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.

A Different View of the Early Hugo Awards (Part 1.)

Chapter 1: Beginnings: 1953 & Before

Now before I go any further I would like to make it clear that this and subsequent articles are not about the award winners themselves but rather how the award system has evolved. As such I’m going to spend a lot of this first installment setting the scene. Hopefully this will help make clear why the awards developed in the way they did. Crossed fingers.

The first three Worldcons were held in 1939, the Nycon in New York, in 1940, the Chicon in Chicago, and in 1941, the Denvention in Denver (which just goes to show imaginative convention naming has never been a feature of the worldcon tradition). All three were relatively simple affairs as the practise of an annual get-together by science fiction fans was novel enough in itself to satisfy the majority of attendees. At the Denvention it was decided to award the next worldcon to Los Angeles. That what had already become the highlight of the science fiction year was allowed to stay on the west side of the US for a second year in a row was something of a surprise. For a start most SF professionals lived in the eastern half of the US due to the majority of magazine publishers being based in New York and the need to deal with editors via post meant the closer somebody lived to the editorial offices the better. Thus an eastern worldcon would find it easier to attract professional attendees than one based in the west, something most active fans would unsurprisingly prefer. As to whether more active fans lived in east than in the west I can’t say, but certainly that was the perception at the time and such perceptions can carry a lot of weight, especially with fans deciding where the worldcon should be held next.

And now for a rather self-indulgent digression.

I brought up the unlikelihood of LA being awarded the 1942 worldcon because this is one of those events authors like to latch onto when writing alternate history. The reason Los Angeles was awarded the fourth worldcon was that the Los Angeles Science Fiction League (which became the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1940) was considered to be the single most prominent and active SF club in the US. To visit the LASFS clubroom and spend time with Forry Ackerman and co was the dream of many. To quote Fred Patten’s history of Los Angeles fandom:

Ackerman was particularly active in helping the LASFL publish its own mimeographed fanzines. They were full of humorous, pun-filled reviews and parodies of current SF, as well as discussions of the LASFL’s picnics, holiday parties and group outings to scientific lectures at Cal Tech or the local planetarium in addition to the club meetings. These soon established the LASFL’s reputation throughout budding SF fandom as “Shangri-L.A.”; a paradise for young SF fans. This reputation helped L.A. fandom win the World Science Fiction Convention for 1942.

If Forry Ackerman and other LASFS members had been a little less popular, if the club had been seen as a less desirable destination, it’s possible that the worldcon would return east to be held somewhere like Philadelphia. As it was the LASFS were awarded the worldcon but long before LA could stage their event the USA was at war. Given the changed situation the LA fans felt it was necessary to canvas fandom at large to see what they would prefer happen. The LA committee offered three choices; hold the con in LA as planned, hold it in another city where the threat of Japanese air attacks was remote, or postpone the worldcon altogether until the war was finished. In the end the threat to the west coast of the US was never significantly realised (an excellent summary of the situation can be found here) but perception is a powerful force and after the attack on Pearl Harbour a similar assault on Los Angeles seemed all too possible. Eventually the committee announced that the preferred option was postponement and thus Pacificon didn’t happen until 1946.

Now if the 1942 worldcon had been awarded to a city back east or if the LA fans had decided to carry on regardless the history of the worldcon could potentially be very different. Indeed it’s not impossible that the gap between worldcons could of ended up to be much longer. If a worldcon had been held in 1942 it’s likely a lot of prominent fans and professionals would find themselves not able to attended due to being called up for service or some other side-effect of the war. In which case I could easily see it being agreed by whoever did attend to essentially put the idea into mothballs until the war was over as the problem of non-attendance was clearly only going to get worse. Even if in the unlikely circumstance the membership of this hypothetical 1942 worldcon had also chosen a city to host that eventual post-war convention whoever accepted the honour is unlikely to have had the same level of commitment as the LA fans did. After all, many LASFS members had been thinking about how to win the rights to the fourth worldcon for months prior to the Denvention and after winning it had spent more months planning their con before it was agreed to put it in mothballs. Any group selected at a hypothetical 1942 worldcon wouldn’t have the same opportunity to mentally commit themselves like LA. I doubt anybody attending this hypothetical 1942 worldcon would arrive confident that there would be another in the foreseeable future. Thus, even if some group then agreed to run a post-war worldcon they would surely have more pressing matters to attend to than a potential convention. In such circumstances I could see it very likely that the proposal would just trailing away to nothing due to a lack of commitment.

Would that mean a permanent end to the idea? I doubt it as eventually some dynamic individual would whip their local club into a frenzy of enthusiasm and put on, if not something called worldcon, then something billed as a national convention. There would surely be something like this before the end of the 50s. It might even move from city to city and hand out annual awards. Just how close a format this annual event would have to the present worldcon it would be anybodies guess.

Anyway, to get back to the story proper, as previously noted the practise of holding worldcons resumed in 1946 and in due course the committees running them decided that the worldcon needed to be a more elaborate affair. This was partly inspired by the idea that a worldcon should not be a series of lectures given by various speakers as was done with conferences for professionals. There was a feeling that science fiction fans deserved something a little less dry and a little more open to participation by fandom at large. More importantly, committee egos were at stake as many involved were keen to make their particular version of the convention as memorable as possible. And if they really lucky one of their ideas would be adopted by later worldcons and made a permanent part of the annual event. So it was that committees began to throw multiple ideas against the programming wall to see what would stick.

Thus it was that an annual set of science fiction awards was far from the only idea committees began to toy with. For example, the 1950 Norwescon proposed a cabaret style masked ball and appointed a local fan, Jim Bradley as a Teen-Age Greeter. His job was to:

…make the younger delegates feel at home and to help them to find the things of particular interest to them.

In 1951 the Nolacon decided to explore more controversial waters by announcing a Dianetics Symposium. Less controversial but more ambitious was the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention’s proposal in 1953 to have a science fiction movie premier in conjunction with the convention. In 1955 the Clevention committee announced their intention to stage a science fiction play which would be put on by a local semi-professional theatre group. They also put forward the idea of a Mystery Guest of Honour. (A rather complicated idea that I’ll not try to explain. If you want to know how the idea was suppose to work I’ve included a scan of the article explaining everything at the end of this article.) Which, if any of these ideas, came to pass I haven’t checked. The mere fact they were suggested is enough in this context.

As part of this search for immortality the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention (only later known as Philcon II) also planned to award the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards. The announcement of which appeared in the third Philcon II progress report. The fact the committee waited till this point to make such an announcement has me wondering. The fact they devote so much space to explaining the awards suggests to me that initiating them wasn’t an afterthought as I would otherwise assume. Could it be that it took so long to make an announcement because the various members of the committee couldn’t agree on what categories would be included? I really hope this was the case because that then means the fine old tradition of disagreeing about how many award categories there should be goes right back to year one. A thought which I like to imagine would put a warm glow in the heart of many an ex-worldcon committee member.

Anyway, here’s the article in question. It’s well worth reading if only to highlight how much the award changed since 1953:

1953 Awards 1

1953 Awards 2

If you have read the above announcement you’ll notice a number of interesting points. First of all the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention committee called them the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards and not the Hugo Awards. Officially they continued to be called the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards for many decades. It wasn’t until 1993 that they were officially renamed the Hugo Awards. Exactly when fans began giving the awards the nickname of Hugo I can’t be entirely sure. However, the earliest mention of the practise I’m aware of appeared in the 1955 Clevention’s Progress Report #4. In an article about the physical aspects of the award appears the following comment:

A great deal of hard work, money and time went into the project of making this “Hugo”, as some people have already dubbed the trophy.

Just who was using the term and how widespread the practise was by this point isn’t made clear in this article. It could be that committee members were aware of the nickname being used elsewhere but I suspect such usage was confined to the committee itself. After all, given that at this point the awards had only been given once and then were seemingly discontinued it seems a bit unlikely that fandom at large had decided to give something they couldn’t be certain would ever be seen again a nickname. Moreover, given that the awards are then continually referred as Hugos in the rest of the article I rather suspect some or all of the committee had not only adopted the term but also wanted to push the idea of calling it that as one way to put their stamp on the awards idea. All speculation of course but it does make for an interesting theory.

Secondly, there are an ambitious number of categories listed. Nine different categories strikes me as far too many for a new award and I think this is further evidence that the committee couldn’t agree on what to include. That there were too many categories is far from idle speculation on my part as two of the listed categories, Short Story or Novelette & Fan Magazine were not awarded at the 1953 worldcon. This wasn’t because they had proved unpopular but very much the opposite. According to this quote from Fantasy-Times #185 (published in September by James Taurasi):

There no awards for short stories, novelettes or fan magazines, as there was no clear cut vote on these; too many named with too little vote for each.

Given the advantage of hindsight I would suggest the 1953 committee made four poor choices in regards to the way they set up these awards; too many categories, not making the voting for a calendar year, making the vote first past the post, and not making this a two stage process.

Of these four mistakes it’s pretty clear to me that it was the latter two which caused the most trouble because they ensured that voting was never concentrated. Now it could be argued that a two stage system as was employed by later worldcon committees is an artificial way of narrowing the choices and ensures winners that at the nominating stage did not have majority support. However, the alternative, one fan one vote as used in the early years of the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards, is no more likely to be representative. As was apparently the case with the Short Story or Novelette & Fan Magazine categories the problem was the likelihood of the votes being divided among too many candidates for any one item to have a significant majority.

Also, because the vote was first past the post and (at least to the best of my knowledge) no details of the voting was ever released we have no way of knowing just how really popular the winners were. For example, it’s generally assumed that in 1953 the voters showed good taste in that the winning novel, The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, is still considered a very good story. However, for all we know, only a minority of the votes were for The Demolished Man and it’s win came about solely because rest of the vote was split between too many other candidates. In this regard the decision to have the period of eligibility run from August to August (the period from worldcon to worldcon at the time it should be noted) could only confuse matters as without a nomination stage I think it likely there were votes cast for material that had appeared before August 1952. If Joe Kennedy could complain in his fanzine, The 1946-1947 Fantasy Review, that in regards to the polls he ran for top authors of 1945 and for 1946 some people voted on their of all-time best when that wasn’t what Joe had asked for, then it seems to me equally likely that some of the 1953 voters would be just as careless.

The above may seem to be edging towards nit-picking on my part but I think it’s worthwhile writing about these problems now because they were not going to go away and would once more come to the fore in 1955.

Before that though the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards were handed out at the Eleventh World Science Fiction Convention in what seems to have been a rather low-key manner. As was normal practise at the time Fantasy-Times #185 (which was the Locus of it’s day) included a lengthy report on the convention. As can be seen from the quote below the handing out of awards wasn’t treated as something special to be commented on separately but simply mentioned as one of a series of events during the day. Heck, James Taurasi, who wrote the convention report, couldn’t even be bothered to give the awards their designated name:

The Winners of the Awards were:

#1 Fan Personality: Forest Ackerman, who turned it down and gave it to Ken Slater of England. Bert Campbell will bring it back with him and present to Slater.

Interior illustrator: Virgil Finlay.

Cover artist: A tie between Ed Emsh and Hannes Bok.

Excellence in fact articles: Willy Ley.

New SF author or artist: Phillip Jose Farmer.

Best Pro Magazine: a tie between Galaxy and Astounding.

Best Novel: The Demolished Man.

That the awards didn’t immediately light up fandom is hardly surprising. At the time I doubt the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards came across as much different from the various science fiction polls that had gone before. The awarding of them certainly didn’t result in any comment I’ve yet to find (though I can’t believe that absolutely nobody had something to say about who won and who didn’t)

So, as yet the awards were no more that a one-off novelty. To be any more future worldcons would need to step up to the mark, and that wouldn’t prove to be an obvious move, as I’ll explain next time.


And as a special reward for those of you who made it this far here’s…

Clevention Mystery Guest