A Tribute to Frank M. Robinson

I am writing this in the hour after I learned I learned that Frank Robinson died this morning in California. Frank was one of the finest people I have known professionally and through science fiction fandom. He was kind, helpful, good-humored, passionate in his opinions, a first-rate writer, and a hard-bitten publishing hand (for the most part magazine publishing). He had an astonishingly fine collection of pulp magazines.  I spoke to him on the phone two weeks ago about his manuscript autobiography, which I am reading, and he burst into tears of happiness when I told him I liked it.

I began to be friends with Frank in about 1972. I may have met him at the World SF convention in Los Angeles that year, but I definitely spent the evening of the Hugo Awards Banquet (there used to be a big awards banquet that I was in the habit of skipping, to arrive after the meal for the awards part) in LA with Frank in the bar, where we met his friend Earl Kemp and hung out for a couple of hours. Our first bonding was over SF collecting; we were both devoted collectors. But we also discussed publishing when I was very new at it and he was experienced. From then on, for decades, Frank was in the habit of sending younger, and some times not so young, writers to me for publishing consideration.

I read and liked Frank’s stories in the 1950s when I was a kid, and watched the TV special (now lost) of “The Power,” starring Theodore Bikel among others. The later film, starring George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette, was not as good, but still worth watching.

By the time I met Frank, right after the end of the 60s, he was openly gay within his circle of SF fan friends, but not yet publicly so. I recall the panel at the 1980 World SF convention when he announced himself gay in public for the first time. His identity as a gay man was crucially important to him, even more so after the murder of his friend Harvey Milk in 1978 and the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Frank got to be in the film, Milk, and on the DVD is extensively interviewed.

Frank grew up in SF fandom, and lived for a while as a teenager in the early 1940s in a famous fannish enclave in the Midwest called the “Slan Shack” (A. E. Van Vogt’s novel Slan spawned the fannish line, “Fans are slans”—the next stage in human evolution).  I was reminded of that decades later when Frank wrote his fine novel, Waiting, about human evolution. He worked in Chicago publishing editorially for SF magazines and for “skin mags,” the nakeder and hairier competitors of Playboy for a couple of decades where he also bought and published SF stories, and finally for Playboy itself as a journalist.

He always kept close to the SF community, and when he made his big hit, the film sale of The Glass Inferno, that allowed him to buy a house in San Francisco in the 1970s, he traveled to SF conventions for pleasure as long as his health permitted. Not so much travel in the last five years, so I talked to him on the phone more that saw him in recent times. I will miss his laugh, “HAW HAW HAW,” as long as I live.

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