Ah, Wilderness: Forty Years of Colorado Fandom

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By Don C. Thompson from the Denvention 2 Program Book[edit]

Forty years?!? Has there really been fannish life in Colorado for that long?

Well, incredible as it may seem to some people who have been only dimly aware of life of any kind in Colorado for that long, fannish activity in the state goes back almost to the beginning of fandom itself.

The Science Fiction Fan, which became a widely respected fanzine, was first produced by Denver's Olon Wiggins in 1936. In the minuscule world of fandom, Wiggins became as well known as Forrest J Ackerman, Charles Hornig, Jack Speer, Don Wollheim and Sam Moskowitz.

Moskowitz gives a significant amount of space to Wiggins in The Immortal Storm, his thunderous history of fandom in the '30's, but feuds were at least as common back then as they are today. If Moskowitz ever had a kind word for Wiggins, you won't find it in TIS.

According to All Our Yesterdays, Harry Warner's more subdued history of fandom in the '40's, Wiggins was so firmly identified with Colorado fandom that when three other young Denverites, Chuck Hansen, Roy Hunt, and Lew Martin, started publishing The Alchemist in 1940, many fans in other parts of the country assumed that the whole thing was an Olon Wiggins hoax and that he had simply invented the names.

They were wrong. Hansen, Hunt, and Martin were very real fans (and still are). They attended high school together, discovered SF together, and have remained the core of what must certainly be the most stable fan group ever—the Colorado Fantasy Society.

The CFS was initially organized for the sole purpose of putting on Denvention in 1941, but there had been a purely fan group, the Denver Science Fictioneers, briefly in 1940.

What happened was that exactly half of Denver fandom — Wiggins and Martin — hopped a boxcar and spent the Labor Day weekend of 1940 in Chicago, attending the second World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon I. Chuck Hansen and Roy Hunt stayed home. When the others returned, they brought the joyous news that Denver would host the 1941 Worldcon.

Apparently, according to all extant versions of the story, the Denver bid was totally unplanned. At the afternoon business session on the second day of Chicon, the subject of discussion was the site of the next year's con. New York, Cleveland, and Chicago groups made bids. Los Angeles and Philadelphia groups were asked to bid but sensibly declined. Martin was observing the proceedings with minimal interest when to his astonishment the revered leader, Olon Wiggins, rose to his feet and offered Denver as a compromise. The compromise of course was accepted, and the pair returned to Denver to start making plans.

The Denver group had one advantage over modern con-sponsoring fans: They didn't have as long a time to worry about it. Chicon was in September 1940; Denvention was over the fourth of July weekend in 1941. Ten months. Lew Martin quit his job to work full-time on the con. The Colorado Fantasy Society was hastily organized as a support group. Help was recruited from whatever sources possible. Forrest Ackerman was a tireless worker on the West Coast and was responsible for getting the GoH. Don Wollheim was one of the "secretaries at large," and Robert Lowndes, Paul Freehafer, Bob Tucker, J. Michael Rosenblum and Vol Molesworth were listed as representatives.

Chuck Hansen worked as hard on the con as anyone else in Denver, and then was sent out of town by his employer, so he missed the con.

Walt Daugherty took over the chores of master of ceremonies for most of the events at the con.

GoH at Denvention was Robert Heinlein, whose speech, "The Discovery of the Future," was long remembered, discussed, praised and quoted both by those who heard it and those who heard about it. Forry Ackerman still speaks of it as the best GoH speech he ever heard.

Official figures for the first Denvention show an attendance of about 90, but Tucker, who ran detailed accounts of it in Le Zombie, insists that the actual attendance was closer to 65—maybe 75, counting walk-ins.

Denvention had at least one or two innovations. Some of the events were filmed with a 16mm movie camera and edited with commentary added by Roy Hunt. Walt Daugherty brought recording equipment from Los Angeles and made some 65 discs of the programming.

Worldcons have led to the extinction or splintering of any number of local fan groups. The tensions and pressures are often just too much. It didn't happen in Denver.

The Colorado Fantasy Society, which had exploded from an original membership of about four to more than a hundred in order to get Denvention accomplished, immediately shrank back to the small economy size when the con was over, and it has endured through the years almost intact. Bob Peterson from Wyoming was stationed in Denver during the war and became a permanent CFS member. Olon Wiggins dropped out of the group in the '40's, attending meetings occasionally and maintaining a loose association with it, but taking little active role in fandom, either local or national, after Denvention.

Others who have been in the CFS at one time or another over the years but are no longer in it include Stan Mullen, Paul Denis O'Connor, Charles Schneeman, Camille Cazedessus and Emile Greenleaf.

Members currently active (in the sense of getting to most of the meetings; the CFS credits its longevity to the fact that it doesn't do anything too active) are Hansen, Hunt, Peterson, Norm Metcalf and Bob Alvis. Lew Martin still lives in the area and is still a member of the CFS, but is not a regular attendee. The group meets every Saturday evening at the home of one of the members.

The CFS, since 1941, has been content to remain a very small group of close friends sharing mutual interests. The subject of doing anything as ambitious as getting involved in another Worldcon simply never comes up at their meetings.

When Camille Cazedessus moved to Denver in the mid-1960's and started contacting local fans, he discovered the CFS because that was all the organized fandom there was. Caz, publisher of ERB-dom, tried to talk the CFS into expanding its membership and becoming a "real" fan club.

The resistance to that idea was absolute.

Undaunted, Caz, using the mailing list of a New York SF book distributor, contacted all the area fans he could and announced the formation of a brand new Denver Area Science Fiction Association.

On the evening of Dec. 21, 1968, in a raging blizzard, DASFA was born.

About 20 people showed up for that first meeting. It was the same night the first manned space capsule swung around the moon.

DASFA has been meeting regularly since then on the third Saturday of each month at 7:30 p.m. Most meetings are in the basement of the Southwest State Bank at 1380 S. Federal. The exceptions are in August, when there's a picnic, and December, when there's a Christmas orgy.

Caz remained the dominant figure in DASFA throughout its first year because he had, after all, won a Hugo (some members didn't even know what a Hugo was at first), and he had a huge collection of books and magazines, and he was a dealer. It was a pleasure to visit his home in Evergreen.

If Caz ever had any intention of turning DASFA into some kind of personal power base, it never really showed. He got the group organized, led some of the more naive members around by the hand for a while, provided rudiments of a fannish education to most of them—and then let the group go its own way.

Caz became less and less of a personal influence, attending meetings less and less frequently, and finally moved away from Denver entirely.

In the fall of 1969, because a few DASFA members had been to one or two real conventions, the program was a "demonstration con." Everyone came to the meeting in costume; Caz had set up a single huckster table; there was an art show and an auction; there were no panels, but there was a film. And of course there was a party afterwards. Practically a whole con-weekend's worth of experience crowded into a few hours.

It was so much fun that the next year the "demonstration con" took all of Saturday afternoon and evening, and the third year it was moved into a motel and started becoming MileHiCon. As Caz started fading into the background, other Denver fans emerged to take his place of leadership.

Easily everyone's favorite was Doris (the Elder Ghoddess) Beetem, who, with her two daughters Rose and Doris the Younger (or Dee), formed a natural nucleus for the fannish element. Doris the Elder became the second director of DASFA, and she was an influential leader on a quiet, personal, face-to-face basis, but she refused to stand up in front of the group and conduct meetings that way. She delegated that job to Judith Brownlee (who later became director in her own right and was the driving force behind the development of the MileHiCons for several years).

Close friends of the Beetems and of Judith Brownlee and part of that circle were Gail Barton, DASFA's leading artist, and two young fans, Paul and Helen Angel, who came to the meetings dragging their reluctant but tolerant mother, Helen.

Don C. Thompson, much older than most of the other fans, was respected because of his long gray beard and because he had a largish book and magazine collection himself.

In the fall of 1971, Paul Angel, in his frustration at not being able to get into SLAN-APA right away, decided to form D'APA, consisting of himself and a few other DASFA members.

Among those he invited to join was Don C. Thompson, an event that altered the course of Thompson's life drastically and permanently. His contribution to D'APA, Don-o-Saur Coprolites, became DON-o-SAUR a couple of years later, and DON-o-SAUR got Thompson a total of five Hugo nominations (four for best Fan Writer, one for best Fanzine); and that in turn is what led directly to his becoming co-chair of Denvention 2.

Denvention 2 was not a direct or inevitable offshoot of DASFA or the MileHiCons.

DASFA stabilized with a membership of about 70; MileHiCon remained a fairly small "relaxacon" with a little more emphasis on programming than Bubonicon or BYOBcon, but not much. The people who ran the MileHiCons year after year made it clear they didn't want it to get too big.

In fact, the closest thing to a bitter split in DASFA came on that issue.

At this point it's necessary to introduce Lois Newman into the story.

Lois Newman was in some ways the successor to Caz. Both had national reputations before moving to Denver. Caz published ERB-dom and was a dealer from Louisiana. Lois was widely known as the proprietor of a book dealership in Los Angeles and as a fan active in Westercons. She was welcomed to Denver, and when she opened the world's largest SF bookstore in Boulder (it really was), she was doubly popular.

The bookstore became a sort of focal point for fans throughout the area, much more than DASFA ever was. Lois met fans who had never heard of DASFA and couldn't care less.

Lois had long dreamed of becoming a Worldcon chairman.

She was in a unique position to contact the other fans who could get excited about the concept of another Denver Worldcon and who would be willing to actually work on it.

Quietly and carefully, Lois put together the committee that, with few major changes except the departure of Lois herself, was to actually do Denvention 2.

Ed Bryant, Fred Goldstein, Suzanne Carnival, Bob and Phyllis Alvis, Don C. and Carolyn Thompson, Phil Normand, Charlotte Donsky, Gordon Garb ... all these original members of the committee are still involved. A few others have left, and dozens have been added, but the inner core has been remarkably stable.

Getting back to that threatened rupture in DASFA...

It was Lois's idea to use MileHiCon to get experience for a Worldcon, and to that end she volunteered to serve as chairman for MileHiCon in 1977, with her hand-picked committee. There was strong opposition to the idea, spearheaded by Judith Brownlee. The vote against Lois was nearly unanimous.

Lois and her committee then entered a bid for the 1979 Westercon, but by the time that was voted upon, Lois had left Denver and was of little or no help. Denver was crushed in the Westercon voting.

Don C. Thompson inherited the chairmanship of the Lois Newman committee, which seemed to have nothing left to do but create a whole new con to serve as a training ground for Denvention 2.

The first Penulticon was in November 1977, with Leigh Brackett and Frederik Pohl as Pro Guests of Honor and Bruce Pelz as Fan GoH. It was a surprisingly successful con, and it was followed by two more successful Penulticons that proved to fandom at large that Denverites were capable of putting on largish cons.

Colorado now has active fans throughout the state, and the numbers are increasing with Worldcon publicity. There are now fan groups in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Boulder and maybe still in Karval (where Rose Beetem organized Karvalcon while she was teaching in that tiny community).

The largest group of organized fans in the state (other than the Denvention 2 committee itself) is still DASFA, and the smallest is probably still the CFS.

Many DASFA members are also concom members, and two CFS members are on the concom. But the clubs as such are not officially involved in the Denvention planning.

And that fact is probably the best guarantee that there still will be fannish life in Colorado after Denvention 2 is a thing of the past

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