This was not my introduction to lecturing at the university level. The Who's
Who people had turned out a reference in 1949 titled Who Knows—and What
among Authorities, Experts, and the Specially Informed in which I was listed
under science fiction. Prof. Benjamin Hamilton of New York University at 1
Washington Square was conducting a class on contemporary literature and
solicited me to lecture on science fiction as a result of my listing. I faced
about 30 individuals, all adult, and spoke on the subject of "What is
Science Fiction?" for several hours, starting with its early elements in The
Bible, Beowulf, and The Odyssey and continuing with its
emergence as a recognizable form in the works of Lucian and Cyrano de Bergerac.
I covered the appearance of the utopias and their incorporation into the modern
body of the genre, the transition of Gothic literature into science fiction with
Frankenstein. The chronology of Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, and H.G.
Wells, the scientific romances of the Munsey magazines, the advent of the
science-fiction publications and the rise of specialty fantasy publishers. It
was a cram course in science-fiction history that December 13, 1950.
Two years later, on October 13, 1952, I had gone to work for Hugo Gernsback
as editor of a new science-fiction magazine to be titled Science-Fiction+,
one of a spate of science-fiction magazines appearing during that boom period,
except that this one was a large-sized, slick-paper publication with two-color
One of my closest friends at that time was Thos. S. Gardner, Ph.D., a
scientist working for Hoffman LaRoche Laboratories in Nutley, NJ, a sometime
science-fiction writer and an avid fan. He had built up a reputation as an
experimenter on longevity drugs and a specialist on gerontology. He told me that
a man named Robert Frazier had approached him for background on a longevity
article he was writing and in the process told him that City College of New York
was looking for an individual with a strong science-fiction background to teach
a class on the subject. Frazier had applied to teach a regimen on
science-article writing and had been refused. He offered to do the course on
science fiction, but they quickly ascertained he knew nothing about the field.
Gardner urged me to contact him and find out about the matter, since he was not
interested in teaching the course himself at that time.
Frazier was the son of wealthy parents in the garment industry. He had a B.A.
degree from Brooklyn College in 1939, and had attended classes at Columbia
University and The University of Southern California. He claimed that in 1941 he
had worked for the Bureau of Ordinance in the United States Navy and as a
degaussing engineer and an electrical engineer in Mobile and Chicasaw, Alabama
in 1942; and in editorial posts in Popular Science and Electronics
(1943) and Air Tech (1944). In late 1944, financed by his parents, he
became publisher and editor of Sportswear Stylist, a trade magazine in
the fashion industry with a consumer slant, and which collapsed after two
issues, and he refused to discuss it. Since that period, he had collaborated on
a science column for the newspaper supplement Parade with his wife
Shirley, but he seemed to be confused and between projects when I met him. He
had completed a paperback for Lion Books on Malenkov, the interim successor to
Joseph Stalin, but he had selected a difficult subject. Literally the only
information available on Malenkov in English was a profile in The New Yorker,
and that magazine angrily protested that he had all but plagiarized it. In
addition, he padded his book with biographical sketches of other Soviet leaders,
but he did expose the new wave of anti-Semitism there.
It took only one interview with Frazier for me to realize I would have to do
everything for the class, including all the instruction, obtain the guest
speakers, write the syllabus and see that it was followed, order the textbooks,
handle the publicity and public relations, judge and correct any papers the
students might be required to write, as well as give him personally a crash
course on science fiction. The one aspect that he seemed perfectly capable of
handling was liaison between us and the administrators of City College. This he
was eager to do because he hoped to get other classes such as the science-
writing course he had initially applied for. I soon discovered that I would
require him for another purpose.
I had submitted a letter of my qualifications which included my current
editorship of Science-Fiction+ magazine and my consequent close
relationship with many of the leading authors in the field, the fact that I had
sold fiction, articles, and columns professionally to the magazines and had one
book in the process of being published, The Immortal Storm: A History of
Science Fiction Fandom, and that I had been a literary agent specializing in
fantasy and was listed in Who Knows—and What published by A.N. Marquis
Co. as an authority on science fiction. In an interview they asked me simple
questions so they could determine how effectively I spoke, important in teaching
a class. The problem was that I did not have a college degree (they would have
preferred a degree in science fiction!). I suggested that Robert Frazier, who
wanted to teach the class with me, had a degree, so the combination of one man
who knew the subject and another that had a degree proved satisfactory to them!
Frazier was elated; he now felt there would be no problem with the school,
and he was right. But there was a problem with Frazier. He wanted me to have
each guest speaker come prepared to discuss two short stories, then at the end
of the term assemble these stories into an anthology, sell them to the
publisher, then use the subsequent book as a text. Naturally, I was to handle
all the details of this anthology and we would split the royalties. I told him I
needed no outside assistance in assembling science-fiction anthologies, and as a
text we would use The Science Fiction Handbook (1953) by L. Sprague de
Camp, which was already complete and at the publishers and was made to order for
a class such as ours.
Frazier's demands were insatiable. Among them, he wanted me to write
2000-word reports on seven anthologies and 3000-word descriptions of eight
current novels so that he wouldn't have to read any of them. He couldn't
understand why I wouldn't let him use my collection as a lending library or
bring items along for our students to handle. He even added this to the
college's prospectus. Of course, I did not oblige.
Another surprise he had for me was that he convinced the college that there
should be two sessions a week, one on Tuesdays and one on Fridays. I suggested
he wait until we knew what the enrollment was before we firmed that up.
One class was set for Tuesday, September 22, 1953, at public school #18, 121
East 51st St.; the second, Friday, September 25, 1953, at the High School of
Commerce, 155 West 65th St. The reader might ask why college-level courses were
held in grammar school and high school buildings. The answer was that the
college was part of the city's educational system; this controlled all public
educational structures, which could be delegated for special use as officials
felt best warranted from the standpoints of convenience and economy.
The majority of the students had signed up for the Tuesday class, so the two
classes were consolidated and the one on Friday eliminated. There would be 12
weekly sessions of one hour and forty minutes. The cost of attending was $19.00
plus a $2.00 registration fee.
The first class would be a condensed, revised presentation of the history of
the field along the lines of the one I had delivered three years previously at
New York University.
The prime City College executive that we dealt with, but seldom saw, was a
prominent man named Simon Lissim. He had been an internationally renowned
artist, stage-designer, and ceramist. (When he died May 10, 1981, his work was
displayed in some 70 museums in Europe and the United States.) He had been born
the son of a banker in Kiev, Russia, on October 24, 1900, and got his start as a
stage designer at the age of 17. He continued work in Paris and other European
cities until 1939, when he joined the French army as a munitions truck driver.
After the surrender of France in June 1940, he left for the United States, and
as the result of a successful one-man show at the Wildenstein Gallery in New
York City, was invited to head the art education program of the New York Public
Library. This, in turn, resulted in his connection to the City College of New
York where he taught and held various executive posts from 1944 to 1971. He was
heavy, round-faced, and balding, looking and talking like the movie producer
Otto Preminger. Lissim was the man who eventually assumed full responsibility
for instituting and sustaining the science-fiction course at City College and
with whom I dealt (almost entirely by correspondence) the entire time I was
there. I had initially written him on March 7, 1953, detailing my
I now set to work preparing my syllabus for the 12 lessons I had to present
to the students. This had to conform to the promises I made in my editorial in
the October 1953 issue of Science-Fiction+ magazine, "Chain
The message in the October issue which appeared on the newstands August 12,
The influence and importance of
science fiction has increased to the extent where the City College of New York
is presenting two evening classes on Science Fiction Writing to be given
during late September, October, and November, with your managing editor of Science-Fiction+,
Sam Moskowitz, and the former science editor of Parade, Robert Frazier,
jointly instructing the classes. Among the many guest lecturers will be Murray
Leinster, Harry Bates, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, and Robert Sheckley.
Those interested in obtaining further information concerning these courses
should write to The City College, Convent Ave. and 139th St., N.Y. 31, N.Y.
It should be underscored that no funds were available to pay an honorarium or
even reimburse the prominent guest speakers for their carfare. Neither did my
position as editor of Science-Fiction+ act as blackmail, because there
were so many science-fiction markets buying at that time that it was a sellers'
market. What was working for me was the prestige factor. There had never been a
college level science-fiction course before; offering to guest lecture at my
class represented a form of redemption for many of the authors for selecting the
science-fiction field to work in. There were some that had never gone to college
(during the Great Depression, rarely over 5% of the high school graduating class
went on to higher learning); one prominent author, Murray Leinster, had never
graduated from grammar school! For them, it was the greatest ego booster in the
world. As for me, it would look good on my resumé when applying for a job which
I knew I would soon have to do, because my magazine, Science-Fiction+,
had gone from monthly to bi-monthly publication and the odds were it would be
discontinued before the end of 1953.
I would lecture the first class on the history of science fiction. The
second, on the incorporation of science into science fiction, would be presented
by Thos. S. Gardner, Ph.D. The exact order in which the other guest lecturers
appeared has been lost to posterity, but for the remaining 10 classes in the
first term they were:
Isaac Asimov, down from Boston to
visit his mother in Brooklyn, would speak on the structure of the novel.
Robert Sheckley would follow and,
quite appropriately, talk about the short story.
Sam Merwin, Jr, then editor of Fantastic
Universe Science Fiction and The Saint's Mystery Magazine would
speak on dealing with editors.
Murray Leinster, who was then living
in Flushing, NY, would talk about plotting.
Lester del Rey, who had successfully
incorporated human aspects into a robot in "Helen O'Loy," would deal
Theodore Sturgeon would speak on
style, mood, and polish.
Fletcher Pratt would discuss the
problems of collaboration.
Thomas Calvert McClary, whose 15
minutes of fame had transpired when his short novel "Rebirth"
appeared in Astounding Stories in 1934, handled the subject of
"world catastrophe," a common theme in science fiction, since his
1938 novel Three Thousand Years also involved that subject.
Samuel Mines, then the editor of Thrilling
Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, informed the students as to
I had a prominent ex-editor and author, Harry Bates, scheduled to speak at
the November 30, 1953, meeting on the subject of editing and revision, but he
never appeared. I had bought two novellas from Bates, "The Death of a
Sensitive" (May 1953) and "The Triggered Dimension" (December
1953). The former was, in my opinion, the best story I ran in the short history
of the magazine. The second, while effective, was slow-moving and needed
speeding up. Hugo Gernsback, my employer, wanted the latter cut, and I agreed
with him. Amid much acrimony, we got Bates to do some cuts and revision on the
story. He did this right in the office at 25 West Broadway, New York City, and I
was thoroughly impressed at the skill with which he pared unnecessary verbiage
without interrupting the flow of the story. What I proposed to do, and Bates
apparently agreed, was to pass out copies of the magazine with his story to all
the students, and then have Bates instruct from the original corrected
manuscript what changes he had made and why he had made them. Originally, after
Bates had made his office revision, Gernsback insisted on cutting out a short
segment of scientific explanation which interrupted the flow of the story, and I
agreed with him.
All this was to have repercussions. The evening of the class, a stranger
showed up who turned out to be the auditor from the college whose job it was to
evaluate the caliber of each class and determine whether they should be
continued. We had a problem, since the minimum attendance for each class was
supposed to be twelve students, and we only had eleven.
The hour to start, 7:00 P.M., approached and Bates had not shown up. I then
had an active fan, Sheldton Deretchin, call Bates up and determine if he had
remembered the date. Bates was home and gleefully told Deretchin that he wasn't
coming and that he was deliberately putting me in this embarrassing position as
revenge for supporting Gernsback in cutting his story.
I had to go on unprepared with the auditor who could decide the future fate
of my class in the audience. I had Bates' manuscript so, perspiring, I told the
class to follow the copies of the magazine I had passed out and that I would
explain why and when the alterations had been made. I did this for the next hour
and forty minutes, and the only man in the room who was more worried than me was
Robert Frazier who counted on the success of this class to secure several more.
I was ready to apologize to the auditor but, before I could say a word, he
grasped my hand warmly and said: "I never expected anything like what you
presented. You were down to the nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty of writing. If
your students didn't get something out of it, it was their fault, not yours.
I've sat in many classes and I can honestly say none was more worthwhile than
yours! Rest assured that my report will be positive, and the size of your class
will have no bearing on whether or not we renew it."
There is an epilogue to that situation. Seven years later, I received a
letter from Harry Bates dated October 2, 1960. In essence, it revealed that
Bates was now totally disabled due to progressive arthritis and was trying to
get early social security at sixty. He had a doctor's statement that he was
suffering from that condition at present, but they wanted proof that it was
progressive and prevented him from writing stories for income. He asked if I
would be willing to supply a statement that he had written stories for me with
the greatest difficulty. He didn't know if he had ever mentioned it to me, but
any validation would help. It so happened that he had shown me his
swollen knuckles in 1953 but, beyond that, I had a letter from him describing
the difficulty, written earlier that year. I mailed him back the letter, for
which I still had the dated envelope, and he got his social security—his only
income for the next 20 years!
Christmas of 1962 I received a card from him on which he scrawled: "I
ain't mad at you no more."
Shortly before that first semester ended, I received a call at my office from
a Professor Freeman of the Columbia University English Department. He had heard
of my course at City College and was conducting a class of his own on Current
Literature. He invited me to appear as a guest lecturer on science fiction. I
would be addressing in excess of 200 students and would have to talk for three
hours. The date would be December 17, 1953.
Urged on by the circulation director of Gernsback Publications, Adam Smith, I
accepted. He arranged to make blow-ups of black and white science-fiction
illustrations to hang in the auditorium as a backdrop for my talk. A number of
these were from the work of French scientific prophet Albert Robida, taken from
his landmark book Le Vingtième Siècle (1883), or in English, The
Twentieth Century, showing anticipations of television, food automats,
tanks, airplanes, and a variety of other innovations.
I had mimeographed a pass-out list of 16 categories of science fiction,
including future war, time travel, robots, and supermen. Under each category, I
listed suggested reading. Because of the generous time allotment, I supplemented
a synoptic history of the field with its types, authors, current state, and then
noted how stylistically science-fiction writers were adopting the mainstream
writing styles of writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Wolfe, Joyce,
and Steinbeck. Married to science fiction, these all seemed very original but
were, in fact, imitative.
Professor Freeman then implied that Columbia might be interested in such a
course as I gave at City College, maybe even with credits. I was reluctant to
pursue the matter until I found out what City College wanted to do. On January
22, 1954, Simon Lissim wrote me that I was scheduled to teach course #582 at the
High School of Commerce, 155 West 65th Street, beginning in March. There was no
reason to query further on the possibility of a Columbia course.
Indeed, City College was willing to prepare circulars and pay the postage to
mail them for my second round, which they accomplished by January 24, 1954. The
circular was headlined "The only college-level science-fiction writing and
literary class in the country" and repeated the promise of several of the
authors I had as guests in the first class as well as John W. Campbell, Willy
Ley, L. Sprague de Camp, and several such as Hugo Gernsback and Frederick Pohl
who were not produced.
I had dutifully recorded the name, address, and date received of everyone
that sent in a manuscript to Science-Fiction+. This now made an excellent
mailing list of prospects within the greater New York area for a writing class,
since I received hundreds of manuscripts every month. Samuel Mines had also kept
his promise to give me a notice in the spring 1954 issue of Thrilling Wonder
Stories. The result was that at the opening class on March 11, 1954, 18
people showed up. I kept a record of them, and the following offers an idea of
what type of students were taking this course:
Lila Borison, a receptionist who had
been reading science fiction for five years and had written for her college
newspaper. She was more interested in straight fantasy.
Ward Botsford, an enthusiastic
science-fiction fan in his twenties who had previously sold a science-fiction
novelette to Blue Book ("The Needle of Space," July 1950). He
would later make a career of writing biographies on the back of music albums.
Mildred Corn, a professional
proofreader, who wanted to find out whether she could write science fiction.
Babette de Ghary, a nursery
governess, formerly an artist, who had a mild interest in fantasy.
Sheldon Deretchin, whose main
interest was in plotting.
Dorothy Edgerly, a woman in her
sixties who preferred fantasy and enjoyed taking courses in writing. She lived
on upper Park Avenue and appeared to have an independent income.
Albert Friedman, managing editor of The
Jewish Daily Forward. He liked to read tales of the future and wanted
updates on what was happening in the field.
Jo Hazelton, a young college student.
She hoped the courses would add to the enjoyment of her reading.
Samuel Kagan was a middle-aged
commercial artist who wanted to learn the mechanics of the literature.
Rudolph H. Rumplik, who had followed
science fiction for five years and liked the idea of the course while he was
awaiting entry into the Navy.
Dr. Helen Wissenstein, a
lawyer-psychiatrist in her sixties who had published two books on chess.
Rosalie Rockman, who was trying to
write science fiction.
Arthur Zirul, who had published a
novelette titled "Final Exam" in the March 1954 issue of Astounding
There is an amusing story behind Zirul's appearance in Astounding Science
Fiction. James Blish wrote a column under the pen-name of William Atheling
for a fan magazine published by Redd Boggs titled Skyhook. In the spring
1954 issue, which appeared almost simultaneously with the opening of the course,
Blish made Zirul's story the subject of an entire column. Among his critical
swipes were: "This story is one of the worst stinkers ever to appear in the
field," "terrible dialogue," "downright bad grammar,"
"a pre-adolescent effort," "once a great editor was asleep at the
switch." It turned out that a Blish story was supposed to go into the
issue, but at the last minute Campbell rejected it and substituted the Zirul
In this second term, I taught two of the classes myself, and brought back Sam
Merwin Jr., clearly differentiating the variation in policy among the various
magazines. Willy Ley, the then renowned rocket expert, appeared to accomplish
what Frazier would loved to have done: a session on how to write the popular
science article. Lester del Rey appeared again to lecture on the techniques of
arousing sympathy for the alien. But the prize of the term was the appearance
together of John W. Campbell and Robert A. Heinlein! Campbell spoke for an hour
and Heinlein for forty minutes. Both men were at the top of their form, and the
session was worth the price of the course. Heinlein enumerated his famous
five-point writing counsel as follows: 1. You must write (few would-be writers
actually write anything), 2. You must finish what you write, 3. You must refrain
from rewriting except to editorial order, 4. You must put what you write on the
market, 5. You must keep it on the market until sold.
At this point, I must comment that almost all of my guest lecturers outdid
themselves. I never stop blaming myself for not recording their talks. It would
have made an outstanding book.
On January 17, 1954 I had left Gernsback and was looking for full-time work
or someone to take over Science-Fiction+, which had shown a startling
improvement in circulation the last few issues. One of the publishers I visited
was Alexander Gross, who had published two issues of a digest-sized magazine
titled Science Fiction Digest, that reprinted the "best"
material from other magazines. Editor of the magazine was Chester Whitehorn, who
had edited three issues of Planet Stories in 1946-47. Gross wasn't
interested in resuming Science-Fiction+, so I asked him whether he would
send Whitehorn down to speak before one of my classes. He agreed and Whitehorn
did appear, speaking on how to incorporate movement and action into
science-fiction stories. On completion of his talk, he made a surprise
announcement. If we would submit any class stories to his magazine Science
Fiction Digest at the end of the course, he would buy and print the best
one, paying space rates (then one cent a word).
We were using L. Sprague de Camp's Science Fiction Handbook as our
official text. So I invited him to come up from Philadelphia, deliver a lecture
(which he was superb at), and autograph the class's copies of his book. He
graciously agreed and did appear May 13, 1954, giving advice on characterization
and dialogue and autographing the books as promised.
By the time second term was over, three students had completed stories on
their own: "The Coming of the Krackels" by Arthur Zirul; "The
Cold Wave" by Helen Wissenstein; and "The Toss of a Coin" by
Dorothy Edgerly. Unfortunately, Science Fiction Digest had collapsed with
its second issue and Whitehorn had obtained a position on a pocket-sized
magazine titled Tempo, a competitor to the popular but unprofitable Quick
magazine. Whitehorn, with three stories, remained elusive.
City College scheduled our course again, the first class opening on September
23, 1954. Those signing up for the third course were Conrad Chittick, Doris
Dolphin, Dorothy Edgerly, Robert Epstein, Robert Holz, Thomas J. O'Hara, Bueno
Reiner, Rosalee Rockman, Anne Turner, and Suzanna Winder. One woman showed up
for the course that had sold two poems to Cosmopolitan. She protested
against having guest lecturers. What she wanted was a workshop. I took a vote,
and most wanted a workshop where they would write stories and I would critique
them. It taught me to never again let the inmates run the asylum.
After persistent effort, I finally reached Whitehorn. He said he had been
holding onto the stories I had sent him, hoping that Science Fiction Digest
would be revived, but since that was out of the question, he was returning them.
The story he thought was best was "The Coming of the Krackels" by
Arthur Zirul. I had spoken to Leo Margulies, then editor of Fantastic
Universe Science Fiction about my situation, and he offered to print the
prize-winning story. I also wrote to the other two students, giving them a
commentary on their stories as a sort of a salve for not winning. I then told
Zirul to ship his story to Margulies.
Shortly later, I received a cry of anguish from Zirul. He had sent the story
in to Margulies with a cover-letter and had received it back with the following
comments: that no one was going to tell him what to print, it was his magazine,
and additionally the story was not up to acceptable standards.
Apparently Zirul had made some injudicious remark in his letter, and I was
embarrassed for both Margulies and Zirul. Normally, Margulies was a kind and
generous man, but he also was sensitive and volatile. I had to remedy the
My hardcover edition of The Immortal Storm, a History of Fandom (1954)
had finally appeared. There was a photo of Margulies in it, and he was mentioned
on 12 different pages. I called him up and offered to take him to lunch in order
to present him with a copy of the book. Somewhat mollified, he agreed.
Lunch consisted of ice cream sodas, which were a favorite of Margulies, and I
presented him with an autographed copy of the book. Frazier, who had invited
himself along, kept trying to appropriate the book, not understanding the
politics of the "luncheon." When we had finished our sodas, Margulies
relaxed and made a more typically generous offer: "Listen, fellows, I'll
tell you what I'll do to help. If you will submit the top stories produced by
your class this term—nothing over 5,000 words—I'll buy and print the best
one. If it's a little below par, I'll have [Frank Belknap] Long rewrite it. You
can put in a plug for the course, and a college connection can't hurt the
magazine." Margulies' offer wasn't retroactive; he wouldn't take the Zirul
When I brought back the news to the class, there was only mild enthusiasm. As
the weeks went by, instead of buckling down to writing stories that might mean
their transition into professionals, the numbers in the class dwindled, until by
the end of the term, the original 18 was down to 4! It was then that I realized
that students don't attend writing classes to learn how to write; they attend to
hear talk about writing and to listen to the guests. Of the four remaining
students at the last class, Thomas J. O'Hara had completed three stories, Robert
Epstein and Anne Turner one apiece, and Dorothy Edgerly two-thirds of one. I
went to work revising and touching up all of these. The one that stands out in
my mind was O'Hara's "Rescue Squad," for which, before the horrified
class, I interchanged the first third with the last part and wrote some
connecting lines so it wouldn't be noticed. I mailed all the stories to
Margulies on December 26, 1954 with a carefully worded, extremely diplomatic
letter. He replied with a letter of January 7, 1955:
I finally have news for you, and I
think you will like it. I am writing you first, for you may perhaps wish to
make the announcement to the writers.... We have decided that
"Incident" by Thomas O'Hara is the prize-winning top story. I should
say that this is the most imaginative and successful of all the stories
submitted. It is surprisingly good and needs very little revision.
"Exchange" by Robert
Epstein will also be published in Fantastic Universe and will be
accorded honorable mention. The mature and very imaginative concept underlying
it rebounds greatly to Epstein's credit.
I am going to hold on to Mr. O'Hara's
"Rescue Squad" for another reading. I may decide to use it also—giving
it honorable mention. I trust you and Mr. O'Hara won't mind.
And so that's that. Did I make good
on my promise?
O'Hara, who was a reporter on the New York Journal-American, saw his
prize-winning story appear in the May 1955 Fantastic Universe. It told of
a crew that had contracted a deadly disease on one of the planets they had
visited. The last survivor descends toward the beautiful blue-green world and
must decide whether he must land and risk killing most of the population in the
hope they have a cure. Two lovers on the planet are thrilled by a falling star
they see streaking across the night sky.
Epstein, a middle-aged postal worker, was so delighted that he said he was
seriously considering never writing again so that his writing career would end
on a high note. His "Exchange" appeared in the June 1955 issue. It
told of a man from the future planning a murder through the use of a
matter-transmitting device and his plan backfires.
O'Hara's second story, "Rescue Squad," was printed in the September
1955 issue. It was an interplanetary tale with strong human interest.
None of these students had previously sold fiction—or even finished a
story. They were not potentially outstanding writers, but in 12 classes
totaling 17 hours, five stories were completed and three sold and paid for.
My next series of classes began March 10, 1955. I reverted to my original
formula which consisted of devoting several sessions to the history and
background of science fiction and inviting guest lecturers for the others. Among
the new professionals I recruited was Algis Budrys, who had four stories in four
different magazines at the time he appeared. His manner of speech and delivery
was very much like that of John W. Campbell.
Another was Hans Stefan Santesson, a foreign-born American citizen who, from
1945 to 1952, had held the position of editor of the Unicorn Mystery Book Club,
which packaged four novels a month for members, printed in one volume. He spoke
on marrying the detective story with science fiction, but he seemed intrigued by
the class, showing up again and again without invitation even though he was not
Financially, the handling of the course can best be described as a labor of
love. Due to the relatively low registration fee, $19.00 for the 12 sessions,
and the small group that showed up, at the end of the last session we would end
up with $90.00 to be split between the two of us. Obviously, this did not even
cover dinner, fares, phone calls, or postage.
In the meantime, I had gained a position with a frozen food trade magazine
titled Frosted Food Field (in those days, frozen foods were called
frosted foods, to dispel the impression that frozen foods were spoiled foods).
Coincidentally, the position had a year previously been held by James Blish!
My work there led to a much more enticing offer from Quick Frozen Foods,
the leading journal in the field. When I applied for the job, the publisher's
wife, Doris Williams, was in the room where I was interviewed. As I displayed my
portfolio of credentials, she squealed with delight since she was an avid
science-fiction reader. I was offered the job on the spot, and spent most of my
editorial career there handling a large staff of editors.
My writing class was supposed to begin September 22, 1955. I knew that I
would have to cover night meetings in my new position, and I didn't want to
endanger my job with a conflict of interests for a course that had no financial
justification. I promptly wrote Simon Lissim, withdrawing from the class and
ending with "If Mr. Frazier is willing to carry on alone, he is welcome to
my part of the fee, and this is my authorization to pay it to him."
By this time, Frazier was part way to his objective: he had been given two
other courses, one on radio-script writing and one titled "Publishing
Procedures and Techniques of Book Promotion." There was an unusual twist
with the science-fiction course. Santesson agreed to come in and teach it, but
whether he was paid or not I never found out. He also became editor of Fantastic
Universe Science Fiction and The Saint's Mystery Magazine. In the
former, Frazier obtained a book review column and, true to form, he got me to
write some the book reviews for him.
Under Santesson, Dorothy Edgerly (who had completed two-thirds of a story)
finished the yarn—a fantasy—and it appeared in the February 1957 issue of Fantastic
Universe as "Farmer in the Dell."
I never ascertained the end of the science-fiction classes, but my best
estimate is that it terminated the spring of 1957. But the concept had caught on
for, in the next few years, there were classes at the University of Chicago
(1957), Princeton University (1958 and 1959), Beloit College (1960 and 1961),
and Colgate University (1962). From that point on, the numbers increased so
greatly that no comprehensive index has ever been compiled, and there have even
been many such classes in high schools.1
1. A more comprehensive description of this course appears
under the title "Realizing the Impossible Dream," Fantasy
Commentator, Winter 1983. It is available from A. Langley Searles, 48
Highland Circle, Bronxville, NY 10708-5909. $5.00.