Historic Roddenberry Letter Sold

Prior to discovering fandom I watched classic Star Trek in first run on NBC, so I made an appropriately envious audience for others’ stories about Gene Roddenberry attending the 1966 Worldcon in Cleveland and previewing the series’ two pilot episodes.

Those neofannish memories came rushing back when I read that Stuart Lutz Historic Documents of New Jersey was offering for $750 Gene Roddenberry’s letter to Worldcon chair Ben Jason affirming his plan to attend the convention. It’s typed on Desilu corporate letterhead — Desilu in green, Roddenberry’s signature in red, obviously more Hollywood’s than New York City’s notion of business correspondence.

The letter begins:

Thank you for your return letter. As it happened, I had an evening with Harlan Ellison and bride, got filled in on some of my questions regarding your September convention.

Incidentally, STAR TREK has been definitely bought by NBC and will appear on the air this fall, the exact premiere date to be determined but probably being in the second or third week of that month — at any rate, some time after the 24th World Science Fiction Convention.

Collectors of Ellisoniana would be interested, too. However, it looks like somebody has already snapped it up – a reproduction of the letter is still online but there is nothing about it being offered for purchase like there is for the rest of the dealer’s inventory.

[Via Bill Burns and Andrew Porter.]

The Oldsmobile Hugo

Arthur C. Clarke received Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

It might have been the greatest April Fool’s joke in the history of science fiction had the 1956 Hugo Awards been given on this date. They weren’t, but there’s no more appropriate day for the story of Dave Kyle’s Hugos.

When the Hugo Award was revived in 1955 (having skipped a year) the Cleveland Worldcon committee hoped Jack McKnight, who machined the originals in 1953, would make their rockets, too. Time passed and their letters brought no replies. Finally, Nick Falasca asked, couldn’t they simply use Oldsmobile “Rocket 88″ model hood ornaments?

They ordered one from the local Olds dealer. Unfortunately, the rocket had a hollow underside. It wouldn’t look right standing perpendicular to the base, the way every Bonestell fan envisioned a rocket ready to launch. The committee discarded the hood ornament idea. Ben Jason asked the Hoffman Bronze Co. prepare a pattern rocket from his design. Yet Jason must have had an unfulfilled longing for the Rocket 88 logo because his 1955 Hugos still looked like a larger, 3-dimensional version of Oldsmobile’s emblem.

Attending Clevention’s awards banquet was Dave Kyle, chair of the next year’s Worldcon. Dave must have thought the Rocket 88 logo was nifty, too. And never mind Bonestell — Dave knew how to take care of the objection to hollow hood ornaments.

1956NyConSo NyCon II produced the1956 Hugos by affixing Oldsmobile rockets to a decorative wooden backing. The L-shaped base displayed the rocket standing upright while concealing its hollow underside.

I’m confident Arthur C. Clarke in the photo above is smiling with pleasure about the award he’s just won. But if he was laughing about Dave Kyle’s audacity at handing him a Hugo made from car parts who could blame him?  

(To see how Hugos are made today, read Peter Weston’s article at the official Hugo Awards website.)

The Twice-Invented Hugos

How the Hugo Awards were created by the Philadelphia Worldcon committee of 1953, skipped by the 1954 committee, then put back on track by Ben Jason and the Cleveland committee of 1955, is an oft-discussed bit of fanhistory.

We usually look at this with a powerful hindsight, focusing on how the advocates of a fledgling award overcame the potentially fatal indifference of the 1954 committee to preserve an important fannish tradition.

And that’s not wrong. However, like Lincoln’s success in preserving the Union, Clevention’s revival of the Hugo Awards resulted in something with many differences from the original.

The 1953 Hugo Awards had seven categories. Five of them were not repeated in 1955!

Only two of the 1955 Hugo Awards’ six categories were identical to those used the founding year — Best Novel and Best Professional Magazine.

Dropped were Best Cover Artist, Best Interior Illustrator, Excellence in Fact Articles, Best New SF Author or Artist and #1 Fan Personality.

The 1955 Hugos recognized three lengths of fiction (Novel, Novelette, Short Story) instead of just one, while settling for a single “professional artist” category rather than separate ones for covers and interiors. And a category recognizing fanzines took the place of one for an individual fan personality.

Clevention’s Hugo format heavily influenced future committees and the writers of the original WSFS Constitution (1962-1963).

Clevention also redesigned the Hugo Award trophy, though only out of necessity. Chairman Ben Jason wrote and asked Jack McKnight to reprise his role as maker of the little rockets. Getting no answer, he commissioned a pattern based on his own design. From then on, the Hugo no longer looked like the rocket on Bonestell’s cover for Willy Ley’s 1949 book, The Conquest of Space, but like the logo from the trunk lid of a 1955 Oldsmobile “Rocket 88.”