Walt Willis

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(October 30, 1919 – October 20, 1999)

Irish fan Walter A. Willis (WAW) is remembered as a beloved fanwriter and faned, one of the Wheels of IF. His fanzines Slant and Hyphen (with Chuch Harris) remain classics, as does his enduring fannish fable The Enchanted Duplicator (1954, with Bob Shaw).

He lived in Oblique House in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was part of the Belfast Triangle. It was there that he was instrumental in the development of the non-widely played sport, Ghoodminton.

He won the 1958 Outstanding Actifan Hugo and the 1954 Best Fanzine Retro Hugo (2004, for work done in 1953) for his fanzine Slant (with James White). He was Fan GoH at MagiCon, the 1992 Worldcon. He received nominations for the 1956 Best Fanzine Hugo, the 1957 Best Fanzine Hugo, the 1959 Best Fanzine Hugo, the 1951 Best Fan Writer Retro Hugo and the 1954 Best Fan Writer Retro Hugo.

From left, Walter Willis as Southern Fan, Lee Hoffman as Quandry (she printed her fanzine on her dress), and Max Keasler as a fan from Missouri, at the Chicon 2 masquerade, 1952.

"WAW With the Crew in '52", a fund to bring him from Belfast for the World Science Fiction Convention, laid a foundation for the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund (TAFF); he became the first European administrator. His subsequent trip report, "The Harp Stateside" may have been the best trip report ever written. (He was almost brought back by the WAW and Mate to the Gate in '58 fund and was brought back to the US by a second special fund, the Tenth Anniversary Willis Fund in 1962.) (1952 was also when he was the target of the Willis Death Hoax. On the other hand, he willingly participated in the Harris-White Feud.)

He and Chuck Harris indulged in the Harris-White Feud, an early ’50s hoax. Later in the decade, they would be involved in the very real TAFF Wars

He was a frequent contributor to other peoples' fanzines. Perhaps his most famous series of articles, "The Harp That Once or Twice" made its debut in Lee Hoffman's Quandry in 1951. (The columns were collected in Warhoon 28.) For many years, Willis wrote the Fanorama column in Nebula and later Speculation. He wrote the Immortal Teacup columns of fanhistorical nostalgia.

His fanwriting was collected in The Willis Papers (Ted Johnstone & George W. Fields, eds. 1961) and Fanorama (Robert Lichtman, ed.). Particularly notable, however, is the enormous compilation made by Richard Bergeron in Warhoon 28, a special hardbound issue of his fanzine devoted entirely to Willis. Many fanzines, including Mad, Sol, Oopsla, CF, and Fantasias, had special issues dedicated to Willis — such an issue was called a "Willish". He is likely the most reprinted fanwriter ever.

With James White he wrote Beyond the Enchanted Duplicator to the Enchanted Convention. He also wrote "The Raybin Story".

Other publications included Peace on Sol III (published with his wife, fellow fan Madeleine Willis, an annual Christmas-card fanzine which was collected by Tom Whitmore in A Fan's Christmas in Ireland. He was also one of the publishers of Toto and published Bob Shaw Appreciation Magazine. He published Wappoted with Ken Bulmer for OMPA, and Pamphrey. He was one of the editors of Off of this Planet Adventures.

Apas and clubs included FAPA, N3F, TLMA, ASFO, BSAW, SFS, SFCL, BFL, OMPA (of which he was President), OF, RFVSDS, WAPPOTED, EMSCC, HSC, KSF.

Like his character Jophan, he slid into fandom on his Shield of Umor. Among his many other accomplishments was the discovery of both Stigwort's Disease and Nydahl's Disease and the invention of the Poctsarcd. He was an Honorary Swamp Critter. He had Impeccable Taste. He was manager of Proxyboo Ltd. He teamed up with Lee Hoffman in the great battle over the ownership rights to Steam.

He was a member of the International Fantasy Award judging panel. He was on the Loncon I committee. He presented the last Fan-Dango Award to F. T. Laney, himself, for "taking up stamp-collecting".

After attending Loncon II, he gafiated from British fandom, publishing only the occasional article in American fanzines. It would be more than a decade before he appeared at another convention.

During this period he published a nonfiction book, The Improbable Irish, under the pseudonym Walter Bryan. This book appears to have been originally solicited by Algis Budrys for Regency Books of Evanston, IL: according to Willis's report in Hyphen 34, page 15, Budrys offered to pay him for a book on Ireland. Regency folded in 1963; the book was eventually picked up by Terry Carr at Ace for a 1969 publication. Taplinger reprinted the Ace plates as a hardcover.

Willis Death Hoax[edit]

From Fancyclopedia 2, ca. 1959
On a visit to Terry Carr's home in mid-1952, Pete Graham (then aged 13) suggested a hoax that Willis had died. Carr tried to squelch the notion and thought he had, but Graham circulated a number of postalcards announcing Willis's death. He had done it, according to Carr, because he'd gotten a gift from his parents of a postcard mimeo and two stencils and "he had been dying to try them on something". Since the pcs were mailed from San Francisco few fans believed the news, but Lee Riddle called Lee Hoffman long distance to check -- and she was able to confirm that WAW lived on. Practically everybody blasted Graham for the stunt. (Some blamed Terry Carr, who was not involved.) Many were disturbed because the hoax might affect the campaign adversely.

The postal said: "We regret to inform you that the well-known Irish fan, Walter A. Willis, is dead. He passed away at his home in Northern Ireland at the hour of 9:50 A.M. on Thursday, May 15. The doctor said he died of diptheria [sic], a disease from which he had been suffering for some time. The Chicago Convention will honor his death by cancelling the banquet, and by limiting the auction to quiet bidding. Most fanzines will have a memorial issue, which will be for sale only to fans who contributed to the 'WAW With the Crew in '52' fund. Fen who contributed to the 'WAW With the Crew in '52' fund, send your name and address to Shelby Vick and he will return your money. All fanzine publishers are asked not to treat this announcement as a hoax, but to give it full consideration and to announce it in his own magazine so that fans may know of this throughout the nation and the world. Yours, An Interested Fan Who Is Willing To Pay Postage For These Cards."

Vick knew it was a hoax; he'd received a letter from WAW dated 20 May. The card was postmarked Frisco, May 28, and was poorly mimeoed. Walt, of course, turned up alive, but the rigors of convention and postcon visiting almost caused him to make an honest man of Graham.

See Death Hoax.

Fanzines and Apazines:

Awards, Honors and GoHships:

Person 19191999
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