VERNON HARRY & THE BIRTH OF LASFS

The birth of the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League was announced in the pages of the February 1935 issue of WONDER STORIES, thus:




I read this as implying that early meetings were held at the Descanso Drive home of the Director. Few if any of these names will be familiar to most people today. Where, you might ask, is Forrest Ackerman? Well, at the time he still lived in San Francisco, but he appeared on the same page of the issue the announcement was made, albeit in a different capacity:


Within a few years only three of LASFL's seven founders (Green, Mussen, and Test) remained, as witness the roster of those who attended a 1937 meeting recorded in T.Bruce Yerke's MEMOIRS OF A SUPERFLUOUS FAN (1943):

The minutes for the meeting of August 19, 1937, show the following persons to have been present; Forrest J Ackerman, Russell J. Hodgkins, Bob Olson (yes, the author), Henry Kuttner, Arthur K. Barnes, Morojo, Virgil Smith (her son), Roy A. Squires, Mr., Mrs., and Roy Test Jr., Karl Edward Forst von Lutz and wife, Hal and Victor Clark, Perry L. Lewis, Francis Fairchild, Bruce Yerke, Karl MeNeil, Vernon W. Harry, Eddie Anderson, Leurice DuClose, Don Green, Al Mussen, and George Tullis."

On Bataan, one of the founders gave his life in service of his country:

Someone listed above, Vernon Wilfred Harry, was recently the subject of an online ancestry search. Rather than let all that research go to waste I'm recording it here.


Vernon Harry circa 1937

circa. 1941 (photo J.M. Rosenblum album)

Vernon Harry's parents, Philip and Mabel, were both Welsh. At some point they emigrated to Canada, where Harry was born in Souris Manitoba on 23 Aug 1918. In November 1929, after his father's death, he and his mother departed Manitoba, Winnipeg, and made their way to Seattle, eventually settling in Los Angeles where, in 1939, Mabel became a naturalised US citizen.

When Yerke joined LASFL early in 1937, Harry was one of the first people he met:

When I first walked into the Little Brown Room in January of that year, Perry L. Lewis was my immediate discoverer. "Is Mr. Ackerman here?" I queried timorously. Mr. Lewis, enjoying the situation immensly, let out a whoop of "Mr. Ackerman?!" and shooed me down the room to where Forrest was sitting.

That night I met David Fox, Roy Squires, Russ Hodgkins, Al Mussen, Roy Test, and Vernon Wilfred Harry. The others who were present I have forgotten.

I was immensely flattered when these "experts" asked me to read THE TALE WHICH HAS NO TITLE, a sort of ALICIA IN BLUNDERLAND affair which was one of the projects of the chapter at that time. When Ackerman asked me my opinion of it I gave a very sober literary analysis which must have been screamingly funny to the others. And my appreciation of these people knew no bounds when Vernon Wilfred Harry, with great magnanimity, asked me to join the WORLD GIRDLERS, INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE LEAGUE CORRESPONDENCE CLUB. The conscienceless villain rooked me out of some dues on the spot, and I was given some stationary to boot. All in all I was very proud.


For more on the club, here are a series of letters from Harry to one John Weir:

Interestingly (from my pov) the third mentions the International Science Club of Scotland, which allegedly had a six inch mirror telescope. This was apparently being run by James Parkhill-Rathbone of Edinburgh. Harry was in contact with several UK fans at this point, as revealed in NOVAE TERRAE #13 (June '37):

OF FANS: Name often occurring lately is of Los Angeles fan, Vernon Wilfred Harry. Lately joined SFA and BIS and is pen-pal of Harold Gottliffe, Leeds, and Leslie Potts, Surrey. Despite antipathy of certain American fans toward Vernon, latest photo of him to reach here shows likable countenance and agreeable smile.

Yerke offers this verdict on Harry:

I still don't know what to think of Vernon Harry. My own opinion is that he was a sort of genial scoundrel. I was interested in the 1st issue of WONDER STORIES QUARTERLY, and he offered to sell me his copy, inviting me over to his house on S. Grand Ave one Saturday to pick it up. Once I arrived, after a few awkward moments, he produced the thing which I grabbed avidly, and then discovered he had no change. (I think I paid him 75¢ for it.) While I stood sweating for fear he would want the magazine back, he very generously offered to let me take out the change in dues to the World Girdlers' International Science League Correspondence Club. I think I gratefully took out change for several month's dues. Promptly thereafter, the W.G.I.S.L.C.C. folded up completely as Harry went to work on a night shift.

Of the W.G.I.S.L.C.C., Sam Moskowitz wrote in THE IMMORTAL STORM:

Needless to say, the World Girdlers' International Science League Correspondence Club, originally announced in the last - January 1937 - issue of FANTASY MAGAZINE was a classic of absurdity; nothing ever came of it.

Harry received his US draft card on 16 October 1940, which listed his employer as William Hendricks, and distinguishimg maks 'none'. According to the 1940 census he worked as an usher. However, there's some confusion about the uniform Harry is wearing in the photo above. When it was first put online, Curt Philips identified it thus:

U.S. Army, Cavalry, about 1936 to 1942. The shirt with that uniform changed in the summer of 1941 though the old shirt was still useable for another year or so. But the black tie -as that one appears to be - was disauthorized for enlisted men in November 1941. The Calvary was disbanded in 1943 and personnel reassigned to (mostly) infantry units and those jodpurs were gone with the wind. Best guess is that this photo dates from the spring or summer of 1941.

However, his draft card also lists him as 'alien' and gives his nationality as Canadian. Records show that he departed the US on 1 July 1941 to join the Canadian armed forces. Various theories have been put forward to account for the uniform in the photo. This bit will be updated if a definitive explanation is found.

Vernon Harry got married in Manitoba in September 1943, and fathered a son in November 1944. He was discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force on 19 Feb 1946, discharged from hospital 22 Mar 1946, and readmitted to the US at Detroit two days later. He applied for US citizenship in July. Oddly, his current nationality is listed in that document as British. Distinguishing marks now include a scar on his upper lip.

Vernon Wilfred Harry (1918-1988)

(My thanks to Pat Charnock, Robert Lichtman, Ian Maule, and Sam McDonald for their research efforts.)

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