Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Len Moffatt (1923 - 2010)

I realize that I am late coming to this news, but I would be remiss if I didn't note the recent passing of Len Moffatt. He died on November 30 at the age of 87 in Southern California from complications following a recent operation to repair a herniated colon.

Len and his wife June were the founders and original editors of the JDM Bibliophile, the fanzine and journal dedicated to the study and discussion of the works of John D MacDonald. The Bibliophile was published on a more or less regular schedule from 1965 to 2004, surviving the death of its subject but not of its second editor, Ed Hirshberg. Len and June edited 22 issues of the journal before turning over the reins to Hirshberg in 1978 but they continued on as regular columnists in the new version, which was sponsored by the University of South Florida in Tampa. Titled after one of their favorite JDM books, the column "... & Everything" was a freewheeling discussion penned mainly by Len -- June's contributions seemed to be limited to occasional italicized parenthetical entries that commented or corrected Len's text, although the Moffatts were of such like minds when it came to their passion for popular fiction that one must assume her contributions were more involved that just that. Most columns began with Len's brief discussion of one of the various MacDonald novels (all of the McGee's and many of the early stand-alone mysteries) then wandered off into whatever else he felt like writing about. The column also included information on the various Bouchercons held throughout the years, the annual mystery fiction convention that the Moffatts were instrumental in beginning back in the late Sixties.

Len was first and foremost a science fiction fan, and the Moffatts also published a s-f fanzine titled Moonshine. It was through science fiction pulps that the Moffatts were introduced to the writing of John D MacDonald. June recalled that the first JDM she remembered reading was 1948's "Ring Around the Redhead" in Startling Stories, while Len remembers his first encounter in 1946, reading "The Dry Mouth of Danger" in Doc Savage, a mystery pulp with s-f elements. They began following MacDonald's work, first in the s-f pulps like Astounding Science Fiction, Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, then in some of the mystery pulps, and on into his novels. The first book-length JDM they read was Wine of the Dreamers, which they had both seen earlier in a 1950 issue of Startling Stories.

Interestingly, the JDM Bibliophile began not as a fanzine but as a means to an end: to accumulate information for something they called The JDM Master Checklist, a project that would list every piece of fiction MacDonald had ever had published, in book form or in magazines. It was a daunting task back in the pre-internet days, made especially difficult because of the sheer volume of product the author had published, either under his own name or using a pen name. How that project began was recalled back in 1987, then more fully in 1990 in the "... & Everything" column.

"Early in 1965 a young friend of ours, Tony Ellik, wrote to [MacDonald] and received a nice reply. John enclosed a list of his books to date including The Blood Game which was unfinished at the time (and was never finished). Ron, who was living back East at the time, sent the list to me [in California], knowing that I shared his interest in JDM stories. As a matter of fact, I knew of a goodly number of JDM readers among the local s-f fan and writer community as well as in other parts of the country. So I roughed out the first two-page issue of The JDM Bibliophile and June typed it onto ditto masters. Took it to work and ran off a hundred or so copies. Some were distributed locally and others through the Fantasy Amateur Press Association. More or less as a joke, we called it Number One. All it contained was the list that John had sent; we didn't bother sending a copy to him... that was in March 1965.

"Then we began to get feedback. Friends wrote or asked in person, 'When are you going to publish Number Two?' We didn't have any good answers until Ed Cox, another old friend, sent us an article on stories by JDM in the pulps. So we issued Number Two, which turned out to be nine pages, what with Ed's article and my editorial ramblings. Oh yes, we reprinted the book list. We expressed the regret that finding those old magazine stories to re-read or read for the first time would be hard to do. This time we sent a copy to John.

"He replied that he was 'non-founded and dumb-plussed' that anyone would publish a magazine about his work, and he asked if it would be kosher for the author to help in the hunt. We allowed as how it would, and thus began our work on The JDM Master Checklist."

Len goes on to recall that they continued publishing the JDMB "as a vehicle to gather all the information we could," and that MacDonald assisted by sending information from his vast and well-maintained records, detailing story titles (his original titles, which were usually changed by pulp editors), the publisher who bought it, the story's first paragraph and a synopsis. The fact that a publisher like Street and Smith published dozens of different pulp titles only made this information slightly more useful than nothing at all, but it helped, especially once a JDMB reader named William J. Clark entered the scene.

"[Clark] was a bibliophilic detective who didn't take anybody's word for anything. He had to personally eyeball the item in question to be sure it was the right story by the right author in the right issue, etc. He consulted others with collections as well as the Library of Congress, paying personal visits to verify the information. It has been said that when he visited the Library of Congress he sometimes had to tell them what they had and where it was located."

Each subsequent issue of the JDMB was larger than its predecessor, as the 'zine "began to take on a life of its own as being the focal point for bibliographic information." Letters started coming in, then unsolicited articles, and soon the Moffatts had "some regular contributors and commentators." Occasionally they printed articles on other mystery writers, which eventually led to a realization.

"We discovered that there was a mystery story fandom interested in corresponding, reviewing, writing essays, etc., all quite similar to the way science fiction fandom had started so many years before. Other fanzines or 'amateur journals' were to follow: The Armchair Detective, Mystery Readers Newsletter, Ellery Queen Bibliophile, etc."

By the end of the decade the couple had published twelve issues of the magazine, as well as a first edition of The JDM Master Checklist, "a fat, mimeographed book that contained our brief biography of JDM and all the bibliographical information we had been able to obtain." Thanks to a mention in Anthony Boucher's New York Times column, the JDMB's circulation tripled overnight. The JDM Master Checklist never did get a second printing, despite the fact that addenda and corrections were published in each issue of the JDMB. By 1976 the Moffatts were ready to be done with their creation, a decision arrived at due primarily to their other obligations, including Moonshine, the early Bouchercons and various s-f conventions, as well as the two of them holding down full-time jobs. They began replacing the JDMB with something called the JDMB Bulletin, which was a much smaller publication limited to news about all things John D MacDonald. When the announcement was made in issue 22 of the JDMB that it would be the last, the couple received a letter from Ed Hirshberg, a professor of English at the University of South Florida and a friend of MacDonald's. If the Moffatts would agree, he would make inquiries at the University about sponsoring the fanzine -- now referred to as a journal -- and himself taking over the reins of editor. The Moffatts agreed, USF sponsored and the magazine continued -- fairly regularly -- for another 25 years.

Among the early readers of the JDMB was another couple, a retired government attorney and his wife who were living in North Palm Beach, Florida. Their letters to the original Moffatt-edited JDMB were so long and detailed and full of amazing bits of bibliographic information that they were given their own column in the final Moffatt issue. Walter and Jean Shine would move over to the new version of the journal with their long, interesting "The Shine Section," and they also took over the duties of maintaining the changes in The JDM Master Checklist. This effort led to a completely new edition of the bibliography, published in 1980 under the title A Bibliography of the Published Works of John D MacDonald with Selected Biographical Materials and Critical Essays. It was a huge leap forward from the original Master Checklist, containing information on all of the known books, short stories, non-fiction articles, television adaptations and even the speeches that were written by MacDonald. It was over 200 pages, was published by the University of Florida in Gainesville, and remains the single most important reference source for MacDonald's writings.

The Moffatts' final column for the JDMB appeared in the last issue of the journal they founded, a tribute issue to the recently deceased Ed Hirshberg. The couple was still active in the things they had loved all of their lives: the conventions, the clubs, writing and, especially, reading. I learned from the various blog postings noting Len's death that their tireless activities continued up to the end of his life.

The fans of the works of John D MacDonald owe Len Moffatt a great debt.

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