The Early History of the Hugo Awards (Part 2.)

Chapter 2: Seek and ye shall find.

Now, before I go on to examine the curious case of no awards at the 1954 worldcon I need to backtrack a little. In the first instalment of this examination, while tracing the initial creation of the Hugo Awards, I wandered slightly off course onto the topic of exactly when the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards also began to be known as the Hugo Awards.

Richard Lynch responded to my digression by pointing me to an article he had published in Mimosa #30. This had been written by Robert Madle, who had been the treasurer of the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention, the worldcon at which the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards were given out. Richard Lynch believed this article answered both who and when the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards acquired the name we’re familiar with today. However, I was unconvinced by the Robert Madle article as to my mind the story as presented seemed incomplete. To quote from the article in question:

That worldcon was the one where the Hugo Awards were first presented. The idea for the Awards was the brainchild of one of our club members, Hal Lynch. He came running over to my house one night, and said, “Hey, Bob, I’ve got a great idea! Why don’t we give awards for things like Best Novel and Best Magazine – sort of like the Oscars.”

And I said, “Gee, that’s great! We could call them the ‘Hugos’,” At the time I was writing a column, “Inside Science Fiction” for Robert Lowndes and I used that to play up the idea of the Hugos before the convention.

A Personal Sense of Wonder (part 2) by Robert Madle
Mimosa #30, Page 54/55 (August 2003)

Madle then went on to write about the actual construction of the rockets to be used for the awards. In other words this anecdote jumps from the initial suggestion to being accepted as part of the official programming. No mention is made of how the rest of the committee received Hal Lynch’s idea. Which is not to suggest they reacted negatively but rather we are told nothing about the ensuing discussion of how this bare bones suggestion was developed into a fully formed project, surely the most interesting part of the story?

In particular there is no mention of what the various committee members thought about Madle’s idea of calling the proposed set of awards “Hugos”. Neither is there any explanation as to why in all the official publications of the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention the awards are only ever referred to as the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards. All in all Madle’s anecdote struck me as a very incomplete and offered me nothing but unreliable 50 year old memories. So, with most of the story missing and no evidence offered to back up what little was there I was unwilling to accept Robert Madle’s claim on faith alone.

I guess at this point I should pause to explain that when writing about any topic on Doctor Strangemind I only consider reliable those facts that are backed up by what I consider suitable source material. That is material produced at the time of the event I’m writing about that doesn’t seem slanted towards something other than the truth. And yes, I do frequently speculate in my articles but I do try to make clear when I’m presenting something as fact and when I’m speculating.

Thus, by my standards Robert Madle’s memories are too insubstantial for me to consider them as a basis of fact without some supporting evidence. Which doesn’t mean that Robert Madle wasn’t correct when he claimed he was the first one to suggest calling the new awards “Hugos”. What it does mean is that before I can go any further I needed to see if I could locate some evidence which would prove when and where the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards began to be referred to as “Hugos”.

The obvious place to start was of course the Inside Science Fiction column Robert Madle mentioned in his Mimosa #30 article as where he promoted the name “Hugos”. Which was a bit of a problem as Madle hadn’t been any more specific than to mention he’d written the column for Robert Lowndes, somebody who had published extensively as both a fan and a professional. So for all I knew Madle’s column could have appeared in either any one of a number of fanzines or professional science fiction magazines.

However, while searching Fantasy-Times for references to the 1953 worldcon I discovered James Taurasi had mentioned this very column in a short article about the professional activities of one Robert Madle. The following appeared in Fantasy-Times #171 (February 1953):

Fantasy-Times #171 - Robert Madle

Having now realised that the Inside Science Fiction column was intended for professional publication I checked the  ISFDB and there I discovered what I assume is a complete list of published instalments. Turns out instalments of the Inside Science Fiction column had appeared in nearly every science fiction magazine Robert Lowndes edited for Columbia Publications (indeed, the column jumped about so much it might hold the record for the number of different titles it appeared in). Anyway, using the  ISFDB information as a guide I was able to obtain the relevant issues of these magazines and begin searching.

As Robert Lowndes had been involved with science fiction fandom for many a long year before becoming a professional editor my guess is that he was betting that a column by a well-known fan like Robert Madle would net Columbia more subscription money than whatever Madle’s columns cost (assuming Robert Madle received anything other than the honour of being published professionally). I would guess this meant that quite a few of whatever subscriptions the Columbia magazines attracted came from active members of science fiction fandom. Consequently whatever Robert Madle wrote in his column was going to carry some weight within fandom of the day.

But before I begin quoting sources a quick word about the dating of the various Columbia magazines. In the majority of issues these magazines the contents page includes a statement as to when the next issue would be available. These dates would invariably be several months earlier than the date shown on the cover of the succeeding issue. As I understand it the earlier dates were for the benefit of subscribers. Magazine publishers, in particular smaller outfits like Columbia Publications, liked subscriptions because the distributor couldn’t take a cut of the profits. Consequently it made sense to post out the subscription copies as soon as they arrived back from the printer. Meanwhile the news-stand copies would need to make their way from distributor to the news-stands. As was explained in a previous instalment of this column <On the News-stand> whoever was running the latter would rarely put issue of any magazine out on the racks before the cover date. Retailers were juggling hundreds of different titles after all and had no real incentive to get any particular magazine out on the racks early. This is why Robert Madle could write about the September worldcon as though it hadn’t happened yet in an October issue of Dynamic SF. Unfortunately this can make understanding the sequence of events a trifle difficult.

So now I’ve sorted out the dating matter let’s turn to Dynamic SF #5 (dated October 1953 but announced as being available 1st August). As can be seen below on page 59, Robert Madle, in his Inside Science Fiction column, refers to the awards to be handed out at the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention as “Hugos”. Since this matches what he wrote in his Mimosa article I’m willing to consider this sufficient evidence that Robert Madle did indeed coin the nickname “Hugo” for the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards. Interestingly though he only refers to the awards as “Hugos” despite the third progress report he mentions as being ‘just out’ only ever referring to them as the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards:

Dynamic Stories #5 - Robert Madle

Even more interestingly this issue of Dynamic Stories also contains a letter on page 83 written by Publicity Chairman Alan E. Nourse. In that letter Nourse promotes various aspects of the 1953 worldcon including the proposed awards:

Dynamic Stories #5 - Alan E. Nourse

So here we have the Treasurer (Madle) calling the awards “Hugos” and the Publicity Chairman (Nourse) calling them the Achievement Awards. Under the circumstances it’s hard not to wonder if the rest of the committee were as enthusiastic about Madle’s name as Madle was.

Adding fuel to this particular speculation there appeared in Fantasy-Times #175 (August 1953) a report on the progress of various worldcon matters written by Lyle Kessler (another member of the Publicity Committee). In this update Kessler states that the committee have no official name for the Achievement Awards as can be seen here:

Fantasy-Times #175 - Lyle Kessler

I have to wonder if Kessler’s comment about the award having no official name is a direct, if veiled, response to Madle’s calling them “Hugos” in Dynamic SF #5? If the subscription copies of Dynamic SF were indeed mailed out early in August then the timing would be right as Fantasy-Times #175 was the second of the August issues for 1953 and thus was published late in the month. If some of the committee did not care to have their awards being called “Hugos” then it would make sense for them to issue what amounts to a clarification of Madle’s use of the name as soon as possible.

I especially like the slight put-upon tone of that final sentence. At least it reads to me like Kessler is making clear that at least some of the committee didn’t really want to call the awards “Hugos”, but would if everybody else really, really wanted to do so, then fine, they would accept their awards were called the “Hugos”.

Not that I think the above reveals a major disagreement. It is possible after all for a group of people, a convention committee for example, to have differences of opinion and still remain friends and united in purpose. I certainly see no animosity in print. For example Robert Madle in Future Science Fiction V4 #5 (dated January 1954 but announced as being available 1st November 1953) on page 81 made a point of enthusiastically reviewing Kessler’s fanzine, Fan Warp. If Madle and Kessler were truly at odds I could see Madle still reviewing Fan Warp, hard for him not to since it was promoting the 1953 worldcon, but I doubt he would do so with nearly as much enthusiasm.

Also, in Future Science Fiction V4 #6 (dated March 1954 but presumably available earlier), on page 54 Madle, as part of his coverage of the 1953 worldcon, describes the awards ceremony. When doing so he describes the awards as being both the First Annual Science Fiction Awards and the “Hugos”, which strikes me as being a conciliatory gesture. He also mentions they were given out during the Sunday evening banquet, something I didn’t realise from the sparse Fantasy-Times description of the ceremony, the latter having made it sound like they were handed out as part of the afternoon programming. Madle also mentioned that he hoped Harold Lynch’s idea of giving out a set of awards would become a regular worldcon feature.

In the meantime it’s clear that the editors of Fantasy-Times had taken a liking to Madles’s “Hugos”. In Fantasy-Times #190 (November 1953) they published a follow-up story to the worldcon awards ceremony:

Fantasy-Times #190 - Ackerman

Mind you, that final paragraph is very strange given that James Taurasi, editor of Fantasy-Times, who was at the worldcon and had, presumably, witnessed Forry Ackerman’s decision to pass his Hugo on to Ken Slater (as described in the previous instalment). Why the final paragraph wasn’t written in such a way as to make clear that editor Campbell wasn’t the final recipient but was transporting the rocket to Slater is a mystery.

As it happens Ron Smith published that newspaper clipping (including the photo mentioned above) in his fanzine, Inside #5 (May 1954). Unfortunately, given the quality of the original newspaper clipping, we will have to take it on faith that it’s a Hugo that H.J. Campbell and Forry Ackerman are handling. Neither can I see Campbell’s name being incorrectly given in this article, mostly because it isn’t given at all. Poor old H.J. Campbell has to make do with being called an ‘English science-fiction editor’ (and without even a correction by Ron Smith). Talk about getting no respect:

Inside #5 P15

Now you might think that settles the matter what with the above evidence proving that Robert Madle did indeed call the awards “Hugos” twice when writing about the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards in his column. It certainly is reasonable to to accept Madle’s Mimosa #30 claim now the above evidence has come to light.

However this doesn’t mean that calling the awards the “Hugos”, either officially or unofficially, had won in the court of public opinion. There was no guarantee after all that the actual awards themselves would be anything but a one-off, a momentary blip in worldcon history like so many other experiments carried out at the early worldcons. Until another worldcon committee took up the challenge it really didn’t matter what the awards were called. One swallow does not make a spring and one award ceremony does not make an unbreakable tradition after all.

Luckily for the 1953 committee the idea of a set of annual awards did inspire somebody, and luckily for Robert Madle his idea of calling these awards “Hugos” also appealed to them. In fact it can be argued that it was not until the Clevention in 1955 that awarding “Hugos” truly became an unbreakable tradition. It was their championing of the awards and the nickname which put both on the map permanently.

But before we consider that, we need to cross the barren desert of 1954.

4 thoughts on “The Early History of the Hugo Awards (Part 2.)”

  1. I’ll point out that what many/most people call an “Oscar” is only a nickname for the technically correct “Academy Award” andthat the “Edgar” is actually the “Edgar Allan Poe Award” and no doubt there are many other real world examples of awards and offices and various honors that have an “official” name and a “popular” name, so I don’t think we need to read a whole lot into different people using two different terms for the award in question, especially when it was brand new. Still, an interesting reconstruction.

    Like

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