John Hertz: Forry Remembered at Lunacon

By John Hertz: Lunacon is hosted annually by the New York S-F Society, the Lunarians. Lunacon LII in 2009 was March 20-22 at the Hilton Rye Town, Rye Brook, N.Y., fondly known as the Klein Bottle Hotel because the fourth floor is the seventh floor and the green grass grows all around.

The Forry Ackerman memorial was Sunday morning at 10. Lee Gilliland moderated Louis Epstein, Dennis McCunney, the Wombat, and me. Dave Kyle was attending the con but not staying in the hotel. We asked him to join us but he couldn’t get his car through the multi-dimensional barriers in time.

Without Kyle, everyone on the panel was much younger than Forry. I thought this showed how he reached into the future. The Wombat had met him in 1973 – when Forry had already been an active fan almost forty years.

Lenny Provenzano in the audience had some photos of Forry and his house the Ackermansion on a laptop computer. Failing to get a big screen and a projector we put the laptop on the table and crowded in. Forry would have found some way to joke about the laptop turning into a desktop and no doubt being a were-computer.

Gilliland who is active in Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom remembered Forry in “The Vampire Affair”. He had many cameo appearances. Epstein who co-founded the National Tolkien Society remembered Forry in the 1981 edition of Tolkien’s letters. Forry was an agent for an early project to film The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s comments are pungent today.

I told how Forry had co-founded the Big Heart Award. When he stepped down from administering it after fifty years, we could finally give it to him. He won the first fan Hugo. When he was called to the stage he said “But I really think this should go to Ken Slater” and walked away.

Once Forry was driving Walt Willis across the country. Just thinking of those two punsters together staggers the mind. In Wyoming he told Willis they should visit Cheyenne because of its literary reputation. Willis said he didn’t know it. “What!” said Forry, “you haven’t heard of Cheyenne’s fiction?”

Forry held Open House at the Ackermansion every Saturday he was in town. He had hundreds of thousands of books, and things too fierce to mention. He told tours, “I’ve read every last word.” They would gasp. “Yes,” he would say, “as soon as I get another book I turn to the last page, and read the last word. So I’ve read every last word.”

Ackerman’s Hugo

Forry Ackerman stopped being the winner of the first Hugo Award again the other day. And not in nearly so nice a way as he did originally.

History records that immediately after he was handed the very first Hugo Award as #1 Fan Personality at the 1953 Worldcon, Ackerman declined it in favor of Ken Slater and abandoned the little rocket-shaped trophy on stage to be forwarded to Britain. This was acknowledged a magnificent gesture by everyone — except Forry’s wife, Wendayne, and about that, more in a moment.

Now Forry has been deprived of his Hugo in a whole new way. Rich Lynch complained to a Southern Fandom listserv on February 9 that The Long List of Hugo Awards was changed to show Ackerman’s #1 Fan Personality honor (and Willy Ley’s for Excellence in Fact Articles, too) as being only Committee Awards. Reportedly, the Formalization of Long List Entries (FOLLE) Committee, a panel of a few fans selected by the Worldcon business meeting to vet its institutional history, has decided for some undisclosed reason that the Ackerman and Ley awards were not voted by the membership, as were other Hugos, just picked by the Philcon committee.

Was the winner of the #1 Fan Personality category determined in the same manner as the pro categories, by ballot, or not? Well, Wendayne Ackerman thought so. Forry’s article says that right after he turned it down “Wendy was furious. She said, ‘What have you done, Forry? You’ve insulted the entire convention! They voted this to you — how could you give it away??'” Harry Warner Jr., seems convinced that all the winners were voted upon because (1) he makes inferences about the unpublished results of the vote (see Wealth of Fable, page 369), and (2) draws no distinction between #1 Fan Personality and the other Hugos. Seeming to clinch the argument, Rich Lynch added to the online discussion that Bob Madle confirms both the Ackerman and Ley Hugos were voted by members.

I opened my copy of Isaac Asimov’s The Hugo Winners Volumes I & II to see whether the Good Doctor shed any light on the subject. He did, but not at the very beginning of Volume I where I expected it. Asimov’s collection of Hugo-winning short fiction only begins in 1955 — for the simple reason that there were no short fiction Hugo awards given in 1953. (Warner speculates that a lack of votes led the committee not to name a winner in some categories.)

The Appendix to Asimov’s Volume I names all the Hugo winners through 1961 based on a list compiled by Ed Wood. Ackerman’s Hugo appears first on that list. Fan historiographers know Ed Wood was a fellow with strong opinions about the subject which he never hesitated to share. Nor should it be overlooked that it was Asimov himself who presided over the 1953 ceremony and personally handed Ackerman the award. That the list in The Hugo Winners names Ackerman without further comment inclines me to treat Wood and Asimov as two more votes in favor of the proposition that what Ackerman won was a Hugo.

It happens that, decades later, Ackerman secured the return of the trophy so it could be added to his collection, having asked Slater whether he had plans for the award when he passed on. It is one of the things remaining in the estate and its fate is still being decided. Lynch seems to think that news somehow led the FOLLE committee to take up the question at this time.

Postscript: Really, the most peculiar thing about this example of FOLLE revisionism is the committee’s failure to fully extrapolate the logical implications of its own idea. (That sound you hear is John W. Campbell, Jr. spinning in his grave). Ackerman’s gesture in declining the first Hugo didn’t prevent a whole succession of editors of the Long List from recording him as its winner, with never a reference to Slater. That is the appropriate decision for a subject determined by vote of the membership because the winner is a computational fact, no matter what the winner does with the hardware. But accepting for discussion’s sake that the committee picked the winner of this award… Well, after Ackerman turned it down the committee did send Slater the award. It’s Slater that the committee gave the #1 Fan Personality trophy to in the end.