Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Father of Science Fiction (Science Fiction Birthdays)

Hugo Gernsback

Hugo Gernsback (August 16, 1884 - August 19, 1967) was born in Luxembourg and emigrated to the United States in 1905. A television and radio pioneer, Gernsback founded radio station WRNY, participated in the first television broadcasts, and helped facilitate the development of amateur radio.

It was in the field of magazine publishing, however, that Gernsback would make his mark. His magazine The Electrical Experimenter, founded in 1913, primarily published nonfiction, but he also started publishing "scientific fiction" stories along with science journalism.

The reaction to these stories led Gernsback to found the first magazine dedicated to what he termed "scientifiction" (abbreviated "stf;" the term only survives as a joke among the science fiction cognoscenti): Amazing Stories, which began publication in 1926 and lasted (so far) until March 2005. (As a side note, I've been peripherally involved with Amazing twice, first because my good friend Ted White edited the magazine in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and again when my old employer TSR acquired the magazine in 1983.)

Amazing's letter column, which published the addresses of correspondents, triggered the beginning of organized science fiction fandom. Letter writers began to contact one another, form clubs, organize conventions, and start amateur magazines (fanzines) of their own. Although early fanzines tended to imitate their professional counterparts, fanzines quickly outgrew their "fan" origins to become an art form in themselves. (My own Random Jottings is a small part of that tradition.)

Gernsback himself was a controversial figure, accused of shady business practices and poor treatment of authors. (H. P. Lovecraft called him "Hugo the Rat.") He lost ownership of his magazines, including Amazing, in 1929, and founded two new magazines, Science Wonder Stories and Air Wonder Stories, which quickly merged into a single Wonder Stories, which he sold in 1936, returning once again in 1952 with Science-Fiction Plus, which lasted only a year. As an author, Gernsback is best known for the virtually unreadable (but seminal) novel Ralph 124C41+ ("One to foresee for one").

In spite of this, Hugo Gernsback is still credited for creating science fiction as a separate genre. To recognize this, the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society (aka the membership of the current Worldcon), are named the Hugo Awards. Gernsback himself received a special Hugo in 1960 as "the father of magazine science fiction."

Otto Messmer

Otto Messmer (August 16, 1892 - October 28, 1983) was an American animator best known for his work on Felix the Cat.

During his lifetime, the creative credit for Felix belonged to Pat Sullivan, whose studio produced the cartoons. After his death, Messmer claimed to have created the character. Sullivan Studio veterans and most comics historians support Messmer's claim.

Other SF Related Birthdays

August 16 is also the birthday of Regency novelist Georgette Heyer. Her books became popular among science fiction fans in the 1970s, to the extent that Regency-themed events were frequently held during science fiction conventions.

Julie Newmar is best known in science fiction and comics circles for her portrayal of Catwoman in the 1960s Batman television series. Her major science fiction credit, however, is her portrayal of Rhoda the Robot in the CBS sitcom My Living Doll, which ran for a single season in 1964-5. Bob Cummings played a psychologist responsible for teaching Android AF 709 how to be a "perfect" woman.

Director James Cameron produced numerous genre films, including the first two Terminator movies and most recently Avatar.

Other Significant Birthdays

August 16 is also the birthday of coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, Lawrence of Arabia, Menachem Begin, poet Charles Bukowski, Davy Crockett player Fess Parker, Eydie Gormé, Robert (I Spy) Culp, and Madonna.

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