|Genre Science fiction|
Country United States
|Location(s) Kansas City, Missouri|
Inaugurated September 2–6, 1976
|Venue Muehlebach Hotel and Phillips House|
Attendance 3014; total membership 4200
The 34th World Science Fiction Convention carried the official name MidAmeriCon (abbreviated as MAC) and was held September 2–6, 1976, in Kansas City, Missouri, United States, at the Radisson Muehlebach Hotel and nearby Phillips House hotel. The convention committee was chaired by Ken Keller, who had also chaired the "KC in '76" bid. There were 4200 registered members of the convention, of which 3014 actually attended.
Guests of honor
The professional Guest of Honor at the 34th Worldcon was former Kansas Citian Robert A. Heinlein. He did not prepare a formal guest of honor speech, as such, but gave a generally well received one, immediately following the convention's Hugo Awards ceremony at the nearby Art Deco-inspired Music Hall section of the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium. Heinlein came with an alarm clock and put it on his center stage podium and spoke casually until his own preset time period ended with the alarm going off. Heinlein was previously the Guest of Honor at the 3rd Worldcon (1941) and the 19th Worldcon (1961). He remains the only science fiction writer honored three times by the annual Worldcon. Heinlein attended many MidAmeriCon events, including a blood donation drive and reception held at the nearby Hotel Continental, one of the overflow hotels. Being someone with a very rare blood type, Heinlein had organized the blood drive and reception.
Longtime fan artist George Barr was the convention's Fan Guest of Honor. He created the convention's official black-and-white logo artwork and painted the full-color wrap-around dust jacket artwork used on the convention's hardcover program book. His hardcover art book, Upon the Winds of Yesterday from Donald F. Grant, Publisher, made its debut at MidAmeriCon.
Well known, long time fan and fan writer and professional science fiction and mystery writer Wilson Tucker (aka Bob Tucker) served as the convention's Toastmaster.
The Star Wars display
Listed in the MidAmeriCon pocket program was "The Star Wars Display" in Muehlebach Towers meeting room 364 (aka The Chapel). Charles Lippincott, Star Wars Corporation's vice-president of advertising, publicity, promotion, and merchandising, producer Gary Kurtz, and actor Mark Hamill were on hand promoting the upcoming George Lucas film, that would be released 9 months later in May 1977. At that point, the space fantasy was being called The Star Wars (Star Wars). Three of the film's costumes were displayed on mannequins: Darth Vader and the C-3PO and R2-D2 robots; also on display was Darth Vader's lightsaber (hanging from his belt) and a Storm Trooper helmet and blaster, behind-the-scenes production 8x10 stills, and a wall of framed conceptual artwork by Ralph McQuarrie. As a part of the studio's promotion of the film, an offset-printed, two-page yellow press release flyer was given away in the display room; it depicted an early graphic of the Luke Skywalker character drawn by McQuarrie. A dark blue, 2.25-inch wide promotional button, emblazoned in white type with the motto "May the Force Be With You", and a largish, full-color film poster drawn by Howard Chaykin, were also made available. The display proved so popular that all three promotional items were gone by the end of the second day of the display.
The Star Wars slide presentation
At 1:30 pm, on Saturday afternoon September 4, 1976, an hour-long presentation made up of 35mm slides of the film's production artwork and on-set production photos was narrated live in the Muehlebach's Imperial Ballroom, the hotel's largest, to a standing-room-only crowd; this was presented by The Star Wars Corporation's Charles Lippincott. During the course of the presentation, he outlined in great detail the plot of the film from scene one through to the final scene. A lengthy audience question-and-answer period followed with Lippincott, producer Kurtz, and star Hamill.
Forbidden Planet soundtrack & screening
The "electronic tonalities" soundtrack for the classic MGM science fiction film Forbidden Planet was first released in 1976 by Louis and Bebe Barron at MidAmeriCon. It was on a vinyl LP album, done for the film's 20th anniversary, on the Barron's own PLANET Records label (later changed to SMALL PLANET Records and distributed by GNP Crescendo Records). The LP was premiered at the convention by the Barrons as part of a 20th Anniversary celebration of the film being held at MidAmeriCon. They helped the convention's film programming staff arrange for the rental of fine grain print of the film from MGM's archival storage vaults. Three separate screenings of Forbidden Planet were held as part of the convention's all 35mm science fiction and fantasy film retrospective. The Barrons were on-hand to promote their signed soundtrack LP, and they introduced the first of the three screenings of the film.
First Hugo Losers party
For MidAmeriCon, science fiction and fantasy author George R. R. Martin, along with his good friend Gardner Dozois, organized the first-ever Hugo Losers Party. They first gathered together all the leftover but previously unfinished and opened bottles of wine and liquor, and all unopened beer, and all left-over snack foods from Sunday evening's many open room parties. This was for a uniquely-themed "dead dog" party: It was to be a gathering spot for all past Hugo losers (and friends and family), set to happen Monday evening after the "official" closing ceremonies for MidAmeriCon that afternoon. Martin and Dozois had planned to host this open party should Martin lose either Hugo for which he had been nominated. He became the party's undisputed host when he lost in both MidAmeriCon Hugo Awards categories: for the Novelette "...and Seven Times Never Kill Man" and the novella "The Storms of Windhaven", written with Lisa Tuttle.
Whenever a past or current Hugo loser entered, Martin, standing atop his three-drawer-high room dresser, would take a swig directly from a liquor bottle, and in a loud voice announce, "Looooose," as his other arm, held on high, made a wide, sweeping downward arc, all to the delight of the assembled party goers. A little later at the party, writer Larry Niven was presented with a replacement Hugo Award by convention chairman Ken Keller. As Niven entered, from atop his dresser, Martin announced in a well-lubricated voice, "There's another loser, he broke his new Hugo". Niven had dropped and broken the award in a backstage stairwell shortly after winning it while rushing back to his auditorium seat. Niven quickly departed after receiving a loud round of good natured boos and catcalls in response to Keller's presentation. In the years and decades that followed, the Hugo Losers Party became an annual event and evolved into one of the largest social gatherings held annually at every Worldcon.
First hardcover program & souvenir book
The convention also produced another first: a highly collectible hardcover 172 page program and souvenir book, edited and designed by Tom Reamy. The book contained articles, essays, an artists' portfolio illustrating scenes from the novels of Guest of Honor Robert A. Heinlein, fiction by Harlan Ellison and Howard Waldrop, as well as convention-related items like guest biographies, detailed film program notes, a membership list, and paid advertising. Only two other hardcovers have subsequently been done, one by the 45th World Science Fiction Convention and one by the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention.
The Hugo Awards, named for pioneering editor and publisher Hugo Gernsback, are presented every year at the annual Worldcon for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. Results are based on the ballots submitted by the membership of each Worldcon, which comprises the World Science Fiction Society. Other awards, including the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, are also presented each year at Worldcon.
Ceremony and format change
At MidAmeriCon, the 22nd Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards, the Hugos, were held for the very first time as a separate, stand-alone event, staged in the nearby 2600-seat Music Hall of Kansas City's Art Deco Municipal Auditorium complex. The awards were presented that Sunday evening, theater-style, instead of being given out during a traditional combined guests of honor speeches and awards banquet in the nearby Radisson Muehlebach.
With the house lights fully down super trooper spotlights began panning the curtained stage area, just as the original Benny Goodman version of the 1930s show tune "Hoorah for Hollywood" began playing from the auditorium's speakers. The spotlights stopped just as the music ended. The Music hall's house lights began to slowly come up and from the speakers came the Overture to Max Steiner's film score to the 1932 fantasy film King Kong. The stage's seven sets of vertical and horizontal drapery were set in motion, the grand drape opened slowly, to reveal the vertical and horizontal drapes opening, one after the other, synchronized to the one minute and 30 second Steiner composition. When the stage became fully exposed, a large version of the round MidAmeriCon logo was then projected on a screen backdrop: "MidAmeriCon Presents (slide dissolve) The 22nd Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards (slide dissolve) The Hugos". From offstage, a voice-over (by Kansas City actor David Wilson), intoned King Kong dialog, "He was a King and a God in the world he knew (slight pause), but we've tamed and brought him to Kansas City for you tonight (slight pause). Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 8th Wonder of the Science Fiction World, Mr. Bob Tucker". After applause came opening words by Bob Tucker, who made several quick announcements, and the awards ceremony began.
Bob was assisted on stage throughout by MAC committee member Pat Cadigan and Hugo Awards committee member India Boone. They brought the nominee envelopes and Hugo Awards from back stage as Bob Tucker announced the recipients, who came on stage from the special nominee's seating area at the front of the auditorium.
Guest of Honor Robert A. Heinlein's guest of honor address immediately followed the Hugo Award presentartion.
First "themed" Hugo base
MidAmeriCon also presented another Worldcon first, a "themed" base used for the Hugo Award: "The Dragon and the Rocket". Instead of being made out of finished wood in square or angled stacked shapes, as in the past, all bases were cast from flexible molds using a marbled effect achieved by combining contrasting tinted porcelain powder layers with resin and a hardener. When cured, a low-luster clear outer finish was then applied. Each example featured a sculpted, just-hatched dragon (representing the fantasy genre) wrapped half-way around each round 4.5" tall base. The traditional 13" tall, four-finned Hugo rocket (representing science fiction) was John Millard's newer 1973 design; a dozen examples had been machined from billet aluminum stock and then finished with an overall semi-gloss clear outer coat. The flat top of each base had a 4-inch diameter, quarter-inch thick, sand-blasted aluminum "transition" disk that each rocket sat upon. The rocket and disc where then friction tightened to the base through its center using a long threaded bolt and nut; each base's round, flat bottom was then covered with adhesive-backed black felt to hide the recessed attachment point. A curved black-and-silver engraved Hugo information plate was affixed by two screws to the base's side facing away from the wrapped dragon. The overall base design was by convention chairman Ken Keller, with the final finished design and casting master sculpted by three-time Hugo Award-winning fan artist Tim Kirk (who went on to win his fourth Hugo in the same category that year).