Worldcon 74: MidAmeriCon 1976 Chat

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Did you ever think that when your parents were suspicious about what you were up to, and came down hard on you, that it was because they had a lot more fun when they were younger than you ever thought of having? Well, it’s true. There’s a reason why convention program books might state a “no skinny dipping” rule, or warn you not to throw things off of upper balconies. It’s because someone has already done it. Pat Cadigan, George R.R. Martin, and Michael Swanwick got together to reminisce about it in a panel about the first MidAmeriCon, which took place in Kansas City back in 1976.

A lot of the memories were about Kansas City’s native son Robert A. Heinlein, who was the Guest of Honor. He is credited with making the Hugo Awards a dress up event. Pat Cadigan said that Heinlein thought everyone should make an effort. He was said to have known everyone. George R.R. Martin said that Heinlein knew him, knew his name and complimented “Sandkings” at a time when no one else knew who he was.

Somehow we get from everyone getting dressed up to everyone getting undressed very quickly in the conversation. Michael Swanwick said something about strippers. I still am not sure who was stripping. Pat added that Heinlein brought Sally Rand to the masquerade, she of the famous fan dance. This needs a little explanation, and is not nearly as risqué as it sounds. Sally Rand went to school in Kansas City with Heinlein before she was Sally Rand, and is said to be the inspiration for many of the women in his books. She was invited by Heinlein to be a judge for the masquerade.

From stripping we went to skinny dipping, which evidently took place during the first Kansas City Worldcon. Pat said, “If anyone was an asshole, he would be ejected (from the pool.)” George told a story about a skinny dipping session at a NASFiC where, unbeknownst to the skinny dippers, there were windows under the water that were placed in such a way that diners in the hotel’s restaurant could see the occupants of the pool. Upon seeing the naked, pudgy, fish belly white con-goers, someone shouted out, “Look, manatees!”

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Photo by Teresa Wickersham

Pat talked about Wilson “Bob” Tucker, a science fiction writer who was more famous as a fan than as a writer. He was giving out Hugos at the first MidAmeriCon, and had to stay on the stage until Robert Heinlein made his very late appearance. He drew it out by finding excuses to kiss Pat. The next day it was reported as “Tucker engaging in foreplay with Pat.” Heinlein then showed up with an alarm clock and gave a strange speech.

Martin invented the Hugo Losers Party at that con. They held up a bottle of booze and said, “Loooose” in a parody of Tucker’s “Smooooth” routine. Gardner declared winners and losers. Only losers were allowed in. Winners could come in if they bore up under some sort of mockery or gave a reason why they were really losers. Alfred Bester won the first Hugo, which made him a winner. But he declared it old and rusty now, which made him a loser. Larry Niven had dropped his and broken it immediately, which made him a loser. Haldeman won best novel for The Forever War and somehow ended up being dunked in the pool. Jerry Pournelle was declared a loser, but told them, “I won a Campbell” and walked away.

The Hugo Losers Party was a tradition for years. Later, when Martin won two Hugos, he was greeted at the door and sprayed with whipped cream by Gardner. At another time, Martin got him back with silly string.

Pat thinks that losers should be gracious. “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

Swanwick remembers losing to Octavia Butler. He congratulated her, but thought he made her nervous. Martin talked about losing to many wonderful stories and books. He lost to Zelazny once. He thinks things have gotten ugly lately, with the blogging and such.

Swanwick remembers the Star Wars presentation, but he never received his promised poster.

They reminisced about the Muehlebach Hotel fondly, even though it was in a bad neighborhood and was haunted. People complained about hearing footsteps that weren’t there. It was a few short years before Worldcon got too big to be held in one hotel anymore. You can get in to see parts of the Muehlebach that are still standing.

Heinlein had a party at that convention. Only the cool kids were invited. Pat was invited, but George and Michael weren’t because they weren’t cool kids yet. Heinlein invited the press. Kansas City news anchor Wendall Anschutz came and asked Heinlein how many of the things he had predicted had come true. Heinlein didn’t like his name and said his name should be Kurt. He got the room to vote on it. Wendall left shortly afterward. He never changed his name. He was Wendall Anschutz until he passed away in 2010.

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George R.R. Martin, always one of the cool kids. With Mindy at Worldcon 74. Photo credit Mindy Inlow.

George said one of the things he missed was the author and artist meet and greet, where they all had to wear funny hats. Pat said sashes, too, but she ran out of ribbon and had to make lapel ribbons.

Pat Cadigan, on aging. “If I had known it would feel this young, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

George summed it up nicely. “We met giants in those days.”

 

For more coverage on Worldcon, check out this link for articles and interviews.

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Teresa Wickersham

Teresa Wickersham has dabbled in fanfic, gone to a few conventions, created some award-winning (and not so award winning) masquerade costumes, worked on the Save Farscape campaign, and occasionally presents herself as a fluffy bunny or a Krampus.

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