JIMMY KEPNER AT LASFS
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.
There's a zoom interview of old LASFSans from the 1960s/70s that is now online that includes a discussion of gay fans in LASFS. Ken Rudolph is speaking:
The discussion of gay fans continues into the first few minutes of part 2 here:
In the course of this, Ken Rudolph mentions a group of gay fans in the 1940s called 'the Bixel Street Irregulars', led by Kepner. The name is an amusing play on that of the Sherlock Holmes fans known as 'the Baker Street Irregulars', and a group implies a minimum of at least three members. Not surprisingly, nothing about them appeared in print back then so I'd never heard of them. Sadly, we'll probably never know how many 'irregulars' were in the group.
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.
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. We 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.
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 series of contemporary pieces on the upheavals the club experienced in 1943/45 that predate Laney's account of same period and offer another viewpoint on those matters:
Trip to New York: Reports:
More here (click on cover):