All Our Yesterdays 34
by Harry Warner Jr.

The Damn Thing

I can prove that 1941 was a long time ago. First: a fanzine was considered magnificently daring when it was given the title The Damn Thing. Second: its editor introduced a story with a note which concluded “I’ve got to fill this mag with something,” and the something was fiction by Ray Bradbury.

T. Bruce Yerke was editor of The Damn Thing, one of the earliest of the nose-thumbing, faanish fanzines. It emanated from Los Angeles, which normally emitted sercon publications, and very possibly it had a major influence on later fanzine editors like Charles Burbee and Francis T. Laney. Yerke didn’t edit it nearly as long as Laney published Fan-Dango or Burb produced Shaggy, and its not as much fun to read as the later insurgent publications from Los Angeles. But its five and one half issues are notable for the instant nostalgia that they can evoke for lost people and times, and even though I’ve never seen a copy advertised for sale, I suspect that the Yerke fanzine would command a quite high figure nowadays from anyone collecting Bradburyana. There’s something under his by-line in four of the five complete issues, and its quite probable that he was also responsible for some of the pseudonymous material. Bradbury is also responsible for at least one of the covers, a head and shoulders cartoon that isn’t bad at all, and appears to be in imitation of Virgil Parch, who contributed occasionally to fanzines of that era.

“I haven’t bought or read a professional scienti-fiction magazine since the middle of 1939. They became so putrid I got sick,” Tubby wrote in the editorial of the first issue, dated November, 1940. His outlook on golden age Astounding and certain other prozines highly respected today was matched by the way he felt towards some fans. A few of the milder remarks he directed toward the New York City-area fans who were acting as if they had planned a worldcon in 1941 in competition to the Denvention:

“The same person who has done more agitation in the fan world, and caused more hard feelings and unfavourable publicity for science fiction in general, is now doing his latest dirty stunt... We trust that the bigots behind the idea are quite happy that they’ve been able to make things difficult for the more honourable faction of science fiction fan circles. The editor can express only the most detestable opinion for any group that would deliberately attempt to sabotage the activities of the majority of fans.... We trust that the blustering bulls and sour egotists of the Newark pushers will be told just where the hell they stand by the rest of U. S. fans...”

No, I don’t know whom Yerke meant by the opening sentence quoted.

More interesting than the 15-line story in this first issue by Bradbury is a personality sketch by someone identified as Ben Dover Farr. At one time, Bradbury seems to have been very nearly the court jester in Los Angeles fandom. “Bradbury was neither a critique nor the Rabelanasian (sic) that he is now,” good old Ben says. “He was simply a wacky student of Los Angeles High School. Then one night Bradbury came in and commenced to hold his nose, giving imitations of Franklin D., W. C. Fields, and Fred Allen. We all followed his example and held our noses. Ever since then we have been plagued by Bradbury’s imitations... Today, Bradbury is a critique. He is an aristocrat. He is Rayoul Douglasse Bradbury, a most unique individual... Rayoul attends all the latest affairs of Hollywood. He is on speaking terms with Jack Benny, with whom his father went to school in Waukegan... Rayoul is also acquainted with a number of Hollywoodians. His favourite hangout is the Brown Derby on Vine Street, though he gets his meals at Hugo’s Hot Dog stand across the street. Here, in front of the Brown Derby, he points out (but never speaks to) all the celebrities to anyone who may be with him. And yet, Rayoul makes his living as a news hawker on 10th and Normandie! What we can’t figure out is how in the devil he makes his ten dollars a week stretch like it does.”

Ray replied to this description in the second issue of The Damn Thing. Yerke, he wrote, “suggests to me an epileptic beer-barrel doing a jig in a delicate old Chinese print. But still, all those who know Bruce have grown to love him. Even Bobsy Heinlein loves Bruce. Even after that article which Bobsy made Brucey toss out of The Damn Thing... Brucey wanted to print an article in this issue telling all about Bobsy and his strange reasonings on Technocracy, only Bobsy dint have no sense of humour and he threatened to sue.”

In this second issue, Bradbury had a longer story, Genie Trouble! It is notable mostly because of a passage that seems to have obsessed Ray at this time. It keeps turning up in one little story after another that he published in fanzines, usually with a change in noun. “There sat a genie. Not a BIG genie. That would be silly. But a little genie.” It was a Martian, I believe, in a short-story he contributed to my fanzine, Spaceways.

A purely personal pang strikes me every time I look at an advertisement in the third issue. I had all sorts of trouble finding clear photographs to illustrate All Our Yesterdays and I quiver all over at the thoughts of what might have been if I’d somehow found someone with the pictures advertised for sale in this issue. Ackerman, Morojo, Bradbury, and Hornig standing in front of the former Futurian House. An early LA Hallowe’en party including Heinlein, Daugherty in cowboy outfit, Ackerman and others. “Yerke having a fit over a stencil.” Jack Williamson and Daugherty talking in Walt’s car, guaranteed to be candid. “Nash breakdown on way to Pomona, showing Hornig, Bradbury & Nash.” Film is prominent in another startling way elsewhere in this issue. Yerke wrote some paragraphs about fannish events in Los Angeles, and included some remarks about a then fan who later had considerably more success with movies than on that night of January 9, 1941:

“A brief intermission was held while an ancient and creaking movie projector which was being jointly operated by Ray Harryhausen, Arthur L. Joquel and Yerke, was stopped to permit it to cool. With a gigantic light in the lamphouse, there was no means of fanning it. The damn machine got so hot that people around it were moving away, and the insides of the thing were scorched. Not so funny was the danger of fire, and the old-fashioned film is the highly inflammable type. To act as a precaution, ten or twelve glasses of water were sitting beside the operators, and they weren’t for drinking purposes. In case of emergency, Joquel was to pull the plug, Yerke pour water down the top of the opening, and Harryhausen attempt to extract the burning film.”

And Yerke was still commenting on New York City area fandom: “Congratulations, Burford, for knocking Sykora half across the room, even if it did start a riot.”

The Bradbury contribution to this issue is the closest so far to a real short story. ‘How Am I Today, Doctor?’ is described as similar to a story in Thrilling Wonder Stories several years previously, although to me it sounds more like a short-short by Weinbaum which was published, as far as I know, only in Fantasy Magazine. It’s about a hypochondriac who wants to live practically for ever and worries more and more as he feels better and better. Eventually his doctor gets tired of his patient, gives him a pill containing poison, and after the patient has asked the title question for the last time, the doctor tells him: “You were never better off than you are now.”

Somewhere in the Ackermansion, I imagine, is a fabulously rare small piece of yellow paper which riled dreadfully yet another pseudonymous writer in the fifth issue of The Damn Thing. Here’s a superb demonstration of how much fondness we can feel for the enemy after he no longer threatens us. Ackerman’s home was the place where Claude Bloomer Quid had seen the note sent out with the Science Fiction League emblem by Thrilling Wonder Stories. Here is the text of that note:

“Hi, Space Pilot! Red Spot of Jupiter, but here’s that gold-plated SFL emblem your old Space Sarge has been telling you about on his etheradio. It’s as rare as a Martian fire-opal, you can bet a sun against a meteor, and I had to comb the nine planets to find it. Well, Rocket Rookie, this button makes you a full-fledged space veteran. You’re welcome now to passages on all voyages of the good ship Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, and Captain Future. And I’ll be riding the space lanes with you in every issue. All the luck in the Universe.

                                    “Sergeant Saturn”.

But some of the fun had gone out of The Damn Thing by the time this last complete issue was stencilled. The needling, the parody, and the slapstick humour of the earlier issues had begun to turn into more serious, sometimes nasty, fussing. As you might expect, a penname was used for one of the blasts. I more or less agree with Fywert King, who wrote in defence of a conscientious objection, as far as his arguments are concerned. But some of his statements are quite as far below the belt blows as the paragraph by Jack Chapman Miske which set him off. Miske was scornful of several British fans who had refused to fight, whereupon King referred to Miske as an Aryan superman, described his mind as paranoid, described him as on a par with Hitler, and in general sounds as if he were John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming of Claude Degler. Fitmore Katel (and you can guess the reality of that name) filled a page with an equally unsatisfactory criticism of FAPA, although the poor fellow couldn’t have had the foresight to know that exactly the same faults would persist in the organisation for another thirty years. “Fans are too lazy to put out a worthwhile mag for the FAPA. All they need is something in the mailing to maintain their membership... The avid collectors who want to get a copy of everything issued by fandom, continue their support and thus contribute to this disgrace to fan publishing and fandom in general.” A shorter blast, this one at Damon Knight, directed this scornful insult at him: “Maybe you are going to turn professional.” John B. Mitchel took out after Walt Daugherty, who had criticised some poetry by Robert W. Lowndes, mainly because of its erotic aspects. A sample of Michel as critic: “Pastels for Rosalind is a frankly sexual work which clearly tells the story of a frustrated lover rejecting the advances of the daughters of joy, simultaneously subtly imploring his loved one to assuage his passion. It is simple, direct, and true to life.”

I don’t know if the bad tempers exhibited in that issue formed a cause or a symptom of the approaching end of the fanzine. But the sixth issue never appeared in complete form. Yerke issues pages five through twelve as a separate publication. Most of it was quite different from previous issues, a conreport on the Denvention. Among the several thousand wild notions I’ve acquired over the years is to issue someday a worldcon history which would consist simply of the best conreport issued on each year’s event. The six pages in this issue don’t tell too much about the events in Denver, but they are crammed with what must have been the spirit of those pioneer worldcons. For instance:

“That night at the party, a large keg of foaming stuff was placed in the kitchen. Fans sneaked cautiously around it. Leonard Jenkins, a Denver man, had a small pump, and promptly pumped up the pressure. Granny Widner led the fans in a devil dance around the sacred fluid, and Adam Lang (of no relation to Adam Link) turned the first tap. For the next hour we got nothing but foam. The party had to suffice on wine while McKeel, Martin, Wiggins, Madle and others bailed out the foam. Towards eleven, we began to get some liquid. But then it was past hotel drinking hours and the barrel was removed. Cries of anger and remorse. The kiddies being boisterous lay down on a rug in the lobby and whistled at the doormen. When they were kicked out, they took the rug with them and made an encampment on the street. All was going nicely when sirens were heard in the distance. Fortier wanted to know if they were blonde or brunette sirens, but when he was told they were sirens with red lights, he joined the rest of us in scattering down a side street. The fans reformed again, slightly above 17th Street on Broadway, and headed northwards looking for a bar.”

Yerke, who wrote the conreport, was proud of the way the Los Angeles fans had made the LA-Denver trip in 36 hours with only two drivers. “This is as good as Lindbergh did.”

Someone sent me a printed announcement not long ago which revealed Tubby to be still alive and well, holding some kind of function in a library in California. I hope he realises how many forms of pioneering he did with his fanzine and his writing.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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