The Stranger Club
by Art Widner
As we got out of our time machine on February 18, 1940, I said to Louis Russell Chauvenet (at whose home the embryo Stranger Club had its first meeting), ‘Well, I told you ‘The Nameless Ones’ wouldn’t do. Fannish history, as we’ve seen from our trip ahead into 1987, will remember ‘The Nameless Ones’ as a Seattle fan group, publishers of the classic fanzine Cry (of the Nameless) in the 1950s.’
‘Yes, and if you really wanted to keep the record straight,’ added Francis Paro (editor of the bright new — kahumpf — fanmag, Fanfare), ‘why did you stop me from erasing that notation in the Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction?’
‘C’mon, Fran,’ I said. ‘You’ve read enough time travel stories to know that meddling with the future in even the smallest detail is an absolute no-no. … Oops, I meant absolutely forbidden. ‘No-no’ won’t become a popular phrase for twenty years yet. You must be extremely careful. Isn’t that right, Bob?’
As we were to turn to him for guidance many times in the coming years, I turned to R.D. Swisher, Ph.D., our senior member, chemist, personal friend of the Mightiest Campbell and author of a thousand-page treatise on time travel. ‘Absolutely,’ he agreed, then added, ‘If you have any doubts, just look at our two other founding members here.’ He motioned toward William Schrage and John Ferrari. ‘The rest of you didn’t notice, but they tried to bring back copies of Locus and SF Chronicle with them, but Art had already thrown the switch for our return trip. See! They’re beginning to fade already.’
And fade they did, pale wraiths who returned for the second meeting almost transparent and then were seen no more. That meeting transferred from the Chauvenet home in Cambridge to the Swishers’ in Winchester, where it stayed thenceforth, with occasional switches to Earl Singleton’s MIT dorm. The name of the club was changed to the clunky ‘Eastern Massachusetts Fantasy Society,’1 with dues of fifteen cents per meeting to finance Fanfare, which was to become the club organ and one of the top fanzines of the time.
Singleton, who joined at the second meeting and hosted the third, turned out to be the spark plug we needed, and may have been the one who suggested the name that finally stuck. I’m pretty sure that it was either he or Russ, since I never did read any of ‘The Man Who Awoke’ series by Laurence Manning until just recently. ‘The Stranger Club’ appears in these stories, I’m told, but I just ran across the fifth of the series, entitled ‘The Elixir’ (Aug ‘33 Wonder Stories), and no mention of TSC occurs. Even stranger, no mention of any elixir can be found except in the title and Gernsback’s extravagant blurb.
Singleton also provided something even more badly needed, an MIT ditto machine, Paro having lost the use of his high school mimeo. He did something silly — like graduating. Perhaps he read Doonesbury on the time trip and related to Zonker Harris. He resigned his editorship with the third issue in August and Singleton and I took over.
Like a comet, Henry Peter Earl Singleton dazzled fandom for less than a year, then abruptly was gone. Besides improving and strengthening the literate side of Fanfare, he brought out his own zine, Nepenthe, a fine collection of fantasy poetry that is still a landmark in that area. He attended Chicon I with me in 1940 and staged a whirlwind romance with Trudy Kuslan, one of the very few female fen of that time. Perhaps her head was quite turned because he was so unlike the ‘typical’ fan. Even taller and handsomer than his fellow Texan, Dale Hart (who was also a great hand with the ladies), he was the envy of the rest of us wimpy pimply adolescents.
Something had to give. In early February, 1941, a number of fen received the cold news that Earl had committed suicide by shooting himself. There was an outpouring of grief not seen since Stanley Weinbaum had gone untimely to his grave. Purple poetry appeared by the pound. Even Warner came out with a dedication. La Kuslan shed copious tears at the first Boskone, and even the lethargic Widner bought a hectograph and did the 6th issue of Fanfare in lovely lavender, magenta and jade, featuring eulogies by Doc Lowndes and Jack Chapman Miske. Perhaps memory exaggerates the bad as well as the good, but it seems like I had to do two masters of all 33 pages to get enough barely legible copies. I had nightmares for months afterward, and I think it had as much to do with my ultimate gafiation as did marriage and military service.
So you can imagine the bitterness that ensued when fandom found out that it was all a hoax. Unlike all the ‘Laneys’ of fandom before or since, Singleton was ‘above all that’ and cut the impervium cord with one swift stroke. Some thought it a classic jape, but others who really cared and had had their feelings wrenched around were reminded of Jim’s words to Huck Finn after he had been similarly fooled. ‘ … trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed.’ Unlike Huck, Earl never ‘humbled himself’ to apologize to us ‘niggers,’ but that was long ago, and if the committee succeeds in finding him and getting him to Noreascon 3, I wouldn’t mind hoisting one with him and rehashing that epic Chicon trip in the old ‘28 Dodge, ‘The Skylark of Woo-woo.’
An amusing sidelight to it all was that many fen hoaxed themselves later. They assumed that Oliver King Smith, a fringe fan and Singleton’s roomie at MIT, was also imaginary, but I can testify that he was real. I think he regretted letting Earl talk him into his part in the hoax. After Chauvenet smelled a rat (back in Virginia) I went to MIT and did a Perry Mason on OK, and he wasn’t nearly as good a liar as Mr. S. Many years later, Smith moved to LA and I met him at a Westercon. He told me that Earl was then a big veep in some Texas electronics outfit (and probably still is). OK Smith left us a year or two ago, and I doubt that that was a hoax. Those who want more details can find them in Harry Warner’s All Our Yesterdays.
There was never another hoax quite like it. Some have cited the two Tucker death hoaxes, but these were not perpetrated by Tucker. In fact, the second one almost cost him his job, but he never really soured on fandom. Curdled a bit, but not completely sour. He still likes to pull legs a bit, but never maliciously. (And if you’re one of those new-type, well-rounded fen, he’ll be quite friendly about it.) At Torcon II, he was a bit put off by the hordes of neos who knew nothing of fannish history and cared less. He egged me to go up and pretend to be him as MC and present a Hugo to somebody, as I was completely unknown at the time, except to him and a couple of other old-timers. ‘Go on. Nobody will know the difference.’ I considered it for a nanosecond or two, but not having his chutzpah, I didn’t egg very well. Um — what I did was — ah — chicken out.
In spite of the pall cast by the ‘pseuicide,’ as it came to be known, and the resulting lack of programming, the first Boskone was a success. It would be interesting if some historical statistician wanted to track it down, but I’d be willing to bet that it was probably ten years before there was another regional meeting where the outsiders outnumbered the locals. This was because ‘practically the entire active membership of the Futurian Society of New York,’ as Doc Lowndes wrote in Fanfare #6, came up for the affair. Other New Yorkers, such as Scott Feldman, Hyman Tiger, and Julie Unger, joined them, as well as the aforementioned Kuslan.
We didn’t know it, but we had invented the relaxicon. 20+ fen crowded into the Swisher home and started chattering away sixteen-to-the-dozen. The closest thing to any formalities was a discussion of the infant NFFF. Quoting Lowndes again: ‘Widner took the chair, while Dr. Swisher, as sgt-at-arms, remarked that there would be no motions from the floor. After the laughter died down, Lowndes remarking, ‘OK, Will,’ Widner went on. … ’
For those of you who have only been around a decade or two, the Futurians were a brilliant group of New York fen, soon to make their marks as pros. They included Lowndes, Fred Pohl, Don Wollheim, Dick Wilson, Cyril Kornbluth, David Kyle, et al. Of those not attending, Damon Knight (who was to write a book, The Futurians) was still on the West Coast and would join them much later. Isaac Asimov had never been a hardcore leftist or even a joiner, and was preoccupied with getting his own career off the ground, so he should be considered only a fringe-Futurian. I, Asimov, he was known as in the olden days.
Julie Unger, collector, dealer, and publisher of one of the best newsletters of that time, went to the Great Con in the Sky much too soon. I miss him. He was on both of the famous Widnerides as well. Scott Feldman is now better known as Scott Meredith, ace agent.
Why the laughter? And who was ‘Will’? Well, as bona fide Commie intellectuals, the Futurians were noted for their intense politicking and belief that sf should be influenced by ideology, especially theirs. Swisher and I were concerned that their tendency to parliamentary haggling at the drop of a hat could spoil the affair for others. ‘Will’ was Will Sykora, head of the Sykora-Moskowitz-Taurasi triumvirate who ran the Queens Science Fiction League chapter (QSFL) and thus most of New York fandom until the Futurians seceded (or were kicked out, depending on which side you listened to). SMT had also controlled the First Worldcon in 1939, and refused admittance to their arch-enemies. Sykora was probably the most dictatorial of the three, altho I would part company with the Futurians in calling him a ‘fascist.’ In fact, Sykora & Co had been invited to the Boskone, but they politely declined. This was sneered at by the Futurians, but with 20/20 hindsight, I wonder now if both factions weren’t engaging in Byzantine maneuvers we innocent Bostonians were unaware of. Perhaps the Futurians came en masse just to make sure the QSFL troops didn’t do the same and ‘put something over on them.’ The Qs had the greater numbers, but most of them lacked the aggression of their leaders, and since they could not recruit enough to make the trip north, elected to avoid a confrontation. Maybe the wise counsel of Moskowitz prevailed. At any rate, I’m glad the Qs didn’t show. There probably would have been a fistfight, altho Swisher and I were bigger than anyone there, except for Tiger, who could bend half dollars between thumb and forefinger. But he, no doubt, would have joined the peace-keepers had we needed any. I wouldn’t be surprised that Swisher was hip to all this, and defused the situation with his dry wit. I was a pretty innocent booby in those days.
That innocence explains my grabbing Damon Knight’s NFFF kickoff and running like crazy with it. I should have known as soon as the discussion veered off the main topic of how we could avoid tinhorn dictators seizing power and ruining the organization. We were soon talking about how TDs had ruined the QSFL. Even though it was finally agreed that Eternal Vigilance and All That was the only way to ‘prevent petty power politics’ as Lowndes alliteratively put it, there remained a heavy emphasis on constitutions and organizational machinery, for which I bear a great deal of the blame. Not only was the bad example of the QSFL and squabbles in LASFS before us, but Mundania was cranking up for World War II as the result of the ‘inexplicable’ rise of such madmen as Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco.
On the other hand, I turned out to be substantially right. I was quite astonished when I resumed going to Worldcons and found that the NFFF was still alive and kicking. Not only that, but the good-hearted fuggheads running the Welcome Room were pathetically eager to induct me into the mysteries of Trufandom about which they didn’t know a blessed thing!
I felt exactly like Wells’ Time Traveler when Eloi took him to the library where the books turned to dust at his touch. I never let on Who I Was, but questioned them about the organization and its purposes. They made glib but vague replies, until it became clear that it didn’t matter to them any more than it matters to a Valley Girl who Thomas Paine was. Not that I’m any Tom Paine, but it’s a little hard to think of yourself as Joe Nobody.
Far from being taken over by little Hitlers, the NFFF seems to have suffered the opposite fate. Although it has achieved far more than even I thought it would, it seems to be a rather ho-hum, cobwebby outfit that very few pay much attention to.
I believe it was at a Norwescon that I wandered into the SFWA suite and spotted Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm sitting by themselves waiting for something to happen. (I had last seen Damon in New York Central Park 40 years before, as we rowed a boat around the lake and played TSOHG, which is a spelling game spelled and played backwards, one of the ways the Futurians had fun at that time when they weren’t wife-swapping. I stuck him on ‘osteomyelitis,’ which he should have gotten, since it was the disease from which fellow-Futurian Johnny Michel suffered.) We had both changed considerably, and I only recognized him because he was famous and had his picture in Locus. He didn’t recognize me as I sat down nearby. I kept mum and gave him a chance to see past the wrinkles and gray beard, but he apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort and resumed talking to Kate.
I say I was substantially right, because, even though NFFF didn’t reach the glorious heights we dreamed of, the WSFS did come along when it was needed, and filled one of the main purposes Knight and I had in mind, to be a responsible outfit that could deal with mundania, borrow money, sign contracts and all Big Time stuff like that.
The next red letter day in TSC history came on April 27th, when John W. Campbell showed up for a visit with the Swishers. I had recently acquired a snappy red and black ‘35 Ford V8 in anticipation of assembling a carload of fen for the forbidding trek to Denver and the third Worldcon, so I stopped in Whitman to pick up fringe fan Jack Bell to show off my new wheels. At the time I was living in Bryantville, a tiny hamlet not far from Plymouth. The Stranger Club was indeed ‘strange’ in that (after Paro left) ‘the Boston group’ hadn’t a single member residing in Boston, and the director didn’t even live in the Metropolitan area!
Not too many showed up, probably because Swisher was rather quiet about it, knowing that if it were widely known that Campbell was there, Mrs. Swisher wouldn’t be doing much but baking tons of her famous pecan buns for a horde of voracious teen-agers.
So it was that besides the Swishers there were only Art Gnaedinger (son of Mary Gnaedinger, editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries), Chan Davis, his cousin Allen, Bell, and myself to wallow in an afternoon and evening with the Great Man. And wallow we did, for twelve hours, as it turned out. I had a bad case of hero-worship, and Jack didn’t succeed in dragging me away until 2:30 am, with everybody else propping their eyelids up with toothpicks.
The program was interesting, with many Europeans spea Campbell played us like delicate instruments and we loved it; at least I did. He predicted that the war (which we weren’t even in yet) would be decided by (gasp) atomic power. Four years later I remember quite vividly walking along the streets of Lawrence, Mass., with some army buddies from the Climatic Research Lab and passing a newsstand where the headlines screamed: ATOMIC BOMB USED ON JAPAN! ONE BOMB DESTROYS ENTIRE CITY! I remembered Campbell’s prediction and the awed discussion that followed, and started babbling excitedly to my fellow-GIs. ‘It’s the end of the war! It’s not just the end of the war — it’s the beginning of a whole new age! It’s yabba dabba gibble gabble! Hoohah!’
My friends looked at me disgustedly as I stood there gibbering and pointing to the news pa per. ‘C’mon, Art,’ they said. ‘You’ve been reading too much of that crazy Buck Rogers stuff again. It’s just another big bomb — no big deal.’
‘But — but — ’ I sputtered. ‘A whole city! Read it yourself! Look!’ It was like Galileo telling the church fathers to look through the telescope. They physically took hold of me.
‘Art!’ said one, waving his fingers close to my eyes. ‘Pay attention! We’re going to play pool — remember? Pool, Art. You know how you like to play pool. We’ll just shoot a little pool and it’ll clear your head.’ To the others: ‘Just bring him along; once he gets the cue in his hand he’ll be all right.’ And they dragged me around the corner to the pool room, still feebly protesting.
What didn’t we talk about that wonderful evening with Campbell? Shoes and ships and photographs, van Vogt slans and other things, among which is my favorite piece of Campbell Machiavelliana. He swore us to absolute secrecy just in case Heinlein might get wind of it. RAH was just hitting his stride, and Campbell knew that he was going to be one of the greats. But Heinlein was already getting bored with the whole business and wondering if perhaps he couldn’t turn his talents to something more interesting. He had an income of sorts, and the top dollar Campbell could afford to pay, even with bonuses, was no longer sufficient to keep him tied to his typewriter. With diabolical ingenuity, JWC threw out hints of the complexities, the fascinations, the satisfactions of photography as a hobby. He got RAH hooked, who immediately went into it whole hog, going into hock for all the latest equipment, books, etc. Then he had to get busy and churn out stories for Campbell to pay for it all. That worthy sat back and rubbed his hands with glee at the thought of it, and we all know the rest.
Art Gnaedinger returned in May to become the star of that meeting. He was attending Harvard and involved in radio dramatizations, and had made a recording of an old Amazing story, ‘The Talking Brain,’ by M.H. Hasta. The story wasn’t much, but the recording, in those days before TV, tape, or even wire recording, was Big Stuff, and we were all properly impressed. Even with Swisher’s state of the art phonograph (no stereo, either, folks) they had some difficulty getting a 15-inch platter to work, but they solved it to a round of cheers. Art was embarrassed at all the praise and aw-shucksed that it twarn’t nothin’ but a rehearsal and he wished he could have got ‘The Country of the Blind,’ which was much better, onto a disc, but hadn’t been able to. We wished he hadn’t told us that.
Fanfare began to hit its stride with the eighth issue. I had purchased a simple Sears Roebuck mimeo with money from the club treasury, and learned how to use it on #7. Number eight blossomed out in color, no less. The Decker, Indiana, group was setting fandom on its ear with a beautiful fanzine called Pluto, and I was green with envy. Besides that, I put red and blue into Fanfare. The contents were getting better as well. We now had five of the best columnists in fandom: Joe Gilbert (South Carolina), Harry Warner, H.C. Koenig, Chauvenet (who converted his perzine, Detours), and one Ritter Conway, who snidely savaged F. Orlin Tremaine, Larry Farsaci, Fred Pohl, Joe Gilbert, and a couple of others all in three pages. Get the clue? Yes, it was Damon Knight, who, unfortunately, had just moved to New York and shortly moved on to better things, so he was seen no more in our pages.
I say ‘our pages,’ but I should be honest and admit that Fanfare was becoming increasingly my fanzine, and isolated as I was down in the boonies, I did most of the work and began even to think of it as ‘my’ mimeograph. I was supposed to keep it and pay back the money to the club, but I never did, and nobody ever questioned me about it except Bell, and that jokingly, just to give me a bad time. I still have it out in the garage in the same crate it came to California in. That was in 1948. I’m going to get it out and restore it to working order Real Soon Now. Hmm. Maybe for my 50th Annish … Naaahh.
In June we had author Robert Arthur as guest — again, a friend of Swisher’s. In late July Bell and I retold our adventures on the epic Denveride. Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement) attended his first meeting and I like to think that we interested him enough so that he became a regular member. More about Harry in a separate article.
In August we had George Foster, mainly, I think, because I went over to Stoughton to pick him up and bring him to the meeting. He had no wheels, and transport from Stoughton to Winchester was about as eccentric as he was. He was an older man, and I was never quite sure whether he was an oddball genius or a genuine nut case. He had a sort of Jesus fixation, but unlike all the other religious nuts I’ve run into, he carried it off well. I wouldn’t have bothered with him if he hadn’t. Where the usual ID problem will harangue you about your sins and how the only way to save yourself is to give him complete control of everything, George acted a lot more Jesus-like. I believe he was bright enough to have been an engineer, but he felt that it was his destiny to remain a humble window-washer so that he wouldn’t be corrupted by material temptations. He had a lot of strange, but possibly workable, ideas which he would expound upon only if asked. I could go on about him if anybody is interested, but the reason I mentioned him is that at the meeting, E. Everett Evans, Chairman of the NFFF Planning Board, had asked us by letter for ideas for NFFF functions. George came up with the idea of a welcoming committee for new fans, and I understand that has been one of NFFF’s most notable achievements over the years.
In September we again heard from Evans with thirteen points he wished a vote on. Most of them passed, but I was subject to considerable heckling from Bell and Swisher, a forerunner of the organization vs. anarchy schism that still splits fandom today. Chauvenet, then President of the NFFF, couldn’t follow all the chaffing and two-bit repartee because of his deafness, and went to sleep under the piano until it was time to eat.
Feldman and Tiger visited again on Labor Day, but I was the only one around to meet with them. It seems strange to talk about Labor Day with no Worldcon, but that’s the way it was. We wandered around town, bugging bookstore clerks with requests for The Necronomicon and other such fannish twittery.
It was nice to have Chauvenet back in town. He had been studying at the University of Virginia, and now was taking some time off to try his hand at sf writing and to build a small sailboat. I had just made my first sale to Weird Tales, and I guess he figured that if I could sell a story, anybody could. We spent some time working together on the boat, but it was never finished, and he finally returned to Virginia, while I found a buyer to take over the project.
The Second Boskone got 1942 off to a good start. This time, the Sykoras came and the Futurians didn’t. The total attendance was about the same, but represented a much wider geographical area than the first Boskone. At least six different states besides Massachusetts were represented: Speer from Washington, DC, Gilbert, Jenkins, and Eastman from Columbia, SC, Bob Madle and Rusty (Barron) Hevelin from Philadelphia, Sykoras and a Charles Hidley from New York, Trudy Kuslan from Connecticut, and Bob Jones, Fanfare’s staff artist, from way out west in Columbus, Ohio.
This time we had a rudimentary program. I hired a hall and we had a proper meeting with entertainment and an art auction. ‘Suddsy’ Schwartz, one of our newer members, was determined to have a Virgil Finlay cover that had been donated by Mary Gnaedinger of FFM and the bidding was hot and heavy. He finally got it for $5.25. Later, he confided that he had been prepared to sacrifice his entire life savings of $9.20 if necessary. I later apologized in print for not having refreshments, since I was afraid we might lose our shirts, but we actually wound up a little ahead. I thought it would be nice for the members of Noreascon 3 to know that Boskones have always been solvent right from the very start.
The ‘business’ part of the meeting was largely taken up with discussion of certain proposals for the NFFF in a letter from Milty Rothman. It was ghodawful sercon. What to do about the Worldcon was livelier, with Sykora wanting another biggie for the East, but the majority favored giving the Pacificon committee a little more time to get their act together. As it turned out, the war interfered, and we never had the fourth Worldcon until 1946.
The ‘entertainment’ consisted of a ‘performance’ of Chauvenet’s Williamson parody, Legions of Legions, dramatic adaptation by yhos. Fortunately, the ‘cast’ had had little time to rehearse, since it consisted of just about anybody I could dragoon at the moment. Everybody had scripts, so the audience became prompters for the unhappy ‘actors’ when they fluffed their lines, which was often. The result was hilarious.
As the gas shortage worsened, many of the widely scattered Strangers took to bicycles. These included Harry Stubbs and Arseni Karpovitch as well as yhos. At the April 19th meeting I did over 80 miles by combining the meeting route with a jaunt out to Framingham to follow the marathon runners in. But Chauvenet remained the top cyclist without fear of any competition. Not only had he been to New York and back (inspiring me to try it later on — I took much longer) but when he returned to Virginia from Cambridge he pedaled — by way of Ohio! Later he was to wear me out on our wartime trip to Rockland, Maine, when we visited Norm Stanley.
Not that the quality of bull sessions at TSC meetings was ever low, but the addition of Thomas S. Gardner, Ph.D., to the club lifted those discussions to a new high. For me, it was the equivalent of a college education. Later, in California, I was to go through the official motions and get the degrees, but after TSC it was anticlimactic. Tom had a great idea for one of my polls that I intended to use, but never got around to. Maybe I should take pity on it RSN, slouching along, waiting to be born all this time. Considerably over term. This would be a poll on fen’s favorite sf characters. A quick canvas of those at that June meeting came up with Odd John and The Lieutenant, from Stapledon’s novel of the same name and L. Ron Hubbard’s Final Blackout. I would think they should still rate high even after all these years. Only Brother Francis leaps to mind to compete with them.
But speak of the Devil. The next meeting, with the exception of Boskones, hit the all time high in my memory. LRC and I were croggled when we arrived at the July meeting not only to find Campbell there, but that L. Ron Hubbard was coming as well!
I don’t quite know how to sum up that afternoon and evening. I have never seen anything quite like it. It had elements of an intellectual Laurel & Hardy act (which I don’t mean as a putdown, for I think of them as geniuses) but also on a higher level, something of a battle of wits between, say, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. Hubbard would toss up a ‘Probability Zero’ skeet and Campbell would promptly shoot it full of holes. Hubbard, with an ingenuity that left everybody but Campbell breathless, would immediately cover up every single hole and maybe stick a little flag on top just for good measure. Campbell would then shoot that down, Hubbard would reanimate the concept with even more outrageous props, etc., etc., etc.
Frances Nevada Swisher (Mrs.) was standing in the kitchen doorway, completely mesmerized by the show, which had been going on for about an hour. Suddenly she blinked, shook her head, and came back to reality. She retreated into the kitchen, checked the oven, then came back to the door, grinning evilly. ‘Pecan buns. Hot.’ she whispered, and that was that. Otherwise, I think the pair would have gone on all night.
Later, we were admiring Hubbard’s special diver’s watch (he was a Commander in the navy at the time), which was a real marvel for those pre-digital days. It had date, day of the week, barometric pressure, and you name it, all completely waterproof. We got a peek into the future of this charming conman as he told us how he used the watch to seduce waitresses in otherwise dull ports.
He would order a cup of coffee, then when her back was turned, hide the spoon and call her back. She would look a bit bemused, then: ‘Sorry sir, I’ll get you a spoon right away.’
As she turned to go, Hubbard would say ‘Never mind; I’ll just stir it with my watch.’ She would stare goggle-eyed as he calmly did just that, got a conversation going and the next thing she knew she was in bed with him.
Things started to go downhill from there. Next month, Tom Gardner ‘had to go’ back to his native Tennessee, perhaps to work at Oak Ridge, I never did find out. Harry Stubbs was nabbed by the navy just before Boskone III, February ‘43, and only three out-of-state fen made it to the con, so B3 was only a shadow of the previous ones.
The non-Strangers were Speer, Unger, and Bill Ryder from NYC. Nobody drove. No gas. Harry was to be the kingpin for the program, with a talk on the hypothesized planet near 61 Cygni, and it was too late to get someone else. Campbell failed to come through with originals, so there wasn’t even any auction. But we did have a Finlay cover from somewhere, and a Roy Hunt cover from Le Zombie, so we decided to have a game of INTERPLANETARY with the Finlay for a prize to the winner.
I had invented this board game and it was well received by the club, but like D&D and other modern games it took a LONGtime to play, so we soon tired of it. When I returned to fandom in the ‘70s, I was astonished to hear that it had become quite popular at Worldcons in the ‘60s, with fancy boards and pieces and all-night sessions to play it.
The reason it took so long is that it was a combination of a standard ‘race’ game and Monopoly. One had to get to a planet and bring back a cargo in order to finance a trip to the next distant planet where a still more valuable cargo would be obtained, etc., out to Pluto, which harbored ‘Immortality Dust,’ the game winner. The novel aspect was that the planets moved, making it difficult to land on one, plus such hazards as the ‘negasphere’ (from E.E.Smith epics — now known as a black hole) and pirates, to say nothing of falling into the sun, getting hit with space junk, etc. Jules Lazar, who later gained some fame in the LASFS, won the game with a series of fantastically lucky rolls, literally million-to-one odds.
Another million-to-one shot was the arrival of Claude Degler, who had gotten the date wrong from a mistake in Astonishing Stories publicity, got bogged down hitch-hiking, and thought that he had missed it, but decided to keep going and visit me in Bryantville. He was going by an old Walt Daugherty directory and didn’t know that I had gotten married and moved back to Quincy. Degler had walked by the hall earlier, all unknowing that Boskone was just getting started, and passed through Quincy on his way south. There he noticed the address of a fan who had never done anything but write a couple of letters to Weird Tales, but this fan’s parents remembered that I had once come around trying unsuccessfully to coax their son into joining TSC. The only reason she remembered me is that I married the daughter of her neighbor across the street, which still wouldn’t have done Degler much good except that my wife was visiting her mother and knew how to get in touch with me.
With my new family taking up most of my spare time and the sword of the draft hanging over me, Fanfare became less and less frequent, only two issues being published in 1942, and no minutes recorded after B3 that I know of. The little energy I had left I put into my fapazine YHOS, and the above mentioned bike trip with Russ Chauvenet.
Harry Warner chronicles that there was a fourth Boskone with Milty Rothman and Norm Stanley present, but I remember none of it because the much more traumatic event of my induction into the armed services was to be a week later. I was lucky, however, because I was ‘volunteered’ to be a technician-guinea pig at the newly formed Climatic Research Lab in Lawrence, Mass., where I remained until VE day, getting home nearly every weekend, but not doing much fanac except YHOS, and even that petered out in 1945. There was another small con in Salem, put on by a Doris Currier, but I don’t remember much about that one, either.
In 1946, I got out, but having no car, I had to hitch-hike to the long-postponed Pacificon. The excuse I gave my wife was that I wanted to visit my parents, who had moved out in 1942, and look over the country for a possible move ourselves. Again, as far as I can recall, no other Strangers went to the fourth Worldcon or to Philcon in 1947, which I also attended. In 1948, we moved to LA and I gafiated completely, except for parties with Laney, Burbee, and other Insurgents. I’m afraid that the good old Stranger Club went out, ‘not with a bang, but a whimper’ unlike many other fanorgs. Perhaps Harry or Chan Davis will chronicle the final days for you; I can’t.
But while it lasted, The Stranger Club was the best. Unlike many of the early organizations, there was remarkably little of the dissension and petty politicking that other groups suffered from. And this was not because the membership was bland or stuffy. On the contrary, I have seldom been associated with a livelier or more interesting bunch of people in the forty years since. It was once a ‘proud and lonely thing to be a fan,’ but for me, The Stranger Club took the lonely out and kept the proud.