JIMMY KEPNER AT LASFS


Jimmy Kepner and Mel Brown (standing) at 1943 LASFS Halloween party, others unknown.
- photo from LASFS Photo Album

A former member of San Francisco's Golden Gate Fantasy Society, Jimmy Kepner joined LASFS in August 1943. Here's how he described himself in the Feb '45 issue of SHANGRI-L'AFFAIRES:

And then there is yours truly, aka, James L Kepner, Jr, Jike, Jasker, John or Jean Arnold, Lynn Peterson, Conrad Desty, (Four-) flush(-er) Gordon, and other things unprintable but hintable. I entered fandom in 1942, and after a year in the GGFS, I moved to Los Angeles. I was the first fan to move into the house now known (not to the landlady) as Tendril Towers. I have served as Director, Librarian, Secretary, and am now Treasurer of the LASFS. I was the last active Outsider to quit the LASFS, and came back later with Laney and Brown. Six feet, 135 pounds, twenty-one years, dark hair and eyes, and a part time mustache. I've published such things as TOWARD TOMORROW, ditto YESTERDAY, FEN, MIDGE, and the CAUSTIC SQUARE BULLSHOOTER.

And this is Francis Towner Laney's portrait of Kepner from AH! SWEET IDIOCY!:

Attempting to limn a word picture of James Lynn (Dirty Old) Kepner is fraught with difficulties if it is to be libel-free and still conscientiously factual. Jimmy is a tall and delicate young man, very frail and effeminate, who is cursed with an almost impossible block which keeps him from making up his mind about anything very often. Jimmy can see both sides of every question with almost equal clarity, and in his efforts to be impartial and factual jumps from one side to the other with astounding ease and frequency. He is a great one for crusading, a militant idealist one might say, but his great difficulty in taking and maintaining a positive stand often vitiates his genuine effectiveness as a proselytiser. The prime example of all this occurred when I was director of the LASFS in mid-1945; Kepner took the floor to make a motion on something or other, stated the motion very hazily, and without relinquishing the floor asked permission to explain what he meant. I naturally wanted to know what he was driving at, so let him go on; he commenced talking about his motion and promoting for it very strongly, but gradually began seeing the other side and to the astonishment of even those of us who knew him so well he ended up talking most strongly against his own motion. I listened in growing amazement, glanced about the room and noticed most of the members snickering, so banged the gavel and told Kepner he was out of order. He was momentarily furious, particularly when I told him that he was talking against his own motion. He denied this emphatically, and so complete had been his mid-talk change of mind that he had extreme difficulty in believing that he had reversed even when everyone in the room agreed with me that he had. Kepner has a much better than average mind that seldom comes close to its potentialities simply due to this inability to channel it in any one direction. Personally, Jimmy is extremely likeable; friendly, and good company - although his tendency to blow first one way and then another can get highly irritating if one is in his company a good deal. Still, striking a balance on the lad will end up with a favourable picture.

Kepner appears to have made no secret about being gay, hence Forry Ackerman referring to him in the VOM #37 letter column as "the enigma of Pershing Square", which was then a well-known gay cruising haunt.


cover by Harry Turner

A dozen years after it was first published, Alva Rogers got to read AH! SWEET IDIOCY! for the first time. He took issue with many of Laney's characterisations and wrote FTL & ASI in response. The following, in condensed form, is taken from this. The whole thing can be found as part of the free ebook edition of AH! SWEET IDIOCY!:

March 1945: Laney was director of the LASFS and was the leader of a strong clique composed primarily of Kepner, Saha, Elmer Perdue, Brown, and -- to a certain extent -- Nieson Himmel and myself.

Two months later, May 1945, things had taken a turn for the worse with the formation of the Los Angeles Futurian Society, a quasi-formal organization founded by Jimmy Kepner, Mel Brown, Art Saha and myself. This was not separate from the LASFS but within it, with all the members retaining membership in the mother club. The Futurians would continue to be the biggest and strongest clique in the LASFS until dissolution in September.

Toward the end of the year the arrival of E. Everett Evans in Los Angeles gave birth to a strong Evans-Daugherty clique, to be followed soon after by the invasion of the Slan Shack gang from Battle Creek, Michigan, who comprised a close-knit clique all their own -- Al and Abby Lou Ashley, Walt Liebscher, and Jack Wiedenbeck.

Around the same time Tigrina (Edythe Eyde) also arrived. Which meant that two significant early gay figures were now members of LASFS at the same time. Had things worked out differently, there could have been a third. Shortly before Easter 1944, Frank Robinson had visited town. Unfortunately, he arrived at a time when LASFS was convulsed with feuding, various factions within the club at each other's throats. As Kepner later recorded:

Robinson was in town for three weeks. He went back to the mid-west thoroughly disillusioned with Los Angeles fandom having seen it in its worst colors from the very first night of his arrival.

Kepner and Tigrina first met in the flesh on 4th August 1945 at a banquet thrown in her honour at Clifton's Cafeteria. While there's no evidence they were particularly close (they only overlapped by a couple of months before Kepner's move to New York in October), it's hard to imagine their time in LASFS wasn't a formative experience for both of them. Before Tigrina actually joined the club, Kepner had expressed an opinion of her in VOM #27:

And now, Tigrina. The gal affords me quite a few pleasant chuckles. Personally, I don't go for black (or any other color) magic. I neither believe in it nor favor it. But I do admire Tigrina, because she represents a widespread revolt from orthodoxy and tradition. But some of the rebels do go to the strangest extremes. I wonder if Miss Satan's position is really evil for the sake of evil? I don't care for that. Hope Tigrina hasn't reverted so far to the dark ages that she really believes that tripe. As for God, gods, spirits, magic, etc., let it be known that I do not deny the existence of such. There may be supernatural forces at work in the world. But I doubt it.

Getting back to the Futurians, Laney described them thus:

"The communists and their fellow travellers had at this time a rival club -- the Futurian Society of Los Angeles...it was no better than the LASFS, if as good. It existed for only a very few months, and died quietly when the communists moved to New York in the fall of 1945."

Again, Rogers took issue with this:

It may be a small point to make, but the Communists didn't found the Futurian Society of Los Angeles; Kepner, Saha, Brown and I did. Aha! But Laney said you guys were Communists, someone says. True -- but not when we founded the Futurian Society. That was to come later. At the time we founded the Futurians, we -- that is, Kepner, Brown, Saha and myself -- were in strong sympathy with the political left wing statements and activities of the New York Futurians, Wollheim, Lowndes, et al, and in fairly close communication with them. Because of this identification with the Futurians we proposed to form a somewhat comparable group on the West Coast; and, because the four of us all lived in Tendril Towers, we tended to visualize it as a counterpart to Futurian House in which most of the eastern Futurians lived. At this time our interest in politics was pretty academic, although decidedly leftward leaning. Because of our interest in politics we set up a long range program schedule for our Sunday meetings in which we would attempt to get spokesmen from all sorts of political and socio-political movements to speak before us and present an outline of their respective ideologies. Vie hoped to get communists, socialists Trotskyites, fascists (if possible: remember this was during World War II), etc. Surprisingly, we were quite successful. And in one respect, too much so for our own future good.

I'll never forget the night that Marxism and the CPA (Communist Political Association, the form the American Communist Party assumed during World War II) was so eloquently presented to us by a lady organizer from the party. At the conclusion of her talk she announced that she had applications for membership with her and would be more than happy to sign up any of us who happened to be swayed by her convincing arguments. We four nincompoops looked at each other, nodded, and trooped up like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. After signing up we looked at Sam Russell and one of us said, "Come on, Sam, why don't you join too? We know you think like we do." Sam looked at us, smiled in what I can only think of as an enigmatic way, and softly announced "I don't need to I joined the Party a couple of weeks ago."

We were amazed and delighted because Sam's already joining seemed to give intellectual sanction to our precipitous action. Little did we know, nor were we to know for some years to come, that Sam was in actual fact an undercover agent for the government, and would henceforth be reporting our every word and act to the FBI -- but this is another and sadder story.

We five then, were the actual Communists in the Los Angeles Futurian Society -- no others. And none of the remaining Futurians could by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as Communist fellow travellers, as Laney implies. I might point out here that Rogers, Kepner, Saha, and Brown have long since seen the error of their ways and dutifully recanted. And speaking for myself I might add that my interest in the party was very short lived and disillusioned. I am now by conviction a moderately liberal democrat.

I wasn't too upset, on first reading ASI, to find myself identified as a Communist; after all, it had never been a secret. What did distress me, though, was that in this book which purported to be a fearless document which would leave nothing unsaid for fear of hurt feelings or repercussions; in which Rogers, Kepner, Saha, and Brown are called Communists regardless of past friendships; in which Kepner is identified as a homosexual; in which Daugherty and Ackerman are ridiculed and calumnated -- not one word was said about Samuel Davenport Russell being also (apparently) a Communist. God knows, it was known to everyone in the LASFS.

Regardless of the bias and non-objectivity of ASI it still serves a useful function in that it provides a reasonably accurate chronology of events during the period it concentrates on and gives us some good profiles of many of the principals involved.

And it is a hell of a good piece of writing.

That it is, though marred by its homophobic passages. It's available as both a free ebook and as a scan of the original, paper publication. The latter is accompanied by a separate index:

As it happens, Kepner wrote a contemporary piece on the conflicts roiling the club in 1943/44 that predates Laney's account of same and offers another viewpoint on those matters (first link):

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