Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jean Marie Stine on Fritz Leiber - Three Slices of Memories

This is a true story. Around 2 a.m. one night in the late nineteen sixties, my friend Ken Hedberg, known in the Sacramento fandom of the area as "Bear," was walking down the deserted Venus Beach boardwalk, when he suddenly decided it was time to go home, and cut between two apartment buildings toward Pacific Ave. where he could catch a bus or hitch a ride. As he passed between the buildings, he heard soft chanting and strange music played softly and a weird flickering bluish light coming from a ground floor window on his left. This totally stopped him dead, and he stood listening for a few minutes. Then driven by insatiable curiosity - was it a magic school, a coven of witches, some musicians, or what? - he went around to the front of the apartment house and looked at the name cards under the buzzers. Well, you could have knocked him over with a feather, and yet he wasn't surprised. The name of the occupant of the apartment was, of course, Fritz Leiber. I know the part about Fritz's apartment window being on the left if you cut through from the beach going east is true, because several years later I lived around the corner on Horizon. I mentioned the incident to Fritz, leaving him room to respond to the part about the eerie music and chanting, but he didn't say anything. Fritz just smiled. Fritz's smile could hide a multitude of meanings - and secrets.

A few years earlier on a Wednesday night, the late Ed Baker and I were having diner at Cal's Diner, which on Thursday nights was the after meeting habitat of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. We were in the midst of fannish conversation, when I looked up and looming over Ed's head, I saw Fritz. Since he lived on the far side of town, we were surprised to see him. "Hey, Fritz!" I waved, "Join us?" He did and we asked why he was there. Fritz stared around a bit bewildered and asked where everyone else was! Somehow in the midst of late night writing bouts, and other bouts, he had gotten his days mixed up and thought it was Thursday. Our good fortune. We had a couple hours with the great Fritz Leiber all to ourselves. We asked him if he was writing anything. He said he was writing the first ever non-Burroughs Tarzan novel authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate, a novelization of the script for a new movie about the fabled apeman, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold. (It is an amazing job of writing, and both Leiber and Burroughs fans should rush to read a copy.) Fritz then turned to us, struck himself on the chest, and said, "You know, Tarzan Jad-Guru and all that stuff." Since the book in which Lord Clayton is called Tarzan Jad-Guru was one of the earliest Tarzan novels I read in Middle School, and it was Fritz Leiber declaiming it, I nearly swooned. After dinner, the three of us walked down the street a ways, and suddenly Fritz began declaiming Shakespeare to us in his majestic sonorous voice. Magic night of nights!

Come to think of it, at the first LASFS meeting I attended (the heaven of being in a place surrounded only by science fiction fans), I bought a raffle ticket on a new science fiction paperback. It was The Silver Eggheads, the novel J. D. Crayne describes him as writing at a friends house in the preceding blog. I won it, and Fritz was there to autograph it. It was the first time I met the author of the Fafard-Mouser stories, The Green Millennium (a favorite), the unforgettable Gather, Darkness, "Lean Times in Lankhmar" (which the aforementioned Bear brought over to my house one summer in high school, and held three of us spellbound while he read everyone of it's delicious 10,000 words), Conjure Wife, and so much more. His candle burned bright and illuminated the world for the rest of us.

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