Sam Moskowitz's Nolacon I Reminiscence

1951Nolacon I, New Orleans
Nolacon I: A Torrid Affair
by Sam Moskowitz
from the Noreascon Three PB

The Nolacon, [New Orleans, September 1, 2, 3, 1951 at The St. Charles Hotel. Chairman: Harry Moore. Guest of Honor: Fritz Leiber.
I flew down Saturday, September 1, 1951. The interesting thing was that the roundtrip fare was $250.00 by plane, and when I flew to the Nolacon II in 1988 the roundtrip fare (from Newark, N. J.) was $199.00! The plane made a stop at Washington, D.C., and Russell K. Long, son of Kingfish Huey Long, got on and sat down next to me. He was then the junior senator from Louisiana, very young, very friendly, and very likeable. I was then, as I am now, an international authority on food distribution and he was on a committee investigating food distribution and he asked questions and took notes like mad, sounding me out as to whether I might be willing to give testimony before his committee.
The combination of heat and humidity in New Orleans transcended belief. I had a great heat tolerance, but I had never experienced anything like this before. The singles in the St. Charles Hotel were four dollars a night and mine had a two-bladed fan slowly revolving in the ceiling. New Orleans had just discovered air conditioning and those rooms where it was installed or just in the process of installation went for six dollars. It was humanly impossible to sleep. Therefore, Bea Mahaffey (editor of Other Worlds for Raymond Palmer), Wilson Tucker, Ned McKeown, Marty Greenberg, Erle Korshak, Dave Kyle, Lloyd A. Eshbach, and others of the pros and semi-pros organized an all-night poker game. Outside the hotel, just breathing was like jamming one's head in the oven and turning the heat all the way up. At 4:00 am I bought an iced mug of root beer from a pushcart vendor. Between the time I paid him (five cents) and raised the mug to my lips, the ice had melted and the beverage was lukewarm.
The attendance was light. It was claimed that 144 registered that first day but I never saw more than 40 or 50 people at any session at one time. Guest of Honor Fritz Leiber delivered his feature address "The Jet-Propelled Apocalypse," which optimistically predicted a bright future for mankind as contrasted with the pessimistic atomic disaster stories that were being published (including several by Leiber himself). The complete talk, as was the entire convention, was taped by Franklin M. Deitz, who transcribed and published it in Luna #3, 1963. I gave a feature address titled "Fan and the Universe" in which I identified avid science fiction fans from Lucian before the birth of Christ up to the period before science fiction magazines. This was serialized with some amplification in Redd Boggs' Skyhook, Autumn and Winter 1953/54. E. Everett Evans elaborated on fandom by giving examples of the many fans who had gone on to become authors, editors, artists, publishers (350 of them). It appeared in Luna #1, 1962.
A real donnybrook developed, kindled by those who did not want to permit a scheduled session on Dianetics to be held. It finally went on, retaining 27 people.
At 12:00 pm the big convention coup took place, the premiere showing of 20th Century Fox's The Day the Earth Stood Still, based on Harry Bates' outstanding novella from Astounding Science-Fiction, "Farewell to the Master." The Saenger Theatre was within walking distance and being air-cooled was preferable to the hotel (air-cooling has giant fans blowing air over blocks of ice and circulating it throughout the theatre. This method is employed on some passenger trains to this day). The late showing was due to scheduling the event after the theatre had closed for normal business. All expenses were paid by the movie producers. A second coup, also arranged by Dave Kyle, was the world premiere of When Worlds Collide, based on Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's novel of the same name. This had to be shown on a rented, small projector, and frequent stops to change reels, as well as poor sound and projection, greatly impaired its presentation.
The banquet was $2.50 a head with Robert Bloch master of ceremonies. He had prepared an acridly satirical report on the unfair and unfavorable reports newspapers had given of past conventions. He intended to hand this as a general release to New Orleans papers. The leading paper the Times-Picayune had a full time reporter, with a write up every day of the convention, before and after, and all favorable. The other two papers also did a fine reporting job. The release was never passed out.
There were six bids for the next world convention — Chicago, San Francisco, Niagara Falls, New York, Atlanta, and Detroit — and the competition was especially keen since the attendance was small. It finally, through vote, became a contest between the top two, Chicago and Atlanta. Chicago won, setting the stage for the first convention with an attendance over 1,000, in part due to a little dynamo of a woman, Judy May, who was engaged to marry Thaddeus Dikty, partner with Erle Korshak in the specialty science fiction publishing firm of Shasta.
Another woman who was spotlighted at Nolacon I was Lee Hoffman, publisher of the popular fan magazine Quandry. Up until the moment she arrived at the convention, no one suspected she was a young woman, and an extremely attractive one.
A precedent was set at this convention. Portions of the profits went to the next convention to give them a leg up, and money was donated to the Fantasy Veterans Association to provide free science fiction for fans serving in the armed forces overseas.