« Anti-obituary »
he following is as accurate an account of the Tucker death hoax and its subsequent repercussions as I am able to piece together at this writing. I trust that this will be accepted as the final word on the matter, putting the lie to several rumors and suspicions circulating about the fan field. -BT
Ben Singer is a young fan from Detroit, Michigan. During the late summer and early fall he was stationed at Chanute Field, about fifty miles from my home. He visited me one Saturday on a week-end pass and there followed the usual science-fiction bull session.
After leaving me, he apparently sent a telegram to someone whose identity is unknown to me, announcing my death in a theater fire. He also contacted another Michigan fan, and collaborated with this fan in publishing a mimeographed bulletin giving details of my supposed death. This Michigan fan states the bulletin was mailed to about forty people. Among other things, the bulletin said that I had been drinking because of worry, and reported for work (at the theater) in a dazed condition. It was surmised that I dozed off while running the projection machine and the film caught fire, destroying me and the theater. The bulletin contained perhaps 500 words of phony material which should have revealed it was all a hoax -- but many people believed the news.
After that many things happened which proved embarrassing, some of which put me in hot water, and one of which nearly cost me my job. For instance, some fan in Chicago telephoned the local Chief of Police to ask details of the death. Walt Daugherty telephoned from Los Angeles, saying the news had broken up a meeting of the club, and demanded an explanation. Of the other fans who received the bulletin, a few believed it and sent letters of sympathy to the family; others instantly recognized it for the fraud that it was, and berated me for pulling a hoax. Finally Will Sykora of New York opened fire.
Sykora, publisher of Fantasy News, telephoned the owner of the theater where I work, asking for details. The owner of course put the lie to the story and jumped to the conclusion that I had deliberately circulated the news, hoping to gain publicity for my new mystery book which was put on sale a few days later. And at this point a very queer misunderstanding arose -- I do not know what Sykora said to him or hinted to him, but somewhere in the conversation Sykora must have mentioned a phony suicide which occurred in fandom many years ago. The owner, after the conversation had ended, held the impression that it was me, who was supposed to have committed suicide, and that I was supposed to have done it last year about the time one of my books appeared on sale. The result was of course that he fully believed, for two years in a row, I had staged a fake death to gain publicity for my books.
To say the theater owner was enraged was putting it mildly. He immediately contacted the business agent of my union, raised hell about the matter, and said that I could never work for him again. After several days the union official succeeded in pacifying the man, and convinced him that they should wait to hear my side of the story. (I had already left on vacation when all this occurred.)
Meanwhile Sykora, also believing I had staged the hoax for publicity purposes, published a special issue of Fantasy News denouncing me. He related the details of his phone call to Bloomington and the owner's denial; he also recalled a previous occasion when I was supposed to have died, and mentioned the phony suicide that happened some years ago. It was this last that showed me where the theater owner got the suicide story. To Sykora's discredit he did not check sources of facts before publishing the tirade, but to his credit, he did apologize to me at the convention when he learned the truth, and assured me that he would not circulate the special issue.
The end was not yet, for like widening ripples in a pool and giant oaks springing from little acorns, the damned thing continued to spread. Anthony Boucher, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and conductor of a column in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, wrote to my literary agent in New York for biographical material; he intended running an obituary in the two magazines. And the agent was upset, believing it to be true.
At this writing, late in September, the stew is slowly simmering. The Michigan fan mentioned earlier, has promised to print a letter of mine and a retraction in his publication, making sure it gets into the hands of all those who received the original hoax bulletin. I was told (but do not know of my own knowledge) that Singer apologized on the convention floor. I successfully convinced the union agent that I had nothing to do with the hoax, but the theater owner is still doubtful. It was pointed out to me that had I lost my job, legal recourse was open to me because libel and slander appeared in two separate publications. I have done nothing in that direction and do not intend to, if nothing worse than the above items come to pass. Beyond desiring to put the whole story before the eyes of my friends and acquaintances -- and to ask them to lay off of me -- I'm willing to let the matter drop.
Did you have fun, Ben?