FRANCIS TOWNER LANEY


Clark Ashton Smith, Francis T Laney, Bob Hoffman, October 1943. Photo from FANTASY FICTION FIELD #187

Laney on Laney:

Statistical Information: Born at Denver, Colorado, March 11, 1914. Spent my first five or six years in Denver, San Francisco, and Salt Lake -- then about the time I was getting old enough to appreciate a city my Dad became head of the Geology Department at the University of Idaho. Moscow, Idaho is a hideous place; but I endured it for some fifteen years during the course of which I attended the Public Schools, High School and was graduated from the University of Idaho (1935) all in Moscow. The depression being what it was, I spent the next year at Business College in Spokane. From 1936 until 1943, I worked for the dear old Weyerhaeusers - shuttling back and forth between Clarkston, Washington and Lewiston, Idaho. November 4, 1943 saw me hit LA -- neither LA nor the LASFS has recovered from this body blow dealt them at that time.

Though I have always been an omnivorous reader, and have frantically collected books since 1925 or 1926; I did not discover stf-weird-fantasy and its allied fandom until about 1940, when Duane Rimel (whom I had known for several years) began to feed Lovecraft to me. Bit by bit I began to slip, until finally, in the early summer of 1942, DWR and FTL decided to try a fanzine. The result was the first ACOLYTE, Which rolled out of The Potlatch Forest's ditto machine over the Labor Day weekend of 1942. From there on, my decline was rapid.

To me, fandom is nothing more than a delightful hobby; I have no stupid illusions about remolding the world through it, but seek only to gratify my own pleasure. My main fan interests are publishing, reading and colletcting and poking fun at fandom's many foibles. I much prefer fantasy to stf; though I have a virtually complete collection of all prozines (except WEIRD TALES, dammit!) and many more famous stf books.

My other hobby is hot jazz and swing; though I play no instrument, I have a large collection of records -- mostly jazz -- and also take great pleasure in hearing this stuff in the flesh. Favorite performer is Louis Armstrong; followed closely by such great artists as Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Lux Lewis, Coleman Hawkins, Wingy Mannone, and so on.

Like most fans, I tend to be introverted, but unlike many of them I tend to put on an act of extroversion. As a result, I am annoying to the more retiring fan since I spend much of my spare time drinking, dancing, chasing women (ie in my unmarried days, of course), and frequently make pointed remarks about fandom's lack of sex-life. I am sarcastic and sharp-tongued; delight in bon mots, whether pulled on me or by me. Very independent, I'd as soon tell you to go to hell as not, and am noted for my extreme lack of tact and diplomacy. I take sadistic joy in saying things that make people squirm, and am thoroughly disgusting when I find a chink in some poor wight's amnion. Witness the recent row between myself and Ackerman!

I could probably say much more, but I probably should not have said nearly as much, so let's call it 30.

- FANTASY FICTION FIELD #187 (July 1944, ed. Julius Unger)

- photo from LASFS Photo Album

Mel Brown on Laney:

One cold November afternoon, while I was busily engaged in extracting Mike Fern and Lora Crozetti from the midst of the LASFS mimeograph, there entered the old slan shack a long, lean, and hungry looking individual who somewhat timidly announced that he was Francis T. Laney, late of Clarkston, Washington, and editor of the ACOLYTE.

Thus began one of the strangest friendships that I have ever been a partner to. Laney is a many-sided individual and extremely difficult to describe. My vocabulary could never possibly contain enough derogatory adjectives to do this son of the hills of Idaho credit. Besides, I do not care to be on the receiving end of a Laney reprisal. An old saying goes that "Hell bath no fury---" to which should be added "like a deeply wounded and thoroughly frustrated Laniac". To this, more than one innocent little fan can all too well attest. To continue with the physical description; first one notices a pair of glasses behind which repose a pair of mildly amused weird green-brown eyes. Over this is a thatch of brown hair studded here and there with little-used tendrils and more active dandruff. Leaving the face, hurriedly, we next notice what passes for a body, a disjointed, awkward, and under-nourished affair held upright by a pair of enormous feet. All in all, he gives one the impression of a newly painted totem pole after a hailstorm. H. P. Lovecraft could never have met this macabre character in the dark or he certainly could have written the greatest fantasy masterpiece ever conceived.

At the first look he frightens you---then he smiles---and completes the picture. Like most "normal" people, Fran has a variety of things he likes to do other than his fan activities, including such plebian pursuits as jazz record collecting, miniature golf, pinochle, wild parties, dancing, etc. These extra-curricular activities have led the FTLaniac into no end of trouble with the local would-be-has-beens. Feeling as he does, it was frustrating no end for him to enjoy a "social evening" with the would-be "wolves". While the energetic and ever thirsty FTLaniac was wont to cavort the light fantastic with the local babes, the rest of the gang were content to sit around the club making nefarious remarks about every girl that they'd never had the courage to make a date with. There was even a mild objection to his and my discussions on hot jazz record collecting. They seemed to feel that it detracted from the "cultured" aroma that they exuded. He was not long in discovering, as the rest of us had, that the only thing to do was to tell the little wolves to go to hell and go out and do whatever he had planned to do...which he usually did anyway...only to come back later to my place or the club lit like 42nd and Broadway and thoroughly frustrated.

When Fran opened Fran Shack it was then we first had a chance to attend a "party" of the kind that he considered worth the effort. Gallons of liquor were consumed and much ado about nothing was the order of the evening in the rosebudding dept. Everyone had a lovely time and went home with a hangover and a firm resolution to be out of town the next time the FTLaniac had a party. You see, there were GIRLS at this party and the thought of being in the same room with anything so devastatingly feminine as what showed up was more than the majority of the Celibacy Society of Lower Gordon Street could stand. Phil lost his tie and other things, making it very hard on the plumbing facilities.

Fran has one habit which makes him the delight of the more fun-loving members---viz., the habit of laughing uproariously at anything he finds amusing, including his own jokes. His laugh can best be described as starting with a subtle rumble way down deep inside and increasing in volume and pitch until it resembles the cry of a frustrated female elephant in a monsoon or Crozetti looking for Daniels. More than once the more sophisticated members of our little group have dragged us out to eat at some particularly classy spot considered the ultimate in the best circles---only while putting on more dp? than a fake Russian prince---only to be dragged out of their dreams of social conquest by a loud, raucous laugh as Mel and Fran exchanged the latest in risque stories from their places of employment. Inevitably, when Fran is in the group, one of these chain-of-circumstances things starts. Someone will make a seemingly innocent remark and one or more of the lewd minds, of which there are many hereabouts, will take it the way it shouldn't be taken but which was probably meant. As the conversation progresses, the pornography gets steadily worse and the Laney laugh gets increasingly more noticeable. Fran is usually laughing from the first crack, and before the conversation a halted it is usually advisible to move away from any and all objects which are apt to collapse from the sheer vibration of the great Laney bellow. Although if anything of this nature were to happen, most of us would be too weak from laughing at him and with him to escape the impending catastrophe.

Secondary in Laney's hobbies is his jazz record collecting. It is not at all uncommon to walk into a second-hand record store, peer inquiringly under a pile of old dusty records and after some effort, fish around and eventually bring to light a squalling, squirming, but excruciatingly happy FTLaniac from the wreckage. There will be a manacal gleam of satisfaction on his face and in one hand he will be holding a copy of Delauney's Jazz Discography and in the other, clutched tenderly, a warped, worn, battered record in such horrible condition that I would even be ashamed to turn it in for scrap. Laney would be exclaiming wildly: "Look, a genuine King Oliver!" Whereupon yours truly would look at him rather blankly and innocently ask "King who?" Upon which the Laniac would shove me into the corner and proceed to explain ponderously, but with great gusto and enthusiasm, what and why and which was King Oliver, Bix, or some of the other jazz artists of the twenties. From there, we would proceed to Fran Shack where the precious King Oliver would be lovingly placed on the turntable of the Laney record player. Soon there would erupt a series of scratches, noise and weak brays of a fouted trumpet, the unhappy notes of a clarinet, with a broken-down piano somewhere in the background.

It was about this time that I decided to try a little symphony on the Laney platter spinner, and one evening when the musically correct members of Shangri-LA slandom were present I ventured to play a newly acquired recording of Lizst's "Les Preludes" by none other than Mengelberg and the New Amsterdam orchestra. Nothing was said until after the last side was put on and had begun to issue forth from the protesting speaker. It was then that Fran stopped whatever he was doing, listened for a moment, and then remarked, "Hmmm, I wouldn't mind having that. There is some really good brass work there". This rather innocent statement horrified all of those present--or the majority--and for that it deserves a place in the annals of fan history. All in all, however, Fran is very tolerant of other peoples' taste in masic. I've used his machine to play a great part of my own collection, both classical and swing.

Sometime previous to the "Les Preludes" incident, I decided to sell my jazz and swing collection, mainly because I no longer had room for all of it. Also, my tastes in music had changed a great deal. As I needed money, I sold the records without consulting the FILaniac. They were sold to a second-hand dealer in the same place Laney makes most of his purchases. I sold them Saturday and on Monday Fran made a mad dash to see if he could acquire any of the rarities I had formerly possessed. He was not long in finding out that they had sold like hotcakes and that he couldn't even get any of the lesser works. Of this little incident I was to hear plenty. It was not till after I had given him a platter of Duke Ellington's "Solitude" and "Stormy Weather"--autographed by the Duke and Ivy Anderson, that the moans subsided. Now he is quite happy and gurglingly drags them out whenever I come down there.

As most ACOLYTE readers will probably remember, Fran had his own mimeograph in Clarkston. He was not long in Shangri-LA when another ish of Acky was due to spawn forth, and Fran had his first of many battles with the LASFS war-horse. This proved disastrous, particularly as Mike Fern offered to assist him. It was not long before Jike and I were forced to dive into the blue smoke hovering over the infernal machine and extract a very inky Fern and an extremely disgusted Laney, take them outside, and let them cool off before allowing them to again approach the mimeograph. However, it was not long before he discovered that Mike's haircut was not a mimeo pad, put the ink in the right place, and proceeded to successfully publish another issue of ACOLYTE.

To present the more serious side of Francis Laney, and I assure you there is one, Fran is not what could be classed as a "professional" fan. His interest in science fiction, fantasy, and the weird, is assuredly sincere, as any who have read ACOLYTE or his compilation of the Cthulhu Mythology in "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" will attest. The principal reason that the Outsiders folded was simply that Laney, the driving force of the organization, was not long in finding out that certain of the members were no longer science-fiction and fantasy fans but were rather fans of fandom and interested only in maintaining their status in the top ten rather than using their talents toward worthy projects designed to further the progress and understanding of imaginative fiction....the reason for fandom in the first place.

To Fran, fandom is built around a mutual appreciation of a certain type of literature. And to back up his stand, I believe I am safe in saying that he has contributed more to the field in the last two years than any currently active fan.

Being a fan of fantasy, in tuto, in the midst of professional fans, has made Fran truly "The Enigma of Shangri-LA."

- SHANGRI-L'AFFAIRES #19 (October 1944, ed. Burbee)

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