Book.
Included in the main events were the Burroughs Bibliophiles' Dum-Dum, the FAPA meeting, and the Hyborian Legion muster, as well as the late Saturday night "Annual Business Meeting." It was a traditional collection of events, easy to assimilate, and put the con-goer under no pressure such as we experience in today's high-pressure weekend.
Starting at two o'clock Sunday afternoon there was the "Banquet Luncheon" for the GoH and his speech. The Discon committee said, "Without a doubt, the banquet represents more work on the part of the con committee than any other part of the convention...practically everybody goes to the banquet...and it can be the most fun." That was the reason for the "luncheon" hour, to keep the price low for the greatest number. In fact, more than two-thirds of the total con attendance bought tickets to dine, with the remainder coming in later to hear the speech and see the presentation of the Hugos. Isaac Asimov, who presented the trophies as toastmaster, ranted and raved (humorously) about giving away something he had never received -- and unexpectedly ended the evening by getting "an extra special one" himself.
In the evening there was a "Special Awards Session" squeezed into the scheduled program. This allowed enough time for presentations which ordinarily should have taken place during the Banquet. Forrest J Ackerman announced the Big Heart Award. After Forry came that which might have been the highlight of the convention. It was the inaugural First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. There was a long eulogistic introduction. The one chosen to receive the first one was E. E. "Doc" Smith. The response was a highly emotional one: the diners and onlookers stood there applauding and cheering Doc. The ovation and the obvious display of affection for him visibly touched this Grand Old Man. What an occasion, with the two old-timers there -- "Leinster" Jenkins and "Skylark" Smith themselves!
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