Convention Annual: Pittcon 1960, Section 2
[Note: Complete copies of this report, including nearly 200 photographs, are available directly from Jay Kay Klein, P.O. Box 397, Bridgeport, New York 13030, for $25.00 each, post paid. Also available, at the same price, are Convention Annuals No. 2 (Chicon III, 1962), No. 3 (Discon, 1963) and No. 4 (Tricon, 1966).]
CONVENTION ANNUAL No.1
PITTCON EDITION 1960
Photographs and Text:
Jay Kay Klein
Business and Production:
Frank R. Prieto, Jr.
Where the light azure of the roiling Monongahela meets the deep indigo of the beautifully turbid Allegheny, in that glorious subtropical paradise known as Pittsburgh, Queen City of the Western Empire, the World Science Fiction Convention of 1960 joined the eternal time stream of history.
Not the largest convention in science fiction history, nor the smallest, nor yet again the best or worst, the Pittcon was a good, all-around well-planned convention. There is no doubt that the convention committee (and somehow I think of Schuyler Miller and Dirce Archer) put in the necessary hundreds of hours to make the Pittcon a success. If things didn’t always go right (though few things went very wrong), such problems are just the price any dress rehearsal exacts.
Each convention is unique, never before shown and never again duplicated. The cast, the managers, and audience are all refreshingly new. And when the curtain goes up it’s every fan for himself!
Probably the worst blow to the convention committee’s plans was the Pennsylvania Railroad strike, which made it extremely difficult for many people to reach Pittsburgh. Ike Asimov drove some 14 solid hours from Boston, at dangerously high speeds. (Fortunately for everyone’s peace of mind he had already disclosed the hiding place of the Second Foundation.) Frank and Lyda Long came via an exhausting eight-hour bus trip from New York and only revived thanks to a strong spiritual assist from Jim Blish.
The much-publicized Pittnik from Philadelphia shrank from an omnibus to something considerably smaller - some say a motorscooter with tandem seats. Many fans, especially the younger ones, claimed to have traveled via thumb. And so, different conventioneers blistered different parts of the anatomy.
Informed of his Hugo award, Bob Heinlein flew in from Colorado, thus showing that the Hugo is indeed highly valued ($210 worth of plane fare, at least).
Frank Prieto and I drove to New York from Syracuse in Frank’s monster station wagon, picked up Jimmie Taurasi and George Nims Raybin, and went onto Pittsburgh. Joy and Sandy Sanderson made the return trip with us to New York. Many other fans similarly pooled their transportation.
However, Dirce Archer felt that the Pennsy strike did cut into the attendance appreciably. It certainly was a lot smaller than the gigantic Metracon of 1956. [The official Pittcon attendance was 568. The 1956 Worldcon in New York City drew an estimated 850. The name “Metracon” has, incidentally, passed from fannish lore, which knows the 1956 convention as “NyCon II”. - ed.] But then, ounce for ounce it was just as much fun. (If you didn’t enjoy yourself - perhaps you should consider stamp collecting.)
No, not everyone was there. Among the missing was Lee Gregor, who is doing highly secret work under the pseudonym of Milt Rothman (you can read all about it in the July 1960 issue of Scientific American). Allison Williams and Lex Phillips were busily feathernesting in Philadelphia. Julie Unger was convalescing in New York. And you could name scores of other old-time friends not there.
Fortunately, there were hundreds of other old friends on hand to brighten the day and light up the night. Wilhelm von Stauffen-Ley, affectionately known as Willy Ley, was there, speaking German with a thick English accent. He is currently working on such projects as Das Sientifiker Gerchutenwerks Firenkraker (Guided Missile) and Firesphitter mid Schmoken-und-Schnorten (Rocket Engine).
A very convivial H. Beam Piper was there, desperately insisting that he was NOT H. B. Phyffe. Of course, no one really believed him. . . .
The real old-time fans were there, too people who practically founded fandom. Bob Madle, Forry Ackerman, Sam Moskowitz, Don Ford. . . .
Phyllis Economou was there, of course, with her inimitable flair for partying. One of the sublime moments of the convention came at 4 a.m. when I found her at the head of several dozen fans pouring forth from a much-too-small room like bees from a hive. A very grim-faced representative of the management was standing by. Phyllis muttered something about “singing too loud” and swept on to another party.
Bjo Trimble concentrated the work of nearly a year in the well-conceived and carried-out science fantasy art show. The works displayed ranged from strictly amateur (not so many) to darn good (quite a few). The show was one of the hits of the Pittcon.
John Campbell was there, affable and extremely approachable. The older fans will remember him as editor of Astounding Stories. His present publication is probably the world’s leading psionics fiction magazine. Peg Campbell, too, was a favorite with the convention. goers.
Jim Blish, the guest of honor, showed himself a very erudite man of discernment, and as critics like to speak of characters in a novel, very “human” too. In his room a few minutes before the banquet, he was assuring Lester del Rey and Gordon Dickson that he wasn’t one bit nervous at the prospect of delivering the banquet speech; a little later he was just about the most nervous speaker ever heard. But he proceeded with fortitude and made a very handsome address.
E. E. Smith and wife Jean were there, coming by trailer. Normally the hot weather would have seen them in Colorado, but family affairs brought them east. Doc assures Smith fans that he is working on a new epic.
Harlan Ellison was there, doing a Moskowitz-size job of auctioneering. There have been some comments made in the past about Harlan’s unique personality, but close-up he, too, comes off with the literary critic’s approving judgment. He did a swell job of auctioneering and performed ably as a panelist.
F. M. and Elinor Busby were there, very much like a pair of sphinxes, with the secret of the ages locked in their paws - for it was pretty generally understood that Seattle would be awarded the 1961 convention. In fact, there was an undercurrent mock-panic whisper, “What if they don’t put in a bid!”
The convention, as always, was a strain on those responsible for it. Schuyler Miller was forever going somewhere in a big rush, and Dirce Archer had some of the countenance of a somnambulist. And there must have been other of the convention committee who started the Pittcon in the same physical condition everyone else was to achieve in three days.
There was one unique aspect to this convention that struck me forcefully: the unusual pattern of drinking. For one thing, there was considerably less drinking to excess. Of course, this view may be somewhat colored by the fact that I drank a heck of a lot less: I was determined to stay absolutely sober in order to take in-focus pictures. (If that isn’t a genuine sacrifice, I don’t know what is!)
For another, this was the first convention I've ever seen where there was plenty of liquor available right up to bedtime at 6:30 a.m. And to top it off, there was also on hand a supply of ginger ale and (think of it!) ice cubes. These startling observations were generally true at all but the most crowded of parties.
Of course, the ice cubes probably weren’t of supernatural origin. They were just made of Pittsburgh water so tough and ornery it refused to melt.
Nor were there any monster all-night poker games. And veteran card player Marty Greenberg was heard to comment that he didn*t miss them, was having a perfectly good time just the same. (Is this heresy? What would Erle Korshak think if he had heard this?)
The all-night parties went on as usual, though. These, naturally, were the highlights of the convention. Probably the bestest with the mostest was held in the Archer suite the night of the masquerade ball. Starting sometime after midnight, the party soon became the prime gathering spot of all conventioneers. Literally, everyone was there, at one time or another.
At one party, when it started dying down about 4:30 a.m., someone started a bridge game. That’s when I left. Several floors down in Jim Blish’s room were gathered Dirce Archer, Fred Pohl, Gordon Dickson, and Lester del Rey, lolling at ease on the floor, quaffments at hand, discussing literature and writers, ranging from science fiction and Harlan Ellison to medieval poetry and Geoffrey Chaucer.
The masquerade ball really deserves a couple of pages in color. The costume most commented on was Sylvia White’s, which was prominently displayed to the satisfaction of all. Bjo Trimble’s costume achieved comparable results but with more cloth and less gooseflesh.
Sprague de Camp appeared in the ancestral costume of his tribe, a thoroughly sedate business suit, but with a Kharfiyeh going so well with his salt-and-pepper beard that he truly looked like a sheikh on a Parisian holiday.
Stu Hoffman’s most monstrous costume, like something from an Ackerman magazine, outgrotesqued anyone there, in costume or out.
By the last day of the convention, just about everyone had so enjoyed himself that he could hardly stand any more fun. People were wandering about with the glassy-eyed look peculiar to fans who have stayed up several nights running with only a few snatched hours of sleep. It was really amazing how well attended were the formal daytime sessions.
The last panel of the program, a symposium on the organization of fan clubs, was intrinsically of considerable interest, and held the audience’s close attention for an hour or so. But then the members of the panel grew more animated and captivated with the topic in inverse proportion to the declining interest of the audience. And as the listeners grew more anxious to witness Dirce Archer, waiting down front, conclude the convention with the formal handing of the gavel to Elinor Busby, the panelists grew even more animated, gained their second and third winds, and continued on.
The audience dwindled.
The panel went on.
Exactly how many hours this situation continued, I can’t say, as my watch had expired of slow Martian rust, but it took a very determined sittee to wait through to the concluding ceremony. In particular, I noted Forry Ackerman and Dave Kyle doggedly trying to outsit the panel, though toward the bitter end even these stalwart fans had to take occasional breaks. After all, most fans are only human.
Dirce Archer and Elinor Busby handled the gavel-passing formalities very well, taking just five minutes, in beautiful contrast to the panel. The remaining audience applauded in wild relief.
That evening was considerably quieter than those preceding, for many fans had already left. Yet there were a few parties among the die-hards, in some cases held amidst the wreckage of the previous night’s gaiety, with empty bottles and full ash trays strewn about the rooms.
About a dozen people gathered in the Archer suite, but the contrast with the previous monster party, crowded with fans, was depressing, and everyone left after a while to consolidate forces with (I think it was) the Philly group, where Hal Lynch and his cohorts were still going strong. There was also a group at Don Ford’s stronghold; Avram Davidson gave a beer-mug shattering parody of Mickey Spillane writing like Thomas Wolfe, and wrote it down as a keepsake for Riva Smilay.
Naturally, the end of the convention led to thoughts of the forthcoming Seacon. Not all of us will be able to make it, especially those from the east coast. But I can honestly say, we’ll all wish we could!
In particular, I’d like to be there to prepare another Convention Annual (Seacon Edition, of course.) And I’m certainly going to try. Frank Prieto has practically bought his plane ticket already.
To this end, Frank and I would welcome any suggestions and comments about this first Convention Annual. We know very well it is not the best book it would be theoretically possible to bring out. Mostly, we wish we had been able to have more space in the photo section, but the extremely high cost of photo-offset (and it is VERY high) pretty well set the limits. Being our first effort, the Pittcon Edition took longer to produce and cost more than we had anticipated.
If the Pittcon Edition does go over as we hope, we will try on our next venture to expand the photo section. Besides more extensive coverage, it would be a tremendous advantage to be able to make the photos a bit larger. As it was, in this first Annual we pretty well had to keep the pictures as small as we reasonably could in order to cover as much as possible.
At previous conventions a good many pictures had been shot haphazardly, most of which were never seen except by the takers or a small circle of hometown friends. It just seemed that someone should set out to make a set of photos available as an enduring memory of 1960’s greatest science fiction event.
We hope you’ll like this first Convention Annual.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Phyllis Economou, who provided heaps of moral support for this venture, identified many of the fans, and promoted sales via Phlotsam and thumb screws.
We also owe thanks to Jimmie Taurasi, F. M. Busby, and Ralph Holland for help in publicizing the Annual.
Jay Kay Klein
Copyright 1961 by Jay Kay Klein. All Rights Reserved.