SAMUEL D. RUSSELL

- photo from LASFS Photo Album

A member of the Minneapolis Fantasy Society, Russell published his first fanzine, SCIENCE FICTION GOO (link below) in mid-1942. In April 1943 he moved (was assigned?) to Los Angeles, appearing at the first official meeting of LASFS at their new Bixel Street clubroom on 29th April (though they had taken possession of it several weeks earlier), as reported in SHANGRI L'AFFAIRES #10 (May '43). In AH! SWEET IDIOCY! Francis Towner Laney describes his co-editor on THE ACOLYTE in glowing terms:

The scholar of the LASFS of course was the redoubtable Samuel Davenport Russell, a completely wonderful person. Sam is a beautiful example of the 1-1-6 cerebrotonic. His continued popularity around the LASFS is largely due to his polite silence in the face of. the club's banalities - if the club fuzzleheads could read Russell's mind they would recoil as from a Yerke or a Laney. Polite, that is one of Sam's outstanding traits - a genial, easy-going politeness and courtesy. quiet and unassuming, he seldom speaks up in meetings, but no discussion takes place long in his presence before his eyes light up, and in his precise way he takes the ball and starts for a touchdown. I have yet to see the discussion in which Sam was not able to contribute as much or more than anyone else present. The breadth of his knowledge and interests is breathtaking, and not a little discouraging to those of us who find other interests interfering with their pursuit of erudition. It might be said that Sam is a bit one-sided, since his avocational rounds center about the libraries to a very large extent; on the other hand his adjustment to life is so obviously satisfactory to him, and so adult, that it is plain that he is of a scholarly bent from free choice rather than as an escape from life. After a session with the LASFS' little escapists and frustrates, an evening with Sam is like a summer trip to the Mountains after a week out in the desert. The man's head is loaded with facts which he presents with devastating logic; yet he is rarely if ever pedantic, and his sparklingly dry humor and twinkling grin round him off as a jewel which someday is going to get tired of the arid barnyard at 637½, South Bixel. Bad as the club sometimes is, the time I've spent there is almost repaid by the fact that through the club I have added this prince of good fellows to my circle of friends.

While in 1945, in the second part of his " Who's Who in Shaggy LA" covering its 'outer circle', Jimmy Kepner viewed him thus:

Sam Russell barely misses the preceding section. He don't get around much any more. This quiet, unassuming fantaisiste, assistant editor of ACOLYTE, is greeted with loud shouts on whatever rare occasions he enters the clubroom. Sam, who seems like a character out of a James Hilton novel, or from Lovecraft, is almost never seen without his bulging brief case, and an overcoat which has every pocket jammed with books and papers. Before coming to LA, he was one of the top members of the old Minneapolis Fantasy Society. He was the only person in LA fandom who was at all times on the best of terms with everyone in the recent feud here. While he remained throughout a member in good standing in the LASFS, he was a fellow traveller with the Knanves the moderator of the Outsiders, and one of the more active members of the group that sits in Morrie Dollens' studio. He has recently dabbled in the vices, so that at various times in the last few months he has been seen drinking, smoking, and even dancing. However, we have a slight suspicion he doesn't take these things seriously. He haunts bookstores and follows the symphonies, formerly accompanied by Freehafer, Yerke, and Bronson. His interests in writing, which he hopes to make his profession, are chiefly artistic. His magazine, FANTASY CRITIC, will be out - soon.

However, there was a side to Russell that Laney and Kepner were unaware of when they wrote the above, a side Russell concealed from everyone at LASFS - until his secret came out:

*** [ LINK] ***

LASFS MEMBER WAS UNDERCOVER AGENT FOR FBI

by ARTHUR JEAN COX

Los Angeles, Calif., 1st May.

(CNS) - The name of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society was brought into the proceedings of the trial of eleven local communist leaders, currently taking place in this city. The eleven men and women being tried for the alleged act of advocating the use of violence for overthrowing the government of the United States.

The prosecution introduced various witnesses who had joined the communist party as informers for the FBI. One of these witness was the once well-known fan, Samuel D. Russell. Among many other activities, Russell was co-editor and publisher, with Francis T. Laney, of THE ACOLYTE, which was for many years one of the leading fan mags of the nation.

Russell testified that he joined the communist party in the mid-forties and was "purged" from it in 1947, when it was discovered by other members that he was in the pay of the government. This discovery was made when his room was searched by party officials and copies of reports he was making to the FBI were discovered. He kept copies of his reports as notes for a book an the subject of the communist movement, which he intended writing.

While being questioned by the prosecution, it was brought out that he had been for many years a member of an organization known as "The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society".

"Is this organisation affiliated with the communist party?" the prosecution asked.
"No," replied Russell. "Its members have no interest in politics."

The defense attorney slyly asked him if the notes he had been making about the communist movement were for a fantasy book. Russell replied that they weren't. He also testified he had not been a member of any science-fiction group for "several years, now".

His testimony lasted two days.

While he may have no longer been a member of LASFS at the time of his testimony, Russell appears to have rejoined later. Robert Lichtman recalls meeting him in the early 1960s:

If you're read ASI, you'll have encountered Laney's numerous mentions of various fans who were either Communists or flirted with the idea. If Russell actually testified against them in the McCarthy era, that was before I discovered fandom and began going to LASFS meetings. I met Russell there, knew nothing about this history until later on, when I first read ASI, and found him mostly quiet and unassuming.

It appears he reported on their activities rather than directly testifying against them, which may be why some were later able to forgive him, according to his entry in fancyclopedia.

In 1972, Russell and his wife moved to the UK, settling near Reading. He died there in 1975, just too soon for Dave Langford (who moved to Reading in 1976) to encounter him:

I used to be quite familiar with his book collection at the house (just outside Reading) of his widow Florence Russell. She outlived him by many years and regularly held Christmas Eve parties for friends and fans in her living room-cum-library. John Brunner turned up at least once. But, naturally enough, this aspect of Sam's past wasn't something that got mentioned.

UPDATE: Keith Freeman adds his own memories of Russell:

I met and liked Sam when he and Florence moved to Reading - I was introduced to them at one of the London monthly meeting (can't remember precisely when) and found they had moved into their house about 5 minutes away from where I was living. As their household stuff hadn't arrived (coming by sea) we lent them quite a few things so they could survive until their own stuff arrived.

They had previously visited the UK several times and were very friendly with John & Marge Brunner (staying with them I believe in London).

If Sam was (or had been) an FBI informer he never mentioned it - nor did Florence (who was a very left wing liberal type). Sam, unfortunately, was diagnosed with brain cancer a very short time after arriving in England - he bore this terminal illness with utmost dignity and I never heard him complain at any point.

Florence, who'd been a Professor at a Community College and retired due to ill-health (emphysema) always said Sam, who had been an Assistant Professor at ((name unknown)) University, was a world famous authority on Gothic Literature and was related to the Duke of Bedford. I'm not saying either of these claims were backed up with any evidence...

Interesting that they were friends of the Brunners given that John's CND activities during the early years of that group almost certainly brought him to the attention of the UK intelligence services.

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My thanks to Sam McDonald for research assistance with this page.

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