Donald A. Wollheim

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Don and Elsie Wollheim at Lunacon 22, 1979. Photo by Ben Yalow.

(October 1, 1914 – November 2, 1990)

Donald Allen “Don” Wollheim (aka DAW and The W) was one of the founders of fandom, a BNF, editor, publisher, and writer. He sometimes used the pennames Allen Zweig, David Grinnell, Millard Verne Gordon, Martin Pearson and Braxton Wells, among others. As a pro, he was GoH at Nolacon II, the 1988 Worldcon.


Wollheim was a founder of the Futurians, and was a major influence on the early development of fandom. He found sf in 1927 through Amazing. He became active in the International Stf Guild in the Spring of 1934 and locally in the New York City branch of the ISA.

While the Futurians were by far the most influential, he was also involved in many other clubs. He was VP and editor of the TFG, treasurer and last president of the ISA, and chairman of the CPASF.

Wollheim published and edited many fanzines including Fanciful Tales of Time and Space, Fanciful Tales (with Wilson Shepherd), and Bolide.

The majority of the attendees of the world's first science fiction convention in 1936, from left: Oswald Train, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, Frederik Pohl, John B. Michel, William S. Sykora (holding the NYB-ISA flag), David A. Kyle, and Robert Madle. They're standing in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Photo by Herbert E. Goudket.

His deep importance to early fandom is described in The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz and in The Futurians by Damon Knight. He helped organize the first science fiction convention in 1936 in Philadelphia.

In 1935, he founded IAOPUMUMSTFPUSA, Unltd., with himself as Grand High Cocolorum, launching the First Staple War.

In 1937, he helped found the Fantasy Amateur Press Association and in 1938, he helped found the Futurians.

Throughout this period, he was right in the center of fannish controversy as one of the Quadrumvirs and leader of the Wollheimists. He read John Michel’s infamous political speech, "Mutation or Death!" at the Third Eastern Science Fiction Convention and was one of the fans excluded from the First Worldcon. He invented Ghu, the Yobber and Dawnish.

He was one of the founders of FAPA and served as both president and OE. He was a director of the British Science Fiction Association.


Wollheim's first story, "The Man from Ariel," was published in the January 1934 issue of Wonder Stories. He was not paid for the story, and he learned that other authors hadn't been paid either and said so in the Bulletin of the Terrestrial Fantascience Guild and finally sued Gernsback, who expelled him from the New York Science Fiction League for being a "disruptive influence".

During the 1940s and ’50s he became a moderately successful, though minor, SF writer, but his real professional influence was as an editor and publisher. Robert Silverberg said that Wollheim was "one of the most significant figures in 20th century American science fiction publishing... A plausible case could be made that he was the most significant figure — responsible in large measure for the development of the science fiction paperback, the science fiction anthology, and the whole post-Tolkien boom in fantasy fiction."

Before World War II, he edited two prozines, Stirring Science Stories and Cosmic Stories, and in 1943 he edited the first science fiction anthology to be mass-market published, The Pocket Book of Science Fiction. In 1945, he edited the first hardcover anthology from a major publisher and the first sf omnibus, The Viking Portable Novels of Science as well as, in 1947, the first anthology of original sf, The Girl With the Hungry Eyes.

From 1947 to 1951, he was the editor at the pioneering paperback publisher Avon Books. He edited Out of This World Adventures, a pulp magazine, for two issues, in July and December 1950. OOTWA included a comic book insert along with its science fiction stories. In 1952, he left Avon for Ace Books, where he edited for the new paperback publisher, which remains a major publisher of SF to this day.

He may have singlehandedly created the modern fantasy market by bringing out the unauthorized United States paperback edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which triggered enormous controversy and probably caused the fantastically successful Houghton Mifflin paperback LotRs to be published.

In 1971, he left Ace to found DAW Books (an initialism for Donald A. Wollheim) with his wife, Elsie Wollheim. Their daughter, Betsy Wollheim, took over later. He also edited and published the popular "Annual World's Best Science Fiction" anthology from 1971 until his death in 1990.

He was a difficult man, but had excellent editorial judgment and helped start the careers of many important writers. One major writer, speaking at a memorial for him at Lunacon, described it this way: "I loved this man, but I did not like him."

Personal Life[edit]

In 1943, Wollheim married fellow Futurian Elsie Balter. Friends called them “the Wollies.”

“Wollheim’s courtship was slow,” recalled Damon Knight in Hell's Cartographers (Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison, eds.; Orbit, 1976). “Wollheim gave Elsie a friendship ring after about five years and after another three or four they were married (Telling me about the friendship ring, Elsie said, ‘And then, do you know what Donald did? He kissed me.’)”

Their daughter, Elizabeth Rosalind, was born in 1951.

Wollheim at Casa Susanna.

After DAW’s death, Betsy discovered that her father had been a frequent visitor, under the name Donna or Doris, to a cross-dressing men’s resort in the Catskills, where he took many photos, which she revealed in the 2022 documentary Casa Susanna. He was driven there by a supportive Elsie. He wrote a book about his experiences, A Year Among The Girls (Lyle Stuart, 1966), under the penname Darrell G. Raynor. If any of this was even hinted at in fandom at the time, we haven’t yet turned up any evidence.

More reading

Fanzines and Apazines:

Awards, Honors and GoHships:

From Fancyclopedia 1, ca. 1944
DAW Nickname for Donald A. Wollheim.
From Fancyclopedia 1, ca. 1944
Braxton WellsPename of Donald Wollheim.

Person 19141990
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