Gary Farber's Iguanacon Reminiscence

1978IguanaCon II, Phoenix
IguanaCon Retrospective by Gary Farber [IguanaCon II Vice-Chairman]
From the Noreascon Three PB.

At the time, with an attendance of over 4000, IguanaCon was the largest Worldcon yet, and in several ways serves as the archetype for the growing pains the Worldcon was undergoing in the midst of the 1970s SF Explosion. The original committee had never run a convention larger than several hundred attendees, and, under the strains of attempting to coordinate a Worldcon twice as large as the previous, suffered several internal personnel convulsions leading to the resignation and replacement of the original chair prior to the convention. Fortunately this had little direct effect upon the actual convention.

The combination of two other factors loomed far larger over the convention: the Professional Guest of Honor, Harlan Ellison, and the accident of timing of the National Organization for Women's (NOW's) boycott of states that had failed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

In 1976, when the voters at Kansas City had picked Phoenix over Los Angeles and the committee's selection of Harlan was confirmed, no ERA boycott was in existence or contemplated. In 1977, after the convention and Harlan were committed, came the NOW call for all supporters of the ERA to the US Constitution to refuse to spend money in non-ratified states, including, alas, Arizona.

This left Harlan Ellison and the committee, as ERA supporters, with a major problem. It was logistically impossible to move the convention, without even considering the potential legal and moral problems of breaching faith with the voters. Neither did Harlan feel that he could break faith by resigning as GoH and engage in "moral blackmail" and "bludgeoning innocent people with my ethical imperatives."

The tight-rope-walking solution that Harlan chose, with the support of the committee, was to issue a widely publicized "Statement of Ethical Position" detailing the moral dilemma, announcing his intention to use his GoHship to publicize the need for ratification of the ERA, and to urge attendees to spend as little as possible in Arizona.

As a typical personal gesture, Harlan refused to accept his free suite from the con and arranged to drive a Recreational Vehicle (RV) from Los Angles, park it outside the hotels, and live in it throughout the convention, thus personally spending no money whatsoever in the state. (For the first two days, the committee kept a gopher running to the parking meter with a nickel every half hour, until a Deputy Mayor of Phoenix was reached who authorized the "bagging" of the meter.)

Coordinating with NOW and the committee, tremendous publicity was given to the ERA throughout the con in a multitude of ways including Harlan's donation of signed copies of his I, Robot script (unpublished for years to come) to be auctioned for NOW. As well, a large number of program items were given a feminist perspective (continuing a trend of '70s Worldcons partially begun by Susan Wood at Discon II and MidAmeriCon and greatly increased at SunCon).

SFdom being what it is, this naturally did not meet with the approval of the entire membership, and various objections were voiced during the summer previous to the con by some members of the sf world who offered suggestions including the advocacy of the idea that the committee should replace Harlan for "politicizing" the Worldcon. The Fan GoH, Bill Bowers, disagreed with Harlan, and traveled the Midwestern con circuit that summer, giving "practice speeches" alluding to his differing ideas with his fellow GoH. The European GoH, Josef Nesvadba, was unable to obtain governmental permission to attend, and was not heard from on the subject.

From the committee's, and most attendees' perspective, Harlan Ellison was an outstanding GoH, setting up shop in a transparent plastic tent in the Hyatt atrium (built by staffer Phil Paine) and writing story after story while on public display. Harlan was available to the attendees to the point of exhaustion on program item after program item. His contribution of a story to the program book was much appreciated by the committee, as were his numerous phone calls of support prior to the convention, even if staffers Anna Vargo and Phil Paine did have to drive from Phoenix to L.A. to obtain said story after Harlan missed several deadlines with ever-more-colorful explanation. (He cooked them hamburgers and let them sleep overnight on his couch while he "put finishing touches" on the story.)

IguanaCon was the first Worldcon to fully utilize a convention-center-and-multiple-hotels (chiefly the Hyatt, and Adams, with 7+ small overflows). With outdoor temperatures reaching past 110 degrees ("but it's a dry heat!"), the block-long concrete plaza it was necessary to cross to reach the Hucksters' Room, Art Show, and other events in the convention center was soon dubbed "The Anvil of God" and attendees learned the foolhardiness of attempting to go barefoot. Several mild heat strokes and faintings were treated, including one prominent writer, but nothing worse resulted. (One person did walk through a plate-glass window without serious injury.)

The first incident of the convention took place immediately upon the convention center being opened for set-up, when the management called a committee member into a bathroom to witness the most incredibly elaborate piece of artwork any present had ever seen on a toilet-stall door. "We love this," said the manager. "You'll have to pay for it, but we love it."

The first Worldcon to utilize a Hyatt-with-atrium, the spectacularly open interior view helped give the con a truly stfnal sense-of-wonder and served as the perfect gathering/meeting place with its countless nooks, crannies, and couches. On the down side, the committee had to cope with paper-airplane enthusiasts (wind currents would suck the planes into the elevator shafts and jam the system), laser enthusiasts, and others who didn't believe Newton the first time. Several youths decided that setting off the smoke alarms in the elevators was great entertainment — all were caught (two by Harlan), but the fire marshal got tired of traveling in to unlock the system. Attendees without memberships included a visiting bat ("It's not ours," a committee member told the hotel with a straight face). Conflicting reports of various non-sf celebrities in evidence, such as the entire Carradine family, Robert Wagner & Natalie Wood in disguise, and Gene Simmons of Kiss (in reality, one-time monster fan Gene Klein, but at IguanaCon an accomplished hoax), helped keep the con exciting for the committee.

More excitement was obtained from such events as the hotel's removal of a deadbeat fan, the drug arrest of a member of the sf community, and the FBI's visit to the huckster room in search of material in violation of movie copyright (this was the year after Star Wars). Contrary to popular rumors, the FBI team (one white, one black, one Hispanic, one woman) only spoke with three hucksters and merely requested that they cease selling some photos or possibly face later legal action. The hucksters complied, but colorful rumors spread of mass arrests, pornography prosecutions, censorship, dozens in handcuffs, the committee's use of the FBI to persecute "enemies," and worse.

The program, ably created and supervised by James Corrick and Patrick Hayden, was of unprecedented size, with 6-9 simultaneous tracks. The Nycon III concept of dialogues was successfully revived in an attempt to break out of the monotony of panels, with spirited discussions between Chip Delany & Robert Silverberg, Gordon R. Dickson & Andrew J. Offutt, Tom Monteleone & Jack C. Haldeman, Marta Randall & Elizabeth Lynn, and others. A Science Track was institutionalized. Another trend that we now take for granted was continued from its origination the previous year, that of a Fan Programming Track along with separate Fan Lounge, Neofan/History Display/Fanzine Sales Area, and Fanzine Production Room. As well, for the only time, a women-only "Place of Our Own" Lounge was provided. An Author's Forum for readings was institutionalized. The Film Program, although delightfully imaginative in selection, was, however, frequently off schedule.
The Masquerade was contracted out to "Boston Massaquerade, Uninc.," ably chaired by Ellen Franklin, and, in the luxurious setting of the Symphony Hall, was one of the most efficient and comfortable ever. The near-perfect match of audience to number of seats, however, led the committee to a concern that insufficient seats would be available the next night for the Hugos, leading to a Bad Decision to issue tickets for the Hugos. The resulting long line pleased nobody. The Art Show, while gifted with a profusion of splendid art, was unfortunately notable for its erratic, unpredictable, and short hours as well as confusion.

Tradition was broken at IguanaCon with the cessation of a Hugo Banquet and its replacement by the ceremonies in the Symphony Hall, and a Sunday afternoon Harlan Ellison Roast. The masquerade was video-taped, the Roast audio-taped, as were dozens of other program items that were made available for sale after the con. The blood drive originated at MidAmeriCon was continued, and the convention obtained the world premiere of the movie Watership Down. The business meeting was enlivened by the overlapping of "No Preference" on the site-selection ballot with the "Flushing In '80" hoax bid, although the suggestion of one committee member that speakers at the business meeting be first required to breathe helium before speaking was not acted upon. The Campbell Award line-up that year looks particularly impressive in retrospect: Orson Scott Card, Jack L. Chalker, Stephen R. Donaldson, Elizabeth A. Lynn, and Bruce Sterling.

And, in the most important area of the convention, the parties were splendid, aided by suites with two floors in the Hyatt, and David Hartwell being at the peak of the Timescape promotion budget. As well, one could look over the atrium, and see where the parties were. Although corkage on sodapop was imposed in the Adams, the committee arranged to sell it at $6/case there.

A time-traveller from the first decade of Worldcons to IguanaCon would be likely to have been stunned and overwhelmed by the profusion of events, and the number of people, but perhaps equally startled by the tremendous continuity with conventions of yore. For open-minded free-thinkers of the future, fans are a pretty conventional bunch of old farts.