BROWNE, NORMAN G.
— One of the most prominent Canadian fans of the first half of the1950s.
In 1951, at the age of 18, having been advised by Ted Sturgeon to do so, he attended Nolocon, the 9th World Convention held in New Orleans. He had hitchhiked to the con, a feat which impressed everyone greatly. As Harry B. Moore, Chairman of Nolacon put it: “It is an exceedingly rare thing to find a fan with guts, self-respect, tenacity, responsibility, dependability, or honour. Your feat of hitchhiking… stands out astonishingly amidst such a morass of pseudo-persons…” (It’s a wonder the rest of the congoers didn’t take this as an insult!)
Feted & celebrated beyond all reasonable expectations, Browne later wrote: “For 5 years I had read STF, but had no knowledge that fandom existed, and had never met anyone who even read STF. On Aug 31st at 3:00 PM, 1951, I walked into the lobby of the St. Charles hotel in New Orleans and met my first fan. I consider that date & time as my entrance into fandom.”
All the same, he experienced some difficulty: “At the Nolacon, I was an outsider, an onlooker; I knew nobody and nothing. I felt strangely set apart from these people who were fans. They talked and acted beyond the powers of my comprehension and understanding. They talked about people, places, and events of which I had no knowledge. To me they seemed to be talking on a higher plane; a plane far, far beyond my reach. Knowing so much about what they discussed, they seemed to be combining telepathy and speech in their conversation. It was interesting — in a tantalizing sort of way.”
“I left the Nolacon with an overwhelming desire to become a fan; to become one of them, to talk with them in their own language, to understand what they understood, to enjoy what they enjoyed.”
As soon as he returned to Vancouver, B.C., he feverishly set about single-handedly creating a club, formally titled ‘The Vancouver SF Society’ (tho often referred to as ‘The Hibited Men’). This was in existence by December of 1951. It was the first organized fandom on the West coast of Canada. Browne served as its first President & also its first clubzine editor. He made sure it affiliated with the Canadian SF Association. There were at least a dozen members, maybe more.
Then by summer of 1952 he had moved to Edmonton, Alberta. From there he produced 6 issues of his well-regarded fanzine VANATIONS (Jun 1952 to Jul 1953). Highlights included articles by Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, & Marion Zimmer Bradley. VANATIONS was noted for Browne’s innovative PAR system of payment.
The Fall 1952 Fan Directory of the Canadian Science Fiction Association listed Browne at his Edmonton address.
While in Edmonton, sometime in 1953, he co-edited (with ‘Art Wesley’, actually Dean Grennell, of Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin) a one-shot titled FILLER, consisting of 527 numbered ‘filler’ items, most of them interlineations, the idea being that faneds, in order to save space, would type in the appropriate number and leave it to the readers to look up the actual ‘filler’ in FILLER. This concept proved very popular.
In May 1953 he attended HEcon (Harlan Ellison con) in the Cleveland home of Harlan Ellison, a gathering whose purpose was to establish 7th Fandom.
I do not know if Browne was part of the Seventh Fandomite contingent invading the fourth Midwestcon where Seventh Fandom (& the red birdbath) was first unveiled to a disbelieving fannish world, but Browne did attend Philcon II, the 11th Worldcon, held in Philadelphia in Sept 1953. There he was photographed with Harlan Ellison, a drawing based on this photo appearing in CANADIAN FANDOM #19 (Dec 1953). No doubt he took part in any & all merry pranks, as he was, according to Rich Brown, ‘one of the leading lights of Seventh Fandom’.
However, Browne soon got on Ellison’s nerves. While Ellison took Seventh Fandom somewhat seriously, believing it had great potential, Browne seems to have been possessed by a crusading zeal which Ellison found too confrontational (hard to believe, given Ellison’s reputation, but apparently true). That Browne wanted the 7th Fandomites to deify Dean Grennell was harmless enough, but his plot to infiltrate FAPA with 7th Fandomites to the point of taking over through sheer numbers struck Ellison as likely to give 7th Fandom a bad reputation. Harlan also didn’t like some of the 7th Fandom broadsheets Browne had written & distributed. At some point, in reaction to all the flak he was getting, Browne quit the movement in anger.
By December 1953 Browne had moved to Wilson Heights in or near Toronto, Ontario. Throughout 1954 he remained active, writing for CANADIAN FANDOM, attempting to put out a second issue of FILLER, and contributing his apazine DAMN! to FAPA, where he got into a bit of trouble regarding his CONCUPISCENT TALES/PAPA hoax.
Then Browne dropped off the fandom map, apparently gafiated. I can find no references to him subsequent to 1954.
A key to the reasons for his gafiation may possibly be found in some comments he made in VANATIONS #4 (Feb 1953):
“With the issuance of VANATIONS, I pushed myself considerably higher up the ladder of fandom and at the same time forced the fact of my existence before a considerable number of fans, I had arrived.”
“My original ambition was to become a fan — a relatively simple goal. But, although that ambition has been realized, my final ambition has not. For as I progressed into fandom, as I studied & learned, as I matured, my final goal raised accordingly.”
“In my first year I progressed from a non-fan to a fringe-fan, to a neophan, & finally to a master-fan. Who knows how far I will go in my second year? Would anyone deny me the ambition of becoming a BNF or a super-fan?”
Browne would appear to have possessed a healthy dose of ego. Perhaps he did not realize that the status of BNF is an accolade, & not just some sort of prize you reach out & grab. It may be significant that one of his loccers in the same issue chided him, saying: “You say your interest in STF is 10%, and your interest in fandom is 90%. Translation: interest in STF & fandom 10%, interest in egoboo 90%.”
It may be that Browne ultimately was bitterly disappointed that his long term effort ‘to force the fact’ of his existence generated resistance & negative reaction, & so he decided tochuck it in.
Any & all info regarding Norman G. Browne is eagerly sought.
Addendum: In 2005 I was contacted by Norman’s sister Wenda. She informed me Norman had continued to live in Toronto, editing some community newspapers and a weekly newspaper. Eventually he sank into poverty. She recalls seeing a half page article about him in the Edmonton Journal (perhaps it was syndicated Canada wide? Or was he now in Edmonton?) in which he revealed how he managed to live on just $10.00 a day. (Dire necessity or lifestyle choice?) The last time she saw him, in Toronto circa 1990, he had been unemployed for quite some time. She suspects he has since passed away.
Early BC fandom seems to be unlucky. The identity of the Vancouver fan who in 1936 produced THE CANADIAN SCIENCE FICTION FAN, Canada’s FIRST Science Fiction fanzine, remains unknown. Nils Helmer Frome of Fraser Mills who produced Canada’s second SF fanzine SUPRAMUNDANE STORIES in late 1936, died penniless in Wales in 1962. And now it seems that Norman’s youthful enthusiasm and promise just faded away as time went on, as happens to so many of us fans.
But I will let Wenda have the last word:
“I do know that the Vancouver club was the best of all his endeavours. He was so happy then and his mind was so active and imaginative. He knew so many people and so many knew him or of him….”
(Sources: Norman G. Browne, Dick Eney, Harry Warner Jr. & Richard Brown.)