Remembering Bruce Pelz

Bruce Pelz in 1994

By Rich Lynch: Twenty years ago today I lost a friend.  I remember first learning about it from an Internet news group:  [Matthew Tepper] “I have just returned from tonight’s LASFS meeting.  Larry Niven announced that Bruce Pelz died this afternoon.”

I’m trying to think back to when I first met Bruce.  I can’t pinpoint it exactly, as I’d known of him practically since my entry into fandom in the mid-1970s – he was frequently mentioned in many fanzines that I read back then.  But I’m sure that our first face-to-face meeting was in 1979, when my job in industry took me from Chattanooga all the way out to Los Angeles for some much-needed training in electrochemistry.  I didn’t really know anybody in L.A. fandom back then but I did know the address of the LASFS clubhouse, so on my next-to-last evening in town I dropped in on a meeting.  And it was there that I found Bruce mostly surrounded by other fans while they all expounded on fandom as it existed back then and what it might be like a few years down the road.  It was like a jazz jam session, but all words and no music.  I settled back into the periphery, enjoying all the back-and-forth, and when there eventually came a lull in the conversations I took the opportunity to introduce myself.  And then Bruce said something to me that I found very surprising: “Dick Lynch!  I’ve heard of you!”

Thus began a friendship that lasted right up to his death in 2002.  It took a few years after that first meeting for me to develop a strong interest in fan history, and Bruce was partly responsible for that.  My wife Nicki and I decided to publish Mimosa, a fanzine dedicated to fan history, in large part because of Bruce and other fans interested in preservation of our past enthralled us with entertaining and interesting stories about fandom’s past eras.  It was inevitable that Bruce and I would work together on fan history projects, but it took more than a decade after our initial meeting before the first of those happened – he used his considerable power of persuasion to convince me to be editor of Harry Warner, Jr.’s anecdotal history of fandom in the 1950s, A Wealth of Fable.  It had previously existed as a three-volume fanzine, filled with a myriad of typographical errors that needed to be fixed and more than a few instances of incorrect or outdated information that needed to be re-researched.  This was officially a project of a L.A.’s Worldcon corporation, SCIFI, but in actuality it was Bruce who was the project manager.  And also my chief researcher.  I leaned on him, heavily at times, to take advantage of his deep knowledge of fandom of that era and also his extensive library of fanzines that often contained exactly the information we were looking for.  How he knew where to find it I’ll never know, but he always did.

After that came a much less successful undertaking, the now-moribund 1960s fan history project.  Bruce was once again an able researcher, and his involvement was a big reason we were able to produce a knowledge base of sorts that now resides on the Internet in the form of a very extensive outline.  The project eventually proved to be undoable, mostly because 1960s fandom was so much larger in size and scope than its 1950s predecessor that it became obvious that a lot more research was needed than either of us had time or resources for.  But for a few years we both had a lot of fun, if that’s the right word, discovering and sometimes re-discovering various nuggets of information about that era which eventually made their way into the outline.

It might be that the 1960s project was a progenitor of FanHistoricon.  Bruce, along with Joe Siclari and Peggy Rae Pavlat, came up with the idea and the first one was held in 1994, deliberately sited in Hagerstown, Maryland so that attendees could have the opportunity to visit the legendary Harry Warner, Jr. at his home there.  That’s probably the main memory which most attendees took away with them, but Bruce also used the occasion to do some ideating in the workshop portion of the event.  The result was formation of the Timebinders, an informal association of fans which had the goals of ensuring the preservation of endangered fannish materials and finding ways of making fan historical information more widely available.  That organization, in the end, was a bit too informal to last for very long, but it was most likely an inspiration for a parallel organization which has all the same goals: fanac.org.  Joe Siclari was one of the main architects of that but it’s I think it’s fair to say that Bruce, holding forth as he did at the first FanHistoricon, certainly helped to plant some of the seeds.

Bruce Pelz, Harry Warner Jr., Peggy Rae Sapienza at the first FanHistoriCon (1994)

These are not nearly all the projects and activities that Bruce originated or was otherwise involved in over the more than four decades of his life in fandom.  He was the driving force behind the creation of Retrospective Hugo Awards.  He championed a large fundraising campaign which allowed LASFS to purchase its first clubhouse.  He persuaded LASFS to hold an annual convention, Loscon.  He edited and published the focal point newszine Ratatosk in the middle part of the 1960s.  He was active in many amateur press associations and founded the annual Worldcon Order of Faneditors (WOOF).  He was the much-deserving Fan Guest of Honor at the 1980 Worldcon.  And outside of the science fiction genre, he was one of the creators of the World Mystery Convention, BoucherCon.

Bruce was also an avid fanzine collector, as I’ve described earlier, and at one point had arguably the largest collection in the world.  I feel fortunate that I got to see it, back in the mid-1990s, and it was amusing to learn about his modus operandi for sorting new acquisitions: toss them gently into the air and after they come to rest on the floor, peruse through them for interesting stuff before filing them one by one.  That’s just one of many pleasant memories I have of Bruce.  Living on opposite coasts of the United States, we didn’t physically cross paths all that often and I treasured the times that we did.  The final one was at the 2001 Worldcon in Philadelphia, though I’m not sure when during the convention it was.  It probably happened when we went to dinner on Saturday night, prior to the masquerade.  I remember that we shared about an hour’s worth of conversation, on topics ranging from places in the world we wanted to go back to (he was a world traveler in his final years) to what we thought would make good fan history projects in the future.  Before we parted he told me a story about him spending a night in Robert Heinlein’s fallout shelter that he soon afterwards wrote up for Mimosa.  No surprise, he was also a really good writer.

Back then, I don’t think I ever once thought that would be the last time I’d see him.  He was always a rock, someone whose presence at Worldcons I attended seemed an absolute certainty.  And then, less than a year later, he was gone.  Two decades after Bruce’s passing, rarely does a week goes that I don’t think of him.  He was a great friend.  And also a strong influence.  Whenever I’m at a loss on how to proceed on some kind of fandom-related project I’m involved with, I often ask myself, “What would Bruce do?”  It usually helps a lot.

11 thoughts on “Remembering Bruce Pelz

  1. Bruce was also a parliamentarian who presided over the WSFS Business Meeting and even more often over the Westercon Business Meeting. (In effect, I stepped into his shoes for Westercon’s Business Meeting after his death.) His style was decidedly different than mine, and indeed influenced me to try to have the opposite of his take-no-prisoners attitude. His WSFS catchphrase was “Shut up, Robert,” referring to Robert Sachs, which he shortened to “Rule 1.” For Westercon, I was a sufficiently annoying parliamentary thorn in his side that Westercon Rule 2 was “Shut up, Kevin.” Still, I do miss him.

  2. I remember that Thursday – I got the word via phone. It was very very sudden.

    A few years later, during the SF Valley secession campaign, I was bewildered for a few minutes by a sign saying “Bruce for Mayor” – my first thought was “waittaminnit – he’s dead!”

  3. Bruce Pelz was an important figure in filk, something the article doesn’t mention. He helped to organize filksings at cons and published four songbooks under the title The Filksong Manual.

  4. And let’s not forget Bruce as a costumer, with many memorable masquerade appearances. Yes, he was an amazing man and fan, fondly remembered.

  5. From the Bruce Pelz obituary in File 770 #142 (2003):

    Bruce also applied his publishing skills to filking – a term based on a typo by his friend, Lee Jacobs. Bruce wrote music for three songs from John Myers Myers’ Silver lock, “Little John’s Song,” “Widsith’s Song” (with Ted Johnstone), and “Friar John’s Song.” Bruce and Ted trekked halfway across the country to Myers’ home, sang him the songs (with Gordy Dickson’s setting of “Orpheus’ Song,” also known as “I Remember Gaudy Days”), and got permission to publish Myers’ words. Bruce included these songs in the first of his four Filksong Manuals, which printed both words and music (wherever legally possible), another first. At Westercon XX (1967) he sang Master of the Universe in Virginia and Stephen Schultheis’ “Captain Future Meets Gilbert & Sullivan.”

    A star in all the fannish arts, Bruce had a great track record as a costumer, too. His Westercon award-winners included: 1963, Heavy Trooper, from Dragon Masters’, 1965, Gorice of Carce, from E.R. Eddison (with Dian Pelz as the Lady Sriva); 1966, the Fat Fury, from the comic-book adventures of Herbie (with Dian as Ticklepuss); 1967, Barquentine, from Titus Groan’, 1978, Nick van Rijn, from Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League. Among his Worldcon winners: 1963, Fafhrd (with Ted Johnstone as the Gray Mouser, and Dian as Ningauble); 1966, Chun the Unavoidable, from The Dying Earth’, 1968, Heavy Trooper; 1969, Countess Gertrude of Groan; 1970, Gorice of Carce. He entered the 1974 Worldcon masquerade as a one-legged character, achieving the effect by keeping one leg belted double against itself.

    Lee Gold writes, “Of these costumes, the one I particularly remember was Countess Gertrude. Bruce wore a green and gold caftan, a green cap, and a string of snails. He spent the presentation murmuring to a dove which perched on his finger (and was actually stuffed). No one recognized him including old friend Charlie Brown, who actually helped ‘Gertrude’ up the ramp. The panel of judges was sufficiently impressed by the whole affair to award him MOST EVERYTHING, including Most Beautiful, Best Presentation, and Best Group (after all, there was Gertrude and the Dove). When the name of the winner was announced, the entire audience burst into applause.”

  6. I hadn’t been a friend of Bruce’s for very long before he died, but he was one of those people who make a big impact in even a short perod of time. He is still very much missed.

  7. One of the best lessons I learned about running a convention was an encounter between Bruce and Chuck Crayne, when they were co-chairs of L.A.con (the first one) in 1972. It was a rather snippy argument between them, because Chuck felt that he had done all the work he had needed to do beforehand, and could then relax and indulge in other pursuits (such as the woman who was with him at the time). Bruce countered that that was not enough, and that the Chair had to be present and available at all times in order to address issues that needed resolution.
    So, my takeaway from that was that both things were important. A simple lesson, to be sure, but one which I learned early on, decades before I would ever need it.

  8. Matthew B. Tepper: Yes, Chuck knew it was important to visualize the Cosmic All ahead of time. Bruce knew they were herding cats, not Arisians.

  9. Excellent article, Rich!

    I first met Bruce at the 1963 Worldcon in DC—my first—and saw him over the years at many conventions. The birthday list I published every month in Science Fiction Chronicle—and still post every month on FictionMags, Trufen, Fmzfen and SouthernFandomClassic, plus to numerous other people— was based on a list he put through FAPA in the mid-1960s.

    Upon his death, his fanzine collection eventually found a home at the Eaton Collection at UC/Riverside.

    I’m sure I’m one of many who still miss Bruce.

  10. Has it really been twenty years since Bruce died? I miss him greatly. As I recall, part of the reason why Timebinders wasn’t more organized was that Bruce was against too much organization. This was an opinion expressed throughout the Timebinders meeting at BucConeer.

    He always seemed to be involved in everything. He was tuned in to both fan history and fan politics. Mostly, he was just fun to be around.

    I miss him greatly, but I already said that.

  11. I still remember his Barquentine costume, and how impressively he stayed in character, which was am impressive lesson to the young actor I was at the time.

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