Memoir About Frank Robinson, Pulp Collector

Walker Martin has written an excellent reminiscence of Frank Robinson, friendly pulp collector at Mystery File.

Great collectors compile great collections not just by buying them but also by helping other collectors. I’ve run into this a hundred times with old-time collectors over the years. Here are some examples where Frank attempted to help me with my collection:

1. During our correspondence, Frank asked me for my want list. At the time I was collecting just about every major pulp title except for the love, sport, and aviation/war magazines. Therefore it was several pages long and handwritten. He found several of my wants and we traded back and forth. A couple months later, I received in the mail a neatly typed manuscript. It was my handwritten want list that Frank had typed and without errors. It must have taken him hours to do it.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the link.]

Frank M. Robinson (1926-2014)

Frank M. Robinson

Frank M. Robinson

Frank M. Robinson, best-selling fiction author, editor, collector and sf historian died June 30 reports SF Site News. He was 87. His health was known to be in decline, as he had been unable to participate in person as Special Guest at last month’s SFWA Nebula Weekend.

Among his many novels, Robinson considered The Dark Beyond The Stars his best but said Waiting was the most popular. Several were made into movies: The Power, which starred George Hamilton and Michael Rennie, and two collaborations with Thomas N. Scortia, The Glass Inferno, produced as The Towering Inferno and starring everyone in Hollywood from Paul Newman to O.J. Simpson, and The Gold Crew, retitled The Fifth Missile for the screen.

Robinson received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award in 2001, and was voted First Fandom’s Moskowitz Archive Award for excellence in science fiction collecting in 2008. When he auctioned off his cherished pulp magazine collection in 2012 it fetched over a half million dollars.

He was an editor for Family Weekly, Science Digest, Rogue, Cavalier, Playboy (where he was responsible for “The Playboy Advisor”) and Censorship Today.

He authored several coffee-table volumes including Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines and the Hugo Award-winning Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History.

Robinson served as a Navy radar technician in World War II. After receiving his discharge he took a degree in Physics at Beloit College. He rejoined the Navy during the Korean War.

He had a bit part in The Intruder, which starred William Shatner years before he did Star Trek. He also made a cameo appearance in the feature film, Milk, for the excellent reason that Robinson had worked as Harvey Milk’s speechwriter and was one of his closest advisers. In 1977, Milk became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

Robinson explained that the connection happened practically by coincidence. He was in San Francisco on a writing assignment in 1973, when Milk, who owned a Castro Street camera shop, was preparing his second bid for city supervisor. Said Robinson — “I used to walk down to the Castro every morning for breakfast and pass the camera store. One day I fell into conversation with Harvey, and it came up that I was a writer. He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you be my speechwriter?’”

Something For Everyone

SFWA has found an interesting way to mark the end of a week of strife between the opponents of Political Correctness and the critics of sexism in the Bulletin.

SFWA has selected Frank Robinson, author of The Glass Inferno and the Hugo Award-winning Science Fiction of the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History, to be a Special Guest for its Nebula 2014 Weekend in San Jose.

Robinson, on one hand, once ran Playboy’s Advisor column.

On the other, he once was Harvey Milk’s speechwriter.

Can we all just get along?

Stfnal Additions to National Film Registry

The Matrix and Rob Epstein’s documentary The Times of Harvey Milk are among 25 films being added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

The Matrix (1999) is well-known both for its science fiction story line and for innovative filmmaking techniques such as the multi-camera setup that dramatically displayed Neo dodging bullets.

The Harvey Milk documentary’s genre connection is indirect – sf author Frank Robinson was Milk’s speechwriter and one of his closest advisers. I don’t know whether Robinson is present in the background of any of the news footage utilized by the Epstein documentary. Robinson did have a cameo appearance in the feature film, Milk.

Since 1989 the National Film Registry has been selecting moving images that it considers important enough to be preserved by the Library of Congress as part of the nation’s permanent visual record.

Robinson Auction Sales Released

The first of twelve lots from the collection of Frank Robinson was auctioned last week by Adventure House and the results have been posted. I copied the web pages into a spreadsheet and the sales displayed online added up to $577,606.50.

A complete run of Weird Tales, labeled the “crown jewel of Frank Robinson’s collection,” 366 pieces, fetched $250,000.

Other sales in the upper limits of the stratosphere were:

Doc Savage, complete set –$50,000
The Blue Book Magazine, a nearly complete run, 593 pieces –$48,000
Adventure, complete set, 753 pieces –$40,000
Amazing Stories, a nearly complete run through 1998, 594 pieces — $40,000
Astounding, a full run (pulp, large size, and digest) –$30,000
Planet Stories, complete set, 71 pieces — $14,000
The Mysterious Wu Fang, complete set, 7 pieces — $9,400
Wonder Stories, 68 issues — $8,000
Thrilling Wonder Stories, complete run, 111 pieces — $6,650
Startling Stories, complete run, 99 issues –$4,750
Fantastic Adventures, complete run, 129 pieces — $3,500
Air Wonder Stories, 11 issues — $3,000

While a lot of the sales have eye-catching totals they didn’t always amount to much per-issue. After the run of Wu Fang, among the most valuable individual items were the 2 issues of Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories (a complete run), commanding a price together of $2,200.

Because I used to collect bedsheet Astoundings I was interested that a set of 25 brought $300. I suspect that with inflation factored in it’s really no more than I was buying them for in the Seventies.

Likewise charter subscribers to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine will be disappointed that a nearly complete run through 1999, 229 issues, sold for a grand total of $1,000. If you were holding these for investment, now would be a good time to clear that space on your bookshelves.

While only an experienced pulp collector would be able to spot the genuine missed values, as a layman I was surprised by some results among the British prozines. The first 21 issues of New Worlds went for just $400. Several other lots of New Worlds received no bid at all. The 54 issues from the Sixties sold for only $425. Going unsold were 39 copies of Nebula Science Fiction, a British prozine of the Fifties, noted as the first to publish Robert Silverberg and Brian Aldiss, and also ran a book review column by Ken Slater. So I must be naïve to expect historicity to translate to higher prices.

First Robinson Pulp Auction

The first lot to go under the hammer in the auction of Frank M. Robinson’s pulp collection fetched $250,000 reports John King Tarpinian. (Eventually the official take will be posted here.)

Tarpinian also heard Robinson was offered $100,000 for the lot before the auction started.

The second of 12 lots is scheduled to be auctioned on March 9.

Update 03/01/2012: Participants in the auction dispute the figure reported here, saying it was actually much higher. Well, if there had to be a mistake I’m glad the correction means Frank Robinson realized even more from the first lot auctioned from his collection. I will be watching for the results to be posted as promised by the official web page.

Delivering Milk

Milk is on the way, and longtime fan Earl Kemp says be sure to notice — “I’m part of the wallpaper in many scenes. Please applaud loudly when you see the guy in the very loud, 1979 three piece plaid suit.”

Kemp also points fans to the Chicago Reader’s article publicizing the movie — it focuses on sf writer Frank Robinson and is subtitled “How local sci-fi writer Frank Robinson went from The Towering Inferno to the ‘hope speech’.”

Robinson, a Chicago native, was Milk’s speechwriter and one of his closest advisers. A writing job took him to San Francisco in 1973, just as Milk, a New York transplant with a Castro Street camera shop, was gearing up for his second bid for city supervisor. “I used to walk down to the Castro every morning for breakfast and pass the camera store,” Robinson recalls. “One day I fell into conversation with Harvey, and it came up that I was a writer. He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you be my speechwriter?'”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]