scottedelman (scottedelman) wrote,

Phil Klass (aka William Tenn) 1920-2010

I first met Phil Klass, who wrote under the name William Tenn, at the 1999 Nebula Awards Weekend in Pittsburgh. I'd of course met him via his writing many years before, particularly his classic short story "Brooklyn Project." But this was my first chance to meet him in the flesh.

Phil was named Author Emeritus by SFWA that year, and though I'm trying to think of a more entertaining speech at a Nebula ceremony than his, I can't think of one. I could have listened all night to him talking of the early days of fandom. One of the more hilarious anecdotes was of the time during a fan feud that Elsie Wolheim (if I'm remembering correctly) beat him over the head with her purse so hard that she broke the clasp. (If that speech was taped, could someone please get it it digitized and online? It's an important bit of SF history.)

After the ceremony, I tracked him down to ask a question about the Blacklist, which has always intrigued me, and we sat in the banquet room (along with Walter Jon Williams, too; again, if my memory is functioning) talking about that sad period in our history for hours as tables were being dismantled around us. The waitstaff finally had to shoo us out of the room.

My wife and I once drove several hundred miles back and forth to Pittsburgh in a single day for the primary reason of taking him and Fruma out to dinner at Top of the Triangle, and trying to siphon off every bit of wisdom we could.

The photo above isn't from either of those nights, but from the pre-Hugo cocktail party at Noreascon Four, the 2004 Boston Worldcon, where I once more tried to spend as much time with him as possible. Even then, time felt short. After all, he was 80, right? Luckily, he surprised us all by giving us another decade.

If you've never heard of Phil, and his writing and his wit aren't enough to cause you to celebrate his life, then think of this—

Among the many things we have to thank Phil for is that he told "Flowers for Algernon" author Daniel Keyes, who was being pressured by H.L. Gold to give his story an upbeat ending, that if Keyes dared change a word, he'd break Gold's kneecaps. So if no Klass, perhaps no "Flowers for Algernon" as we know it.

And there might not be a Rambo, either, because David Morrell, the author of First Blood, was one of Phil's students when he taught English and comparative literature at Penn State University.

So, go. Celebrate him. Pull down one of his stories and remember him tonight.

And if you don't happen to have any of his fiction around, then how about listening to the man himself? I can't think of a better way to spend the evening.

Well ... I could. But that would take a miracle.
Tags: obituaries

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