Ackerman’s Hugo

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

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

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

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 Harry Warner Jr., seems convinced that all the winners were voted upon because (1) he makes inferences about the unpublished results of the vote (see Wealth of Fable, page 369), and (2) draws no distinction between #1 Fan Personality and the other Hugos.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

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

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

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

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

7 thoughts on “Ackerman’s Hugo

  1. During evolution their ancestors were in the control group. Hopefully now the Long List will be corrected and, this time, a force field placed around it.

  2. First of all, it wasn’t “the other day,” but in fact almost five years ago that the printed lists of Hugo Awards started listing both “#1 Fan Personality” and “Excellence in Fact Articles” in the same way as “Special Committee Awards.” Honestly, I don’t know who the specific person was who changed it, but the change had stuck and was in the FOLLE records. This is merely the first time someone (a) noticed and (b) made a fuss about it. And the only reason it was even noticed was as a sideline to the discussion about trying to salvage Forry’s Hugo trophies from his estate for the benefit of the Permanent Floating History Exhibit. (Rich is right about that part.)

    Second, Rich produced for the FOLLE committee evidence that those two categories were in fact voted by the members like all of the others. Apparently, the way they showed up in some reports made them look like Special Committee Awards, which aren’t Hugo Awards and don’t appear in the same way. Those first Hugo Awards were a relatively haphazard affair compared to how we do them today, with little transparency or consistency. How could the people who started them know that they’d be starting a tradition that would be argued over for more than fifty years? The person who maintains the underlying database (which is the last word on the subject, but isn’t directly accessible online) has corrected the entry. When he gets a chance, he’ll correct the FOLLE List. It’s been five years; the world won’t end if it takes him a few more days to make the correction.

    In any event, the place most people probably look for this information is actually the Hugo Awards site. I made the corrections there last night.

    You attribute reasoning to the FOLLE committee that was never there. To my recollection, there was no discussion of the nature you extrapolate. It appears than there was a misunderstanding by a list editor some years ago, and the error stuck until now. For all we know, there are other such errors in the lists waiting to be found.

  3. I now think the change was made much earlier than the announcement about Forry’s Hugos being auctioned off. As of this morning, at least, I still don’t know what the process was for making the change, or who was involved in the decision. When I checked the NESFA website (, I saw that Willy Ley’s Hugo for “Excellence in Fact Articles” had been similarly downgraded from a Hugo to a special “committee award”.

    At any rate, I did check with Bob Madle, who was one of the 1953 Worldcon committee members, and he told me categorically that *every* award handed out in 1953 was voted on by the convention members (though there was a relatively low percentageof ballots returned). I am hoping this will be sufficient evidence, I have yet to see the evidence that led to this downgrade of the Ackerman and Ley awards.

  4. By the way, I am not that much of a night owl! Even though the post says 12:41am on Febbruary 11th, I actually posted my comment at about 7:41pm on the 10th.

  5. Rich:

    I now think the change was made much earlier than the announcement about Forry’s Hugos being auctioned off.

    Yes, it was. It was made almost five years ago. See my comment above yours. It’s been that way in the Worldcon Souvenir Books of 2004 and the subsequent four years as well. It’s only because of the discussion about the trophy that you noticed the change.

    As of this morning, at least, I still don’t know what the process was for making the change, or who was involved in the decision. When I checked the NESFA website (,…

    The database is updated by a specific person, an that person already told you that he’s updated it. The web site will be updated by him as well when he gets an opportunity to do so, and he told you that as well. (I’d do it myself, but it’s not a site to which I have access. I have edit access to the Hugo Awards web site, so I updated it when I could get to it; I cannot usually do so when I’m at work, so it had to wait a few hours.)

    I certainly understand not being able to drop everything that I am doing and go update a web site, even if it is one to which I have access. Can you please explain why the urgency level is so high? There’s a difference between “importance” and “urgency,” you know. The incorrect entry has been up there for about five years now. Will significant additional harm occur if it takes a day or two before the site administrator gets around to making the correction? I’m not being sarcastic here; I really want to know why this has suddenly assumed the urgency of getting the economic stimulus package passed.

  6. Comment to Kevin:
    I am certainly willing to wait a few days, or as long as it takes, actually, if the correction is made. But, as you were aware, I was pretty much shrugged off when I presented the info from Bob Madle that I described earlier. I was told (though not by you) that “I believe you have provided some new information, but not quite the killing blow you seem to think.” Only in the last day or so has someone else on the committee (you specifically, and thank you) started to come around to questioning the evidence and procedures that caused this reclassifying of the two awards to happen in the first place. So yes, I think there ought to be at least a moderate sense or urgency to get it corrected.

    So I do not mind that the FOLLE committee has the opinion that “The world will not end if we take this slowly,” as I was informed. All well and good. As long as it does happen.

  7. Pingback: Science Fiction Awards Watch » Blog Archive » Forry’s Hugo Stolen?

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