Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Robert A.W. Lowndes (1916-1998)-Part 1

Aka Doc Lowndes
Author, Essayist, Poet, Reviewer, Editor
Born September 4, 1916, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Died July 14, 1998, Newport, Rhode Island

The original Weird Tales ran for 279 issues between 1923 and 1954. Sam Moskowitz revived the magazine in 1973-1974 for four issues approaching the original format. In 1980-1981, Lin Carter edited four more issues in a series of mass-market paperbacks. I haven't covered any of the authors from Lin Carter's Weird Tales until now. Robert A.W. Lowndes is the first.

Robert Ward Lowndes was born on September 4, 1916, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His father was Harry Irving Lowndes, an electrician by trade. Lowndes' mother was, I believe, Fanny R. Stevens Lowndes. That will be my assumption here. Fanny Lowndes died in the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. "At that point," Lowndes remembered,
my father, who was tremendously broken up, sort of disappeared; I was put in the care of various relatives, and for several years, until my father remarried, was shuttled from one to another. As a result, I never felt I belonged anywhere. (1)
In the 1920 census, Robert Lowndes was enumerated in the household of his wife's parents, Ward B. and Annie S. Stevens of Redding, Connecticut. (They had earlier lived in Stamford.) Harry I. Lowndes was then living in New York City. By 1930 the Lowndes family was back together. Harry Lowndes and his new wife, Naomi, shared their home with Robert and two of his half-siblings, Harry I. Junior and Ruth. They lived in Darien, Connecticut, throughout the 1930s.

In looking into the life of Robert A.W. Lowndes, you're faced with questions of names. Like I said, I believe Lowndes' mother was named Fanny R. Stevens. Her brother was named Robert, her father Ward. It's easy enough to assume that Robert Ward Lowndes was named after two of his mother's family members. So where did the "A" come from? According to Damon Knight, Lowndes became an Episcopalian in the 1960s and adopted the name Augustine, hence Robert A.W. Lowndes. Lowndes earned the nickname "Doc" from his friends when they learned that he had worked in a hospital, as a porter, in the late 1930s. 

Lowndes used other names as well, all in his writing, alone or in collaboration with others. His pseudonyms included (in addition to his own initials or combinations of initials and his surname): Doc Lowndes, Sir Doc Lowndes, Jacques DeForest Erman, S. D. Gottesman, Carol Grey, Carl Groener, Henry Josephs, Mallory Kent, Paul Dennis Lavond, Wilfred Owen Morley, Richard Morrison, Michael Sherman, Peter Michael Sherman, and Lawrence Woods.

Finally, I should point out that Ward (which sounds a lot like a surname used as a Christian name) and Stevens are two surnames associated with H.P. Lovecraft and his family. It makes me wonder now if Lowndes was related to Lovecraft, a writer he admired and with whom he corresponded, if only briefly.

"Damon Knight says that, as children, all we science fiction writers were toads." The quote is from Frederik Pohl (2), but note his use of the first person plural. You could argue that toadishness in science fiction writers doesn't end in childhood. Reportedly, Cyril Kornbluth didn't brush his teeth and they were in fact green. (A simple solution: brush your teeth.) Raymond Palmer was deformed in a childhood accident. According to Knight, Robert W. Lowndes was born prematurely and with a club foot. (As a child he wore a high shoe; his foot was partially corrected through surgery.) Knight continues:
Lowndes grew up awkward and ungainly, with buck teeth that embarrassed him and made his speech difficult. His arches fell when he was in high school, and it was years before he found out about arch supports. He lurched a good deal; it was not safe to walk beside him. He covered his insecurities with an affected aristocratic manner; I think he must have practiced his sneer in front of a mirror. (3)
After graduating high school, Lowndes served in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and  attended Stamford Community College briefly before returning to the CCC. By the late 1930s, out on his own again, he was living in poverty, staying at the YMCA or sleeping in subways and eating by way of handouts from friends. But he was also writing science fiction stories and in contact with others who shared his interests, the group of New York science fiction fans called The Futurians.

To be continued . . .

(1) Quoted in The Futurians by Damon Knight (1977), p. 7.
(2) In The Way the Future Was (Ballantine, 1978), p. 2.
(3) From The Futurians, p. 7.

Original text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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