The Southern Star
Someone ought to take a poll on the best forgotten fanzines of all time. It would include fanzines that were popular when published but neglected today because even more brilliant ones in the same time and spirit are more publicised today; Aporrheta suffers this way in comparison with Hyphen. There were fanzines that seem more impressive today than they did when they failed to attract much attention as issues appeared, for one reason or another; Sam Youd’s The Fantast would qualify, because its literacy and serious subject matter were out of joint with the general fanzine outlook of its time. Then there are the short-lived fanzines that produced so few issues that their quality is overlooked. The Southern Star is one of these.
The Fanzine Index lists five issues for it, but the last issue appeared four years after the fourth issue, in a hopeless attempt to revive a local fandom that was dead. Those first four issues had appeared in 1941, at a time when Columbia, South Carolina, somehow became a major fan centre. Three or four superactive fans suddenly sprang into existence in that comparatively small city, sucked into the whirlwind of their fanac a few other persons, seemed to be responsible for every other fanzine and every third contribution to all fanzines for a while, then subsided as abruptly as they’d blown up. They called themselves the Columbia Camp, and they broke camp through no fault of their own. The draft and wartime situations destroyed Columbia’s fandom, and it never reincarnated in any concentrated form after peace returned.
The Southern Star wasn’t remarkable in appearance, a conservative mimeographed format with artwork that was good for its time but appears crude today. It was somewhat larger than most of 1941’s fanzines, ranging from thirty to forty pages. It was somewhat unusual in that it featured a geographical bias. There was an effort to feature fans from the South as contributors, and it plumped for the Dixie Fantasy Federation, the first major attempt to form a fanation in Dixieland. The Southern Star had one major advantage over most other fanzines of the time: excellent grammar and spelling combined with legible reproduction. It seemed to be a law of fandom at that time that the most literate fans were least able to cope with a mimeograph or hectograph.
But the bit thing that makes The Southern Star a leading candidate for the top ten forgotten fanzines is the remarkable way its material retains interest today. Aside from some indifferent fiction, it ran consistently good stuff that holds either nostalgia value or an appeal which time hasn’t affected at all over the years. Joe Gilbert, a youngster, and Art Sehnert, a Memphis fan who was somewhat older, made a good co-editor combination. Harry Jenkins, another youthful Columbian, was listed as art editor but I suspect that he did quite a bit more than the title implies. Fred Fischer, another resident of Tennessee, and W. B. McQueen, one of the older Columbia fans, provided various types of advice and help on editorial matters. They seemed to get along well together, for they were all still listed on the editorial board after the fourth issue, and that’s quite an achievement for such a large editorial staff.
The first issue showed the results of a real effort to get fresh, different types of material. Gilbert offered The Handwriting on the Wall, an attempt to analyse fans by graphology which he described as a limited but real science. His analysis of Tucker’s handwriting seems quite accurate in retrospect, and you must remember that some of Tucker’s lasting characteristics weren’t as prominent in 1941 as they have been over the past thirty years:
“Bob is highly individualistic. His ideas and thoughts are well defined and his vision is broad. He reflects before acting. He has an excellent and magnetic personality, and is a most likeable fellow, despite the fact that he’s reserved inwardly. He’s well-balanced, conscientious, and possesses a good control over himself. A normal, human, dependable person is this Tucker fellow; really quite a nice guy.”
Then there was an extensive exchange of opinions on space warfare, extracted from correspondence between McQueen and Fischer. Some of their ideas anticipate more recent theorising on the topic that I’ve seen in fanzines. This issue also began a series of quite entertaining looks back at the old Munsey magazines, both generalised remarks and specific synopses of fantasy stories they published. It’s by-lined Panurge, which was, if my faltering memory serves me, a McQueen penname. Whoever it was knew how to sound enthusiastic. Of All-Story Weekly, during its six years of life before its merger with Argosy, he raves:
“Some of those unmentioned or unknown stories, gentlemen, were great stuff. Are you acquainted with Swami Ram? Do you recall the blind hero of the most powerful descriptive passages ever printed in a pulp is to be found in Francis Stevens’ Claimed, telling of the destruction of Atlantis? Do you know that as far back as 1909 Cavalier carried a short having to do with the preservation of a Viking’s body in a block of ice? Across a Thousand Years was the title. In the old All-Story, Stevens, Julian Hawthorne, Sheeham, and several others are good material for a self-appointed press agent, so crusading we will go, I betcha. Maybe.”
The big thing about the second issue was an untitled article by Milt Rothman. I hope Terry Carr gets around someday to include it in his series of reprints from old fanzines. It dealt with the argument about whether science fiction is escape literature. Maybe its conclusion will be coherent without the thousand preceding words. Milty was writing about two guys who disagreed about that old notion and one of them decided to become a scientist.
“Of the two guys one had a push and the other didn’t. Both hated the way of the world, but one was pushed into doing something about it. The other just hated and was unhealthy. What was that push? Under a mechanistic psychology there are no abstract qualities such as intelligence and ambition. There are merely patterns of behaviour, combinations of synapses, which the individual has acquired or inherited. The Gernsback Theory said that science fiction itself was the push. That is not true, for lots of guys who read science fiction don’t have that push. In the guy who was going to be a scientist the push was an inferiority complex because he didn’t have a girlfriend and didn’t know how to dance so he said he was going to learn more science than anybody else. The Gernsback Theory apparently applied to him because he already had the push and science fiction made him jealous so that his push had something to work on. Maybe the push was something different in the other guys who had it, but whatever it was, science fiction was escape literature to the guys without the push, and it was stimulation literature, like Horatio Alger, to the guys with the push. Liebig said: ‘To one man science is a sacred goddess to whose service he is happy to devote his life; to another she is a cow who provides him with butter.’“
I also suspect that a full reprint of L. R. Chauvenet’s brief essay on ERB in the second issue would be justified despite the millions of words published about that author over the intervening three decades. Russell attempted to find the qualities that had made Burroughs such a big seller in the face of all those limitations as a writer. Of Tarzan, he writes:
“In having Tarzan at once English lord and savage ape, ERB demonstrates his genius by managing to simultaneously appeal to the snobbery and secret rebellion against civilised customs which are to be found in the average person. Mowgli could boast no royal blood in his veins, and in the jungle of Kipling, animals for which the average person feels few sympathies appeared wiser than humans. Compare Kaa, the python, with Histah, the snake, for an instance of my meaning. The physical prowess of Tarzan, as contrasted with the cunning of Mowgli, illustrates another great difference between the two jungle heroes, and even the most cursory student of human nature in the mass could have predicted that physical prowess would win more admiration. And why? The average person has muscles; he can imagine them much stronger, and so can place himself in the role of Tarzan. Our average person does not have brains; he cannot, if normally dull-witted, imagine himself as clever, and the role of Mowgli becomes distasteful to him. Hence the immense sale of Tarzan — and the continued popularity of the Jungle Books among comparatively few.”
Tucker was an innocent youth in 1941 who couldn’t know the surprise that a Savannah fan named Lee would give him a few years later. So in ignorance of that future episode, he wrote in the third issue of The Southern Star:
“Earl Singleton and myself once held dear the illusion that Nebraska Nellie, otherwise known as D. B. Thompson, was a girl. Earl called my attention to some of the writings of Thompson in then current fanmags, particularly a lengthy letter in Fanfare, which, apparently, he had dissected line by line, phrase by phrase, chasing the mirage. The mirage in question was the exact sex of that critter, Thompson. All I knew of Thompson at that time were his initials, DB. Nevertheless Earl seemed to think I should know all about everything, particularly as to whether Thompson wore skirts or trousers. The flattery was nice, but I couldn’t measure up to it. I don’t believe I had exchanged more than one or two letters with the Nebraska Nibs. However, I promised Earl I would soon be hot on the trail of the mystery because the matter interested me, too; imagine a femme hiding her fan talents under a cloak of secrecy! What a scoop it would be for me, if I could expose him/her. I looked into letters. I must admit I was practically convinced; some of Thompson’s neat phrasing possessed an almost girlish twist; his syntax even suggested it. After debating the matter pro and con for several days, as to just what would be best, yet decent method for finding out, I threw caution to the winds and addressed a letter to him, which, if I remember right, was headed ‘Dear Donna Belle’. I asked him point-blank his sex and he didn’t even threaten a libel suit.”
There’s another penname in this issue which I’m not sure about. A news letter from New York had Morley as a by-line. It was probably Lowndes. Anyway, the writer provided a sidelight on the Futurians’ antics at the Devention:
“Chet Cohen was attending the convention equipped with a saintly beard (genuine) since he was planning to go to the masquerade as a prophet. There is an understanding between Chet and Johnny (-Michel-) to the effect that Johnny can hypnotise Chester at any time. So, on the evening of July 3, a bunch of the lads were going downstairs in the elevator leaving him standing rigid against the side. The poor elevator boys, knowing nothing of Futurian peck-rights, were beside themselves. They tried to revive him; they unloosed his collar and rubbed his wrists; water they sprinkled upon him and smelling salts the wafted under his nose. All to no avail; Chester was as one of stone. So with great difficulty they carried him up to the second floor and laid him out on a couch. Johnny had forgotten all about Chet. Comes the time when a large knot of us are gathered outside the Shirley arguing and trying to gather funds for a bottle of vermouth, and one of the elevator boys comes out and tells us one of our friends is sick upstairs. we all dash madly up — and it’s Chet, lying rigid with his eyes glassily open. Everyone crowds about, all diagnosing and prognosing. Finally Johnny quiets everyone. ‘Chester’ he says clearly and snaps his fingers. And Cohen arises, looking about him bewilderedly.”
The most obvious value of the fourth issue is a picture page. Halftone reproductions show quite clearly eight scenes from the Devention. I overlooked them hunting illustrations for my fan history book. There’s Ackerman as the Huntchbackerman of Notre Devention and damon the demon knight as John Star at the costume ball, a very youthful Heinlein at the podium, and numerous other treasures.
Fischer had a continuing column called From the Starport. He remarks on Heinlein might be interesting, as a hint that the anti-Heinlein attitude is not a recent phase of the anti-establishment movement:
“He takes a fantastic theme and embroiders it in such a matter of fact way that the entire spice of improbability is stripped from the framework. I read his The Devil Makes the Law! and I never once got the impact of unreality inherent in any real fantasy. Instead, I seemed to be reading what was merely a story — and not a very good story, either — about the workings of a protective racket in a modern American city. Except for the incontrovertible fact that the gangsters of the story were magicians, I found the bare plot to be as hackneyed and as threadbare as any I’ve every read. In short: Gangsters threaten shop owner with disaster, should he refuse to kick in with the heavy sugar for protection. He is not intimidated, but rounds up his own gang and fights back. Virtue, as always, triumphs! Pretty puny stuff, Heinlein! Take the frills away from almost any of Heinlein’s stories and you’ll have hidden in the wings strictly modern plots, made into fantastics merely by terms, times and tense.... His studied dryness takes away the glamour of impossibility.... The majority of Heinlein’s stories build up to a climax or to a particular scene and just bob up and down on a sea of commonplace events before and after this point.”
And Rothman gave a brief word picture of the Heinlein of the time:
“Heinlein is a medium sized person, extremely good-looking, wears glasses, has a faint moustache, speaks slowly and with great deliberation, is very serious in manner and thought, and looks like a cross between Errol Flynn and George Brent.”
Moreover, Milty quoted a Heinlein rap session with fans at Denvention:
“The first question asked whether Mr. Heinlein approved of the use of drugs such as the Benzedrine surrogate which was mentioned in one of his stories. Heinlein answered that upon occasion he had partaken of certain drugs and approved of their use when the situation called for them.”
So what else is new in fandom?