Art Widner (1917-2015)

Art Widner at the 2008 Corflu. Photo by Alan White.

Art Widner at the 2008 Corflu. Photo by Alan White.

Always ready to help, never a better friend, opinionated, long on experience and wise about fannish weaknesses (even his own), a fascinating storyteller, organizer and party host, Art Widner passed away April 17 at the age of 97.

Widner wrote not long ago that he had prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones, reports Andrew Porter. He had outlived his children, but is survived by several grand-and great-grandchildren.

Art himself lived two complete fan lifetimes, interrupted by a three-decade gafiation.

His first fannish life began when he discovered fandom through the prozines. And that life was characterized by a zeal for fanpolitics and organizing.

“Like so many fen, I was the Old Weird Harold on my block, carrying home those lurid pulp magazines with nubile bimbos on the cover wearing VW hubcap bras – which was remarkable because Volkswagen hadn’t been invented yet,” he told the audience at the 1989 Worldcon’s “Family Reunion.”

As other proto-fans did in the 1930s, he wrote letters to the prozines reviewing their efforts and criticizing their shortcomings – many of them to Weird Tales.

He helped organize “The Stranger Club” in 1940, Boston’s first science fiction club, together with Louis Russell Chauvenet, Chandler Davis, Gertrude Kuslan, Louis Kuslan, Norman Stanley, R.D. Swisher, and others. He chaired  the city’s first two sf conventions, Boskone I (1941) and Boskone II (1942). He published his first fanzine, co-edited with Earl Singleton and Francis Paro, FanFare.

Along with Louis Russell Chauvenet and Damon Knight, he was responsible for the formation of the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F). Supporting Damon Knight’s call for a national fan organization, Widner wrote in FanFare  in 1940, “The crying need is cooperation among all fans and this seems an impossible situation at present. Fandom should have some sort of united front to put toward the rest of the world, or it will continue to be regarded as just the juvenile goshwowoboyoboy gang.”

Art Widner and Russ Chauvenet at the 1994 Corflu. Photo by Rich Lynch.

Art Widner and Russ Chauvenet at the 1994 Corflu. Photo by Rich Lynch.

He was also one of the big name fans on the board of directors of the Fantasy Foundation announced at the 1946 Worldcon, touted by Forry Ackerman as a museum of imaginative literature.

As a young man Art was reputed to be Built Like A Gorilla. Robert Madle was grateful to have him on hand at the 1941 Worldcon when C.M. Kornbluth was in a violent mood:

He [Kornbluth] was the arrogant one of the group, the one who had a personality like a snake. Not to cut him down his writings, which are very excellent. But he had a peculiar personality. Like there was that night they were going to beat the shit out of me at one of the conventions.

Fortunately I had with me Art Widner. We used to call him Popeye because he had muscle bulging out of his arms. Kornbluth said, “Hey, I’m going to beat the shit out of Madle,” and Widner said, “Who’s going to beat the shit out of who?”

I think that was the Denver convention. Other than that I had no real problems with Kornbluth – other than that night when he decided to beat the shit out of me.

(From C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary by Mark Rich.)

He was regarded a member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) Brain Trust, a colloquial name for those who engaged in weighty discussions. On the other hand, nobody liked a good time better.

Widner featured in the 1940 Worldcon masquerade as Giles Habibula, his costume constructed out of “Pogo’s hat, Trudy Kuslan’s pillow, and an anonymous bartender’s wine bottle.” He returned in 1941 as “Old Granny” from Slan.

But often Art was looking for something beyond simple fun. He is credited with creating the first original science fiction board game, Interplanetary (1943), which he described as —

a combination of a standard [auto] “race” game and Monopoly. One had to get to a planet and bring back a cargo in order to finance a trip to the next distant planet where a still more valuable cargo would be obtained, etc., out to Pluto, which harbored “Immortality Dust,” the game winner. The novel aspect was that the planets moved, making it difficult to land on one, plus such hazards as the “negasphere”. (from EESmith epics–now known as a black hole) and pirates, to say nothing of falling into the sun, getting hit with space junk, etc.

With all these complexities, it took 8-12 hours to complete a game. Using a streamlined set of rules, it became popular with fans again in the 1960s. LASFS still owns a giant Interplanetary board and has hosted games in recent decades.

Art’s literary output was limited to a single prozine sale, “The Perfect Incinerator”, under the name Arthur Lambert, that appeared in a 1942 issue of Robert Lowndes’ Science Fiction Quarterly (priced, appropriately, for a quarter.)

Widner was the most inveterate poll taker in early 1940s fandom. The Widner Poll of 1940 included a list of the top ten science fiction pulps voted on by fans. When a gloating reader pointed out to editor Ray Palmer that not one belonged to Ziff-Davis, which published Palmer’s magazine, he dismissed it, saying that although Widner’s poll may have represented a dozen fans, Ziff-Davis circulation figures showed its magazines represented several hundred thousand readers from all walks of life, all over the world.

A few years later Art launched Poll Cat, chronicled by Jack Speer  in Fancyclopedia I:

Originally it was simply concerned with preferences among stf authors, etc. Appeals were broadcast in all leading fanzines for readers to send in their votes on certain questions, and as returns were compiled, they were published, later returns being published later. Then one issue of a fanzine called The Poll Cat appeared, at which time Widner set out to test the thesis that fans are a separate and distinct type (slans or whatever you want to call them)….Looking for unusual average in fans, Widner found several characteristics that looked significant, such as longevity of grandparents, larger hat size, and greater height….

 Art attended the first Worldcon in New York in 1939, and the next four, in Chicago (1940), Denver (1941), Los Angeles (1946) and Philadelphia (1947).

He drove to the Chicago Worldcon in a 1928 Dodge, the Skylark of WooWoo, the last model made by the Dodge Brothers.

He made an epic cross-country trek to Denvention I — the Widneride — in the FooFoo Special, a car without a trunk, accompanied by “Moneybags Unger, Tree Toad Rothman, Pretty Boy Madle, [and] Sourpuss Bell.”

(Now that Widner has passed away, only four people remain alive who attended the first Worldcon: Dave Kyle, Bob Madle, Erle Korshak and Jack Robins.)

Widner married during World War II, then was drafted into the service. However, because he was “volunteered” to be a technician-guinea pig at the newly formed Climatic Research Lab in Lawrence, MA he still got to go home nearly every weekend.

His fanac slowed while he was in the military and ground to a halt when he moved his family to Los Angeles in 1948. Soon after that he gafiated completely.

Signifying his disappearance from fandom, although Art is constantly mentioned in Warner’s 1940s history All Our Yesterdays, he doesn’t have a single listing in the index of the sequel about the 1950s, A Wealth of Fable.

Widner reappeared in fandom in the 1970s – reminiscing that like Voyager 2 after 10 years he had explored the local system, science fiction fandom, and went to see what lay beyond. “Thirty-five years later I came back to report: it’s pretty lonely out there.” He returned to fandom as an “eo-neo” and bumped into Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden “who knew who I was – or rather, had been.”

Art Widner, Poul Anderson and Charles Burbee at the 1974 Westercon. Photo by Dik Daniels.

Art Widner, Poul Anderson and Charles Burbee at the 1974 Westercon. Photo by Dik Daniels.

His best known fanzine YHOS, first published from 1940 till 1945, resumed publication after a 34 year hiatus and remained a prominent faanish zine into the 1980s and 1990s. (Even Harlan Ellison read it – something Art learned when Harlan phoned his cabin early one morning to take exception to a story Art had run.)

Originally revived as Art’s FAPAzine in 1979, YHOS consisted mainly of personal reminiscences about 1940s fandom and mailing comments.  Then it started to fill out with long travel reports, the kind of thing it was known for in its original incarnation. There was a “special travel issue” about Art’s trip to the ’79 Worldcon in Britain, a report on a trip to China, and another about his visit to Australia.  In time, it took on all the features of a genzine, with a host of original contributions and classic reprints.

Art also visited the Soviet Union in 1978 with a fan tour group that included Forry Ackerman, Joe and Gay Haldeman, Art Widner, Clifton Amsbury and Charles N. Brown.

And he enjoyed sidling up to folks who hadn’t seen him since the 1940s to see if they recognized him:

I believe it was at a Norwescon that I wandered into the SFWA suite and spotted Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm sitting by themselves waiting for something to happen…. We had both changed considerably, and I only recognized him because he was famous and had his picture in Locus. He didn’t recognize me as I sat down nearby. I kept mum and gave him a chance to see past the wrinkles and gray beard, but he apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort and resumed talking to Kate.

Finally I introduced myself and he cracked up. Turning to Kate, he said, “I’d like to have you meet the guy who helped me start the dumbest organization in all fandom.”

That was the N3F. But when he resumed going to Worldcons Art said he was “quite astonished [to find] that the NFFF was still alive and kicking. Not only that, but the good-hearted fuggheads running the Welcome Room were pathetically eager to induct me into the mysteries of Trufandom about which they didn’t know a blessed thing!”

He attended the first 18 Corflus without a miss. A classic moment at the 2008 edition was Art serenading his fellow eo-fan, Jack Speer, with the first-ever filksong, written by Jack himself.

Although the term “filksong” had yet to be invented, several of these songs were sung at the 1940 Worldcon. Jack created them by setting new lyrics with a science fictional theme to familiar tunes. A snippet of one goes:

We’ll build a tempo-ship
And we’ll take a little trip,
And watch a million years go by.

You can still hear Art Widner’s mellow tones in Bill Mills’ Voice of Fandom podcast #16.

The 2007 Ditto was organized around Art’s 90th birthday and held in his hometown of Gualala, California. “I have never seen that much alcohol in a con suite, maybe even counting Midwestcon,” recalled Hope Leibwoitz in her conreport. “At the birthday party, there were 15 bottles of scotch on the table.” Art was a great fan of good scotch. People toured his eight-sided green-painted house. At one point in the con, Art read the 10 things it took him 90 years to learn, eventually published in Yhos.

He later added a new #3, in “R. Twidner”-style:

It’s specificly directed at the Religiosity Ryt.  ‘Forget John 3:16.  Read Matthew 23’  It’s what Jesus thot of the Philistines, scribes & harisees, i.e., Big Time Hypocrits.

(Michael Ward’s  photos of Art’s 90th Birthday party are online: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus Saturday Dinner at St. Orres, Art’s House, a visit to Bowling Ball Beach, and Picturesque Scenes from Gualala, California, and The Breakers Inn.)

Art was a guest of honor at many other conventions: Boskone IV (1945), Noreascon 3 (1989, as part of The Strangers Club), Norwescon VI (1983), Westercon 43 (1990), Minicon 25 (1990), Corflu 16 (1999), Ditto 19 (2007) and twice at BayCon.

A member of First Fandom and the First Fandom Hall of Fame, he was honored with the Big Heart Award in 1989, and in 2001 was selected at Corflu as Past President of the Fan Writers of America for 2000. Along with the other members of The Stranger Club, he was Fan Guest of Honor at Noreascon 3. He was nominated for the 1946 Best Fan Writer Retro Hugo at L.A.con III in 1996. He received a Special Lifetime Achievement Award at Corflu in 2011.

He was voted Down Under Fan Fund delegate in 1991 and attended the Australian NatCon.

Glenn Glazer aptly commemorated Art Widner’s passing with this quote from The Hobbit:

‘No!’ said Thorin. ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Freed of the ambitions of his first fannish life, the second time around Art knew exactly how to make this a merrier world. He set a great example for the rest of us.

Update 04/27/2015: Added Jack Robins as a surviving fan who attended the first Worldcon in 1939. Thanks to John Coker III for the correction.

Hertz: That Golden Boskone

By John Hertz: While we wait to hear about Boskone LI (14-16 Feb, Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel), I thought I’d give you one more souvenir of Boskone L.

The earliest Boskone conventions were hosted 1941-1945 by the Stranger Club; Boskone I of a new series in 1965 by BoSFS the Boston S-F Society; NESFA (New England S-F Ass’n) took the helm with Boskone V. “Boskone” for Boston + con refers to E.E. Smith’s Lensman series.

Boskone has one Guest of Honor. Along with that come an Official Artist; a Featured Filker (Boston’s history with filk music being mighty), later called Featured Musician; a Special Guest, fan or pro (some people being both); a Hal Clement Science Speaker; and a NESFA Press Guest (Nesfa Press being the publishing pseudopod of NESFA).

At Boskone L last year the GoH was Vernor Vinge; OA, Lisa Snellings; FM, Heather Dale; SG, me; SS, Jordin Kare; NPG, Jerry Pournelle. You can see my report here.

The inimitable Fo’ Paws made a spiffy tote bag. I’m not very electronic, but if I’m clever lucky or skillful I’ll have gotten you a nice picture, and you can see the NESFA emblem on the space ship.

Boskone 50 icon by Lisa Snellings.

Boskone 50 icon by Lisa Snellings.

Hertz: Why You Might Like Boskone

By John Hertz:  It’s a new year. Last month I turned in my 2013 Worldcon report in time for File 770 163 [PDF file] — a prime issue. This month Bill Wright and I closed Down Under Fan Fund nominations, and opened voting. Boskone LI is approaching at the terrifying rate of sixty seconds a minute. So I thought I’d better tell you how golden Boskone L was.

“Boskone” for Boston + con refers to E.E. Smith’s Lensman series. His Boskone and Lens first appear in Galactic Patrol (1937); prequels and sequels followed.

The earliest Boskone conventions were hosted 1941-1945 by the Stranger Club; Boskone I of a new series in 1965 by BoSFS the Boston S-F Society; current host NESFA, the New England S-F Ass’n, took the helm with Boskone V (N.S., we might say — or anyway I might). Boskone L was 15-17 Feb 13 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel; Boskone LI will be likewise 14-16 Feb 14.

I was Special Guest at Boskone L. Boskone doesn’t have Fan Guests of Honor; the SG may be a fan or pro (or both): before me had been Guy Consolmagno, Irene Gallo, Bob Madle, Shawna McCarthy, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Toni Weisskopf, Tom Whitmore.

In fact there is one Guest of Honor. Therewith, an Official Artist; a Featured Filker (Boston’s history with filk music being mighty), later called Featured Musician; an SG; a Hal Clement Science Speaker; and a NESFA Press Guest (NESFA Press being the publishing pseudopod of NESFA). Some folks are or become variously eminent: Jordin Kare, FF in 2000, was SS in 2013.

At Boskone L the GoH was Vernor Vinge; OA, Lisa Snellings; FM, Heather Dale; SG, me; SS, Kare; NPG, Jerry Pournelle. Chair, Rick Kovalcik. Attendance about 1,000.

Suford Lewis, then NESFA President, thought to publish a fourth collection of my fanwriting, and reprint the three previous. This was done, the fourth being Neither Complete nor Conclusive, released at the con. I couldn’t or anyway didn’t resist a Lensman reference. Nor does the con newszine, naturally Helmuth speaking for Boskone.

It’s only fair to note that in the event Neither took extra hours by Suford, sleeping on a NESFA Clubhouse couch by me, learning what was with the %*?! software and printer by Paula Lieberman, and a host of others, all in a hard day’s or night’s work.

I led three Classics of S-F talks, The Man in the High Castle (1962), Moonraker (1955), and Patrol. Another project was a reprise of the Chicon VII Diane & Leo Dillon exhibit. Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink had kindly modified her top label. Sure enough Chip Hitchcock arrived with NESFA Library books the Dillons had illustrated. He’d co-chaired World Fantasy Con XXV where they were Guests of Honor.

Colored tape on the hotel’s lower-level floor ran to the Art Show, the Dealers’ Room, Hospitality. Ron Salomon talked with Pournelle about wise and unwise couplings, e.g. telephones and cameras. Guest Liaison Persis Thorndike’s daughter Talis Thorndike Love headed a children’s space, Dragon’s Lair; she’d been the child warrior helped by a dragon in “Seeking Hope” at the Millennium Philcon Masquerade, to which I and the other judges awarded Best Transformation.

Alas, I couldn’t attend “Who Painted That?”, reprising a panel or maybe game I’d built for L.A.con IV from watching Bob Eggleton browse at Massoglia Books; Renovation reprised it with Mark Olson moderating; now John Picacio moderated Eggleton, Olson, and Joe Siclari. In the Art Show, Siclari with Edie Stern curated a superb 50-year Boskone retrospective. I had my hands full with Galactic Patrol.

In that discussion Fred Lerner brought up Ezra Pound’s “news that stays news”. Lori Meltzer said the aliens weren’t what we were used to. Ben Yalow said their incomprehensibility was made a tool to show character development. I said we weren’t used to seeing that from outside. C.D. Carson said, as in Homer.

At the Awards Ceremony the Skylark, whose trophy is a lens, was given to Ginjer Buchanan. Stern had in 2012 been made a Fellow of NESFA. I said fandom’s difference was participation. Dale sang.

Moonraker was intense. Meltzer asked if its rocket could as well have been a sailboat. I expounded 1955 British rocket science, seconded by Peter Weston. We dug into the role of science in s-f, the characterization of Bond and Brand and Drax, the skill of Fleming.

I lunched with Woody Bernardi and Geri Sullivan, took Picacio’s Art Show tour and gave mine, led Regency Dancing, heard filking, and taught Zev Sero something he didn’t know about the Book of Jonah. As Judah P. Benjamin said in Britain, that’s my case, my lords.

Classics of SF at Boskone

Going to Boskone/? John Hertz as Special Guest will lead discussions of three SF Classics; here are his notes so you can read up.

We’ll take up three classics at Boskone 50, one discussion each.

Each of our three is famous, each in a different way.  Each may be even more interesting now than when it was first published.

Our working definition is, “A classic is a work that survives its own time.  After the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.”  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Come to as many as you like.  You’ll be welcome to join in.

Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle (1962)

This won Dick’s only Hugo.  The Allies lost World War II; Nazi Germany con­trols the east of North America, Imperial Japan the west, where the story is mostly set.  Avram Davidson said “It’s all here, extrapolation, suspense, action, art philosophy,” and if the likes of us dare add to him, endless resonances, for example falsehood.

Ian Fleming

Moonraker (1955)

Nothing like the Moonraker came for two more years; even then the R-7 and Atlas couldn’t burn hydrogen – fluorine.  Science fiction all right.  Can James Bond take it?  What can we learn?  Could this be among the rare craftsmanly s-f from authors outside our field?  What about the denouement of Gala Brand?

E.E. Smith

Galactic Patrol (1937)

Here we first meet Boskone and the Lens; prequels and sequels followed.  Samuel Johnson said the essence of poetry was invention; Patrol has that; its vitality, and its focus through all the coruscations, are remarkable.  Characterization?  If you think Worsel is painted too explicitly, look at Kinnison’s leaving footprints all over Blakeslee

Pam Fremon, F.N. Passes Away

Pam Fremon died November 7 of a heart attack reports Deb Geisler. Fremon, a long-time NESFA member, lived in Waltham, MA. She chaired the 2002 and 2006 Boskones, served several terms as Clerk of the NESFA, and was selected a Fellow of NESFA in 1990.

“She brought together MCFI and Bill Neville who did all our Lens-Family art, and was a major force in the group that did the starry vests that you showed in a recent item,” Chip Hitchcock recalls, adding this praise: “She was invariably calm when people around her got more and more tightly wound.”

“At Noreascon Four, [Pam] was the goddess of signs, pumping out many, many signs for the convention while not-quite chained to the large-format printer we had bought for the task,” said Deb, pointing to the photo below.

I remember the deftly humorous meeting reports she wrote when Clerk of the NESFA – some bits so funny I had to share them in File 770. Here are two examples: each begins with my couple of lines of introduction, followed by Pam’s quotes.

From 2000:

Hardly anyone is embarrassed to be seen entering a NESFA meeting anymore, but there seems a good reason not to attract attention on the way out. Clerk Pam Fremon says at the end of the January 23 meeting:

     “We stole away into the night, mindful of the wolves.

     “Through the years, many creatures have, of course, chased NESFAns on the way to Other Meetings — such a common occurrence that it has never seen mention in Instant Message….until now.

     “Wolves are fairly typical predators for winter meetings, but going a little further north (say, Andover, MA), polar bears are not uncommon, though they don’t usually appear until January (in December they’re too busy with Coca-Cola commercials.) In most of the rest of the year the chasers vary: moose, snakes, coyotes, pigeons. In one notably hot day when even cars were so hot that they could manage just 15 mph, members were chased by turtles.”

From 2003:

Instant Message 711 (and what issue could have a luckier number than that?) Clerk Pam Fremon reported the menu of NESFA’s November 24 Other Meeting:

     “Deb [Geisler] and Mike [Benveniste] fed us to the gills with an enormous tray of lasagna (containing 5 lbs. of meat and 2 lbs. of mushrooms). It was a free-range lasagna that had been humanely slaughtered and carried no trace of fur, feathers, nor scales. Deb acknowledged that this year she hadn’t also made an emergency back-up lasagna, figuring that this one would be enough. As she said, people had brought enough sweets for 27 courses of desserts. At the end of the meal there was only one helping of lasagna, and Dave Grubbs (after some coaxing) valiantly threw himself onto it.”

Pam Fremon with the large-format printer at Noreascon 4.

Cons Piracy Hits the Web

Heavy aftershocks were felt for months after the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, and according to a popular joke if you asked a man in Natchez how his farm was he’d run home to see if it was still there. You’ll soon be hearing a new version of that story featuring conrunners who’ve been asked how their websites are doing. But the former owners of and can save themselves the trip: cyber squatters now own their farms.

Cons are often marketed online using internet domain names identical to the convention’s name. Domain names have finite lives and must be renewed.

The address, which originally hosted a site about the con’s history, with reliable pointers to current Eastercon publicity, was edited (according to a post at Anonymousclaire) by Alex McLintock and Chris O’Shea.

The New England Science Fiction Association unhappily found its “” address evidently had expired and been re-registered by a cyber squatter. The club is taking action on the squatter, according to Instant Message #796.

That is not the only Boskone domain. still forwards readers to NESFA’s official web page promoting the convention. (Athough this state of affairs is destined to end in November, according to On the other hand, already talks about nothing but last August’s Lynch/Cheshire wedding in Seattle, and for the explanation of that your guess is as good as mine.