Milton A. Rothman's Philcon II Reminiscence

1953 — 11th Worldcon (Philcon II), Philadelphia
by Milton A. Rothman
From the Noreascon Three PB

It was only six years from Philcon I to Philcon II, which was called the 11th Worldcon because the nomenclature had not yet been standardized. We must have been gluttons for punishment doing it again so soon, but we were young and innocent and never did it again. Jim Williams was supposed to be chairman, but he died suddenly soon after making the bid, and left me holding the bag. That's how I got to be a Worldcon chairman twice. Normally I would have been totally insane to start such an undertaking at that time. When preparations started I was finishing my Ph.D. dissertation, and by convention time I was working at my first full-time job as a physicist.
It was Philadelphia's first exposure to a really big convention (750 attendees) and we were not ready for it. We were doing everything for the first time, but we did our best, hiring the Bellevue-Stratford, Philadelphia's most elegant hotel, which wasn't quite ready for us, either. The program booklet was photo-offset instead of mimeographed, and we had, for the first time, a separate room for a science fiction art exhibit. Willy Ley was guest of honor, and one of my greatest pleasures was making friends with such a remarkable and elegant person.
Sam Moskowitz, of course, did the auction. Among scheduled talks were "The Future of Love," by Irvin Heyne, and "SF and the Kinsey Report," by Philip Jose Farmer, author of "The Lovers." At that time heterosexuality was just coming out of the closet.
In general, Philadelphia conventions tried to uphold a tradition of high-level programming. Accordingly, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, and Lloyd Eshbach spoke on "Science Fiction as a Career," while Bob Tucker moderated a discussion on "Fans Who Have Become Pros." At that time women in science fiction were enough of a novelty to have a panel on "Women in Science Fiction," with Bea Mahaffey, Katherine MacLean, Evelyn Gold, and Evelyn Harrison. (Later to become Evelyn del Rey? Memory, where are you?)
Fletcher Pratt spoke on "Robots and Computing Machines." It seems quaint to think of a computer as a machine. The terminology clearly referred back to the mechanical computers such as the differential analyzer at MIT and the fire-control devices I encountered in the Ordnance service. A panel described as "A discussion by our own scientists" on "Is Science Catching Up with Science Fiction?" was chaired by Thomas S. Gardner. Apparently this was a perennial topic among Philly's fledgling scientists. There was a banquet with Isaac Asimov as toastmaster, giving his usual rouser of a speech. At the banquet we presented the Hugo awards for the first time.
Earlier in the year we had created the space-rocket design (copied from Willy Ley) for the award statuette. We had then assigned the task of producing the statuettes to one of our committee members. Comes the end of the summer and we find that the person in charge of awards was away and unreachable, and apparently he had never even started the process of getting them made. And we had less than a week to go. It was Jack McKnight who came to the rescue. An expert machinist, he turned the little rockets out of stainless steel in his own shop, learning to his dismay that soldering stainless-steel fins was a new art. While doing this poor Jack missed the whole convention, but turned up just in time for the banquet and the presentation.
I guess that a lot of people had a good time. Yrs truly, the chairman, found the whole effort so stressful that he gave up fandom entirely. But 50th anniversaries are not to be missed, so here I am.