James H. Burns Has Died

James H Burns

A day of mourning. Frequent File 770 contributor James H. Burns has died, found by his landlord on June 2. A month ago Jim was hospitalized for blood clots in his legs and put on blood thinners. After he was released, Jim also told me he was troubled by other medical “mysteries,” comparing his case to an episode of House but without ever saying in so many words what the problems were.

Now other friends of Burns’ are saying on Facebook that doctors found a lump in his lungs and he’d been scheduled for a biopsy on Wednesday, but having no one to go with him had stayed home. By the next day he passed away.

Jim was about 56 years old. When this photo was taken by Patrick O’Neill in 1976 or 1977, he was about thirteen or fourteen years old – and already writing for some of the science fiction film magazines. (On the right is longtime sf fan and 1970s convention organizer, Steve Rosenstein.)

File 770's very own James H. Burns (back when he was more usually known as Jim!), circa 1976 or 1977 (when he was only thirteen or fourteen years old, but already writing for some of the science fiction film magazines!), with long time SF fan and 1970s convention organizer, Steve Rosenstein. Photo by Patrick O’Neill.

James H. Burns circa 1976 or 1977 with long time SF fan and 1970s convention organizer, Steve Rosenstein. Photo by Patrick O’Neill.

He was among the first writers for Starlog and a contributing editor to Fantastic Films, and Steranko’s Prevue. Jim was one of the first genre magazine nonfiction writers to cross over to mainstream publications like Gentleman’s Quarterly, Esquire and American Film, while continuing to write for Cinefantastique, Starburst, Heavy Metal and Twilight Zone magazines.

Jim also had the chance to appear in some movies, given minor parts in Igor and the Lunatics (1985), On the Q.T. (1999) and For Love of the Game (1999).

In his last years he became active in radio, and authored Op-Eds and features for Newsday, The Village Voice, thesportingnews.com and The New York Times.

Jim had a large fund of anecdotes about sf, movies, tv and the New York theater, which he enjoyed sharing on several fannish blogs and in the forums at the Classic Horror Film Board.

Around 2012, Jim discovered File 770. Initially I was signal boosting his pieces for other sites, Jim earning his way by authoring entertaining original “hooks” that made fans want to click and read the rest.

I always wished Jim was writing that stuff for me – and eventually my wish came true. He became one of the most active and creative participants here. The past two years we’ve exchanged e-mails every couple of days, Jim constantly coming up with ideas, drafting new articles, or finding ways to adapt material published earlier in his career.

Jim was especially proud of a trio of posts that paid tribute to the influence of his father — My Father, And The Brontosaurus, Sons of a Mesozoic Age, and World War II, and a Lexicon in Time.

Quite often his posts here were inspired by memories of “growing up fannish,” such as the very popular Once, When We Were All Scientists, and CLANKY!.

He also wrote about celebrities he’d known (Joe Franklin, R.I.P., THE Man from U.N.C.L.E.), comics history (Marvel Comics to Implode — End of a Fifty-Plus Year Era and Lee Falk’s Phantom of Happy Memory), longtime figures in NY fandom who’d passed away (Alan Levine, “Original Dealer,” 79 Years Old, R.I.P.), and pop culture classics that needed a champion (Are We Ready Again For George Pal’s Puppetoons?).

Jim’s strength as a writer was his ability to remind readers why they were – as he was – sentimentally attached to the works and experiences that brought us into fandom. That’s been a lifeline for me amid the uninterrupted controversies that fill my blog. Filers often ask each other what they love. That question was one Jim clearly enjoyed answering over and over. How much he will be missed.

Pixel Scroll 5/30/16 You Only Five Twice

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(1) MEMORIAL DAY. Honoring service and sacrifice — James H. Burns’ 2015 tribute to the WWII generation:

Yet, one of the biggest influences on that generation has remained generally uncommented on. Decades later, it can almost be viewed as a secret text, or a  vast compendium, that may well have helped prepare our country’s youth for the immense challenges that awaited them.

In the 1930s, during the height of the Great Depression–still the toughest economic calamity that ever faced the United States–ANYONE could tune in, on the radio, to the terrific adventure series, comedies and dramas that were performed LIVE, for national broadcast.

It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, or what race or creed you encompassed. There was a wide array of delights simply waiting to be discovered….

(2) LLAMA DROP. Kameron Hurley has a book out tomorrow that she expects to be controversial. She recommends several rules of engagement to her readers, beginning with —

Hey, hey folks, my first essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, drops TOMORROW, May 31!

In anticipation of its release, here are some things you should know that I know and some things you should know about how I’ll be comporting myself online during the launch:

  1. Some people (the minority, but oh, what a vocal minority!) will HATE this book, even and especially those who’ve never read it and have never heard of me and have no idea what it’s actually about. I fully anticipate several pile-ons. I expect lots of garbage in my social feeds. But fear not! All of my email is screened, I’ve muted the majority of the worst accounts and keywords on Twitter, and buttoned up other things to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible. I WILL BE FINE. CHIN UP.
  2. This leads us to THIS point, which is: NO WHITE KNIGHTING. All I ask if there’s a pile-on is for you to NOT tag me if you argue with trolls. My troll policy is mute and ignore. I’ve found that very effective. You are, of course, free to argue with whomever you want on the internet, but as a courtesy, I ask that you keep me out of it, or I’ll have to mute you too, and we don’t want that! In related news: DON’T POINT ME TO BAD REVIEWS or TELL ME TO READ TERRIBLE COMMENTS. I mean, unless you’re a troll? But I don’t think you’re a troll. Like, I mean, for real, folks? I never, ever, read the comments, and I’m not going to be reading bad reviews, even funny ones, for months yet. Thank you….

(3) LLAMA THUMBS DOWN. At Fantasy Literature, reviewer Bill Capossere’s verdict is The Geek Feminist Revolution: Just didn’t do it for me”. I’ve heard of “damning with faint praise,” on the other hand, this review is devoted to “damning with faint damns.”They follow after a three-paragraph confession of the expectations he brings to a book of essays.

The pieces certainly aren’t badly written, but there just wasn’t enough there for me, whether in terms of style or content. Often, the thrust of the piece wasn’t all that fresh. What does it take to succeed in writing? Persistence. How does one succeed? One has to be willing to fail. Women are horribly trolled on the net. Writers have a responsibility to consider the impact of how they present their worlds and the people who inhabit them, etc.

Now, I don’t have an issue with covering territory that has been covered extensively for a long time or, in the case of more contemporaneous issues, has been covered extensively elsewhere (well, maybe I have a little issue). But if you’re going to present me content I’ve seen lots of other places or have been reading for some time, then you need to do something else for me. When I talk to my students in creative writing I call this the “so what” issue with non-fiction. You have to give the reader a reason to keep reading something they’ve seen before. Maybe it’s the beauty of the language, maybe it’s the stimulating structure. But something.

With regard to structure, the essays in The Geek Feminist Revolution are almost strictly linear and mostly singularly focused. As for language, it’s adequate for communicating the ideas, but rarely rises above that. It’s conversational, passionate, but nothing will have you linger over the phrasing or is particularly dense with meaning.

(4) CHINA SF CON. Shaoyan Hu’s article at Amazing Stories covers “A Time to Share, a Time to Enjoy – The Closing Ceremony of the 8th Shanghai Science Fiction & Fantasy Festival”.

In the main hall, the ceremony was incorporated with the final stage of a mind contest called ‘Useless Superpowers’, in which the participants were encouraged to come up with ideas of superpowers that had no practical values but could become interesting under certain circumstances. They were requested to present the ideas with any means of their choice, such as videos, pictures, stage performances, and so on.

The winner was a student from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The imaginary superpower he had fabricated was ‘Immovable’, which meant the owner of the power could prevent anything from moving by simply touching it. Now, just imagine, someday in the future, if an asteroid is going to crash into the Earth, guess who will be sent out to the space to stop it?

(5) BALTICON AUTOGRAPH MACHINE. See George R.R. Martin sign and sign and sign in Chris Edwards’ half-minute video on Facebook.

(6) WISCON WARNING. Wondering what happened.

(7) CAPTAIN AMERICA SPOILER WARNING. With the mandatory warning out of the way, here is Brad Torgersen’s warning about violating fans’ expectations for a franchise.

Of course, the whole Captain America = Hydra Nazi thing, is a stunt. It will be eventually written up such that this shocking reveal is just the top-most layer on a plot cake wherein good old Steve is still true-blue American, and so forth. But by then the writers will have gotten what they wanted out of said stunt: attention, eyeballs, chatter, and (theoretically) sales.

Or . . . not?

Sometimes, stunts like this can dramatically backfire. If the audience suspects that it …is being shown contempt (by the creators) then the audience may very well turn its back. Superheroes are treasured icons for fans across the spectrum, and if you mess with those icons too much, you truly are playing with fire.

(8) IN A CAPTAIN CRUNCH. Echoing one of Torgersen’s notions about the fans no longer accepting the authority of the creator, comics veteran Gerry Conway has been besieged by fans trying to tell him the history behind Captain America. Here are a few examples from the Twitter exchange.

However, not everyone is engaging in the Captain America controversy with the same firestorm intensity….

(9) AUDIO BANDERSNATCH. Diana Pavlac Glyer’s Kickstarter funded – in fact, later today it achieved its first stretch goal.

I’m walking on SUNSHINE!! We met our funding goal for “Bandersnatch Goes AUDIO!!” Michael Ward will be narrating this book, and I am absolutely THRILLED. We still have one more day to meet some delicious stretch goals: I’d love to give each and every backer a copy of the 20-page discussion guide, and I’m still wondering if James A. Owen can draw a bandersnatch blindfolded. But for now, here’s the important thing: this is a real dream come true. This  audiobook will really really happen, and I want to thank YOU for taking part. I’m so excited and so, so grateful. WOOT!! Bandersnatch is going AUDIO!!

10) FAMILY REUNION. Fanac.org has uploaded video of “Science Fiction’s 50th Anniversary Family Reunion” from Noreascon 3 (1989). After the Sunday brunch, many of the greats reminisced – including Isaac Asimov, Terry Pratchett, Jack Williamson, Samuel Delany, Fred Pohl, Forry Ackerman, David Kyle, Connie Willis, and others.

(11) IT WAS A NEEDLESS TRAGEDY. The Onion has learned “Leaked Documents Reveal Studio Executives Knew About ‘Gods of Egypt’ Before It Released Onto Public”. Gasp!

Suggesting that the disastrous events of three months ago could have been averted, federal investigators stated Wednesday that a trove of leaked documents confirmed high-ranking studio executives had full knowledge of Gods Of Egypt long before the film was released onto unsuspecting Americans….

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Michael J. Walsh, and Leslie Turek for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Will R.]

Pixel Scroll 5/12/16 The Pixels Scrolls Don’t See

(1) THE SICHUAN CHICKEN EMERGENCY. Last year’s Hugo-winning novelist has received a new honor — “Dinosaur relics named after science fiction writer Liu Cixin”.

A new kind of bird-footed dinosaur footprint was discovered in Gulin county, Southwest China’s Sichuan province and named for Chinese science-fiction writer Liu Cixin, to honor his contribution to raising public interest in science.

Liu, who was thrilled to hear the news, said that he has great interest in paleontology.

“It is like a science fiction we’re reading that the dinosaur in Gulin county was preserved so well for billions of years. It helps us travel back in time. I hope the relics could be studied and preserved well.”

(2) SUPERGIRL ADDS W, LEAVES BS BEHIND. Variety makes it official — “’Supergirl’ Lands at the CW for Season 2”.

After nearly two years of rumors, “Supergirl” is heading to the CW for its second season, Variety has learned….

At CBS, “Supergirl” averaged a 2.5 rating in adults 18-49 and 10.03 million viewers overall in Nielsen’s “live plus-7” estimates. It was CBS’ top-rated rookie drama this season in the demo, and was also its youngest-skewing drama with a median age of 55.6 — however, it was down from comedies in the Monday night timeslot last year.

The hotly anticipated crossover with “The Flash” on March 28 was a ratings hit for the CW, prompting the rumors to begin swirling once again that “Supergirl” would head over to the younger-skewing network, in order to nab a renewal. That episode, co-starring “Flash’s” Grant Gustin, averaged a 2.5 rating in 18-49 and 9.6 million total viewers in L+7 — the show’s best numbers in the second half of its run.

(3) KRYPTON. Vulture says Supergirl’s home planet is also going to be on the tube: “Syfy Orders Pilot for Krypton, a Show About Superman’s Grandpa Who Lives on a Planet That Definitely Isn’t Going to Explode Any Time Soon”.

And you thought Batman was the only DC Comics superhero who would get a TV show about what everyone around him was doing before he became interesting: THR reports that SyFy has ordered a pilot for Krypton, a Superman prequel from David S. Goyer set on the eponymous doomed planet. The series will follow Superman’s grandpa as he “fights to redeem his family’s honor and save his beloved world from chaos,” which is one task at which he is guaranteed to fail (because the world will blow up) and another that is a bit of a moot point (because, again, the world will blow up).

(4) GEMMELL VOTING STARTS TOMORROW. Voting on the longlists for 2016’s David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy (the Legend, Morningstar, and Ravenheart Awards) opens midday on Friday, May 13 and closes at midnight on Friday June 24.

The award’s Facebook page revealed there will be 48 nominations for the Legend Award, 6 for the Morningstar and 39 for the Ravenheart.

Voting on the shortlist opens at midday on Friday July 8 and closes at midnight on Friday August 19.

The presentation takes place at 8pm on Saturday September 24 at Fantasycon in Scarborough.

(5) MIND MELD. SFFWorld threw a lifeline to Rob B, whose Mind Meld installment needed a home after SF Signal went offline. The participants are N. E. White, Jonah Sutton-Morse, Yanni Kuznia, and Summer Brooks.

“MIND MELD: Recent SF/F/H You’ve Read & Enjoyed About Which You Knew Little”

Q: What recent SF/F/H books have you read and enjoyed which you knew little to nothing about beforehand? (For example, you go into a bookstore and picked a book off the shelf based on title and/or cover alone.)

(6) NEW YORK NEW YORK NEW YORK. Pornokitsch compares and contrasts in “Will Eisner and Three Visions of New York”.

Both Eisner and Fantasia 2000 also recognise this aspect of the city: it can grind people down, even to the point of death. Using the darkness of the city in this way all three of these representations show the city itself to be an active force working on their various protagonists. Dark Dark Dark focus more on the elemental aspects of the city while Eisner examines the interaction of the people and their home, but both are aware of the inherent magic of the place. Dark Dark Dark present in their enigmatic lyrics and the swirling otherworldliness of their instrumentals what Eisner recognised in his introduction to ‘The Building’, there is something “unexplained and […] magical” about the city which can affect those that live in it.

(7) NEW DESTINATION. Variety’s article “Winchester Mystery House Movie Attracts Spierig Brothers” discusses the next project by the Spierig Brothers, Winchester, about the famous San Jose, CA haunted house.

Keith Kato writes, “Michael and Peter Spierig, the Spierig Brothers, are favorites of (and members of) The Heinlein Society for their most recent film, Predestination (2014 U.S. release), based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story ‘All You Zombies.’ We have been told by the Brothers that they will be out of the country from July-September, presumably for filming commitments for this project and they regret they will not be able to attend the Kansas City Worldcon.”

(8) FURNITURE. I don’t think we’ll be able to order a park bench from them, though it’s nice to know Sancal’s Futura collection is based on 1960s sci-fi space stations.

Dezeen promotion: Spanish brand Sancal has launched a “retro-futuristic” collection of furniture, featuring tables, chairs and ornaments that reference 1960s science fiction films (+ movie).

The Futura collection, which was exhibited by Sancal during this year’s Milan design week, is modelled on the set designs of movies such as the 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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(9) NEW AWARDS? Bleeding Cool passed on this rumor about the San Diego Comic-Con.

The word on the street is that we are about to get a brand-new, very well-funded awards show for San Diego Comic Con.

I understand that high level talks are taking place between Jennifer O’Connell, Executive VP of Alternative Programming, Seth Lederman, Executive VP General Manager of the new streaming channel Comic-Con HQ and David Glanzer, Chief Communications and Strategy Officer of Comic-Con International, the people behind San Diego Comic Con.

While the existing Eisner Awards cover the comic book industry, and have been the premier awards at San Diego for some time, this new award show is planned to cover comics, TV, film, games and all manner of fan and genre culture. So expect very big names on hand to host and present awards…..

Lionsgate is said to be interested in producing the show.

(10) YESTERDAY IN HISTORY. Can it be May 11th was National Twilight Zone Day….? And I missed it?

Well…! Then I guess that makes it appropriate to feature a “lost episode”…

(11) STARFLEET TRAINING. “’Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience’ is coming to the USS Intrepid this summer”. MeTV has the story.

The museum exhibit will allow fans to study Starfleet culture as part of “Starfleet Academy’s Career Day.”

Beginning July 9, those lucky enough to get to New York City can visit Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience. The museum exhibit is opening aboard the USS Intrepid, which sits on Pier 86 along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan. A naval museum might seem like a strange location for a Star Trek exhibit, but what is Star Trek if not a space navy? Besides, NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise is on display at the Intrepid Museum.

The Intrepid Museum will be the first venue in the United States to host this immersive “Trek Tech” experience, a sort of quick fantasy camp. The exhibit allows visitors to join Starfleet Academy’s Career Day, which includes orientation and nine zones of study in language, medicine, engineering, navigation, command and science. Tickets cost $18–$35. The exhibit runs through October 31, 2016. (That final day will be a cosplay dream.)

Visit the Intrepid website for more information.

(12) MEMORIES. Here’s a Lou Stathis artifact I never heard of before.

The cover image comes from here.

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

  • Born May 12, 1937 — George Carlin (comedian; first to host Saturday Night Live)
  • Born May 12 – Heather Rose Jones
  • Born May 12 – David Doering

(15) WILL FANAC FOR CHARITY. Jim C. Hines is back with another example of “SF/F Being Awesome: Lar DeSouza and Sailor Bacon”.

If my math is right, Lar [DeSouza] and his fans have raised around $40,000 in total to fight MS.

There’s even a new Sailor Bacon plush, with a portion of the proceeds going to MS research.

Fighting MS by con light,
Winning breakfast by daylight,
Rainbow beard that is so bright!
It is the one named Sailor Bacon!

The MS Walk was May 1 this year, but it looks like you can still donate.

(16) END OF DISNEY DOLLARS. Paleofuture at Gizmodo mourns that gift cards have killed Disney Dollars.

When I was a kid I loved Disney Dollars. For those unfamiliar, they’re Disney’s paper notes that look like real money and feature cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse and Dumbo on the front. They’re only good at Disney Parks and stores, making them essentially like gift certificates. But Disney will stop printing Disney Dollars on May 14, 2016.

It’s truly the end of an era for Disney nerds. As reported by WDW News Today, the move is being blamed on the rise of gift cards and the general death of paper money. Disney staff were told just a couple of hours ago but the company has yet to make an official statement.

Disney Dollars will continue to be accepted at Disney locations, since they have no expiration date. But unless you have hundreds of notes to unload you should probably just hold on to them for a bit. The resale market for even once-common Disney products can be pretty lucrative after a few years.

John King Tarpinian recalls, “A long time ago when friends would have a kid or a grandkid I would buy one share of Disney stock. (Usually with a $25 premium over the stock price.) The certificates were beautifully framed, not to mention that with even one share it would get an invite to corporate events. Then Disney went electronic and that was gone. Now Disney Dollars. Gift cards are just not the same.”

(17) CAP’S PSA. Jim Burns says, “With all this Captain America chat (my all time favorite super hero, by the way!), a truly rare piece of film: a public service announcement, circa 1980 (or thereabouts)!”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Keith Kato, Will R., Tom Galloway, Andrew Porter, and James H. Burns for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Doctor Science.]

Stoop Lore

Tiempo04James H. Burns: Call this one, a bit of life insurance, of the man-made kind (but, as always, divine intervention is welcome)!

One night, about thirty years ago, I had to worry that someone had requested a hit be placed on me.

My girlfriend’s mother was furious, rightly or wrongly, and threatened my life.

…Which might not have been such a big deal, in the larger view, or necessarily unusual as such relationships go, except that one of her former boyfriends was what we used to call, anyway, kind of “mobbed up.”

(Years later, my girlfriend and I deduced that he may have been associated with the Queens, New York crew shown in the Nicholas Pillegi book, Wiseguy, and its film adaptation, Goodfellas.)

I was in my early twenties, and turned to my father for counsel, at first insuring that he wouldn’t tell my mother:

There was absolutely no need to worry her.  (Besides, she was the one with the vicious temper in the family, and there was no telling what she would do.)

My Dad, a mechanical engineering professor, was a tough guy, as the occasion merited, and a decorated World War II veteran.  He had also been misled by too many Godfather movies, and other Mario Puzo tales.  (We shared an affection, by the way, for Puzo’s too-long overlooked ability, as a potentially wonderful storyteller.)

My father thought that a hit had to be warranted.  But the ’80s were dangerous times in New York, with, as history has shown, some semi-connected guys just running out of control.

(Then, as now, the greatest hazard could come from “wannabes,” fellas with no particular affiliation at all, but who wanted to be perceived as such.)

It was entirely possible that for no other reason than as a favor to an old girlfriend, or in the hopes of wanting to impress an old flame, a guy could try to take someone out, or at least have someone else beat the hell out of him.

I handled it simply by sitting on my front stoop (the steps in front of my family home).

I figured, if someone was indeed after me — as unlikely as that may seem in the cold light of years — to make it easy; to bring it to a head, and see what happened…

As it turned out, I learned decades later, my girlfriend had promised her mom her own wrath, should anything untoward befall me.

Women are often our better tigers.

But I was on the stoop again, the other night; a different house, to be sure, but under similar circumstances.

A local restaurant was convinced I was behind a controversy that they were having, which was beyond ridiculous.  A relative of the owner’s warned me, oddly, through my landlord.  (Why not just call me?)

Some text messages, hopefully, quickly worked everything out.

But before then?

I brought my coffee outside, and made it easy for anyone who might be looking… I then walked one of my familiar routes through town.

(My neighborhood remains one of the few Long Island areas still harboring a bit of a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a “Mafia” town.)

Our demise, of course, is always somewhere in the times ahead, but we can hope that it’s never over a misunderstanding.

If you know you’ve doing nothing wrong, you might as well grab a shave, and take a stroll.

Night’s actual dark angels should, hopefully, hold no clouds as to your designs.

Dave Cockrum, and a Secret Storm

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Introduction: One of Star Trek’s earliest journalist/historians, chronicler of many epics, and a frequent File 770 contributor, recalls an encounter with fantasy legend, Dave Cockrum.

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Dave Cockrum

By James H. Burns: The late Dave Cockrum was a comics virtuoso, contributing to such classic titles as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and The Avengers. He also created his own series, both science fiction adventures, The Futurians, and Soulsearchers and Company.

The artist’s greatest legacy may have been developing The New X-Men, in 1975, with Len Wein.  Revising the super hero team that had been originated by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Cockrum and Wein devised such characters as Storm, Nightcrawler and Colussus.

Dave also loved Star Trek.

An admiration, in fact, that may have had a greater influence on the world of (billion dollar) pop culture, than has been previously realized…

In February of 1976, Dave saw me at one of the original, classic Star Trek conventions, at New York’s fabled Commodore Hotel. He must have seen me hanging out with one of the show’s actors, because Dave — whom I had met only briefly, at a previous comics con — asked me if it would be possible for me to get a painting he had done, to Nichelle Nichols.

(Now, just for the sake of my own ridiculous ego, I have to point out that back then, I was only an early teen. I had begun writing professionally, not long before that, and more to the point — and a lot of confusion for folks, over the years — I looked like I was in my mid-twenties…)

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Dave was far more famous already than almost anyone who was on that hospitality suite floor of the hotel. I pointed out to him that I’d be glad to help, but since I didn’t really know Nichelle (at that point), all he’d really have to do was introduce himself to one of the folks running the convention, whom, I was sure, would be happy to introduce him, to the actress.

My memory’s foggy here, but I think I brought Dave over to one of the convention organizers….

Crystal clear to me, even then, though, was what struck me as the remarkable modesty of this fellow, who didn’t seem to begin to have an inkling that the folks running the convention would be thrilled that he was actually there, attending the event.

And I was also touched that this established professional loved something so much, that, really, just for the joy of creating it, he had taken the time to paint a huge, lovely canvas, of Star Trek’s only continuing female lead.

What’s also fascinating to consider is that when Cockrum, and Len Wein, relaunched the X-Men, many of the new lineup came from characters that Dave had been sketching/noodling with, for years…

If Cockrum loved Star Trek and Nichelle Nichols so much that he was moved to create a painting of her — I wonder how far the actress, and her portrayal of Lt. Uhura, could have been from his mind, as he doodled the delight that would one day become one of Marvel Comics’, and later Hollywood’s, first significant female super heroes?

The prototype for Storm was one of the characters that Dave had been drawing for ages.cockrum-outsiderscockrum-trio039-star-trek-theredlist COMP4782545244_e64204c9c9

[An earlier version of this reminiscence appeared in Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego magazine, from TwoMorrows, devoted to comics history!]

Pixel Scroll 4/29/16 Dr. Strangelist

We’ll split the Scroll again today. Guess which part this is!

(1) NOMINEE STATEMENT. For those who are interested, Cora Buhlert sent a link to “What Price Humanity?” author David VanDyke’s statement regarding his nomination at Kboards.

Re: KBoarder David VanDyke is a Hugo Award Finalist

Thanks everyone.

I wrote this bit and posted in the other thread before I saw this one, so I’ll copy-paste it here:

As we poker players say, I’ve tried to put myself into a position to get lucky, and it seems I have. Or, as another quote goes, it takes years to become an overnight success. I submitted a story to a Jerry Pournelle anthology (There Will Be War X), got accepted, then suddenly got nominated for a Hugo in a relatively easier category (novelette – novels, novellas and short stories seem much more competitive), and boom, somebody notices me after 4 years and 25 books as an indie…

I’ll be going to WorldCon in KC, but I don’t think I have a snowball’s chance of winning…not with a Stephen King novelette in there. But the nom is nice, and the networking will be nice.

…and for those who might wonder, I’m apolitical about the whole Hugo process and on nobody’s side. I just submitted a story to one of the grand masters of military sci-fi and it got picked up for the anthology, and then nominated. That’s it. No investment in puppies, kitties, gerbils, tortoises or other animals. I’m not really a joiner of special interest groups or parties anyway. Hopefully my work stands on its own.

Thanks again for all the well-wishing.

(2) MORE VOTING ADVICE. WTF Pancakes makes a modest suggestion in “Hugo Awards 2016: Geez, not this shit again”.

I’ve read suggestions that this year’s troll-fest was a direct response to the Hugo voters’ failure to reward the Puppies to force the voters to give them trophies even if the voters didn’t actually believe they were deserved. No, really, that’s the argument (although it was phrased slightly differently.) The desire, then, is to receive an award, regardless of merit. The sort of thing that Puppy authors might call “affirmative action.”

Fortunately, I have a solution which I think every reasonable person will agree is wise and just: If what the Puppies really want is recognition, then simply reward every Puppy candidate with a “participant” award. You know, the kind they give to grade school children when you don’t want anyone to feel bad. This way, the Chuck Tingles and John C. Wrights of the world can have their recognition without having to try to abuse the nomination process. Then, simply discard any nominations which match the slate proposed by the Rabid Puppies. Problem solved…for a little while at least…maybe.

(3) IT’S DEAD JIM. Joe Follansbee conducts the autopsy in “The Hugo Awards are dead, and the xPuppies killed them”.

All this wouldn’t matter, except for the fact that science fiction readers worldwide depend on the Hugo Awards as a mark of quality. While some of the xPup-inees are worthy, such as Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, and sci-fi master Jerry Pournelle for his editing, the nomination ballot-stuffing by the xPuppies has permanently damaged the Hugos’ credibility. How can any discerning reader look at the phrase “Hugo Award-nominated” or “Hugo Award-winning,” not think of Butt Invasion, and not drop the potential purchase like a hot potato?

Likewise, how can any publisher associate itself with these kinds of brand-threatening shenanigans? They’re risk-averse enough as it is. Why take the chance with printing the Hugo rocket ship logo on its project without thinking of two years’ worth of Hugo train wrecks?

A second year of “No Award” winners will put the final nails into the Hugos’ coffin because it would demonstrate readers’ lack of faith in the award.

Hope is not completely lost, however. WorldCon, which manages the Hugos, has a chance to fix the problem with proposed nominations rules changes, though they won’t take effect until 2017, assuming they’re approved. If not, they might as well kill the awards program altogether. No one will believe in it anymore.

(4) TOO GRAPHIC. GamerGate Life responds to its nomination.

(5) AH SWEET. Russell Newquist boosts the Castalia House signal in “The Perversion of Science Fiction and Fantasy Fandom”.

The 2016 Hugo Awards are important, and not for any of that. There is a critical message this year that far exceeds anything else to do with the Hugos. It boils down to two specific works, both of which have been nominated in the “Best Related Work” category:

The first is “Safe Space as Rape Room: Science Fiction Culture and Childhood’s End.” Written by Daniel Eness for the Castalia House blog. The second is “The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland.

These two works are not just the most important published works of the science fiction community of 2015. They are the most important works of this millennium….

(6) DEJA HUGO. Jim C. Hines presents his thoughts about the Hugos, and the difference between anger and abuse, in “A Few Hugo Requests”.

2. No asterisks, please.

I did make a crack about asterisks and the Hugo last year after the trophy was released. And I think a lot of people had a mental asterisk over the whole thing, because let’s be honest, last year was anything but normal for the Hugo awards. So yeah, I definitely get it.

But at last year’s Hugo award ceremony, they handed out wooden asterisk plaques, and later sold additional wooden asterisks.

I don’t believe this was done with malicious intent (though I obviously can’t read anyone’s minds). Maybe it was an attempt at humor, and/or to acknowledge the elephant in the room. I appreciate that the sale of the asterisks raised several thousand dollars for a good cause.

Whatever the intentions, it resulted in a lot of people feeling hurt and attacked. I know from experience how nerve-wracking a Hugo ceremony can be in a normal year. Last year, and this year, tensions and anxieties and fears are exponentially higher. And for many of the people in attendance, the asterisks felt like a big old slap in the face.

Like I said, I don’t think that was the intention. (Others will disagree, and have gleefully pointed to the asterisks as “proof” that “the other side” is evil and nasty.) In this case, I don’t think intention matters so much as the impact it had, including hurting some good, talented people.

(7) THE ESTIMATE. Rocket Stack Rank’s Gregory N. Hullender attempts an “Analysis of Slate Voting for the 2016 Hugos”.

Overview

I estimate there were about 205 “Rabid Puppies” this year, essentially identical to the estimated 204 Sad+Rabid puppies last year. The reason they did so well despite a doubling of the number of “organic” votes is that they managed much better slate discipline this year; last year, not everyone voted for all five candidates nor in every category, but this year it seems they did….

(8) THOUGHTS THUNK WHILE THINKING. How come nearly everybody titles their post “Thoughts on the Hugo Nominations”? Like Anthony M at the Hugo-nominated Superversive SF blog who is thoroughly okay with the reason that happened, so why should you have any problem?

Does this bother anybody? It shouldn’t. It doesn’t bother me. We’ve been growing a fanbase since we started, and the fact that the Sads AND the Rabids both had us on their lists does mean we’re leaving a mark. I don’t believe we were picked as a parody, for the simple reason that Castalia likes our work enough to give us a weekly column on their increasingly popular blog. An anthology unassociated with us recently opened up submissions for superversive stories. We’re doing very well, and this only gets us more exposure. This is great!

And yet, if we weren’t on the Rabid Puppies slate, we still probably wouldn’t be on the Hugo shortlist. So why doesn’t this bother me? My answer is simple: I agree with what Vox Day is doing.

(9) MY HUGO NOMINATED PONY. At anthropomorphic fiction blog Fayrah, Brendan Kachel reacts: “’My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’ episodes nominated for 2016 Hugo Awards as part of ‘Rabid Puppies’ slate”.

However, furries and bronies perhaps shouldn’t celebrate so soon; last year’s Hugo Awards were pretty controversial, and this year is apparently the sequel.

Looks like the ponies are actually Trojan horses. For puppies.

The Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies are “slates” of nominees designed to abuse a loophole in the Hugo Awards rules by which a group of voters can assure nominations for a pre-approved set of nominees by agreeing to vote for them. These slates were begun in order to fight what they describe as “political correctness” (and opponents would describe as “progressive social stances”) in the works nominated and winning at the Hugos. The politics of those running the “puppies” slate are frequently described as “neo-conservative;” the founder of the Rabid Puppies, Vox Day, is described by Wikipedia as a “white supremacist.” And the My Little Pony episodes were on his list.

The obvious question is how a children’s television show like My Little Pony (one created by feminist Lauren Faust known for its progressive themes, no less) came to be associated with someone like Vox Day. Part of the answer may be that Day is looking to further embarrass the Hugo Awards, especially after none of his slate won an award last year (even in categories where his slate swept the nominees, “No Award Given” received the most votes, leaving many categories unrewarded), and perhaps figured a nomination for a cartoon about magical horses was an embarrassment. This year, one of his short story selections was “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle, a story of what Wikipedia delicately calls “niche erotica” (and, yes, is exactly what it sounds like). Or perhaps Day is just a legitimate fan of both ponies and “niche erotica”, after all.

However, the two episodes in question were praised by conservative sources as “anti-Marxist”, which may be on point about the episodes in question (and, admittedly, the show, being based on a toy line, can hardly be called anti-capitalist), but hardly holds up as a valid interpretation of the show’s ethos overall.

(10) DEDUCTIONS. Barry Deutsch at Alas! A Blog has his thinking cap on, too: “Hugo Nominations Are Out, And The Rabid Puppies Dominated The List. A Few Thoughts”.

1) My guess is that we’ll see Noah Ward win on at least a couple of categories this year, but most categories will have a named winner.

2) Next year, assuming the voters at this year’s Worldcon agree to this, there will be a change in the Hugo vote-counting rules – E Pluribus Hugo – which might reduce the ability of a minority of slate voters to game the process and unfairly dominate Hugo nominations. Early data may indicate that EPH won’t make as large a difference as people are hoping. If further changes are necessary to prevent the Rabid Puppies from gaming the system to dominate nominations, I expect further changes will be made.

3) By a wide margin, more people voted to nominate works for the Hugos in 2016 than in any prior year. And the Rabid Puppies still dominated the outcome. If there are hundreds of possible nominees, and if most nominators vote honestly, then a small group of slate voters can overpower the large majority of honest voters. I hope that this result will persuade people who have been saying “all’s that’s needed is for more people to nominate” to change their minds.

(11) PATRICK NIELSEN HAYDEN.

(12) ALTERNATE AWARDS. Adam-Troy Castro told his Facebook readers what else they can do for writers.

The Hugos are broken. These people broke them. I don’t see them going away and I don’t see it getting any better.

This is a sad thing, but you know what?

The Hugos were once fandom’s way of honoring that which touched them.

Today, the readership is more balkanized. Nobody reads everything published in fantastic fiction. Some of you only read novels about women in tight pants fighting vampires. Some of you only read novels about spaceships going pew-pew-pew in the asteroids. Some of you only read literary sf. Whatever gets honored in any particular year will leave the partisans of one kind of fiction feeling left out. The Puppies are nothing if not folks saddened by a couple of years of awards going to more diverse choices: people going boo-hoo-hoo because of not enough love for pew-pew-pew.

You want to honor your favorite authors with awards?

Telling others about their great books is an award.

Telling them you loved their books is an award.

Expressing your enthusiasm with online reviews is an award.

(13) THE OTHER HUGO. James H. Burns points out this ’70s toy that later was featured as “a guest” on both The Uncle Floyd Show, and Pee Wee Herman’s first stage show and HBO special!

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(14) GALACTIC STARS. The Traveler at Galactic Journey decided over 50 years ago that the Hugos were not the answer, and started giving out his own Galactic Stars every year. The latest set were announced last December.

The chill of winter is finally here, heralding the end of a year.  It’s time for eggnog, nutmeg, presents, pies, and family.  But more importantly, it’s time for the second annual Galactic Stars awards.

Forget the Hugos–here’s what I liked best in 1960.

In a tradition I began last year, I look back at all fiction that debuted in magazines (at least, The Big Four) with a cover date of this year as well as all of the science fiction books published.  Then I break down the fiction by length, choose the best by magazine, and finally the best overall.  All using the most modern and sophisticated scientific techniques, of course.

Last year, my choices mirrored those chosen at the Labor Day Worldcon for the Hugo awards.  We’ll see if my tastes continue to flow in the mainstream.  I break my length categories a bit finer than the Hugos, so there are bound to be some differences from that aspect, alone.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cora Buhlert, Jim C. Hines, and James H. Burns for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Will R.]

Space Age, on the Street

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Background_for_wikiaBy James H. Burns: I saw Colonel Bleep on the streets in Brooklyn, yesterday. He was riding along, as I finished a mid-morning cup of coffee…

Colonel Bleep, of course, was the syndicated science fiction cartoon series, each episode roughly five minutes in length, that debuted in 1957, and somehow was still playing in New York, and other markets, through the early 1970s.

Colonel Bleep was an extraterrestrial from the planet Futura, who protected our planet from various perils with his sidekicks Squeek (a cowboy puppet boy!), and Scratch the Caveman.  While the animation was limited, there were several memorable surrealistic designs, heavily influenced by the era’s futuristic tropes.

The cartoons were a neat part of my childhood, watching them early on Saturday mornings (back-to-back with DoDo the Kid From Outer Space.)

But suddenly, amid the threat of rain, he was staring at me, from all sides of a large delivery truck…. Perhaps the resemblance was only in my mind’s eye, a happy chimera from across the decades.

But I asked the driver if he would mind if I took a photo.

He smiled and said that I had a good eye. I was surprised and asked what he meant. It turns out the illustrations were the work of Robert Cohen, a famous graffiti artist known as “Meres One.”

I introduced myself and the gentleman told me that his name was Rufino Garcia. We shook hands, and he said that, a little over two years ago, his truck had even been the subject of a New York Times article!  The faces on the Ford, a closer look revealed, were lightbulbs.

Sarah Maslin’s feature said that “the bulbs are also synonymous” with what was “one of New York graffiti’s most venerable institutions, 5Pointz, a warehouse in Queens that became a de facto museum of street art.”

Surely, the resemblance of Mr. Garcia’s and Meres Ones’ artwork to our long ago friend from the future was coincidental. But it’s always nice to run into even the memory of an old pal, particularly in the most unexpected of places!

Colonel Bleep

Colonel Bleep

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No Time For Yeomen (Don’t Tell Janice Rand)

By James H. Burns: Haven’t our current military brass ever watched Star Trek?

From the New York Times: “’Yeo-Person’? One Title Vexes Navy’s Push for Gender Neutrality”

The Navy and the Marine Corps, Mr. Mabus said, had to come up with new names for the dozens of job titles that ended in “man,” like rifleman, mineman and assault man. “Man” can be replaced by “technician,” “specialist” or “professional,” so carrying out the order has been fairly straightforward.

But one title has vexed Navy officials: yeoman, the traditional name for sailors who work in clerical or administrative positions that are now held by many women.

The problem with the title, which has been a part of naval terminology for centuries, is that if you lop off its “man,” you are left with a prefix — “yeo” — that means very little by itself.

“You can’t have yeo-specialist or yeo-technician, right?” said Michael D. Stevens, the master chief petty officer of the Navy, the service’s top enlisted sailor, who has been assigned the job of coming up with new titles for his service. “Yeo-person? There is no such thing.”

Burns sent along a photo collage of Grace Lee Whitney in character as classic Trek’s Yeoman Rand.

 

Lee Falk’s Phantom of Happy Memory — And Fellini and Falk’s Mandrake!

Phantom Spot 2_0By James H. Burns: Recently, The Phantom, the great comic strip character created by Lee Falk in 1936, celebrated his 80th anniversary.

The Phantom, of course, is “The Ghost Who Walks,” the legendary protector of the wild jungle domain of Bangalla, who hands his mantle onto a son or other descendant, and operates from a cave-base deep within the country’s interior…

The Phantom began his quest for justice against PIRATES, hundreds of years ago, and to the denizens of his world, he seems eternal.

Almost always overlooked, is that he was also the world’s first super hero, before Superman and Batman, (and appearing less than five years after the Shadow, in the pulp magazines), or at least the comic world’s  initial masked and costumed adventurer!

the-phantom-first-comic

The Phantom was part of that great newspaper comics pantheon of heroes that included Flash Gordon, Terry (and the Pirates), Mandrake the Magician (also created by Falk, about an expert illusionist who investigates mysteries and intrigues–one of the many forerunners of Marvel’s Dr. Strange!)  and the comic strip adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

In the 1930s, when these series debuted, it was before the advent of television, of course, and the vast number of Americans–and others around the world–turned to their daily papers for a serialized jolt of action and adventure , and of course, also comedy, with a wide array of humor series.

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Lee Falk

Falk, like almost all of the creators of the major comic book heroes, was Jewish. A native of St. Louis, Missouri, born in 1911, Falk was only in his early twenties when he created Mandrake (whose debut preceded the Phantom’s premiere, by less than two years)!  (Many artists, over the decades, collaborated with Falk on the comic strips for which, reportedly, he also drew the first installments.)  Ultimately, Falk became a devoted world traveller, as well as a theatrical director and producer.  (The Phantom and Mandrake had over one hundred million readers across the planet, and were adapted into almost all forms of other media.  (The Phantom retains a particularly devoted following, in Australia.)  Falk’s last years were spent in Manhattan, and Cape Cod, before he passed, in 1999.MandrakeLogo

I was lucky enough to actually grow up with the vast majority of classic comic strip characters, thanks to a newspaper that has long been forgotten: The New York Knickerbocker.

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knickerbicker issueDebuting sometime around 1967, the paper (aka, for a while, apparently, The New York Daily Column and The New York Knickerbocker) was a Sunday edition, initially featuring a variety of syndicated feature stories and columns, and also a great selection of comics, highlighting the legendary continuities from decades past, that were still, at the time, being produced:

Suddenly, every week, I was able to follow Flash and Dale Arden, Major Hoople (of Our Boarding House), Joe Palooka (and Mickey Finn), Alley Oop, Captain Easy, Snuffy Smith  (and Barney Google), Popeye, There Ought To Be A Law, and in a sensational center spread, Russ Manning’s glorious work on Burroughs’ Tarzan!  (There were also the Sunday page hijinx of such other old friends as Archie, Yogi Bear, and The Flintstones!)

Between the Knickerbocker and The Long Island Press Sunday paper (ultimately to be supplanted by Newsday’s Sunday edition, in the early 1970s), and The Sunday Daily News, virtually the whole world of comics was available to me —

Or a pretty sizable sample!

 

Dick Tracy and Dondi, along with Winnie Winkle and Moon Mullins were in The News, while Mandrake and The Phantom were in The Long Island Press (along with, somewhere, Brenda Starr)!  Relatively new to the scene were other strips I looked forward to each week: Tiger, Eek and Meek, Andy Capp, Fred Basset

(The News‘ comics section was actually a Monday morning gift from my wonderful next door neighbors of the time, Alice and Sam Picker!)

Mine might have been the last generation able to experience new installments of all these great works, while also experiencing the explosion of creativity happening in the world of comic books!

It soon became a cherished part of my week to wait for my Dad to come home with the papers, and sit down to the Sunday funnies… (The earliest issues, in fact, must have helped teach me to read!)  In later years, this terrific repast would occur sometime after coming home from Sunday School.

It also pleased me to know that I was taking a part in what was a great American tradition!

At some point in the early 1970s, The Knickerbocker went under. But within weeks, it was replaced by a new Sunday comics supplement, sold entirely on its own, entitled The New York Comics.  Sadly that too only lasted a short while longer.

But The Phantom remained a constant in the different editions, and was a favorite of mine, as he fought crime and other menaces, often accompanied by his wolf, Devil, and his sturdy mount, Hero! Once in a while, Falk would tell a tale of one of the earlier Phantoms, and you’d suddenly be transported to yet another fantastic time.Phantom-68-00

In the later 1970s, I also became enamored  by the wonderful Phantom comic books from Charlton, illustrated by the supremely talented Don Newton.

So, it was with great glee that I discovered that Falk was going to be a guest at one of Fred Greenberg’s Great Eastern Conventions’ first two-day affairs, (after years of running one day events), at Manhattan’s Penta Hotel (aka the  Hotel Pennsylvania,and the Statler Hilton, just across from Penn Station).

11 Apr 1986 --- Original caption: Lee Falk stands in front of painting of two of his creations-Mandrake, the Magician and Lothar, the magician's black companion. Falk brought them to life on comic pages in 1934. On 4/11, a new era will begin for Mandrake, Lothar, The Phantom (also created by Falk) and Flash Gordon. They'll be in a special cartoon preview of "Defenders of the Earth." --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Lee Falk in 1986.

And a little bit of history may have been made that day, or at least an element of the Phantom’s chronicle discovered, that should be more widely noted.

First up, was the beginning of a mystery, one which perplexed even Falk.

I was sitting with my friend, Douglas Aleksey, the late, long time comics fan  who, during the question-and-answer session, asked Falk about a film clip he had once seen, in a montage-tribute to Marcello Mastroianni, where the legendary actor was dressed AS Mandrake!

Falk was stunned, and was as curious about the appearance as Doug was!

The answer to this conundrum came over a decade later, when I was watching 1987’s Intervista, Federico Fellini’s kind of fake documentary, about his making of another feature film!

Suddenly, as Fellini’s in his office having a production meeting, Mastroianni comes floating up to the window, dressed as Mandrake (and standing on a rising platform)!

In a film within a film (within a film!), Mastroianni is making a commercial on the studio lot, starring as Falk’s legendary prestidigitator!7780aeee220ce41e9b35b0af012b7ae7

Falk certainly knew Fellini.  According to some sources, in 1971, producer Dino De Laurentiis flew Falk to Italy to meet with the director, hoping to foster a Mandrake movie. Fellini was a long time comics fan (who once, famously, visited the offices of Marvel Comics, in Manhattan).  At various times, Fellini had apparently stated his desire to make a Flash Gordon film, based on Alex Raymond’s and Don Moore’s comic strip, or other comics related films.

But what Falk may not have known–and which I only discovered when researching photos for this article — is that Mastroianni also played Mandrake in 1972, with the famed film star Claudia Cardinale as his beloved (and later wife), Narda–

Directed by Fellini!mandrake-mastroianni

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According to one source, Fellini was invited to help edit a special issue of French Vogue, when he decided to devise a fumetti, a photo comic, long popular in parts of Europe, starring his associates.

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That’s Cardinale in the white dress, and here, how she might have appeared in an actual Mandrake feature film!

There was one more surprise at the question-and-answer session in New York.

Falk had already mentioned that the Phantom’s home, Bangalla, could be seen, to some extent, as a mythical place, a combination of many jungles from around the globe.

I raised my hand, and as gently as I could put it, said to Falk something along the lines that as great a character as the Phantom is, as many wonderful stories as Falk had written, with all the great efforts he had taken to show people of color with respect and dignity… Through no fault of his own, some could argue that in the modern age anyway, the Phantom could be perceived as the embodiment of what could be called the colonial and prejudiced notion that the people of the jungle needed a “Great White Saviour….”

Falk smiled warmly.  He made reference to the tribute hall in the Phantom’s cave, honoring past Phantoms through the ages, and their families.

“You know, we probably haven’t seen all of the Phantom’s ancestors.”

Quite logically, and subtly, Falk was suggesting that the modern Phantom we’ve all grown up with, could well be multi-cultural.

ADDENDUM:

There was a surprising number of PHANTOM merchandising spinoffs in the 1960s, especially during the latter part of the decade’s super hero years. Perhaps the neatest element of the board game seen below was that it came with a facsimile of the Phantom’s skull ring!292fb39895d5c66f0b6ed7162a5b8b467b0627d70d7e52cf4640cbc3b7fcc717ca_display$_1phantom%20front

Once, When We All Were Scientists

By James H. Burns: There was a time, when we all were scientists…

Or many of us wanted to be!

There were certain hallmarks of growing up somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s, if you had an interest in science…

First off, were those amazing How and Why Books of Wonder. The artwork in many of which is still superb, and whose texts, in certain editions, remain first class introductions to their subjects!

The most unusual element to these volumes may have been what in New York, anyway, seemed to be their excellent distribution in pet shops!  In both local pet stores of my youth (one of which occasionally had a tiger on display!), were spinner racks filled with the books.il_570xN_656847232_ej5t

The Science Service Science Program books were another talisman of the times…

The Science Program 5-1/2 by 8-1/4 inch volumes, were offered as  a monthly subscription  from Nelson Doubleday Inc. Each sixty-four page “digest” was in two-colors, but their special feature was a centerfold of beautiful full color photo stamps, which the reader could then attach in the appropriate “boxes” throughout the book.

Album slipcases which could hold a number of the volumes were also included with the subscription membership.

(Doubleday also used this overall format for other series, including the National Audobon Society Nature Program and the American Geographical Society Around the World Program.)Science-Program-Advertisement-1960 COMP

z0205goz0rk9jnDifferent Introductory membership kits throughout the 1960s, could include a poster, as well as the Mercury model seen here.  By my era, in the early 1970s, the model offered was a lovely rendition of the lunar module on the moon, with Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin upon the surface.Science-Program_Membership-Card-Back

“The Science Service,” itself remains an active organization as the publishers of Science News magazine.

With a name-change to the Society For Science and the Public in 2008,the group also publishes Science News For Students online (as well as The Science News website), and is one of the sponsors of the Intel Science and Engineering Fairs and Talent Searches, and other events.

Its contributions to the children of another time were also significant, on many fronts.

The Science Service was launched in 1921 by newspaper publisher Edward W. Scripps and California zoologist William Emerson Ritter, under the name the American Society for the Dissemination of Science, as a news service to make the latest scientific information available to the public. One year later, they started distributing their own periodical, Science Newsletter to “satisfy curiosity from educators, and the general public.”

One of the group’s greatest boons to youthful encouragement was their series of small science kits, Things of Science. Each month, a new small blue box (or sometimes a manila envelope) would be sent out, containing several “samples;” or the parts to make a basic but effective apparatus (some times out of cardboard cutouts!)  or other material, along with a miniature pamphlet with experiments.

(Kits through the years included “Aerodynamics,” “Liquid Crystals,” “Pendulum,”‘ “Buoyancy,” “Hydroponics,” “Optical Illusions,” “Seeds….”)

Things of Science was evidently the invention of Watson Davis, who was director of the Science Service from 1928 until 1967. It developed when the Service would send out samples to accompany articles. Things of Science officially commenced in 1940, and it was soon realized that its main audience was schools and science clubs, and other youngsters!

(One early mailing contained dinosaur bones, pounded into slivers, so that every member could have his own prehistoric specimen!)

Things of Science was sold to another company in 1981, who kept the club going for another nine years.  Historian George B. Moody says that at some point, the Science Service reacquired the rights to the series….

There were other instruments of wonder in many like-minded American homes. I can’t remember a time when my Dad didn’t have a “Star-Finder” in one of his bookshelves.

And the Edmund Scientific catalog was filled with a cavalcade of delights.

Intriguingly, I don’t remember my family ever actually ordering anything from the catalog, but it was the possibilities that were always so enticing. (I must admit, I still would like six-foot weather balloon, although I’m not quite exactly sure why…)576d12a9f2e4e21d485e474299c2ee78

And then, there was the Gilbert Chemistry Set….  An astonishing amalgam of chemicals and equipment, and experiments neatly printed out on index cards. I set up my “laboratory” on an old desk in the basement.

What, exactly, was I hoping to discover, as a ten-year old?

But I can still remember the sense of trust implicit when my father said I could use the bunsen burner on my own. And the thrill when my folks picked me up my first Erlenmeyer flask.

Earlier, there had been the fun of working with the microscope my Dad passed on down to me. And there were always a couple of telescopes somewhere nearby. But for some skygazing, it was my father’s World War II binoculars, brought home from Europe in 1945, that seemed to be the most stable.

Somewhere around my house were copies of Popular Science, Mechanix Illustrated…  Set apart, in a special place, were the Life magazine issues from 1955 debuting “The Epic of Man” series (with extraordinary depictions of primitive humanity), and the still remarkable Complete Book of Outer Space, from 1954.

Surely, there were signposts of your own scientific life as a girl or boy.

But all these ruminations lead me to one more pioneer of our nascent knowledge, someone who helped educate the young in years and temperament for over a couple of generations, through some of the most crucial periods of our history.

It also brings us to the aforementioned mystery that you just might be able to help solve…

When I was a little boy in the 1960s, there was a column in the newspapers, “Uncle Ray’s Corner.” (I suspect that the feature was in The New York Post, back when that was actually considered New York’s liberal newspaper.)

I can remember being disconcerted when Uncle Ray’s column was suddenly gone from the daily, just a while after I had discovered it. Like other kids, I had clipped and saved some of the installments, in a notebook which was now destined to have too many empty pages.

I remember “Uncle Ray’s Corner” as being a science column, an early stop for those enchanted by the era’s sense of exploration. But apparently, the articles were across a wide range of subjects, anything that might interest a school-age child.

My parents actually said they remembered “Uncle Ray,” from their own younger days, but I didn’t see how that was quite possible…

Until the dawn of the internet.

When I finally got actively online, later than many, in 1999. I’d occasionally look for information about Uncle Ray, but with little luck. Whatever kindness and good fellowship of awareness had been in his columns, had made an impression that lasted decades.

Suddenly, years later, I was able to begin finding listings for some of his old books.

Uncle Ray was Ramon Peyton Coffman. Beginning in the 1930s (if not earlier), he wrote such volumes for “young people” as The Child’s Story of the Human Race, Uncle Ray’s Story of the Stone Age People, Famous Kings and Queens, and New World Settlement.  (There was even a Big Little Book edition, Uncle Ray’s Story of the United States.)

Commencing in the late 1940s, Coffman was also responsible for Uncle Ray’s Magazine, subtitled “Adventures in Fascinating Facts.” It seems to have been devoted to any of the myriad of historical, scientific and current world events that might interest kids.

A few years ago, an obituary tribute to Coffman popped up from the Madison Wisconsin Central High School Records.

The obit says that Coffman was born circa 1896, in Indianapolis, and grew up in Madison.  He attended Yale and Columbia Universities, as well as the New York College for Social Research, and earned a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1927.  Coffman lived in Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin from 1935 until 1949, and then resided in several states, “often returning to Madison.”0_0_4858_6927

uncle ray clipping“Uncle Ray’s Column” was launched around 1925, “to teach children about science.” Appearing in many newspapers in the United States “and several foreign countries.” It ran, it seems, through 1970.

Coffman passed in June, 1989 in Palo Alto, California, survived by four children, Gratton, Peyton, Roger and Kathleen Davis.

Why all this curiosity from me about Coffman?  His column was from a time when more of our society celebrated the simple pleasure of knowing about things. It’s extraordinary to think that Coffman’s career as a popular educator spanned the time before jets, and the splitting of the atom, and, of course, the space age; from before the Depression, to the heart of the tumult and joy of the 1960s…

The internet must be a godsend for scientifically inclined children, but the beauty of a column like Ray Coffman’s was that it was there for anybody in the newspaper, from a precocious tot to a like-minded adult.

Surely, those who helped set so many of our paths of exploration should be remembered!

It strikes me as sad that someone like “Uncle Ray” has so little trace on the web. I’m hoping that some here can help expand our familiarity with this gentleman of elucidation.

I also have a somewhat selfish wish.

In the late 1960s, I sent in a request to the column: just for the asking, a reader could receive a special certificate proclaiming that you belonged to Uncle Ray’s club (or legion of fellow junior wonderers!).

I had that yellowish heavy-stock proclamation, attached to my science scrapbook from the 1960s, until less than two years ago, when due to an awful calamity, almost all my collection was destroyed.

I’ve found no sign of the Uncle Ray “diploma” anywhere on the net and would love to see it again.

(I had planned on scanning it, along with many other irreplaceable mementos from the era, and later, other histories.)

In fact, all the books and items seen here were once part of that assemblage.

But all these totems of the future, very happily, belong to all of us.

They are always nice to revisit, and remember such gifts of inspiration, and strive to create such passages for all our tomorrows.