SF in Broadway History

By Bill Higgins: Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. — which gave the English language the word “robot”– was a hit in Prague in 1921, and came to the U.S. soon afterward, with a Broadway production in 1922.

Among the New York Public Library Digital Collections I found photos of a later traveling production of R.U.R. by the Theatre Guild Tour Company. They’re dated 1928 to 1929. They’re part of the collection “Vandamm Theatrical Photographs, 1900-1957”.

One actor whose name I recognized in a small part: Sydney Greenstreet, whose later Hollywood career included appearances in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. (He turns up at the right-hand edge of this image.

If you’re curious what sets, costumes, and actors looked like in a 1920s version of Capek’s famous play, take a look.

There’s probably all kinds of SF-related stuff in the NYPL’s collection of public-domain images.

Sasquan Hugo Ceremony Video Posted

By Bill Higgins: Sasquan now has the 2015 Hugo Ceremony video online — http://livestream.com/worldcon.

It is divided into four parts.

Parts 1 and 2 cover the “pre-game show” talk show chatter.

The ceremony proper starts about 1:37 into Part 2.

Part 3 is all ceremony.

In Part 4, the ceremony ends at about 37:50. After that comes the post-ceremony talk show.

The Planet: One Last Landing

The delightfully inconclusive debate here on the topic of whether the Scienceers or the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club was the first sf club led to a discovery I am happy to share with you.

From Guy H. Lillian’s The Zine Dump I learned Ned Brooks had scanned a photocopy of first issue of The Planet, published by the Scienceers in July 1930. Ned kindly sent the images to me and I have uploaded them here.

A squib on page 3 says the Scienceers published meeting notices every Friday in the New York Evening World, confirming Allan Glasser’s memory about the weekly meeting schedule. Unfortunately, I was denied the minor pleasure of locating one of those ads because the paper has only been digitized through 1922.

As for Aubrey MacDermott and the Eastbay Science Correspondence Club, Fred Patten wrote in comments about his conversation with Cliff Amsbury, one of the other members: “He said that, yeah, MacDermott and other S.F.-area teenage s-f fans often got together in 1928, so they were first. But those were all one-shot social meetings. They did not hold club meetings.”

MacDermott only claimed they met, not that they met on a regular schedule. Bill Higgins’ jibe, “Which is more fannish?” hits the nail on the head.

The Scienceers had more traits of the prototype sf club. Yet the Eastbay group identified itself as a club and met socially in 1928 more than once. Depending on your preferred criteria, either club could claim to be first. And since 99% of you are already picking the Scienceers, there is your official wisdom-of-crowds answer…

P.S. Read The Planet’s science fiction quiz on page 2. I used to consider myself a trivia master but I scored zero out of 10…


Arthur C. Clarke, Salesman

By Bill Higgins: I know perfectly well that he doesn’t belong to fandom — he belongs to the entire world. Still, it was a bit startling to hear my favorite author’s voice come out of my TV tonight. In tiny letters at the lower right of the screen was ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1964. Sir Arthur was talking about what the future would be like.

“The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.”

Eventually it became clear that this was a commercial for BMW automobiles. These days, advertisers frequently park a copy of their commercial on Youtube:

It was uploaded last February, so I guess it took me a long time to notice the campaign.

This may be the first of Sir Arthur’s posthumous ads I have seen, but even before his death he lent his image to commercials. Here’s a spot for *Omni* magazine from 1980, with speechifying about the future very similar to the 1964 sound clip featured in the 2014 BMW ad above:

“One thing is certain: It will be wider and more wonderful than ever dreamed of by any poet or dramatist of the past.”

No doubt other examples of Clarkean pitchmanship could be turned up. Magazine ads, perhaps?

Stanley C. Skirvin (1927-2014)

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop. From the Fanac.org site.

By Bill Higgins: Stanley C. Skirvin, one-time Cincinnati fan, passed away March 28 in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 86.

Returning from Navy service in World War II, he found Cincy fandom. He claimed responsibility for persuading hometown fans to name themselves the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG). Skirvin edited the 56-page program book for the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon (online here), and edited a Memory Book afterward. His account of the Worldcon, “Wha’ Happened?” is online here. He also attended Philcon in 1953 and Detention in 1959.

As an engineer for General Electric in the 1960s, Skirvin helped develop nuclear-powered aircraft engines, writing software that calculated airflow though hot reactors. Moving to Schenectady, NY, and finally settling in Scottsdale, he apparently gafiated, but CFG and other fans report some 21st-century e-mail contacts.

He was an avid fossil hunter and mountain climber.  “A Tribute to Stanley C. Skrivin,” by his mountaineering buddy Don McIver, is available in the Arizona Sierra Club’s Summer 2014 issue of Canyon Echo [PDF file].

While a member of the Arizona Mountaineering Club Skirvin participated in a number of rescues. He was also a member of the Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society with his own cactus collection.

Skirvin is survived by his wife for more than 61 years, Joan, and his three children.

Twin Pair o’ Docs

By Bill Higgins: Spotted something unusual: In the April 2014 issue of Physics Today, two letters were published from two physicists, who are brothers, both commenting on the same article.

I doubt that has happened before.

James Benford and Gregory Benford were responding to an article on Cold War history by Frank von Hippel in the September 2013 issue. (Physics Today has always had a rather leisurely turnaround time in publishing letters.)

Astounding and the Atomic Bomb

In 1944 Cleve Cartmill’s atomic bomb story “Deadline” famously inspired an investigator from the War Department to visit Astounding’s editor. What few remember is that Cartmill’s story was actually the culmination of John W. Campbell’s long flirtation with atomic weapons in the pages of his magazine.

Alex Wellerstein’s Restricted Data, the Nuclear Secrecy Blog recently discussed Campbell’s nonfiction article “Death Dust”, published in a 1941 issue of Pic, and readers chimed in with numerous juicy details about its fictional corollary, Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory,” as well as the creative relationship between the editor and his leading author, and the sources of what they knew about reactors and U-238.

Bill Higgins supplied an outline of Campbell’s correspondence with Heinlein in 1940 and 1941 when “Blowups Happen” and “Solution Unsatisfactory” were in the works.

Heinlein biographer Bill Patterson also chimed in with several interesting comments, for example —

Estelle Karst [in “Solution Unsatisfactory”] is, indeed, an homage to Lise Meitner, who worked out the necessary mathematical support for the idea of fission in 1939 on a train fleeing Nazi Germany. In January 1940 Campbell wanted Heinlein to write a story about “uncertainty in the sub-etheric field” (he probably got that story in 1942 as “Waldo”), In the meantime, Heinlein had been talking with his friend physicist Robert Cornog about subjects related to a reactor, and Heinlein combined Cornog and Campbell and the result was “Blowups Happen.” At the time there was no reactor in existence — and not as much as a gram of purified U238 in existence, so most of the physics here was speculative.

Even Campbell’s granddaughter had something to say.

[Thanks to Gene Dannen for the story.]

You’re So Vain I’ll Bet You Think This Post Is About You

Fifty years ago when it was fashionable to photograph big high school classes with a panoramic camera – which traversed the student body in one long exposure and yielded a very long print – it also was fashionable for class clowns to pose at one extreme of the line then sprint to the other end in order to appear in the picture twice.

That prank is literally kid stuff compared to Bill Higgins’ Olympian feat of inserting himself into Google Earth’s Street View multiple times.

Last April, when Higgins discovered a Google Street View mapping car was in the vicinity he pulled out his own camera and began stalking it through his neighborhood. He also lurked about in his red sedan along the route the Google car was taking.

Beamjockey shoots back.

Beamjockey shoots back.

Bill and/or his car showed up in Street View shots at 16 different addresses. He even appeared standing on the corner by his house —

It’s been pointed out that, since I have a camera in front of my face, Google’s “recognize a face and blur it” software may have left me alone. Not that I mind, being vain and all.

You can still see screen captures of Bill in Street View at his blog (click link above). However, Google obviously felt its digital leg being pulled because they’ve now rephotographed all the streets. Same houses. Same trees. No more Bill.

As they say, all glory is fleeting.

Four Things You Want Me To Know

I’m passing on some of the interesting links people have sent me in the last 24 hours —

(1) Janice Gelb discovered proof that Arthur C. Clarke predicted the Internet in 1974 [YouTube]. Really accurately, and on video!

In 1974 Arthur C. Clarke told the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] that every household in 2001 will have a computer and be connected all over the world.

(Was this really such a daring prediction? The ARPANET was declared operational in 1975 (I know several science fiction writers who got accounts so they could play the games online at MIT) and companies were already bringing to market the forerunners of the true PCs that appeared in the early 1980s.)

(2) Steven H Silver points to “Ferguson Wins Collecting Prize” at SF Site where he reports —

Andrew Ferguson has won the top prize in the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia’s 49th Book Collecting Contest. Ferguson’s collection focuses on the works of R. A. Lafferty.

(3) On April 1, James H. Burns announced the discovery of the treatment for a lost episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. guest-starring The Three Stooges.

(4) Bill Higgins has written a post for Tor.com about a 1956 NBC radio documentary devoted to SF. Lots of interesting voices: hear Asimov, Bradbury and John W. Campbell:

On the 4th of December that year, the NBC radio network broadcast “Ticket to the Moon,” an episode of the series Biography in Sound. Usually this series profiled a prominent person of recent decades — for example, Winston Churchill, Knute Rockne, or Grandma Moses — but on this occasion, the subject was science fiction.

You can access a recording of the show from Bill’s post.

Turning Off the Tevatron

Back in the Eighties Bill Higgins — aka Beam Jockey, who works at Fermilab as a radiation safety physicist — helped build the Tevatron, the premiere particle accelerator of its generation. And Bill was there on September 30 when the Tevatron was retired.

Bill is interviewed in BoingBoing’s report about the event:

Ultimately, the Tevatron was simply the victim of the progress of technology. When it opened in 1983, it replaced older, lower-energy accelerators. And, in turn, the Tevatron has been replaced by the Large Hadron Collider, an accelerator capable of pushing particles to even higher energies. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the Tevatron felt the budgetary axe….

Bill Higgins: Wistful is a good word to describe the way I felt, as I witnessed the shutdown ceremonies, and joined the crowd at the party—think of it as a wake—afterward…. Right now I work on shielding analysis to support future operation of Fermilab’s multiple accelerators. Over thirty years ago, I was assigned to work on the testing of Tevaron magnets as they came down the production line.

[Thanks to Bill Higgins for the story.]