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The Elusive Film Footage of the Very First Worldcon

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 | Posted by Doug Ellis

Photo From First Worldcon-small

Here’s a photo from the first Worldcon, taken by Bill Dellenback. In this one, Jack Darrow is signing something, while P. Schuyler Miller (holding a pipe), looks on. Forrest Ackerman — or 4SJ — looks a little bored. I think the guy standing to Darrow’s right, in the foreground, is his good friend Otto Binder, but I’m not certain on that.

I acquired this photo many years ago, along with a whole batch of other material, from the estate of Jack Darrow. In the 1930’s, Darrow was pretty much fan #2 behind Ackerman. Among the material in Darrow’s estate were a number of photos that had been taken by Bill Dellenback (later staff photographer for the Kinsey Institute) at the first World Con in NY in 1939, which both Darrow and Dellenback attended.

I have a carbon copy of a letter dated August 16, 1939 that Darrow wrote to his friend, Walt Dennis, concerning the first Worldcon. In part, it reads as follows.

The following day was the big day of the convention. [NOTE – DARROW IS REFERRING TO SUNDAY, JULY 2, 1939, THE FIRST DAY OF THE CON.] Otto [BINDER] picked up Bill, Jack [JACK WILLIAMSON], Ed Hamilton and myself and we took a bus to the convention hall. Bill and I had had no breakfast and it was almost noon, so we deserted the gang long enuf to invade an Automat. Arriving back at the hall we found a mob gathered at the door. Somebody shoved an autograph book in my face. [PERHAPS THIS IS WHAT’S CAPTURED IN THIS PHOTO] They way they worked this was to ask every stranger they saw for their autograph and then look to see who they got. I took several snaps (enclosed) and Bill took snaps and movies. There seemed to be a lot of excitement when Forrest J. Ackerman and I met for the first time. Bill took movies of the handshake. Forrie was quite a surprise to me. Tall, handsome and quiet. A very pleasant fellow. He was dressed in an outfit out of Wells’ pic Things to Come.

[Click on the images for bigger versions.]

This estate sale led me on two quests, both ultimately fruitless.

With respect to the first, the auctioneer told me that they hadn’t gotten the entirety of the estate, and they passed my info on to Darrow’s family. They contacted me to tell me where they’d disposed of some of Darrow’s other material. They said that they’d sold a photo album containing few dozen photos he’d taken of the 1939 NY World’s Fair with an antique shop in the Chicago suburbs. Well, Darrow went to that Fair as part of group from Worldcon, so those photos undoubtedly showed a number of other fans and authors.

Unfortunately, when Deb and I went to the antique store the next weekend, they’d already sold the album and had no record of the buyer. But that album is out there somewhere, and since it’s World’s Fair related, I think it stands a reasonable chance to not be thrown away. I just need to haunt more World’s Fair conventions in the Chicago area!

Frank R. Paul and Ray Cummings-small

This photo shows, from left to right, Frank R. Paul, Ray Cummings,
Manly Wade Wellman and P. Schuyler Miller. Ah, to have been in that room!

The second quest ties in to Darrow’s friend Bill Dellenback. The letter I quoted from above references home movies made by Dellenback from the Worldcon. Needless to say, finding film footage of the first Worldcon would be priceless. I tried to track down Dellenback at the time, but with no success. I finally succeeded earlier this year, and was able to contact a member of his family, but the news wasn’t good. Unfortunately, he and his wife died several years ago. I was told that they never threw anything away, and that cleaning the house was a monumental task. Most stuff got thrown away, some got consigned to antique shops. But the person who was in charge of all that now has Alzheimer’s, so there’s no way to even find out where some stuff might have gone. However, at the time they were living in Bloomington, Indiana, so I harbor hope that perhaps that footage was saved.

The odds are probably against it, however.


Doug’s first article for us was The Search for Perry Rhodan 50.

3 Comments »

  1. […] tossed, and if anyone can ever find it. Doug Ellis has been searching for years, as he explains in “The Elusive Film Footage of the Very First Worldcon” at Black […]

    Pingback by Pixel Scroll 11/19 The Endochronic Pixils of Resublimated Scrollotimoline | File 770 - November 19, 2015 9:54 pm

  2. As so often any more when looking at old crowd photos, or sequences of crowds in even more recent movies and TV, is how much more slender people were then now. Gotta lose those 20 pounds… I do think one of the things involved, though, was that most of those slender people were smokers. Cigarettes were what they did with their hands and mouths a lot of the time where now we’re drinking soda and eating snacks. I suppose they also walked more, too.

    Comment by Major Wootton - November 19, 2015 10:57 pm

  3. […] Bill Ellis is trying to track down the fate of a film made by Bill Dellenbeck at the first (1939) Worldcon in NYC.  Surviving family members have stated that the film might have survived to go to an antique dealer – or might have been kept by a family member.  ALL POINTS BULLETIN.  BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR 8MM OR 16MM FILM REELS.  Bill’s story here. […]

    Pingback by Amazing Stories | AMAZING NEWS: 11/22/15 - "In this theater that I call my soul, I always play the starring role" - Amazing Stories - November 22, 2015 12:03 pm


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