They’re Grand, But…

In some ways, early science fiction fandom was like a family. Think Leave It To Beaver meets Jersey Shore. The love and hate in the complex web of relationships often played out both in person and in fanzines. A shining example: a 1938 late-night road trip worthy of Scorsese’s After Hours.

In February 1938, Samuel A. Moskowitz penned a saccharin homage to his brothers and occasional sister in the fan community. “They’re Grand” appeared in The Science Fiction Fan (v2n6).

Little did Sam expect that his open embrace would be taken by some as an open door. The very next month, certain intrepid fans embarked on an epic soiree, as described in Richard Wilson’s The S-F Dividend (n2, distributed with the April 2 1938 issue of The Science Fiction News Letter). It’s also a delightful tour of the New York Area public transportation system of the day.

Seems Moskowitz might not have been overjoyed at the pre-dawn intrusion. In the March-April 1938 issue of The Science Fiction Collector (v3n6), he posted a somewhat evolved view of his fannish comrades under the (sadly faded) title, “They’re Grand, But They Have Their Faults.”

It’s not completely clear that Sam is referring here to the March 13 home invasion, but it seems likely. The “perverted brain” is pretty clearly the arch-nemesis Donald A. Wollheim.

Of course Richard Wilson wasn’t going to let this stand. He responded in the June-July issue of The Science Fiction Collector (v4n2).

Text transcribed below.

Sam Apologizes – By Proxy
by Richard Wilson, Jr.
This is written to set at ease the minds of Milton Rothman, Oliver Saari and any other who were apologized by the article, or a part of it, written by Sam Moskowitz: “They’re Grand — But They Have Their Faults.” The question most frequently asked seems to be: “Who were the two drunks that visited Mr. Moskowitz’ Newark that fatal night?” The question as such, cannot be answered. No inebriated individuals visited the Home of Helios that night — or rather, morning. Two stf fans undertook the perilous journey that day. But they weren’t drunk. They may have been crazy, but they weren’t cozzled. I should know; I was one of them. Jack Gillespie was the other. And why didn’t Samuel give our names? Self-defense, most likely. So that, should we become indignant and sue, he could smile ingratiatingly and say, oilily, “Why, I wasn’t referring to you boys. Heaven forbid! I was talking about two other fellows.” You know the gag,
Nor was it our fault we arrived so late — or early as you will. We left N.Y. at a reasonable hour; midnight or so, I think it was. The blame should be laid at the door, or doors, of the many transportation co.s to be found between Manhattan and Newark: ferries, railroads, tubes and taxis.
Let this serve to absolve G. Hahn of all suspicion of being an occasional, or otherwise, tippler. When the much discussed incident took place, George was, more than likely, at home (in Buffalo, or whatever the name of the place is) tossing Noddish sheep over fences.
Sic transit gloria mundi! And on Sunday mornings, too.

George R. Hahn appears to be the fifteen-year-old fan in question, a seemingly precocious lad who’s credited with publishing his own fanzine as early as 1936 at age 13 (The Asteroid (II), per Pavlat & Evans). He had a brief run as a professional writer beginning with the January 1939 publication of “The Fifth Candle” in Weird Tales (as Cyril Mand, per isfdb.org).

Interesting that we find this obscure reference in Fancyclopedia:

(Hahn, je crois; Dockweiler called it the New Science Fiction Special) – “At about four-thirty ack emma, while leering a trifle crookedly at the murals, Harry got The Idea. Why not a Rummy’s Stf Special? After a little thought, and some help from his fellow sot and Jack [the bartender], he decided upon the concoction. # He simply took the old, well-known gin-and-ginger ale, and added a touch of bitters. # Now, lean close. Fill a Tall Glass — not completely, you yap, unless you think you’re good – half gin, the rest ginger ale. Then, a dash of bitters …. Two drinks had Harry (who detests Efjay) admitting that Forrest might not be such a bad guy after all. A couple more and he went off on a crying jag over an old, lost love of his.” — From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Dockweiler, written probably in 1937.

Since the inception of the institution in 1938, the spontaneous all-nighter remains a fannish tradition to this day. Anyone that’s stayed at a hotel hosting a science fiction convention and attempted to sleep can attest to this fact based on the all-hours and boisterous hallway traffic outside their door.

Thus passes the glory of the world… of fandom.