Year of the Jackpot

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From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959
(Heinlein:White) After a surprising lack of fan deaths during our previous thirty-odd years of mutual awareness, between January 1958 and January 1959 Henry Kuttner, Cy Kornbluth, Vernon McCain, F. Towner Laney, and E. Everett Evans -- veteran fans all, and the two former famous pro authors -- died of various natural causes, and Kent Moomaw and Bill Courval, promising younger fans, committed suicide. Since fannish newszines were widely circulated at this time, practically all the active fans got the news as a simultaneous shock; distress and gloomy comment was general.

"The Year of the Jackpot" reference was to the Heinlein story of that name (Galaxy, March 1952).

Some of us later generations, seeing just this entry, might be unsure which White Dick Eney was referencing as having re-purposed the name: technically, candidates might include James, Ted, Tom, even Tony and others. However, it was only Ted who was listed in the Fancyclopedia 2 title page acknowledgments; and Eney expanded the reasoning at the end of the entry Fanac:

From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959
[…] Oh, and also we note here Fanac: a news-and-chatter 'zine published by Terry Carr and Ron Ellik, begun 1958. It was part of the trend mentioned in the second sentence under "Seventh Fandom", [NOTE: this did not refer to the standalone entry "7th fandom" (the insurgent group) in the Fancy2 chapter S, linked above, but the appropriate paragraph about the spelled-out Seventh Fandom (actual, later period) within the long entry Numerical Fandoms filed under F, i. e. "It led to renewed interest in fandom as fandom, exemplified in such publications as The Enchanted Duplicator and also in later phenomena like the attempts to start a regular fan monthly as a "rallying point" and the rise of weekly and biweekly fan magazines of the letter substitute (news-and-chatter) type, more fannish than the older formal newszines."] and, indeed, a noble example of it. But due to its activity the news of the series of deaths in fandom in 1958 got that wide circulation and general impact that gave the Year of the Jackpot its name.

The latter-day Fanac.org and brute force of Google make it possible then to find White's paragraph in Stellar 15 (undated but some time during the holidays):

 […] Upon hearing of Vernon L. McCain’s death, I wrote a page about him. But on rereading it, I decided that it might be better just to dedicate an unmailed issue to him. Anything I might have written would have seemed sticky in retrospect. I considered him a close friend, and was stunned by his death. Now, from Redd Boggs, comes word of the death of Francis Towner Laney, another fan of incredible stature, whose impact is still being felt in fandom. I never knew him as a person, but I regret his passing just as much. 1958 seems to be The Year of the Jackpot.

It remains to be seen how (and whether) this term spread. As 1958 was ending, Terry Carr expanded on it (without attribution) in his column "Fandom Harvest" in Cry of the Nameless 123; there seems to be no mention of the Jackpot in the more-or-less concurrent "fannish" anniversary issue 34 of Fanac, even though it had a few similar overviews.

The year 1958 will no doubt go down in fan history as The Year of the Jackpot, the year in which anything could happen and usually did. For one thing, it was a year marked by the loss of quite a few top names: Henry Kuttner, Cyril Kornbluth, Vernon L. McCain, F. Towner Laney, Kent Moomaw, and E. Everett Evans all died; Chuch Harris and Arthur Thomson gafiated. On the credit side of the ledger, several former fans or recently-inactive fans resumed activities. […]
Add the Solacon to the list of Jackpot phenomena: the climax of the South Gate in '58 tradition belongs on anybody's list of memorable events.
The hassle surrounding the WSFS, Inc. question is another case in point. A lawsuit for $35,000.00 is so unprecedented in fandom that had anyone mentioned it as a possibility a year ago he would have been laughed down. The feuds and arguments about the WSFS Inc. culminated at the Solacon in a resounding demonstration of fan opinion against the Incorporation.
More statistics: it was a year for births and marriages. I've lost count of the number of births this year at the hands of fan-parents (I'll leave that metaphor as it stands). […]
There must have been as many marriages going on the rocks this year as there were marriages. I won't bother to list the divorces and separations in question.
1958 was also the year of the Carl Brandon hoax, which made some sort of history.
Fan projects ran rife this year. […]
How are these for fantastic incidents the like of which kept happening all year? Random House Inc. suing James Taurasi's Fandom House Inc. to make them change the name because of alleged "unfair competition"; the French government confiscating the entire mailing of a fanzine for detailed inspection during the political crisis over there; Eric Erickson committing himself to a mental institution after his prophecies failed to come true.
It was one hell of a year. FAPA, which had dominated much of the crifanac scene the year before, fell into a slump as fans turned their attention back to the general fanzine field. […]
And, quite possibly, 1958 will be remembered as the year in which science fiction began to die. From all over these days we hear of prozines folding and authors being forced to turn to other fields. It is doubtful that there are any other writers than Poul Anderson and Bob Silverberg who are now making their living, or even most of it, through science fiction.-
Anyone care to argue the point that 1958 was The Year of the Jackpot? That is, until we see what will happen in 1959...
* * *
Here in Berkeley, we've been talking a lot about this Year of the Jackpot business. Jim Caughran, in particular, has been concerned about it. In his FAPAzine, APROPOS DE RIEN, Jim wrote, "Everything is happening at once. Next, the N3f will become disgusted with itself and disband, and GMCarr will admit that some of her opinions have been wrong. I suppose that about half-past December Congress will outlaw fandom, and the sun will nova [sic], killing us all."
One night recently, Ron Ellik was several hours late in showing up for a publishing session, and we were beginning to got a bit worried about him. But in our usual dilettante manner, we joked about it. "I think there's a vast plot against fandom," said Jim. "Some agent of evil is killing off fans." He frowned. "If it turns out that Ron has run into an accident," he said, "I'm going to quit fandom. They're striking too close to home."
Well, Ron was all right, it turned out, and we let Jim's little fantasy slide by. But then along came CRY #122, with Burbee's article in which he says I am secretly 90% of fandom, and if I someday discover girls that will be the end of fandom as we know it.
FANAC #30, published almost simultaneously with that issue of CRY, contained the announcement of my engagement to Miriam.
We plan to publish one more issue of FANAC this year ((1958)). Ron  says it would be only fitting to headline it, FANDOM AS WE KNOW IT ENDS.

(What apparently went under radar at the time was that Forry Ackerman publicized the term Sci-Fi in 1958. A very bad year indeed!)

Finally, it should be noted that Heinlein's title, capturing the Zeitgeist, had a mighty attraction to fanwriters as soon as it appeared, as well as long after 1958; see for example in Bob Silverberg's Spaceship 24:

A year ago, in an article called 1952 in Review, I characterized the just-ended year as "The Year of the Jackpot"--the year in which more science fiction had been written, published, and read, than ever before. In 1953 even more of sf appeared than in 1952. 

Fanhistory 1958
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