How LeeH & ShelVy & Max Shaped My World

by Joyce Katz

Do I know Lee Hoffman? You better believe it! In fact, I've known LeeH for almost fifty years; she's been an important fixture in my life for the entire half century.

Not that we've hung out together, or been best friends, or anything like that. Heck, I guess we've only been in the same place at the same time a half dozen times or so, if that. But LeeH's been in my life in that peculiar way that fans are, and my fan life has been interlaced with hers all the way through. In a way, I owe her everything...her, and ShelVy, Walt and the two Bobs, and Max.

It started late in the summer of 1956. Duggie Fisher, and I had been married just about a month when he asked me, "Do you read Science Fiction?" (He capitalized the letters when he spoke; I could tell this was important to him.)

"What's Science Fiction?" I asked naively. Actually, I had read a little Science Fiction, mostly in the Saturday Evening Post. But I'd never heard the entire genre lumped together that way.

Duggie turned pale and commanded, "Come with me!" My deficiency in knowledge of scientifiction hit him like I'd confessed to a series of ax murderers in my family tree, or reoccurring cannibalism. This was an obvious failing on my part that had to be corrected immediately or the world would collapse. From the way he acted, the Science Fiction Police were likely to appear any moment to cleave apart what God and the Reverend Chester B. Pillow had joined together.

He led me into his sanctum sanctorum, his holiest of holy, the Fisher Family Attic. It was reached through a steep and narrow stairway, made smaller and darker by boxes of aging clutter sitting on the steps, waiting to be transported up into the gloom. At the top of the stairs, the tight room under the eaves was stuffed with old furniture, clothing, discarded restaurant equipment, and unrecognizable piffle cast off by the Fishers during the previous 30 years.

He dragged me down a narrow corridor formed by stacks of boxes, until we reached a tiny chamber encircled by the debris. There, concealed from casual gaze, was a carpeted area about 4 by 6, with an old sofa, two rickety chairs and a couple of lamps. And on every side, extending as far under the eaves as I could see, there were bookshelves containing his Collection. I had found his Most Precious, his Dearly Beloved, his Soul.

He spent that afternoon pulling out one book after another, and assigning me short stories. It was years before I realized that he was picking the best flowers of the field. That afternoon I read Nightfall, and Adam With No Eve, and Killdozer. When we finally descended the stairs, slapping away the dust and paper shards, I was a convert.

That evening, sitting in the living room under a circle of golden light, he started telling me about fandom. The funny thing is, he'd told me about Odd, back when I was 13 and visiting with his sister. But the message hadn't really sunk in at that time. I've always wished it had; I would love to have entered fandom in 1952-53. But now, in 1956 going-on '57, I heard him loud and clear.

He handed me a stack of zines to browse, starting with his own Odd. I went through them with fascination. But almost immediately, I noticed something: I found the book reviews and quasi-scientific columns to be intolerably boring. The part I liked, and the things I searched for, were the letters. In them I discovered that Odd owed its life to Shelby Vick, who sent a dime for the first issue and thus inspired Dug to continue publishing. I saw how it had gone from a couple of hectographed sheets to a fair-sized mimeographed rag of a zine with lots of contributors. As I went through the zines he handed me, I spotted tidbits that made sense to me, people commenting about each other and each other's writings. I learned quickly to skim for the high spots and skip the reviews: after I looked at the Ray Nelson, cartoons, read the letter column, and hunted for recognizable names, I'd move on to another zine.

Max Keasler came over that evening, and saw me combing through the stack. He fueled the fire by pushing his own to the top, Opus and FanVariety. Well, of course, that started it in earnest. I met LeeH there, visited with ShelVy, laughed at Tucker's and Bloch's high jinx, and started my life long admiration of Walt.

While I was reading, Max and Duggie were filling me in about the people whose names I was beginning to know. They had a lot to say about LeeH; Max had actually met her once or twice. It was clear to me that they both had a bit of a crush on this southern flower. "I hear she's real pretty," said Dug, prompting Max. "Oh, sure..pretty. A Nice Girl," Keasler pronounced. And the two of them explained how she'd earned her fan credentials just like any guy, without relying on her femininity to get contributions and support for her zine. Right then and there I started my one-woman admiration club of this paragon, and determined to try to be like her in method even if I couldn't manage her magic.

Quandry was easy to like. There's probably not a person reading this who won't agree: it was light and witty, almost breezy. There was lots of air in the layout, and unpretentious cartoons on almost every page. Best of all was the banter passing between the half-dozen names I knew. It was clear to me, right from that very day, that I had stumbled into a society of literati who communicated with letters and fanzines, an inviting circle of friendly spirits who teased and taunted each other, even though it was clear they were fond of one another. I knew from that moment that fandom was for me.

In the next half dozen or so years, there were many evenings, many stories of fandom from Max and Duggie. And, I met the rest of the old Poplar Bluff club, William Holmes, Don and Bill Jacobs, and Jackie Dean Clark who had published a carbon paper zine. They were all gafiates, but they all spoke fondly of fandom, and acted like they'd go back just any day..but they never did, of course.

Even though I'd lost my heart to fandom, I didn't become part of it for a long long time after that. I tried to make contact several times, but never found an active fan, until years later when I met Jim Hall in a St. Louis bookstore.

The last time I saw Max Keasler was at his house one New Years Eve early in the '60s. The whole bunch of them were there, and they talked about science fiction, and space conquest, and fandom. Duggie and I had to leave early because we were driving back to St. Louis the next morning. When we left, they were all toasting fandom and each other, drinking flaming vodkas, while the operatic Bill Holmes bellowed "The Flight of the Die Valkyrie".

Later that same spring, Max had a toothache and went to a dentist, and died just a week or so after..some kind of cancer grabbed him away all too soon. Jackie Dean Clark became a schoolteacher, and I lost track of him. Don Jacobs became well known in the Bay Area preaching under the name "Moby Whale"; and his brother Bill died of The Good Life this spring, choking on a bite of steak until he was brain-dead. And of course, Duggie died about 15 years ago. Bill Holmes and I are the only ones left of the old Poplar Bluff crew.

But if you go there, you'll still find their shades up in the Fisher's attic, and they're still chuckling over the dusty old fanzines. They're still talking about LeeH and how she fooled everyone into thinking she was a guy, and Max is still saying, "Pretty, yes..a Real Nice Girl."

I didn't actually meet LeeH until 1967 when I attended NyCon3. And she was just like I knew she'd be, still part of that fun that started so long before. She had the good grace to remember the Poplar Bluff guys, to smile sadly when we talked of Max, to laugh softly about the rest of them. A pretty lady, a Real Nice Girl -- and in my opinion, the number one femmefan in the whole fan world.

Previously appeared in a private publication

Article © Joyce Katz 2002

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