Fandom Before “The Revolution”
Mystery fandom followed many of the paths trod by science fiction fandom, but it was over thirty years behind. In 1930, inspired by Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories, fans began forming organizations, beginning with the Science Correspondence Club, and publishing “fanzines,” their term for fan magazines. In 1939 they held the first World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in New York City, where a world’s fair emphasizing the future was being held. Worldcons have been held annually since 1946, and beginning in 1953, Hugo Awards (named after Gernsback) have been presented by fans. The Science Fiction Writers of America started presenting the Nebula Awards in 1966. If science fiction fans were ahead, their writers were behind, because Mystery Writers of America (MWA) first presented its Edgar Allan Poe Awards in 1946.
There has been speculation as to the reasons for the relatively slow start by mystery fandom. It is probably because science fiction fans are younger, have fewer responsibilities, have more energy for fandom, and are less inhibited. Wearing costumes is important at science fiction gatherings. A few mystery conventions have attempted costume events, with indifferent results. The fedora and trench coat do not permit much variation. Star Wars and Star Trek appeal to the young more than crime stories. There have been significant increases in the size of the World Mystery Convention, but it still lags far behind its science fiction cousin. In 2004, when 1,350 people attended Bouchercon, 6,000 attended Worldcon.
The first history of science fiction fandom published in book form was The Immortal Storm (1954) by Sam Moskowitz, chairman of the first Worldcon. As far as I can determine, the book you are reading is the first history of general mystery fandom.
Sherlockian Fandom (1934–)
The “revolution” to which I have referred was in 1967, and this book is primarily about fandom since then. However, no history of fandom is complete without mentioning fans of Sherlock Holmes. Their history has been published; one volume of Jon L. Lellenberg’s multi-volume history of Sherlockians devotes 508 pages to the years 1947–1950 alone.
In 1934, author Christopher Morley founded the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), an organization of fans of Sherlock Holmes. Its name is that of the London street urchins who help Holmes in his cases. In June 1934 their first meeting was held in New York City, followed in December by the first BSI dinner. Now, to celebrate Holmes’s “birthday” as suggested in Doyle’s writings, the BSI dines on the Friday closest to that date, January 6th. At first, the banquets were for males, with the exception of a token female who represented “The Woman,” as Holmes called Irene Adler. Many women now attend the dinners.
The Irregulars circulated among themselves writing debating various aspects of the Holmes canon. Of these, Vincent Starrett wrote, “a very considerable literature has accumulated, for the most part essays in fantastic scholarship—solemn tongue-in-cheek fooling in the fields of textual criticism and imaginary biography.” Typical of these was Rex Stout’s “Watson Was a Woman,” in which he purported to show that a female shared the rooms at 221B Baker Street, and John D. Clark’s theory, also advanced by William S. Baring-Gould, that Nero Wolfe was the illegitimate offspring of Holmes and Adler.
In 1944, Edgar W. Smith, a leading Irregular—in his business life he was a vice-president at General Motors—edited a collection of these essays in Profile by Gaslight: An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which Simon & Schuster published. Smith had enough material left over to edit a second collection, A Baker Street Four-Wheeler, published by his own private press, Pamphlet House. The favorable reaction to these books led Smith to edit a magazine, The Baker Street Journal, which first appeared in January 1946 and whose purpose was to continue this speculation and scholarship. The publisher was Ben Abramson, owner of Manhattan’s Argus Book Shop. Circulation never went beyond 2,000. As Morley said, “Never has so much been written by so many for so few.”
The list of BSI members included “ordinary” fans, but also noted mystery authors Vincent Starrett, August Derleth, Frederic Dannay (Ellery Queen), and John Dickson Carr. Anthony Boucher was leader of The Scowrers, the BSI group in the San Francisco Bay area, one of many “scions” (local chapters) that had sprung up.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was made an honorary member of the BSI in 1942, and in a letter (later published in The Baker Street Journal) he proved himself adept at mock scholarship, postulating that Holmes was born in America to a criminal father but chose to go to England to fight crime. Roosevelt dubbed a portion of “Shangri-La,” the Presidential retreat, “Baker Street.” His successor, Harry S Truman, was made an honorary member, and he too was a knowledgeable Sherlockian fan.
Abramson’s financial resources proved inadequate for what had become a 132- page, typeset, quarterly journal, and he suspended publication after the January 1949 issue. Smith began publishing it himself in January 1951 as a more modest, 40-page, mimeographed magazine. Dr. Julian Woolf became editor in 1960. In 1975 Fordham University began publishing it, returning it to its status as a typeset, illustrated journal. It is now published and edited by Steven Rothman of Philadelphia. The Journal is also on the internet (www.bakerstreetjournal.com), and a searchable set of CD- ROMs reproduces its first fifty years.
At about the time Holmes’s American fans organized in 1934, their British counterparts formed the Sherlock Holmes Society. It was a casualty of World War II, but in 1951, inspired by the popular Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Marylebone Public Library during the Festival of Britain, it was resurrected thanks to Anthony Howlett, a young barrister. Howlett spent considerable time helping the exhibition, though he admitted also being attracted by Freda Pearce, the assistant librarian and his future wife. He was joined by some of the original British Sherlockians. Renamed the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, it held its first meeting at the Victoria and Albert Museum on July 17, 1951. In May 1952 it started publishing The Sherlock Holmes Journal, and over a half-century later, despite many changes of editors, it is still published semiannually.
The Sherlock Holmes Journal started as a mimeographed magazine, but as membership increased, the society was able to publish it on slick paper, using, appropriately, the Baskerville typeface, and including illustrations. There have been news, reviews, poetry, articles, and much material on Doyle, including a 1959 issue honoring the centennial of his birth. James Edward Holroyd, the original co-editor, started a column of short items, titled “The Egg-Spoon,” in the first issue.
Howlett appeared in that issue with film reviews and continued his work on the magazine until his death in 2003. He was instrumental in a statue of Holmes being placed near the Baker Street Underground station, and he was a major force in the society’s 1968 pilgrimage to Switzerland that included a re-creation, in Victorian costume, of the battle between Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. (At the end of the battle, two clothed dummies fell off the cliff into the Falls.)
The 2003 obituary for Anthony Howlett gave a positive view of Sherlockian fandom in England, as, at first, did the death notices in 2004 for Richard Lancelyn Green, former Chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. Green had joined the society at age twelve in 1965, after reading his first Holmes story. He was an obsessive collector of material relating to Doyle and Holmes, owning one of the few surviving copies of Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887, the first printing of A Study in Scarlet. Green was also a scholar, earning an Edgar for his bibliography of Doyle. Ten days after Green’s obituary was published, a Reuters dispatch reported there were mysterious circumstances concerning Green’s death, saying he had been garroted with a shoelace. There was an inquest, and the coroner was quoted as saying there was insufficient evidence to rule whether Green’s death was murder, suicide, or a mistake. The popularity of Sherlock Holmes continues, and it is an international phenomenon. Peter Blau, who maintains a list of Sherlockian societies, reports, according to the website Sherlockian.net, that there have been over 800 at one time or another, with 277 active as of November 2004. Twenty nations have Sherlockian groups, including twenty-two in Japan alone. There is even one in Kyrgyzstan! Forty-one of the states in the US have these groups, with California, Illinois, and New York each hav- ing more than twenty. They invariably have names imaginatively derived from the Holmes tales, for example, Mrs. Hudson’s Cliffdwellers in New Jersey and the Sons of the Copper Beeches of Philadelphia.
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore (1923–)
There was fandom before Sherlockians organized. Honoring the man credited with writing the first detective story, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore started in 1923 and remains active. Its object: “promoting the understanding of Poe’s life and writings, and his associations with Baltimore.” An annual lecture about Poe is given on the first Sunday of each October. There have also been academic societies devoted to Poe, and their newsletters sometimes included material of interest to fans.
Happy Hours Magazine (1925–1936) and Dime Novel Round-Up (1931–)
The term “Dime Novel” refers to paper-covered books, usually priced at a dime, that were popular in the United States from 1860 through 1915, when they were replaced by pulp magazines. Thousands of titles were published, with detective stories especially popular. After they were no longer published and were becoming increasingly scarce, their fans began to organize. Ralph F. Cummings founded the Happy Hours Brotherhood, a group of dime novel readers and collectors in 1924. In 1925 he began a bimonthly, Happy Hours Magazine. In January 1931 that magazine was succeeded by Dime Novel Round-Up, with Cummings as editor-publisher. However, Happy Hours Magazine was soon revived by Ralph P. Smith and published until June 1936. Cummings published Dime Novel Round-Up until July 1952 when Edward T. LeBlanc, of Fall River, Massachusetts, took over. LeBlanc presided for an incredible forty-two years and 390 issues, until J. Randolph Cox of Dundas, Minnesota, replaced him after the June 1994 issue. Cox, a scholar of the mystery also, continues as editor-publisher. Among mystery-related articles to appear over the years have been those about early series detectives “Old Sleuth” and King Brady, and Cox’s monumental bibliography of the most famous dime novel detective, Nick Carter.
The Saint Club (1936–)
The first non-Sherlockian group devoted to one character was The Saint Club, founded in 1936 for those interested in Leslie Charteris and his creation, Simon Templar (“The Saint”). Charteris was active in its founding, and in addition to providing publicity for him, it has always had a charity component, with the club, which is still active, contributing to hospitals in its early days and now to youth facilities. Yet, it has always been irreverent, and the back of its membership card says:
The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other persons from contamination.
The club publishes a newsletter, The Epistle, on an irregular basis and sells Saint- related merchandise. There is a branch of the club, OzSaint, in Queensland, Australia.
The Pulp Era (1950–1971, 1993)
Fans of dime novels are often fans of the pulps. (Pulps were fiction magazines printed on untrimmed pulpwood paper, with colorful covers, that were popular from 1915 through 1950.) Lynn Hickman began publishing fanzines for them in 1950 while a few pulps were still published. He produced fifty-nine issues, under several titles, of a magazine once jokingly titled JD-Argassy (The Pulp Era). It began as a fanzine for fans of Argosy, the most varied of pulps, which though known for adventure fiction, generally had a mystery story in each issue. In the winter of 1963 Hickman changed the title to simply The Pulp Era and continued that fan magazine until spring 1971. It was revived briefly in 1993, but then Hickman died.
Patricia Wentworth Fan Club (1961)
Fans of Patricia Wentworth, the British writer who created that most unusual private detective, Maude Silver, an elderly, white-haired lady who knitted booties while interviewing her clients, formed a fan club in 1961. They printed a newsletter that was published in Newport, Rhode Island. However, no other information is available regarding this club, which is no longer active.
JDM Bibliophile (1965–1999)
A more hard-boiled writer became the subject of a fan magazine in March 1965 when Len and June Moffatt of Downey, California, first published JDM Bibliophile, devoted to the work of John D. MacDonald. MacDonald started writing for pulp magazines in 1946 during their waning days. He then switched to paperback origi- nals, mostly for Fawcett’s Gold Medal line. In 1964 Gold Medal launched the series that made MacDonald famous when they issued four novels about Florida adventurer-detective Travis McGee.
JDMB, a mimeographed magazine at the time, was described in its initial issue as a “non-profit amateur journal devoted to the readers of John D. MacDonald and related matters.” A goal was to obtain complete bibliographic information on all of MacDonald’s writings, and this was partly achieved with The JDM Master Checklist, published in 1969 by the Moffatts. They had help from many people, including the author himself. Though he kept good records, he, like most authors, didn’t have complete publishing data on his work. Especially helpful to the Moffatts were William J. Clark and another couple, Walter and Jean Shine of Florida. The Shines published an updated version of the Checklist in 1980, adding illustrations, a biographical sketch, and a listing of articles and criticism about MacDonald.
Len and June Moffatt, creators of JDM Bibliophile.
JDMB offered news and reviews of MacDonald’s writings and their adaptation to various media. There were also contributions from MacDonald, including reminiscences and commentary. The Moffatts contributed a column (“& Everything”), as did the Shines (“The Shine Section”), and other JDM fans sent articles, letters, and parodies.
After the Moffatts had published twenty-two issues of JDMB, it was transferred in 1979 to the University of South Florida in Tampa, with Professor Edgar Hirshberg as editor. It continued until 1999. One issue, #25 in 1979, included the Shines’s “Special Confidential Report, a Private Investigators’ File on Travis McGee,” describing much gleaned from the McGee canon about his past, interests, cases, and associates. MacDonald once said of Walter Shine, “He knows more about Travis than I do.”
On February 21, 1987 about one hundred McGee fans gathered at his “address,” Slip F-18 at the Bahia Mar Marina, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The mayor of that city unveiled a plaque honoring McGee. Under the sponsorship of the University of South Florida, at least six conferences about John D. MacDonald were held in Florida, beginning in 1988.
Bronze Shadows (1965–1968)
In 1964, Bantam began reprinting the Doc Savage pulp stories as paperback original books. In October 1965, this inspired a fan magazine, Bronze Shadows, edited and published by Fred Cook, devoted to the hero and weird menace pulps, but especially to Savage. Bronze Shadows only lasted fifteen issues, until November 1968. However, Michael L. Cook (no relation) said in 1983, “It was within the pages of Bronze Shadows that pulp fandom, as it is known today, first began to form.” That fandom led to other magazines and an annual convention.
Edgar Wallace Organizations (1965–)
The Edgar Wallace Club was not started by a fan; it was organized by Penelope Wallace, daughter of the popular and prolific English author. (About 1930 it was estimated that one of every four books published in England was by Wallace.) The Edgar Wallace Club first met in December 1965 at the National Book League in London. A souvenir program from that meeting was reprinted as part of the first Edgar Wallace Club Newsletter, published in January 1969. One feature of the newsletter was a listing of Wallace in print, and in 1969, thirty-seven years after Wallace died, fifty-three of his books were still in print, mainly in England, but also in Germany where he was very popular. The newsletter facilitated exchanges of Wallace books and also published lost Wallace material, including poems, short stories, and even his lyrics to a song.
American fans who never attended a meeting of the club (whose name was changed to the Edgar Wallace Society in 1972) became members, including Lianne Carlin, Allen J. Hubin, Randy Cox, Luther Norris, and Jim Goodrich. By 1972 there were 120 members. Beginning in 1970, Penelope Wallace, though listed as “Organ- iser,” no longer produced the newsletter, which was published by the Peter Ship- ton firm. John Hogan took over as “Organiser” with Newsletter #65, and the format changed from several sheets stapled in the top corner to that of a booklet. In February 1986 the newsletter became The Crimson Circle, the new title coming from a famous Wallace novel. Hogan died after issue 98, and his widow, Betty, took over for two is- sues. Then Neil Clark became “Organiser” for another two issues. Kai Jorg Hinz of Germany became editor in August 1994 and remained through May 1998 when the Society became inactive. In August 2000, The Crimson Circle resumed, with Penny Wyrd, Wallace’s granddaughter, now “Organiser/Administrator” and Pim Koldewijn of the Netherlands editor. Issues were brief and sporadic, compared to the earlier days of the club, though one appeared in summer 2004.
During the hiatus of the Edgar Wallace Society, Alan Carter set up the Edgar Wallace Appreciation Society, issuing six issues of its newsletter, The Edgar Wallace Journal, in 1999–2000; it resumed in December 2003.
The Praed Street Irregulars and The Pontine Dossier (1966–)
Long before the Sherlockian popularity of the 1970s, created by Nicholas Meyer’s bestseller pastiche The Seven-Percent Solution (1974), August Derleth began a series of pastiches about a Holmes-like detective, Solar Pons, and his friend and chronicler, Dr. Lyndon Parker. Pons was created in 1928 after Derleth confirmed, through correspondence with Doyle, that there would be no more Sherlock Holmes adventures. Upon the death of Derleth in 1971, the series was continued by Basil Copper. Eventually, there were almost one hundred novels and short stories about Pons, more than about Holmes.
Luther Norris of California founded a society in 1966 devoted to this pastiche character, using the name Praed Street Irregulars (PSI) after the street on which Pons lived. In February 1967 Norris founded a journal for the society, The Pontine Dossier, which he published until his death in January 1978. The PSI had annual dinners in the Los Angeles area, beginning in April 1967.
The John Dickson Carr Bibliophile (1966)
There was only one issue of The John Dickson Carr Bibliophile, published by Rick Sneary for the August 1966 mailing of FAPA (the Fantasy Amateur Press Association), but because Anthony Boucher mentioned it in his column, it played a vital role in mystery fandom. Members of FAPA were fans of the mystery too, and early issues of the JDMB were part of FAPA mailings.
The Journal of Popular Culture (1967–)
The Journal of Popular Culture, published by Bowling Green State University of Ohio and edited by Ray Browne, first appeared in the summer of 1967, shortly be- fore the first general-interest mystery fan magazines, and it is still published. It is an academic journal (the official publication of the Popular Culture Association) but its editors consider crime fiction an important part of popular culture. Most issues have one or more articles of interest to mystery fans. They have ranged from the “academic” such as Elliot G. Gilbert’s “The Detective as Metaphor in the Nineteenth Century” to Francis M. Nevins’s article on uncollected pulp stories by Erle Stanley Gardner. In 2002, upon the retirement of Ray Browne, the Journal moved to Michigan State University, where it continues under editor Gary Hoppenstand.