The sad story of WSFS, Inc., while only an episode in the long history of the World Science Fiction Society, and just one of the many occasions when All Fandom Was Plunged Into War, epitomizes the recurring idea held by some that fandom, and especially conventions, and double-especially Worldcon, are too important to be left to amateurs, but should be managed by experts — usually themselves.
In earlier days, this was closely related to a feeling that there ought to be an über fan organization to which all fans belong and which represents (and, not uncommonly, manages) fandom. The N3F, which still exists, was one such organization.
The aftermath — a legacy that continues to today — shows that most fans prefer a decentralized approach, and react poorly to authoritarianism. Nothing will draw blasé old fans out of the voodvork and into the Business Meeting like a whisper that somebody’s trying to resurrect WSFS, Inc.
The First WSFS, Inc. (The 1950s)
Yearning for a national fan organization dates back to the earliest days of fandom — see the Fancyclopedia article on Locals — and in the ’40s this yielded the N3F. In the ’50s, the increasing complexity of Worldcons and the increasing importance of conventions to fandom suggested to many that Worldcons should be run by a central group of experts rather than catch as catch can by whatever local group of fans was selected. WSFS, Inc., was the first attempt to make this real.
What happened, exactly, is hard to tell, but the article from Fancyclopedia 2, below, appears to be basically correct. (More detail follows it.)
|From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959|
|The World Science Fiction Society, Incorporated.
_The Philcon II in 1953 had rumblings of a "permanent convention organization", and at the NYCon II this group was actually voted into authority. It was alleged that incorporation was necessary to prevent local fans being sued for debts in case the convention ran into the red -- a real danger, with the Big Convention movement -- since it could declare itself bankrupt when its funds were exhausted, under the laws governing corporations, while individuals could be sued for their personal funds if debts exhausted the Con-committee's resources. Tho a well-taken point, the fact that the NYCon II and the Loncon following it both ran into debt without rescue from the WSFS casts doubt on the value of this feature. Certain dragooning tactics used in getting the Incorporation adopted as sponsoring organization of the NYCon II (mostly George Nims Raybin's public remark that iff'n the attendees en masse didn't vote for that measure at the business session the society would gather a group of Con-committee members who would put it into effect anyway) were strongly resented at the time and later.
The WSFS in addition to other duties was supposed to "help with convention planning and production, acting as a reservoir of experience". It is reported to have given a good deal of valuable assistance to the Loncon. Its bylaws regularized some important fannish convention practices, such as the Rotation plan. Tho the language of the organization's charter was suspected of concealing crafty legalisms by which the WSFS directors could "take over fandom" (i.e. dictate to convention committees) neither London nor South Gate had any complaints to make about officiousness.
After the Plane Trip hooraw, and, some alleged, as a result of the animosities therefrom arising, the New York WSFS officers (Frank Dietz, Recorder-Historian; Belle Dietz, Secretary; George Nims Raybin, Legal Officer) dunned Dave Kyle for about $100 in funds outstanding since the NYCon II, and, receiving no satisfaction, attached his bank account. Kyle brought suit for damages to his reputation in the amount of $25,000, the attachment and a libelous article by one "Edsel McCune" in fanzine Metrofan being important exhibits. (To make things clearer, this "Edsel McCune" was not the original owner of the pen-name.) The other 3 filed counter-suit for the same amount and a series of articles, most of which probably were actionable if the truth were known, were produced by each side. Kyle cited some of these and raised his claim to $35,000, while the Dietzes and Raybin offered to let Kyle designate a lawyer to handle their end of the suit. Dave refused this offer, since taking over would let him end the matter as he pleased but make him liable for all the court charges (several hundred dollars) accumulated to date.
Meanwhile, back in fandom, various others had taken an interest in the matter, the Falascas reacting by attacking the legality of the whole WSFS as at that time constituted and alleging irregularities in the Incorporation's operation that would get it in trouble if it ever came under the scrutiny of the courts. Inchmery Fandom and some others rallied to the support of WSFS and the Dietzes, but the majority reaction appeared to be active or barely suppressed nausea at the goings-on in New York. Motivations for the last appear to have been (1) dislike of legal action on the general principle that fandom is too esoteric for a fair judgement to be reached by a mundane court or jury, and (2) horror at the size of the damages claimed, $25,000 being more than sufficient to throw the average fan into debt for a decade. Such feelings easily passed into opposition to the existence of the WSFS.
To make it easier for the contenders to back down, Kyle was accused of vindictiveness in maintaining his suit, while the "Unholy Three" were accused of "trying to wiggle out from under a bad case" in not maintaining theirs. Since withdrawal by either side would undoubtlessly be followed by denunciations for having admitted to a bad case, the lawsuiters appear to be in an insoluble dilemma.
As mentioned above, disgust at these carryings-on, which were generally linked to the name of WSFS, easily became the source of opposition to the existence of the corporation. The Falascas and the Berkeley Bhoys were generally the spreaders of anti-WSFS and down-with-lawsuits sentiments, tho they had enthusiastic seconding. During 1958 fandom's intent to fight against the WSFS at the SoLACon became so evident that the con committee decided not to associate the convention with the WSFS, a decision which Anna Moffatt announced amid tremendous cheers at the business session. A resolution was passed there calling for dissolution of the WSFS by the directors. (Since the SoLACon wasn't WSFS-sponsored a resolution, which was probably set to go, "that the WSFS be dissolved", couldn't be introduced.) The later history of the organization remains in doubt, since no such action was taken, but it is improbable that the WSFS Inc. will be important in fandom henceforth.
|From Fancyclopedia 2 Supplement, ca. 1960|
|On the shock and horror generated by a genuine lawsuit occurring in fandom, Jack Speer comments: "It's funny how laymen react to a claim of damage, such as $25,000, as if the claim settled something. I often have clients telling me to sue somebody for all he's worth, just as if the plaintiff could decide how much the verdict should be.|
WSFS, Inc., was taken very seriously for a while.
NyCon II (which was run by the folks at the center of WSFS, Inc.) said in its PR 3:
A Constitutional Committee was appointed by the 1955 executive officer of the World Science Fiction Society, Noreen Kane Falasca, on September 5, 1955, at the 13th World Science Fiction Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio, in the following detail from official records: "A committee is appointed to write a tentative Constitution to be presented to the members of the World Science Fiction Society at the business meeting of the 1956 convention. This constitution proposal is to be drawn up for presentation, and it will be up to the convention assembled to accept it, reject it or amend it at that time. "The committee is comprised of: Representing the East: Franklin Dietz Jr., George Nims Raybin Representing the South: Robert A. Madle Representing the Mid-West: Howard DeVore, Bob Tucker Representing the West: Forrest J. Ackerman Representing England: H. Kenneth Bulmer Representing Canada: Ron Kidder Representative-at-Large: Robert Bloch Unoffical Advisers, headed by: Raymond Van Houten "This committee will be headed by the chairman of the 1956 convention as part of the executive committee. The 1956 convention chairman will make further appointments as persons agree to serve." At the moment, Treasurer Raybin, acting chairman, states: "The Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society, Inc, will be a simple document to conform to the laws of the State of New York. It will contain only essential details such as name, purpose, etc., such as is to be found in the incorporation papers. This, therefore, will have more difficult amendment procedure in that two successive conventions will have to concur. "The By-Laws, on the other hand, will contain all of the miscellaneous rules and regulations as added and amended by each convention business session."
Note the impressive group of fans serving on the committee.
WSFS, Inc., was legally incorporated on February 23, 1958. The incorporators were Raybin, Kyle, and Art Saha, all New York fans. A pretty good indication of their position was printed in Ground Zero #2 p5.
Solacon, the 1958 Worldcon, gave pride of place to WSFS, Inc., in its PRs, putting it above the con committee itself. Yet six months later, WSFS, Inc., was effectively dead, destroyed by the fairly general revulsion of fandom and Chair Anna Moffatt's gavel.
See Ground Zero #3 p9 for the pro-WSFS, Inc., take on the events at Solacon.
At this point, the Board of WSFS, Inc., was Belle C. Dietz, Dave Newman, Forrest J Ackerman, E. Everett Evans, Dave Kyle, and James V. Taurasi. Frank Dietz was Recorder, George Nims Raybin was Legal Officer. (Note that most of them were New York fans). There was also an advisory council of E. J. Carnell, Nick Falasca, Noreen Falasca, Sam Moskowitz, Raybin, and Roger Sims.
(Note that the Falascas, while initially apparently supporters, fairly quickly became major movers in the dissolution of WSFS, Inc. This is covered in their three-issue fanzine, Fandom's Burden online at fanac.org.)
WSFS Is Dead!
The Incorporation & Us By now most of you have heard that the WSFS, Inc was "dissolved" by a vote of the membership of the 16th World Convention. It's unfortunate that so many people are using the word "dissolved". Actually the only action taken was the approval of the following petition: "We, the general membership of the World Science Fiction Society, Inc., hereby petition the Board of Directors and/or the Convention Committee to dissolve the World Science Fiction Society, Inc. and return the Charter to the State of New York, as soon as the bills of the present convention have been paid." The petition was subsequently submitted to the Board of Directors of the WSFS, Inc. by Anna Sinclare Moffatt, Chairwoman of the 16th World Science Fiction Convention. What action said Board of Directors plans to take concerning the petition we do not know. Detroit was selected to produce a convention by a vote of the membership of the 16th World Science Fiction Convention not, as Mrs. Moffatt made clear during the meeting, The World Science Fiction Society, Inc. Your convention committee is operating under the assumption that it is completely outside the WSFS, Inc. We are willing to accept any assistance or advice they may offer us, but we are in no way obligated to, or dependent upon them.
WSFS, Inc. was a really big deal in the fanzines of the day. (Walt Willis wrote a screenplay of it called "The Raybin Story".) You can get a good feel of the debate by reading a newszine like Fanac and watching as the affair unfolds week by week. Material can be found in:
- Fanac #4 p2
- Fanac #6 p2
- Fanac #8 p2
- Fanac #9 p3
- Fanac #15 p3
- Fanac #16 p1
- Fanac #20 p2
- Fanac #24 p1
- Ground Zero #1
Baycon Tries To Sort Things Out
At the Baycon business meeting, Jon Stopa was appointed to convene a committee to study holding a North American Natcon when Worldcon is outside North America. The initial committee consisted of Stopa, Bruce Pelz, Earl Kemp, Al Lewis, Bob Tucker, Leigh Couch, Eliot Shorter, Tony Lewis, George Nims Raybin, and Banks Mebane. While its charter did not cover the reorganization of WSFS as a whole, the necessary changes to the rotation system were nearly as significant.
Another WSFS, Inc.? (The late ’70s)
In 1976, at MidAmeriCon, based on a motion by Jerry Pournelle, a drafting committee was created to propose the structure of a new WSFS, Inc. Members included Bob Hillis (chairman, Columbus), Larry Smith (Secretary, Columbus), Greg Bennett (Seattle), Greg Brown (Phoenix), Meade Frierson III (Birmingham), Carey Handfield (Australia), Tony Lewis (Boston), Don Lundry (New Jersey), John Millard (Toronto), Bob Pavlat (DC), Bruce Pelz (LA), Larry Propp (Chicago), George Scithers (Philadelphia), Pat Taylor (Kansas City), Pete Weston (London) with Don Eastlake (Boston) and Yale Edeiken (Chicago) as observers.
Their approach was extremely formal and bureaucratic, but it basically created a Board of Directors to oversee individual Worldcons with the power to depose a concom. It was a reasonable codification of a flawed idea.
(The basic problem remained one of Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As long as each Worldcon is independent, people who like power and glory more than hard work and careful planning are limited in the harm they can do. WSFS, Inc. would have provided a mechanism for busybodies to stay in power. Further, the proposed remedy for incompetence — removal of the committee and appointment of a new one — would probably do more damage than letting the incompetent committee do its thing.)
See File 770 4, p. 23-24 for some discussion.
Yet One More Attempt
In 1980, the WSFS Business Meeting voted to establish a Committee on Permanent Organization and Incorporation of WSFS. That also seems to have faded away without doing anything.
Something Like a Fourth Attempt
There seems to have been yet another committee established in 1984 to report to the 1985 WSFS Business Meeting with Ross Pavlac chairing. (Other members included Ben Yalow, Bob Hillis, Jack Herman, Ray Nelson, Victoria Smith, Lew Wolkoff, Leslie Turek, Alan Rachlin, Gail Kaufman, Gary Farber, Rich Zellich, Yale Edeiken, Scott Dennis, and Larry Smith.) For a somewhat biased (but amusing) view of the committee's report at the Aussiecon 2 Business meeting, see File 770 59, p. 15. The committee was continued with Ben Yalow as chair to report back at ConFederation in 1986. It, also, seems to have faded, whimperless, away. (Note that this does not seem to be the Standing Committee.)
The Standing Committee
(AKA, Last dangerous WSFS)
The Standing Committee was established as a much scaled back and reasonable mid-80s attempt to solve the same problems. It would exist to handle business that needed a continuing body (such as trademark registration). Its membership was a combination of elected members and members appointed by the various Worldcons. The creators hoped that it would in time build confidence within fandom and be trusted with slowly, evolutionarally-enhanced, powers and might in time serve the function in the role that WSFS, Inc. was intended to fill.
Since each Worldcon is a completely independent organization while WSFS itself is unincorporated with no continuing officers or staff — the WSFS Business meeting each year has a set of officers appointed by that year's Worldcon and their term of office is only for a few days. This system suits fandom's distaste for authority, but has downsides which have been apparent from nearly the beginning.
Initially, the Standing Committee was given responsibility for the protection of WSFS's trademarks, but as the decade progressed, other small tasks were entrusted to it.
Membership in the Standing Committee was complicated and deliberately diverse — one of the major contributors to the failure of WSFS, Inc.., was that it was created by and perceived to be controlled by a small clique of New York fans. Part of the membership of the Standing Committee was by election, with each Site Selection zone having representatives, while the rest of the committee consisted of members appointed by each seated Worldcon or NASFiC. (This membership scheme was continued when the Standing Committee became the Mark Protection Committee.)
While the Standing Committee was a much more fannish organization than WSFS, Inc., and much more democratically controlled and with much smaller power, many fans still saw it as a camel's nose tentatively poking into the Worldcon tent. (And that was certainly the intention of some of the organizers of the Standing Committee.) This discomfort came to a head at Confederation, the 1986 Worldcon, when enough fans uncomfortable with the Standing Committee attended the WSFS Business Meeting and voted to replace the Standing Committee with an identically organized Mark Protection Committee which was specifically and strictly limited to protecting the service marks of WSFS. This was ratified in 1987 at Conspiracy '87 and has remained the rule since.
Many con-runners who favored the Standing Committee in the '80s have since concluded that all such efforts are doomed to failure since, like Con Ops or Security, "You don't want anyone who wants a Standing Committee to be on it.") Therefore, a number of other limited-mission WSFS Committees have been formed.
See Mark Protection Committee for more on its role and a discussion of a bit of mission creep back in the direction of the Standing Committee.
Happily Ever After
This seems to have been the final stake in WSFS, Inc's heart and no further serious attempts to create one have happened since, though the more bureaucratically-inclined fans (or power-hungry fans looking for a smallish pond) still occasionally day-dream about it.
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