Lester H. Cole, Past Worldcon
Co-Chair, Has Died

Les Cole at home in his library.

By John L. Coker III: Lester Hines Cole (1926–2019), the long-time beloved husband of Esther Cole, was a Bay Area SF fan who co-chaired SFCon, the 1954 Worldcon held in San Francisco that had John W. Campbell, Jr. as its guest of honor.  SFCon activities included a chamber opera based on a Ray Bradbury short story (narrated by Anthony Boucher), and the restoration of the tradition of a masquerade ball.  Les was married to Esther Cole, who joined him in many of his fannish activities.

Cole, who died in late September, was a member of the Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s Science Fiction and Chowder Society (at one time serving as its president).  The Society was founded in 1948; meetings and other club activities were always centered in and around Berkeley, CA.  In the early days, the club published thepopular fanzine Rhodomagnetic Digest.

Cole published the fanzine Orgasm (aka The Big O) in 1951, along with his wife and Clarence Jacobs.  Les had about fifty genre short stories, articles, and letters published, most of which appeared in Amazing, Astounding, F&SF, Venture, and Startling.  He also wrote several genre novels, including an alternate history in 2012, Spithead, in which the two World Wars never happened.  He sometimes used the pen names of Roy Carroll, Les Collins, T. M. Mathieu, T. H. Mathieu, and Colin Sturgis.  The last was used when Les collaborated with Melvin Sturgis.

An associate member of First Fandom, Les was inducted — along with his wife — into the First Fandom Hall of Fame in 2017.  A photo of Les (with wife Es) appeared in A Wealth of Fable (SCIFI Press, 1992) written by SF fan Harry Warner, Jr.

He was a historian; a scholarly gentleman with many interests and great capacities who was a life-long student and a mentor; a true animal lover; someone who had one foot firmly planted in the past with the other striding boldly into the future.

Les is survived by his wife and their two sons, Dana and Lance.

(Prepared by Jon D. Swartz)

Es and Les Cole. Photo by Tove Marling

Remembering Les Cole

By Es Cole: Les was a treasure trove of SF experiences and interactions with the great fans and writers during the glory years.  He chaired the Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s SF and Chowder Society and helped produce the 1954 Worldcon.  He also captured his bride of 70 years by reading to her The Black Flame (by Stanley Weinbaum), who wore a gown of Alexandrites, rare gemstones that cost more than 15,?000 dollars a carat.

I accepted Les’ marriage proposal on condition the engagement ring be an Alexandrite.  Les, that sneaky, funny, intellectual, got me the ring, but the Alexandrite was an artificial stone. 

My SF relationship with Les started when we first met.  I had been assigned to run the switchboard of the men’s dorm, and Les walked into that area, wearing a new hat.  He was a wiseass sophomore, age 18; I was a sophisticated, 20-year-old freshman.  This was at Cal, Berkeley.  Les spent about two hours hanging about, and I learned from him about “dry labbing.”  First thing Les taught me was how to cheat in my chem class.  Thus, I began my college career.  And it worked.  Plus I got a boyfriend.  And the rest is history — a history of almost 80 years. 

We made our first convention appearance in New Orleans, where Bob Bloch started a rumor that Es and Les were 15-year-old twin brothers, and we’ve been gender confused ever since.

No. 1 son, Dana, attended the Worldcon in Chicago at age 4 1/2 months.  Both sons – Dana and Lance – attended the Worldcon in San Francisco in 1954.

Les and Es Cole, Gary Nelson, Tom Quinn and a few other people produced SFCon 1954.  We started out with almost bare pockets.   First, we turned the 2-day event into a 3-day weekend; we upped the registration from $1 to $2.  Fans screamed at the outrageous increase.  Our most important accomplishment, which is still followed today: we voted to have world conventions produced in a different city each year, moving westward.  Prior to that, conventions had primarily been on the eastern side of the U.S.  We restored the masquerade ball.  Bob Bloch was a judge.  Willy Ley’s wife, a professional ballet dancer, wore a black, filmy, flowing gown with glowing stars.  She was “deep space”.

We arranged for a wonderful museum in San Francisco to display some original sf art, including Chesley Bonestell originals.  Additional entertainment included a chamber opera based on a Bradbury short story narrated by Anthony Boucher.

When Les was president of the Little Men, he, and several other people, hatched an idea to involve the United Nations to claim to have authority over ownership of the Moon.

The idea for the Moon Claim, originated, with the owner of the bookstore where The Little Men held their meetings.

The people who executed the Moon Claim were pros or near pros.  Les wrote about the geology of the area of the moon; a graduate student in astronomy was able to outline the area of the moon being claimed; Les’ father was studying law, so he was able to write a proper claim.  They picked a date to local papers, describing the attempt to claim a portion of the Moon, by filing such a claim with the Legal Department of the United Nations.  And yes, it worked.  Press releases went out, written with a slant that would appeal to each Bay Area newspaper.  The response was far greater than we expected.  The local Berkeley paper tore up their original front page for that day and ran the Moon Claim story.  Les received a phone call in his place of work from a reporter from England, calling from New York. The reporter was interested in the ramifications of such a claim. 

Les, as president of the Little Men had the responsibility of fielding the phone calls, hoping for a legal way to determine the ownership of part of the moon.

Les authored about 50 SF short stories, published in F&SF, Amazing, Startling; an article in Astounding; and 6 novels.  His letters to sf magazines were published regularly from when he was about 13.  After we married in 1947 he added my name – thus was born Les and Es, or Es and Les.

Books by Les Cole: The Sea Kings, Lion at Sea, The Sea People (a prehistoric arch-aeological adventure trilogy, also available in Greek); Baker’s Dozenth (a spy novel set against the American Civil War); Spithead (an alternative universe spy/adventure novel where WWI and WWII never happened because the British Navy sailed out of Spithead, England and intervened).

Judith Merrill played a big part.  Long distance by mail and phone she helped Les hone his writing skills, gave advice about character development, dialog.  Les passed on this help to other aspiring writers, an important obligation.

Les was never boring.  I don’t think he could be boring; he knew too much, his sense of humor never stopped.  His use of language was always interesting, thoughtful, and unique.  And he could write; short stories, science fiction, historical novels.

He was younger than I, and insisted that I had to marry a younger man because women live longer than men.  He was right about so many things.  Smart and funny, and knew so much.  He was never boring. 

He is still in our house.  In every corner: his books, his photographs, his little notes tucked into books.  We made each other laugh.   He taught me stuff and I may have taught him a few things, too.

Sending love,

Es and the doggies

1954 Worldcon Archive Offered

The papers of the Twelfth World Science Fiction Convention are back on the market. This archive of correspondence, contracts and the like from SFCon, held in San Francisco in 1954, previously offered in 2012 by The Fine Books Company for $12,218.50, is available from the same dealer but with a new asking price of $15,925.00.

Here is the seller’s list of all the goodies in this fanhistorical treasure trove —

A UNIQUE OFFERING THE TWELFTH WORLD SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION PAPERS. Held in San Francisco in the summer of 1954 with G.O.H. John Campbell, Jr., this was one of the great early gatherings. Included in this massive archive is everything that one might want to know about running a convention: Hotel rates for rooms, banquets, buffet menus, rentals, carpenters, electricians, etc. There are letters from attendees and those who wished to attend but could not; paid invoices from photo shops, printers, etc.; canceled checks (along with some unused ones as well) and check stubs; Radio scripts from local stations and press clippings and pictures from local papers; letters from major Motion Picture Studios answering requests about film availability; SIGNED letters from advertizers (including all the small presses); the entire convention mailing list; black & white photos picturing singularly or in group Ackerman, Anderson, Boucher, Bloch, Campbell, Clifton, Dick, Ellison, Evans, Gold, Mayne, Ley, Moskowitz, Nourse, E.E. Smith, Williamson, Van Vogt, Vampira, et.al. But of course the major importance of this archive has yet to be mentioned. And that’s simply the great abundance of SIGNED letters, post-cards and notes from authors and artists. To wit: Anderson, Asimov (3), Blaisdell, Blish, Bond, Bonestell (4), Boucher (3), Bradbury (4), Bretnor, F. Brown, Howard Browne, Budrys, Campbell (5), Clement, Clifton (2), Collier, Conklin, DeCamp, DeFord, Dick, Dickson, Dollens (8), Emshwiller (2), Eshbach (2), Evans, Farmer, Freas (3), Greenberg (2), Gunn, Heinlein, Hunter (5), Kuttner, Ley (5), Moskowitz, Neville, Nolan (3), Nourse, Obler, Orban (3), Palmer, Pratt, Simak, E.E. Smith (2), Tucker, Williamson (3), Wylie, et.al. Finally, also included is a set of audio tapes which were taken at this convention. Now for the first time (depending on your age I guess) you can not only be privy to what went on at this convention, but also hear the actual voices of Anthony Boucher, John W. Campbell, E.E. “DOC”Smith and others too numerous to mention. A unique opportunity to snatch a bit of vintage post-war Science Fiction history. (The tapes, while definitely included in this grouping, may not be immediately available.)

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Huett: 1954 Worldcon Archive on Block

By Kim Huett: While looking for something else on the ABE website I discovered that The Fine Books Company is offering for sale what it claims is the paperwork for the 1954 San Francisco Worldcon. For a lazy $12,218.50 they will provide the following:

Included in this massive archive is everything that one might want to know about running a convention: Hotel rates for rooms, banquets, buffet menus, rentals, carpenters, electricians, etc. There are letters from attendees and those who wished to attend but could not; paid invoices from photo shops, printers, etc.; canceled checks (along with some unused ones as well) and check stubs; Radio scripts from local stations and press clippings and pictures from local papers; letters from major Motion Picture Studios answering requests about film availability; SIGNED letters from advertizers (including all the small presses); the entire convention mailing list; black & white photos picturing singularly or in group Ackerman, Anderson, Boucher, Bloch, Campbell, Clifton, Dick, Ellison, Evans, Gold, Mayne, Ley, Moskowitz, Nourse, E.E. Smith, Williamson, Van Vogt, Vampira, et. al. But of course the major importance of this archive has yet to be mentioned. And that’s simply the great abundance of SIGNED letters, post-cards and notes from authors and artists. To wit: Anderson, Asimov (3), Blaisdell, Blish, Bond, Bonestell (4), Boucher (3), Bradbury (4), Bretnor, F. Brown, Howard Browne, Budrys, Campbell (5), Clement, Clifton (2), Collier, Conklin, DeCamp, DeFord, Dick, Dickson, Dollens (8), Emshwiller (2), Eshbach (2), Evans, Farmer, Freas (3), Greenberg (2), Gunn, Heinlein, Hunter (5), Kuttner, Ley (5), Moskowitz, Neville, Nolan (3), Nourse, Obler, Orban (3), Palmer, Pratt, Simak, E.E. Smith (2), Tucker, Williamson (3), Wylie, et.al. Finally, also included is a set of audio tapes which were taken at this convention. Now for the first time (depending on your age I guess) you can not only be privy to what went on at this convention, but also hear the actual voices of Boucher, Campbell, Smith and others too numerous to mention.

Under any circumstances this would be a fascinating trove to pick through but more so at the moment given that the 1954 Worldcon has been central to several discussions I’ve been involved with of late.