Bob Madle Turns 100 Today

Robert A. Madle at home (May 2020). Photograph by Jane Madle. Courtesy of John Knott.

Happy one hundredth birthday, Bob Madle! We’re celebrating the date with the help of Rich Lynch, John L. Coker III, and Jon D. Swartz, plus highlights of interviews conducted over the years with the birthday boy himself!

Bob Madle: A Fan for the Ages

[This essay was originally printed in the Boskone 33 Program Book in February 1996.  Photos were added when it was reprinted in My Back Pages 6 in 2011.]

Rich Lynch and Bob Madle in 2008.

By Rich Lynch: Recently, I read somewhere that an average American’s life span is now over 72 years, up something like 100 percent over what the average life expectancy was for people who lived way back in the Middle Ages.  Mankind doesn’t have the longest life span in the animal kingdom, of course; great land tortoises are reported to live well over 100 years, for example.  Even longer lived, one of the bristlecone pine trees out in the Sierras was calculated to have lived for about 2,000 years, but even this pales in comparison to the ancient creosote bushes of the Mojave Desert, some of which are reportedly over 20,000 years old!

And then there’s Bob Madle…

Bob Madle and Mel Korshak (Chicon I, 1940). Collection of Robert A. Madle.

Now, wait just a minute!  Before you think I’m having a little cheap fun at your Special Guest’s expense, I’ll hasten to tell you that no insult is intended.  In fact, I meant it as a compliment!  You see, Bob Madle is a member of that fabled Dinosaurs of Fandom organization, First Fandom, which he helped found back in the 1950s.  To be a member of First Fandom, you had to be active as a fan no later than January 1, 1938, by taking part in such activities as writing letters, publishing a fanzine, or attending a fan gathering.  Actually, Bob’s involvement in fandom dates back even further than that; he discovered that there was a fandom way back in 1933 when he found that letters from other fans were being published by Hugo Gernsback in Amazing Stories (Bob’s first published letter to Amazing appeared in the August 1935 issue).  Once he discovered there were other fans, he was part of the vanguard to organize them: in 1935, Bob was one of the founders of the world’s second oldest continuing science fiction organization, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.  And in 1936, Bob was one of the attendees of the very first science fiction convention ever held, when PSFS hosted a contingent of fans from New York City.

Now that alone is a pretty impressive resume, but it doesn’t nearly end there.  The first World Science Fiction Convention was held in New York City, in July of 1939.  Bob was there.  He was also at the second, in Chicago in 1940, and the third, in Denver in 1941.  He even attended the very first Boskone, in 1941.  After World War Two finished interrupting just about everyone’s fan activities, Bob became involved with the running of Worldcons, as part of the committees for the Philadelphia Worldcons in 1947 and 1953.  And there’s more: he was one of the decision-makers of that 1953 Worldcon committee that came up with the idea for the Hugo Awards, which were presented for the very first time at that convention.

But there’s still more!  I can’t end this appreciation without mentioning that Bob did much to organize fan groups in other places besides Philadelphia.  In the early 1950s, for instance, he was a founder of a fan club in Charlotte, North Carolina, which led to some of the first science fiction conventions ever held in the southeastern United States.  Much of today’s very active fandom in that region can be traced back to these origins.  And in 1957, Bob was elected North American delegate for the still-new Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, which had been conceived just a few years earlier.  TAFF brought Bob to the very first non-North American worldcon, which was in London that year.  (This resulted in one of the best fan trip reports ever written, which he titled for obscure reasons, A Fake Fan in London.  But that’s another story…)

Anyway, it’s only because Bob has spent much of the past few decades as a dealer of rare and hard-to-find science fiction books and magazines that his fan activity has finally slowed by just a bit.  Not by so much that I can keep up with him, though!  Even now, sixty years after that first science fiction convention, he still gets to more conventions each year than most other fans, myself included.  So when you talk with him, ask him about some of these adventures.  You’ll find he’s easy to chat with, and who knows?  You might even find yourself buying a book from him that tells all about some of those yesteryear exploits of fandoms past.

I began this introduction of your Special Guest with a metaphor; I’ll finish it with another.  Even though the dawn of science fiction fandom happened way back in the 1930s, we should remember that fandom is really still quite young; the fact that many of its founders are still active is something we can treasure.  Bob Madle is such a treasure; he’s living history – a fan for the ages.

Bob Madle in 1938

Robert A. Madle – In the First Person

(Excerpted from conversations with John L. Coker III during 1994 and 2006-2008)

My name is Robert Albert Madle and I was born June 2, 1920, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I grew up in the City of Brotherly Love and attended Northeast High School.  I started reading when I was very young, and by the age of nine I had a big collection of boy’s books.  I discovered science fiction in Tom Swift, then began reading Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I was a great Buck Rogers fan.  I was ten years old when Just Imagine came out.  I thought that that was the greatest movie ever made.

In 1931 John V. Baltadonis and I discovered two issues of Wonder Stories in a junk shop.  A few months later, my father gave me two dollars to buy a new pair of Boy Scout trousers.  So, to downtown Philadelphia I went.  I never did get the trousers, as an incident of vast importance intervened.  I happened to see a large window crammed full of Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories.  I entered to find many more issues–and they were six for twenty-five cents!  I bought two dollars of the treasures to start my S-F collection.  Several weeks later, my father discovered what had occurred.  I don’t recall exactly what happened but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.

In 1934, I formed the Boys’ Science Fiction Club with Harvey Greenblatt, John V. Baltadonis and Jack Agnew.  My very first letter appeared in the July 1935 Pirate Stories.  I was a Gernsback fan, and anything he published I picked up.  I read his editorial in the first issue.  He said that they would publish pirate stories of the past, the present, and yes, even of the future.  So, I wrote a letter saying that they ought to publish a novel about a space pirate and they should get Edmond Hamilton to write it.  They printed the letter and I won a year’s subscription to Wonder Stories.  I was fourteen years old and I thought that this was one of the greatest things that ever happened.

Morris Scott Dollens, Walter J. Daugherty, Robert A. Madle. Collection of John L. Coker III.

Gernsback announced the formation of the Science Fiction League in the April 1934 issue of Wonder Stories.  In the May 1934 issue, he went into more detail about how science fiction was a literature that was a force that would change the world forever.  It would be a wonderful world of tomorrow where science rules everything.  It was the Gernsback Ideal.  I was thirteen years old at the time, and I thought “Wow!  I could be a part of this.”

In October 1936, the New York group – Donald A. Wollheim, William S. Sykora, John B. Michel, Fred Pohl, Herbert E. Goudket, and David A. Kyle – made a train trip down to Philadelphia.   They were met downtown by Milton A. Rothman, Oswald V. Train and me.  We showed them around the city.  Later that day, John Baltadonis and several others joined us at Milt Rothman’s house.  Then we actually had a meeting.  As Sam Moskowitz said in The Immortal Storm, if we hadn’t had that little meeting, we could not have called it the first convention.  The first science fiction convention would have been the one in Leeds, England, in early 1937. 

At the first World Con – New York, 1939 – everybody was being let in, including the Futurians, although the promoters were very wary of them.  Someone did discover a bunch of propaganda that the Futurians had stuck in between the steps with the intention to distribute later.  At that point, Moskowitz kept them from entering – Wollheim, Lowndes, Michel, Gillespie, Kornbluth and Pohl.  This has gone down in fandom history as “The Exclusion Act.”  Later, a number of us went over to Coney Island, and had a photograph made where we’re all sitting in an old car.  It would be two months before England and France would declare war on Germany, but we knew it was on its way.  When Japan attacked us, most fans went into the military.

Coney Island, New York – July 4 1939. (Rear, L-R) V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle M. Korshak, Ray Bradbury. (Front, L-R) Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne.

I enlisted in the Army in July 1942, but wasn’t much of a fighting man.  For some reason, probably because I had a driver’s license, I wound up as a truck driver, even though I had never driven a truck in my life.  I had gone in under a new program, because of my bad eyesight.  They had just started what they called “limited service,” non-combatant duty.  

Next thing you know I’m heading for overseas duty.  I was called in to see the captain, who said that I wasn’t supposed to be in that outfit.  The orderly room said that there was an opening in the signal office for a teletype operator.  That is how I met my wife Billie, a switchboard operator at the time. 

There was a period when I was assistant to the public relations officer.  He was looking for somebody who could write and had something that had been published. The job had to do with writing news articles for the Charlotte newspapers.  Because of all the writing that I had done, I received a promotion.  I spent three and a half years in the service.

Oswald V. Train and Robert A. Madle, PSFS ca. 1953.

I got married during the war and already had a three-year-old son when I started college.  After I graduated, I worked and went on for my MBA at night.  I got a job in Charlotte, North Carolina, and after that I worked for the government in Washington, D. C.  I went to work for the Navy Department doing personnel research.  We helped determine requirements for future weapons systems and worked with the contractors.  Later, I had the background and school credits to become an engineering research psychologist and was involved with the interfaces between man and machine.

Robert A. Madle, Ben Jason, Honey Wood (1955, Cleveland). From the Collection of John L. Coker, III

One day in October 1958 I received a call from Don Ford, saying that Doc Barrett was having a small group over at his place in Bellefontaine, Ohio and I was invited.  When I arrived, the group was already there.  They consisted of Doc Barrett, Don Ford, Lou Tabakow, Ben Kiefer – four old-timers – and a youngster named Stan Skirvin.  We all sat around and drank beer and talked of the tumultuous events of the day. 

It was kind of an opportune coincidence how First Fandom came up.  Someone once claimed that he saw something written on a toilet wall, which said, “First Fandom is not dead!”  Recalling this, I said, “What science fiction needs is a new organization, one in which the old-time fans are paramount, instead of those young upstarts who wouldn’t know a 1933 Amazing Stories if he tripped on it.” 

Don was immediately for it, and said, “Great!  We can give recognition awards to the great authors of the past such as E.E. Smith, because none of them will ever get a Hugo.”  Everyone was enthusiastic about the idea, and great plans were conceived right then and there.  Don said, “To be a member, one would have to be active in some phase of science fiction prior to January 1938.”  A magazine would be published.  Don thought it should be a formal organization.  But serious things would be accomplished also, mainly, keeping the history of SF in front of the fans of SF today.  Membership credentials would be required and acceptance would be tough.  It would be a Last Man Club, with the last First Fandom member alive in a certain year knocking off a privately held fifth of liquor. 

Don suggested that I be president, as it was my idea.  Lou and he would share the secretary and treasurer’s duties.  Lynn Hickman was contacted and he became the official editor.  Announcements were sent out, and the first person to join – Member Number One – was Robert Bloch.  I never called an official meeting, and I remained president for over twenty-five years.

When I was young, the sense of wonder meant “Gosh!  Wow!  Boy oh boy!  Stories of how great the future’s going to be!  How science fiction is going to be the most powerful force that would change the world.”  The magazines had personality – fans wrote letters and editors commented on them.  In fact, I received several letters from the editor of Astounding, F. Orlin Tremaine, in response to my letters.  One issue claimed that he got the best stories from the best authors, but I told him that he got the worst stories from the best authors.  He wasn’t too happy with that comment.  The magazines had an aura about them.  To me, that was the sense of wonder.”

L-R Jack Agnew, Robert A. Madle, John Newton, Oswald V. Train, John V. Baltadonis. PSFS meeting – Nov 17, 1984. Courtesy of David Ritter.

MORE HONORS, AWARDS, AND PUBLICATIONS. Notes by John L. Coker III & Jon D. Swartz

Madle, Forrest J Ackerman and Sam Moskowitz at the 1957 Worldcon.

Bob Madle was the TAFF winner in 1957, and published his famous A Fake Fan in London as his trip report.  Also at the 1957 Convention Bob became a member of St. Fantony.

Bob’s other fan publications include Fantascience Digest, Fantasy-Fiction Telegram, Fanzine Review, and PSFS News.  For the prozines he wrote a column, “Inside Science Fiction.”  Bob was also distributor of the British prozine Nebula.

Bob’s Guest of Honor appearances, awards, and other honors over the years include: 1974, Big Heart Award; 1977, FGoH, Suncon; 1982, GoH at Lunacon; 1990, elected to the First Fandom Hall of Fame; 1996, Special Guest, Boskone 33; 2002, Sam Moskowitz Archive Award; 2012, GoH at Philcon. 

Bob is also credited with naming the Hugo Award, and was Treasurer of Philcon II.  In 2014, Madle was nominated for a Retro Hugo Award for Fantascience Digest.

For many years Bob has been a highly respected book dealer, specializing in rare science fiction and fantasy books and magazines.

Robert A. Madle and Jay Kay Klein

First Fandom Annual 2018

Jack Robins

The 2018 First Fandom Annual has just been published: Remembering Jack Robins (1919-2015), Edited by John L. Coker III and Jon D. Swartz.

This periodical showcases new articles and photographs, as well as a long interview with Jack Robins recalling the good old days, an article by Lottie about her family, and two of Jack’s SF-themed plays: “The Ivory Tower” and “The Trials and Tribulations of Publishing.”

Here are first-hand accounts of some early adventures of SF fans from the 1930s, including Donald A. Wollheim, John B. Michel, Leslie Perri, Richard Wilson, Fred Pohl, David A. Kyle, William S. Sykora, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Robert W. Lowndes, Isaac Asimov, and Damon Knight.

Also presented are a selection of Jack’s poetry and several of his historic SF photographs.

Also featured, a Jack Robins bibliography prepared by Christopher M. O’Brien.

  • 90 pages, limited edition (50 copies); Laser printed on good quality paper; B&W photos and interior illustrations; Gloss covers, 8½ x 11, saddle-stitched.

This will soon be out-of-print, so order your copy today by sending a check or money order for $30 (payable to John L. Coker III) to John at 4813 Lighthouse Road, Orlando, FL – 32808.

Norman F. Stanley (1916-2016)

Norman F. Stanley, circa 1970s.

Norman F. Stanley, circa 1970s.

By Jon D. Swartz and John L. Coker III: Born in May 1916, Norm Stanley was a science fiction (SF) fan from Maine who was very active in fandom in the 1940s.  He was a member of the famous Stranger Club, and was one of the club members who attended Noreascon 3 as a Fan Guest of Honor.

Norm was also tangentially involved in the Skowhegan Junior Astronomical and Rocket Society, the kind of fan club that combined both science and SF activities and was common in this country in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was generous with his fellow club members, and  let them borrow from his seventy bound-volumes of SF prozines.

He attended early conventions such as Philcon, as well as some of the early Boskones.  He also participated in Mainecon Jr, a “conference” in the language of the times, in 1943, with his friend Jim Avery and the visiting Claude Degler.  He gave Degler some fanzines, and got along well with him.  This generosity of his, plus the “conference” they had had with Avery, apparently qualified him to be a member of Degler’s legendary Cosmic Circle.  Norm was still active in fan matters in the late 1940s, and attended the 1948 Torcon where he participated in a roundtable discussion on the probable date of the arrival of interplanetary travel.

Norm’s major fanzine was Fan-Tods, which ran for nineteen issues.  He also published Beyond with Roscoe E. Wright.  Fan-Tods was a SF fanzine that was subtitled “The Magazine for the Tod Fan.”  It appeared in the 1940s-1950s, and was edited and published by Norm from his home in Rockland, Maine.  This fanzine was mimeographed using blue ink.  Issue #1 appeared in December, 1942; with #2 appearing in Spring, 1943; #7 in Summer, 1944; and then following a regular quarterly schedule until issue #18 in 1949 — after which there was a three-year break; and then Issue #19 was published in the Fall of 1952, and was the last issue.  Fan-Tods was an apazine, distributed through FAPA (Fantasy Amateur Press Association), and then VAPA (Vanguard Amateur Press Association).  Cover illustrations were by Wright, among others.  By issue #7, Wright had become a co-editor.  SF historian Harry Warner once described Norm as “a power force in FAPA.”  

Jack Speer’s 1944 poll of the top SF fans found Fan-Tods to be among the nation’s top five fanzines.  On the other hand, in 1947 – in his fanzine Matters of Opinion Speer wrote an article, “The People vs. Norman F. Stanley,” that was very critical of the 16th issue of Fan-Tods.

In the 1940s, Norm was very much a member of the “sense of wonder” camp of SF.  According to Warner’s All Our Yesterdays, when Norm’s mother told him about atomic bombs and Hiroshima he remembered thinking:  “I confess my first reaction was one of elation, which even the obvious misgivings couldn’t quench. ‘Geez, we might blow up the whole planet,’ I thought, ‘but it’s still wonderful.’ ”

In addition to his fanzine work, Norm wrote for the SF prozines, including several letters to Astounding Science Fiction.  Three of his letters were published in 1938, two in 1939, and one in 1940.  In addition, he had an essay (“The Theory of Thing Things”) published in the 1948 Torcon Report.

Norm was one of the original members of First Fandom; and he was elected to the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2013.

Norman and Eleanor

Norman and Eleanor

Norman F. Stanley passed away on October 22, 2016, at the Sussman House, Rockport, Maine, with his family in attendance.  He was 100 years of age.  He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Eleanor, their two children, a granddaughter, and four children of a nephew.

Here is a link to the obituary notice that appeared in The Courier Gazette / The Camden Herald on October 26, 2016:  http://knox.villagesoup.com/p/norman-stanley/1588807

norman-stanley

Sources: All Our Yesterdays; The Immortal Storm; Fancyclopedia 3; ISFDB; Wikipedia; and other Internet sites.

Remembering Jack Robins (1919-2015)

By Jon D. Swartz & John L. Coker III: First Fandom original member Jack Robins passed away on December 23, 2015 after a brief illness. Robins was a science fiction (SF) fan who belonged to the International Scientific Association (ISA) in the early 1930s [invited by Walter Kubilius to attend a meeting], was a member of the famed Futurian Society of New York when it was formed in the late 1930s [inviting a former classmate of his, Isaac Asimov, to join], was part of the small group of Futurians (that included Donald Wollheim, John Michel and Fred Pohl) that organized the Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction (CPASF), and he also attended the first Worldcon (Nycon) in 1939 (despite the Exclusion Act that prevented some of the other Futurians from attending).

Robins was born February 17, 1919, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. His siblings were much older, and he “was like an only child.” Born Jack Rubinson, he legally changed his name to Jack Robins. After he left the Futurians, he earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from The Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (which later merged with NYU), but he maintained an interest in SF his entire life.

In the late 1930s Robins published two issues of his fanzine The Scientific Thinker. In the early 1940s, he published ten issues of another fanzine, Looking Ahead. Later he contributed an article, “Sex in Science Fiction,” to Geep!, The Book of the National Fantasy Fan Federation (1987). In addition, he has written LoCs, articles, and reviews for fanzines, including The Fan and Tightbeam for the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F) and Scientifiction for First Fandom.

Looking Ahead No. 3. Ed. Jack Robins. (March 1940) COMP

Jack recalled the summer of 1936:

Walter Kubilius introduced me to the ISA. These were people like me. They read and lived science fiction! They met in William Sykora’s basement and issued a mimeographed fan magazine to which I contributed. In 1937, Sykora closed his door, but the group reformed and became the Futurians. I still have fond memories of the group, and feelings of the warm comradery of those early days.

 

Walter Kubilius (late-1930s).

Walter Kubilius (late-1930s).

Robins has just missed being included in several important events in the history of fandom. Once, he was away when pictures of attendees at an early meeting of SF fans were taken, a meeting that became known as the First Eastern Conference. At the premier performance of the movie Things to Come, Robins left before a party that took place among fans that included Wollheim, Michel, Pohl, and James Blish. Robins was forgotten later when Wollheim wrote about those who had seen the movie and attended the party.

He missed out on other historic events because he was attending college classes, did not have enough money for required expenses, or was uncertain about dates (not having a telephone at the time). When the ISA decided to produce a movie and asked for scripts, Jack submitted one, but his was chosen as a backup in case the first choice did not work out.

Robins was a photographer who made a number of historic pictures of the Futurians.

He recalls a long walk that they all took:

Once, during the 1939 World’s Fair Days, Wollheim, Michel, Lowndes, Chester Cohen, and I decided to make a trip to Tarrytown. After taking the IRT all the way to the last stop in the Bronx, we then walked, walked, and walked, until we finally reached our destination. I had taken along a cheap 35mm camera to take pictures of all my friends, but I neglected to ask anyone to take a picture of me. We found a diner, but Lowndes and I were too poor to pay for a meal. Later, when our excursion ended, we took the train back down to the City, and then took the subway back to our homes.

 

(L-R) Robert W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim, Chester Cohen, Cyril Kornbluth, John B. Michel. (Photograph by Jack Robins.)

(L-R) Robert W. Lowndes, Donald A. Wollheim, Chester Cohen, Cyril Kornbluth, John B. Michel. (Photograph by Jack Robins.)

Years later, when he had a subscription to Locus, Robins saw a notice by Damon Knight seeking former Futurians. Knight wanted documents related to the famous SF fan club for the tell-all book he was writing. Robins sent him what he had, but all Knight used in his 1977 book, The Futurians, was a couple of pictures that Robins had taken.

In his 1983 book relating his memories of SF’s Golden Age, The Way the Future Was, Frederik Pohl barely mentioned Robins. Later, in commenting on Robins’ activities as a Futurian, Pohl referred to him as “the smiling guy in the background.” Another time – after acknowledging that Robins had been a Futurian from the beginning — he described him as more of an auditor than a participant.

One of the reasons for his exclusion from some Futurian activities probably was the fact that Robins was a “science man” and was not a would-be writer. Although he wrote some fan plays, he went on to earn three college degrees and became a research chemist with a doctorate. Most of the Futurians aspired to be professional SF writers and editors, not professional scientists. Another “science man” was Asimov, who had gone to Boys High School with Robins.

In 1984, Robins retired from his job with the Atlas Powder Company in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, where he had worked for twenty-five years as a research chemist. Over the ensuing years Jack wrote family histories, convention reports, articles, poetry, sonnets, and plays, including a tribute to the Futurians, entitled “The Ivory Tower.” In retirement Jack was busier than ever, writing a column of non-fiction articles for his condo newspaper and working on his memoirs. In addition, he was at one time co-president of the computer club at his condo and the person in charge of publicity.

Robins was optimistic: “The world is full of wonder to me. Many scientists developed their interest in science after reading science fiction and some inventors attribute their creations to their knowledge of science fiction. I see the influence of STF everywhere.”

Jack was happily married for sixty-six years to Lottie, the love of his life. They shared an interest in photography and Classical music. They adored each other and enjoyed the daily company of family and friends. Then, after a brief illness, Jack passed away.

Jack Robins was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame and made a N3F Life Member, both in 2012. He was a life-long genuine enthusiast who knew many of the early fans and was present as history was unfolding. Jack pursued his dream of going to college and becoming a real scientist. His written accounts and photographs have become an important part of the record of the early days of science fiction fandom.