All Our Yesterdays 13
by Harry Warner Jr.


Fans have always been fussing and feuding in Los Angeles, but there was a time when the outside world didn’t know much about civil warfare. Before the long succession of split-ups got public airing, Los Angeles fandom co-operated briefly to produce one of the finest club publications of all time. It was Imagination, whose title W. Lawrence Hamling has since borrowed for a prozine.

Imagination is now less remembered than the magazine which succeeded it, Voice of the Imagination, nicknamed VOM. VOM came into being after Imagination folded. Originally, the title had been the name of the letter section in Imagination, so the letter section simply shed the rest of the magazine and became popular as the first, important, all-letter fanzine. It lasted longer than Imagination had survived, thanks to the hard work of Ackerman and Morojo. But VOM was the reflection of Ackerman’s current preoccupations, while Imagination had something to do with the whole Los Angeles Science-Fiction League chapter. (For the sake of purists, it was LASFL in those days, not LASFS. And technically, Imagination as a title, should have an exclamation point after it, but it’s too much work to insert exclamation points on a hot summer day.)

Imagination began in 1937, lasted a couple of years before metamorphosing into VOM, and hardly was spectacular in appearance. It was standard size, usually containing a couple of dozen of mimeoed pages, with a rather conservative format that was remarkable only for the all-out Ackermanese which Forrest J wrote in those days, and for the use of three different typefaces, to compensate for the lack of interior illustrations. Some idea of the inconsistencies and extremes which Ackerman inflicted upon his prose may be found in a brief excerpt like this:

“The chief character was money-mad, a miser. He had accumulated a large fortune by lending to those in desperate strits, by usery. The Scrooge lived in a large old mansion. In the basemnt was a medium size rm & there he kept his gold.”

For some unfathomable reason, Ackerman’s “fenetic” spelling dropped more vocalised letters than silent letters.

In the April, 1938 issue, Russ Hodgekins told how a bunch of the Los Angeles boys went to Tarzana to meet Edgar Rice Burroughs in person. Everything went fine, except for the fact that Burroughs was not there. Here’s the way Hodgekins described the Burroughs office:

“Imagine yourself in a long, low-ceilinged room, a great, open fireplace in the corner, spread before it an enormous polar bear robe — head, claws and all. On the walls are the original illustrations of many of the memorable scenes from the Tarzan and Martian stories. And at both sides of the room, built-in book shelves, filled to overflowing. A great many of these are reference books and representative volumes of every type of literature, and the works of Burroughs, himself. The sight fairly made my hands itch to get hold of them -- and I did, as many as time allowed...Not only were there first editions of American printings, but the English, also. And that was at only one end of the room; at the other, were copies of all the foreign versions -- and when you realise Burroughs works have been published in 58 different languages and dialects (plus Braille for the blind) well you have something there......”

The contents of Imagination were a merry hodgepodge of everything imaginable. Biographies of LASFL members, synopses of fantasy movies, and radio shows which Ackerman had found, translations of fantasy interest from Esperanto (another Ackerman crusade in those days) news notes on happenings in Los Angeles, and lots of letters from readers, were regular features. Almost everything was kept short, with two or three items usually crowding onto a page, and poems set up as prose to save space. Rather interesting at this late date is the biography of Ray Bradbury which appeared in the June 1938 issue:

‘Ray Bradbury is the funny man of the Los Angeles League. In other words, he is the Big Joke. Wears glasses, but doesn’t wear a look of intelligence. At times, when you crack wise, he will rise from his stupor — momentarily. Has been reading STF irregularly since he was nine. His favourite magazine is Astounding (without a doubt). Favourite theme, time travelling; Authors, Burroughs and Kline. Names Dold top illustrator. And boy, if he’s the top, Binder’s the bottom! Was born in small town of Waukegan, Illinois (Jack Benny’s hone town); of Swedish-English descent; came to Los Angeles in 1934 and intends staying. Plays the violin poorly and is terrible at all mathematics and figures except those of blondes. Plans being an author of science fiction (is still trying to live down ‘Hollerbochen’s Dilemna’ which, he states was a true dilemna for him.) Likes act and direct. Prays for the day when movie producers will make good science-fiction films. His favourites have been Things To Come and King Kong. A pet peeve is ‘how Tarzan is being ruined on the screen by inefficient acting and directing. I think they should follow the books chapter by chapter and not the pocketbooks dollar by dollar.’ Would like a limited Dictatorship. Is a prepared pacifist, an atheist, and an extrovert. Would like to touch a match to the famous Ackerman language!’

Since Ackerman has drifted away from fandom, lots of us forget that he never liked to have a period placed after his middle initial. In the July, 1938 Imagination, he told something about his middle initial troubles in this respect:

“FJA was born Forrest James Ackerman. The Sacramento records will reveal it. But he doesn’t feel it. He has an uncle named A; just A, no punctuation because it’s not an abbreviation for another name -- tho they always called him Ed. So A’s name seems to’ve become Ed instead of what it originally was. Vice versa, Ack has altered his to J (no dot.) Oddly enough, it might’ve been 4E’s lot to be known as Forrest C. Ackerman, for the first half of his life -- and early years of his stf career (if such it can be called) -- he is now appalled at the fact that he never knew...he thought his middle name was Clark! Everybody called him Clark. He scribbled his name that way at school. Explanation: he was named after a friend of the family, James Clarke.”

Ten years before Walt Kelly started his comic strip, here’s how Imagination described Pogo:

“Sensitive, moody, unsettled, yet with placid, calm demeanour; genuine. A person strangely settled in composure to be so unsettled of mind. An outward air of tranquillity; reserved and shy.”

If it doesn’t seem to fit the possum too well, that’s because it refers to the original Pogo, Patti Gray, then a member of the LASFL.

Then there was a brief paragraph of interest from A. Merritt, apparently a quote from a letter which he had written to someone in Los Angeles:

“I have often thought of writing a sequel to the ‘Dragon Glass’ -- but I find sequels terribly difficult to write. I hate the labour of rehashing the old story as a starting point for the new. Maybe I will get around to it someday. I keep getting letters asking for a sequel to ‘The Moon Pool’. Oddly enough, there are parts of it I like, but parts of it — reading it — now after the years, seem to me to be pretty uninteresting. However, it is queer what a long life that book has had. It was the first I ever wrote, and when I wrote it I really had not much idea of keeping up writing.”

Does Joseph William Skidmore ring a bell in your memory? Most stf readers of today have never beard of him, and couldn’t guess that his death in 1938 caused nearly as much turmoil as the other deaths of important writers around that period, like Robert Howard and H. P. Lovecraft. Skidmore wasn’t a very good writer, but his fiction had a certain naive charm of its own, it was pioneer work, and he appeared frequently in the prozines from 1931 until his death.

Imagination’s tribute to him, written by Ackerman and Rob Olsen:

“Joe Skidmore undoubtedly will remain best known for his ‘Posi & Nega’ series published in Amazing Stories, unique ‘electron narratives’ that rank high among the most original and outstanding contributions to the literature of pseudo-science, To build a set of instructive and interesting stories around the adventures of two super-intelligent electrons, required more ingenuity, if not real genius and this task Joe Skidmore accomplished with admirable skill.”

Someday, I think we should have a different kind of science-fiction anthology, a book whose stories would be chosen not for merit, not for theme, but because they are completely typical of the pre-World War Two magazine science-fiction. At least two or three of the placid, little stories about the talking electrons would deserve a place in such a book.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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