Sam Moskowitz' Pittcon Reminiscence

1960Pittcon, Pittsburgh
A Hugo for Hugo by Sam Moskowitz
From the Noreascon Three PB

September 2-5, 1960, Penn-Sheraton Hotel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Guest of Honor, James Blish. Dirce Archer, chairwoman.

A fine and enjoyable program was presented at the Pittsburgh convention, but it was memorable to me and historically important for several other reasons. First, a Hugo was struck and sent to Hugo Gernsback. He had never seen one and would probably have settled for a chance to just look at it, but it proved a generous gesture on the part of the convention committee to prepare an additional one for him. After all, there must have been years when he issued the best pro mag, unquestionably in 1926 when he produced the first. Though Gernsback was not present, the event was televised over station KDKA in Pittsburgh — particularly appropriate, since KDKA was the first commercial radio station in the United States, and Hugo Gernsback in publishing Modern Electrics, the first radio magazine in the United States, later to be followed by mass circulation Radio News, publicized radio station KDKA internationally and was perhaps the major factor in popularizing amateur radio in the United States in the early years of its existence.

It is always pleasant to know that someone actually appreciates a special award. Every Christmas Gernsback published a digest-sized 32-page magazine titled Forecast, filled with his predictions of the future and illustrated by Frank R. Paul, Virgil Finlay, Lawrence, and lesser-known artists. He mailed out 8,000 of these free of charge, and usually netted outstanding publicity. In 1961, he devoted the entire back cover to a photo of his Hugo with a short article written by me giving its history.

A second event of historical importance that occurred at Pittsburgh was the organizational meeting of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, a dream of Vernell Coriell, who had been publishing the Burroughs Bulletin, a magazine of exuberant scholarship, ever since 1947. This magazine became the official organ of the organization, and its members produced a score of Burroughs-related fan magazines that were outstanding for their research and scholarship. Every year they held a Dum Dum (that is what a convocation of the Great Apes was called by Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Tarzan books), usually in conjunction with the World Convention.

Their guests at these events rivaled the best the convention could produce, not excluding Edgar Rice Burroughs' sons, who had written and illustrated for the science fiction magazines; John Weismuller, Buster Crabbe, and lesser-knowns who had played the role of Tarzan on the screen; Hal Foster, creator of Prince Valiant, who had illustrated the early Tarzan comic strips for the newspapers; and a score of others of that calibre. The organizational meeting coincided with a new vogue of popularity for Edgar Rice Burroughs in the sixties that resulted in the sale of tens of millions of copies of his works in paperbacks, and they are still selling. In 1958, when Edgar Rice Burroughs had been written off by almost every important critic as a fading relic of Victorian-age adventure, I wrote for Satellite Science Fiction a 6,000-word critique of Burroughs in which I placed him alongside H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as a major shaper of science fiction and went on record as stating that several of his works would become permanent literary classics. This may have even helped inspire the revival and made me a hero with the Burroughs Bibliophiles. When my book Under the Moons of Mars painstakingly documenting my assertions was announced (1970), I was made Guest of Honor at the annual Burroughs Bibliophile Convention held at the St. Louiscon in 1969 and previewed many of my findings obtained from the actual archives of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate.

The last Dum Dum of The Burroughs Bibliophiles took place at the Atlanta World Science Fiction Convention in 1986. Vern Coriell had suffered a stroke and died some time afterward, and so did The Burroughs Bibliophiles. One of the charter members, made treasurer of the Burroughs group at the Pittsburgh convention, was a young man named Charles Reinsel, who for some years published a Burroughs magazine called Norb's Notes. In 1986, The Pittsburgh Courier carried the story that he had shot to death his former wife and her husband and had been sentenced to life for the former and five to 10 years for the latter, the sentences to run consecutively.

Daniel Keyes, author of "Flowers for Algernon," made one of his rare appearances at the convention. He was then a short, pudgy, pleasant man. I asked him why he didn't try to put together a book of his short stories and he replied he felt they were below the level of quality he wanted associated with his name. Having, through the years, grown impatient with this inverse form of egotism, I asked him why he had permitted them to be sold at all, since some had appeared since "Flowers for Algernon," and he merely shrugged. I have found, too frequently, that an author is not always the best judge of which of his stories are worthwhile, and told him so.