MOROJO (Myrtle R. Douglas)
At some point early in 1937 Forrest J Ackerman, then at the height of his interest in Esperanto, met Myrtle R. Douglas at a world language meeting. Though she was twelve years his senior, the pair hit it off and Ackerman invited her along to a meeting of LASFL, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League. The group had been founded in 1934 as chapter 4 of the Wonder Stories-sponsored Science Fiction League. Myrtle adopted the name Morojo - the initials 'mrj' in Esperanto - and became a mainstay of the club. She soon brought in her son Virgil Smith aka Vodoso, and cousin Patti Gray aka Pogo - the initials 'pg' in Esperanto. (photo)
The first issue of IMAGINATION!, the LASFS club fanzine co-edited by Ackerman and Morojo, was published in October 1937, that zine eventually being replaced in January 1939 by its more famous successor, spun-off from the letter column: Forry & Morojo's own VOICE OF THE IMAGI-NATION (VOM). Since the club was both a national chapter of the SFL and an overseas chapter of the UK's SFA (Science Fiction Association) at this point both sets of initials appear on the cover of VOM #1.
Morojo made costumes for her and Ackerman to wear at the 1939 Worldcon, held in July that year in New York, the first ever worn at a science fiction convention. Indeed, the pair were the only attendees in costume. There was one report on the event that got Morojo's back up. This was by Jerry K. Westerfield, a former assistant editor of AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES and appeared in WRITERS DIGEST. In SHANGRI-LA #1 (March 1940) she took issue with the bit where he wrote:
"But the pay-off came when a [West] Coast fan and his Lady friend walked in dressed in clothes of the future." Why relegate me to the category of "lady friend"? Why emphasize the feminine? Why not say "Two West Coasters came dressed in clothes of the future"? I may be a friend of another Pacificoaster but I was at the Convention as a fan.
Quite right, too. While there were women who attended cons and other fannish events purely to accompany their husbands or boy friends, most of the women in LASFS had joined as fans in their own right. That some later married male fans did not change this.
Here's a group photo taken at the convention:
This is taken from FANTASY FICTION FIELD #52 (11 Oct 41) and was advertised as one of the photos that would be appearing in the forthcoming NYCON booklet commemorating that convention. This ambitious project duly came to pass but, alas, the copy available online, though very informative about the convention, is missing all its photos. The captions make clear just what a loss this is. This is also true of FANTASY FICTION FIELD itself, most online issues of which are also missing their photos. The photos will have mostly found their way into the albums of fans who received these publications. Any heirs of those fans who have subsequently asserted ownership of these images have done so mistakenly.
In WHO'S WHO IN FANDOM (Summer 1940, ed. Ted Dikty) Morojo is described thus:
"Small, dark and moody. Age: over 21", First interested in stf when, at the Age of 12, her brother presented her with a copy of Burroughs's "Princess of Mars". Spends most of her waking hours following Ackerman around. Convinced that he's the bestest ever. Avidly reads ASTOUNDING and SCIENCE FICTION. Swears they're the best of the pros. Coblentz and de Camp get her enthusiastic huzzahs as the best authors, and Finlay and Wesso are tops as illuatrators, in her opinion.
This was presumably written by Dikty based on info supplied by Morojo.
With the outbreak of WWII in September the SFA was suspended 'for the duration' (though in actuality forever) and since the SFL was also moribund by this time the decision was taken to abandon the club's old name. It would function without one until 27 March 1940 when they adopted the name Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, by which they've been known ever since. In 1941 the club moved out of Clifton's Cafeteria for a new venue at 1055 Wilshire Boulevard. (see 'The LASFS Clubroom', link below).
So what was Morojo like? Here's Francis Towner Laney:
Myrtle R. Douglas, then known as Morojo, was the club's treasurer. She is very short, and in my opinion, very pretty. Since she herself has listed it publicly, I'll mention in passing that she is much older than most of the club members, having been born in 1904. She has led a fairly tough life, has been married and divorced twice, and the scramble of raising a strapping son and supporting herself has left her singularly without the ability to enjoy herself freely and casually, though others enjoy her company tremendously. Her chief interest in the club was her interest with Forrest J Ackerman, with whom she kept company for several years, and I hope he fully realises the extent of her services to him - keeping the club on a smooth financial keel throughout most of her membership, doing most of the drudgery of VOM and other Ackerman projects, and keeping the wolves from yapping about his heels in a score of other ways. Myrtle has an inquiring mind which is somewhat hampered by a too-conventional education, and thus is sometimes a sucker for something the least bit on the crackpot side. She is, however, an accomplished, and stimulating conversationalist, and is well worth knowing from the intellectual point of view. And beneath that occasionally austere facade, there is one of the most kind hearted persons in Los Angeles, as plenty of club members past and present could testify. She is the first person most of the older members think of when they are in trouble, and in this selfish civilization people like that are rare.
In late-1941, Ackerman became intrigued by a new fan who had started writing to VOM. This was Edythe Eyde - or Tigrina as she preferred to be known in fandom. Then 19 years old, she was interested in the occult and Ackerman - then 24 years old - travelled to the Bay Area to see her several times before year's end. He reported on these visits in the series 'Tales of Tigrina' that ran in the next few VOMs. It doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines to see how infatuated he was with her. What Morojo thought of Ackerman paying all this attention to someone seventeen years her junior is unknown. As it happens Tigrina's initial contact with fandom was to be short lived and it would be two years before she was heard from again while she concentrated on her college work.
On December 7th came the attack that would draw the US into the war as a combatant. As Ackerman later recalled:
"Arthur Louis Joquel II -- we all called him 'the twoth' -- came into the LASFS club room white-faced, and said, 'My God, the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor!' But we didn't know exactly what he meant: 'Pearl Harbor? Who was she?' That very night L.A. was in black-out. We didn't know but what the Japanese planes wouldn't come over and bomb us that very night. But a number of us daring fans went down to the center of Los Angeles, and when we looked up, there were thousands of stars! We were never aware of them otherwise..."
Ackerman would eventually be called up, and served in the US Army from August 1942 until January 1946, eventually rising to the rank of staff sergeant. Stationed at Fort MacArthur, thirty miles or so outside Los Angeles he inevitably ended up working on the base newspaper. Being so close to Los Angeles, he drove into town frequently and remained a regular visitor to the clubroom and a mainstay of LASFS, the war affecting his fannish activities hardly at all.
A bust-up between Ackerman and Morojo occurred early in 1944 when Morojo's cousin Pogo reappeared after two years. With her husband, fellow fan Russ Wood, in the Navy she had returned to L.A. from San Pedro to live with Morojo and now sought readmission to the club. She and Ackerman having fallen out in 1942 he tried to veto this, but most of the club sided with Pogo. Almost simultaneously Ackerman broke up with Morojo because she wanted to smoke in the clubroom, sending out postcards to fandom announcing the split:
However, when she gave in on the smoking he had to send out another round of postcards a few days later rescinding the first bunch:
The text of both cards as reported in FANTASY FICTION FIELD #159, btw.
Since Morojo was only a few months shy of her fortieth birthday at this point it seems unlikely this was a habit she had recently taken up, so for Ackerman to choose now to make a fuss about it speaks to deeper problems. Unfortunately, in recent years this incident has been cited as when and why Ackerman and Morojo broke up by those unaware of their almost immediate reconciliation. And when the final break came it would not be Ackerman who ended the relationship but Morojo herself.
The split and rapprochement did little to relieve tensions between the pair. In May 1944, VOM #32 became the last issue to bear her name alongside Ackerman's. The fanzine would continue until issue #50, but it would do so without Morojo.
Early in August 1944 it was time for the annual election of LASFS officers. To great consternation, Morojo announced that she would not be standing for club treasurer again, a post she had held since 1937. In the event Laney ended up in that post and Morojo was voted the new Director. However, she did not last long in that post. When the club bought a new mimeo over her objections she was not happy:
Myrtle chose to take this as a personal affront and resigned her gavel, after serving for only about a week. (I've always thought she was just looking for an out anyway, since she very shortly made her final break with Ackerman, quit being Morojo, and became, as now, Myrtle R. Douglas, an extremely inactive member of the club.)
All the above Laney quotes are taken from AH! SWEET IDIOCY!, the history of his time in LASFS that Laney wrote in 1947, published 1948, at a point when he was disillusioned with fandom. As an account of the period it's unparalleled, 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 and so easy to link to, but the ebook contains Alva Rogers's response to ASF, which I consider essential:
Another view of the period is given in my ebook BIXELSTRASSE, which is available for free download by clicking on the cover image below.
In January 1965 the following sad annoucement appeared in RATATOSK #5 (ed. Buce Pelz):
On 30 November 1964 Myrtle Rebecca Douglas Nolan - well known to fandom in the 1940's as Morojo - died at the age of 60. She and her husband, Johnny Nolan, had spent the 10 years since their marriage in the Morongo Valley, San Bernadino County, California. Morojo had been hospitalized for several months at Patten, California, and the cause of her death was not known to our source. Services were held on the 4th of December at Twenty-Nine Palms, and the only fans present were Dale Hart, Elmer Perdue, and Pogo.
As reported in RATATOSK #7, Johnny Nolan died on 15 February, surviving his wife by less than three months. Morojo's split with Ackerman had not been without acrimony. In a memorial fanzine published a few months after her death (link below) Ackerman wrote:
Perhaps no one would be more surprised than Myrtle that I am contributing a memorial about her because I had scarcely spoken to her for 20 years. I got mad at her about half my life ago (for purely personal reasons, nothing to do with fandom) and I stayed that way. The way I stayed with Laney till the time of his death. The way I expect to stay with Mel Hunter and Scott Meredith. Altho it is not impossible for me to overcome an old enmity: in the past I have had bitter feuds with Wollheim, Moskowitz & Pohl, and today we get along famously. But I doubt that time will ever come with Judith Merril; and it did not come with Morojo.
It took a while for the news to reach everyone.
The news of the death of Myrtle R. Douglas (Morojo) came to me after I had already written some words about another friend now dead, Cleve Cartmill. To have to comment on the deaths of two old friends in the same issue of my fanzine is not a task I find much pleasure in. But I canít let either death go by unremarked.
Though not forgotten - the memory of fanzine fandom is long and we write stuff down - Morojo has, perhaps unfairly, been remembered more for being Ackerman's girlfriend than for anything else. Things might have remained that way if not for the explosive growth in recent decades of cosplay, as costuming at conventions has become known. Morojo and the costumes she made before WWII for the first Worldcon have been discovered by cosplayers. Now, fifty years after her death, she's being hailed as the mother of cosplay.
It seems only fitting.