Elliot K. Shorter (1939-2013)

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, PA. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Legendary fan Elliot K. Shorter died from complications of cancer on October 1 after spending his last days in hospice care. Shorter, who once stood 6’ 4” and served as a military policeman with the U.S. Army in Germany, started attending conventions in 1962 and was one of the few African-Americans in Sixties fandom.

The sources of his popularity are evident from Shorter’s platform on the 1970 TAFF ballot –

Always visible at a convention or fan gatherings due to his height and girth, with or without a guitar slung on his back. But the important thing about Elliot is that he is fun! Fun to talk with, sing with, get drunk with, turn a mimeo crank with.

He won that TAFF race over Charlie Brown and Bill Rotsler, in the process becoming one of the 1970 Worldcon guests of honor. Heicon had decided prior to the convention to select the TAFF winner as its Fan GoH.

His was a name to conjure with among LASFSians when I joined the club in 1970 because at the previous year’s Worldcon he had confronted another force of nature, our eminent local genius Harlan Ellison. Decades later James Frenkel recalled that scene at St. Louiscon for Tor.com —

During the masquerade, some guy with a sword had managed to find a seam in the big movie screen that nobody retracted while costumed people tromped across the stage. $1500 worth of damage to the screen ensued. So Harlan suggested that we all chip in a buck to help fix the screen. With 1600 people there, that would work. And it did, eventually. Of course, it’s hard to make sure there’s EXACTLY enough money for the purpose. There was, in fact, more money passed to the dais. What to do with the extra money?

Harlan suggested that it be donated to the very new Clarion Writers Workshop. He was (of course) an eloquent advocate for this cause, a workshop devoted to fostering the SF writers of tomorrow. Sounded good to me…but not to everyone. That was when Elliot Shorter, a bookseller, a New Yorker, a very, very tall, imposing man of color whose bulk rose more than a full foot over Harlan as he stood up and said, in his surprisingly high-pitched but at that moment quite audible and angry voice, “Now wait just one darned minute, Harlan.” There followed a rather dramatic moment in which Elliot advanced on Harlan, and many in the room held their breath…

Elliot quite reasonably pointed out that people had sent their dollars up to the dais to fix the screen, not to support Clarion, and it wouldn’t be fair to simply take the excess for a different purpose without first asking the assembled multitude if this was what they preferred. After a certain amount of fannish discussion it was finally decided to use the extra money to establish the Worldcon Emergency Fund, for things like emergency screen repair and other possible Worldcon needs. This has come in very handy on occasion, most notably when a Worldcon in the early 1980s wound up with a significant financial shortfall.

Shorter belonged to the Tolkien Society of America, Hyborean Legion, the City College of New York SF Club, ESFA, Lunarians, Fanoclasts and NESFA.

He was among the Founding Fellows named to the Fellowship of NESFA in 1976.

He joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in 1968 where he was known as Master El of the Two Knives. He was part of the Barony of the Bridge (established 1973) longer than anyone else.

He worked on his friends’ fanzines, helping to produce issues of Locus and Niekas. He wrote the beginnings of his TAFF trip report for The Spanish Inquisition (1976) but it remained unfinished.

He served NYCon 3, the 1967 Worldcon, as Sergeant-at-Arms and was immortalized in Jack Gaughan’s NYCon3 Comics. Andrew Porter explains the issue’s cover —

Shorter is shown walking down the ramp holding another NYCon committee member, rich brown. I’m the big guy in the back, with glasses. The others on the ramp, from the bottom, are Ted White, Dave Van Arnam, Mike McInerney, Robin White, and John Boardman.

NyCon Comics

As Parliamentarian of Noreascon I (1971) he perfected the wording of a new rule that allowed mail-in site selection voting for the first time.

He was part of the “7 for 77” bid committee, a slate of East Coast fans who proposed to run a Worldcon in Orlando. They won, but their convention hotel went bankrupt and refused to honor its contract, causing the Worldcon to move to Miami Beach.

For awhile Shorter ran Merlin’s Closet, a bookstore opened in 1979 in Providence, RI which specialized in SF and fantasy.

As a public figure, Shorter operated in dynamic tension between people’s sense of affection and intimidation, which led to many dramatic moments in his fannish resume.

Before the start of the Discon II Masquerade (1974), when emcee Jack Chalker announced “No flash photography,” someone in the audience (by pre-arrangement) stood up and took a photo using a flash. Michael J. Walsh describes what happened next —

Jack looked pained, called out and from either side of the stage came Elliot and one other linebacker sized fan. Into the audience they went, the camera (a prop of sorts) was rather publicly broken, the miscreant dragged up on stage and then off stage. Whereupon loud thwacking sounds were heard along with cries of pain.

“Remember: no flash photography,” said Jack.

Oddly enough there were no flash photographs taken during the masquerade.

Also, as Morris Keesan recently recalled for File 770

My favorite Eliot Shorter moment occurred one evening when I met Eliot and some other folks for supper in Harvard Square, after they had been participating in some sort of SCA event on the banks of the Charles. We went to The Stockpot, a salad-bar-and-soup restaurant, and at the end of the salad bar, there were some loaves of bread, along with knives for cutting slices of bread. Eliot tried using one of these flimsy bread knives, and became quickly frustrated with its lack of effectiveness, and muttering something like the Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” line, innocently pulled a large, and very sharp, knife from its scabbard on his belt, and used it to cut himself a slice of bread. The looks on the faces of the elderly couple next to him as he pulled out his knife were priceless. They calmed down a little bit when they realized what he was using the knife for, but I don’t think they had fully recovered from the shock by the time we left.

Shorter was fictionalized as “George Long” in the Niven/Pournelle/Flynn novel about fandom, Fallen Angels. Some believe he is also the model for “Shorty Mkrum” in Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

Prior to his final illness Shorter spent the last five years in declining health, suffering the amputation of a foot in 2008, while cared for at VA and other hospitals.

Master El in SCA garb at Black Rose Ball in 2010.

Master El at Black Rose Ball in 2010.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter and Vijay deSelby-Bowen for the story.]

Elliot Shorter Health Update

By Andrew Porter: [Paraphrasing an e-mail by Mark Blackman.] Elliot Shorter has been experiencing some unexplained health issues that taken together show an overall decline in health. After examination at the VA Hospital, it was determined that he has cancer. It has spread to the extent that treatment is more than he can cope with. He is not in pain, but is tired. He is not on e-mail nor phone, but letters can be addressed to him at Harris Health Center, 833 Broadway, East Providence RI 02914.

The time table is uncertain. “He knows and clearly stated, he can’t beat this one. … he sees this as time to quietly enjoy what is left, reminisce about good times past and remain comfortable as long as he has quality-of-life.” Hospice staff will read correspondence to him.

“Do not gift him items; we have begun determining how he wants his current possessions bequeathed and that is taxing as is.  Photos and letters are welcome reminders of the good things he has begun talking about, highlighting what he has valued in the past. If you are concerned about items or gifts given in years past or are remembering something he promised you in the past, contact <camorissette (at) aol (dot) com> … so I may relay this information to El. This information may be shared in the effort to notify those for whom El has been a friend or more.”

Elliott Shorter Update

Master El at Black Rose Ball

It’s been almost a year since my last story on Elliot Shorter. Through Facebook I’ve learned he has been getting around more and been feeling better. Master El looked particularly elegant in his Society for Creative Anachronism attire at the Black Rose Ball on February 6.

During the fall he attended the Bridge Birthday Party in Hope Valley, Rhode Island and even took charge of one side in a board game played with living pieces:

Later in the evening, El climbed the long, steep stairs to the second floor — with the help of the “brute squad” — to take part in the traditional bout of live alquerques (an ancestor of checkers and chess, and one of the oldest known board games). El took one side of the tabletop board, and Josef the other, while a host of local lords and ladies took to the carefully marked-up floor to play out their moves, stylishly sweeping the opposing pieces off the board. Three games were played … and the final score was a tie, with one win for El, one for his opponent, and one draw.

Elliot Shorter Back in VA Hospital

The Master-El Livejournal reports Elliot Shorter returned to the Providence VA Medical Center on March 17 for treatment of a persistent cough and chest pressure, possibly “another MRSA-type infection that is complicating his already existing cold.”

David Klaus comments: “I hope it’s not MRSA, or as it was known at my hospital, ORSA, which along with VRE and C.Diff. are the banes of modern hospitalization and long-term care, requiring patients to be contact-isolated: everyone entering the patient’s room must be gowned and gloved, which must be removed at the door upon leaving the room. (The idea is that anything you pick up in the room will be on the disposable gown/gloves, and shed with their removal at the door.) The patient must be gowned and gloved before leaving the room for therapy or any other purpose (a barrier against spreading outside their room).”

[Thanks to David for the story.]

Top 10 Posts for November 2008

This month’s elections helped boost a few posts with a presidential theme onto a list otherwise dominated by news of Forry Ackerman’s health and his 92nd birthday celebration. Thanks to a tie, this time the Top 10 lists 11 of the most-viewed posts in November 2008, according to Google Analytics…

1. Friends Visiting Forry
2. Pulpcon Torn Apart
3. Jane Badler Joins the Resistance
4. Keeping an Eye on Sea World
5. Now How Will We Know It’s the Future?
6. Bradbury Sets Ackerman Birthday Salute
7. John Hertz Reports: A Very Merry Unbirthday
8. Not a Forbidden Remake
9. Elliot Shorter’s New Location
10. (tie) Forry Riding a Wave of Encouragement
10. (tie) Pournelle’s Job in the Obama Administration

Elliot Shorter’s New Location

Elliot Shorter has been moved to a new facility.

“Elliot is doing very well.  He is working hard during physical therapy, eating well, voted through a mail-in ballot and is in good spirits. An important update is in need though. El has done so well he was deemed ready for placement in a long term care facility. We were hoping a bed would come available at Oak Hill but this did not happen. The first opening came at a very nice facility in East Providence and that is where he transferred today. El placed himself on the waiting list to return to Oak Hill if possible. The new facility is nice, he has a private room. There is going to be some getting used to this change. The address for the new home is: HARRIS HEALTH CENTER, 833 BROADWAY, EAST PROVIDENCE, RI 02914. He is in room 25….”

There is another new post at the Master-El LJ, too.

[Thanks to David Klaus and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Shorter Improving

Mike Walsh posted here that he and Elspeth Kovar visited Elliot Shorter on September 18:

He’s in good spirits. He’s been hearing from folks he hasn’t heard from in … well, decades. High school friends even.

A few days earlier, someone copied me on Mark Blackman’s month-old e-mail with another visitor’s encouraging words after seeing Shorter on August 20. Due to markups from multiple forwards, he wasn’t quite sure who to credit for writing it:

I visited Master El today, and when I walked in he was sitting up in bed, and eating real food!!  Ok so, it was kinda mooshed up, but it was real peas, rice, some kind of meat with gravy, juice, and sherbet. This was the first real solid food he has had since May 1st! Oh, yeah, and feeding himself, not being fed, he was actually able to hold the spoon and getting it to his mouth….

So, anyway, in my not so humble opinion, El is getting somewhat better, getting good care, and is eagerly accepting his physical therapy. Another cool thing is that the relatives of his roommate are actually old friends of his too.

Oak Hill Rehab Center
544 Pleasant Street
Pawtucket, RI 02860
Room 314A

Keep those cards, letters & visits coming, gang, because each one seems to make him stronger.

Elliot Shorter News

On July 21, Chris Morissette (Eloi) e-mailed people a new update about Elliot Shorter:

Elliot has spent the last two nights at Miriam Hospital due to arrhythmia and chest pain. The doctors feel it is under control and he will be returning to Oak Hill tomorrow, 7/22, as long as everything remains OK. I was exhausted when I got in and failed to write. He is in good spirits and continues to ask that people send cards and visit when possible. He asks that nobody be discouraged if he is asleep, he does that a lot and to just say his name to see if he is resting and not deep asleep.

[Thanks to Moshe Feder for the story.]

Elliot Shorter Developments

The latest information I have seen is this forwarded e-mail from Chris Morissette (Eloi) on July 10:

This update is one that I need listened to and forwarded rapidly. I am not happy to have to say that people should make time to see Elliot. We met with his doctors today and they told him we have hit the roof in the getting better department. He will almost certainly never leave a hospital bed again. After such a huge turn around, he is aware and talking clearly and understands all this, to hear that has taken some wind from our sails. His response when he heard this prognosis was “he’s dead Jim.” He skipped Dialysis the other day. I told him that if he starts giving up that he needs to give me notice and allow people time to see him while he can still be him. He didn’t really take the bait and get feisty, he said yes, he would like to see people. The doctors told him he could stop all treatment and make him comfortable, this killed me. I am worried that having seen him during this exchange that he won’t fight this long. He is at the Providence [RI] VA [Veterans Administration hospital], 6a. I bring all cards and e-mailed well wishes to him, don’t hesitate to write please. Thank you all for everything.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]