The Heinlein Centennial—10 Years Later

By Keith G. Kato
Robert A. Heinlein was born on 7 July 1907 (7-7-07, which he said made him very lucky at craps). One hundred years later, 7 July 2007, was a Saturday, and in anticipation of this weekend date, a small group of intrepid/crazy Heinleiners decided to create and run the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City, Missouri, officially Friday 6 July 2007 through Sunday 8 July 2007.

It may surprise people, but neither the Heinlein Prize Trust nor The Heinlein Society had anything to do with the planning and execution of the Centennial. Rather, it was the brainchild of the Society’s co-founder and first president, Bill Patterson, along with James Gifford (The Heinlein Companion), and Peter Scott. A little later, Tim Kyger, who chaired the 1978 Phoenix Worldcon (“IguanaCon II”), was asked to chair the enterprise.

Bill Patterson first told me about the conceptual Centennial at the Thanksgiving weekend 2005 Loscon, and asked if I would be willing to help. I was not a member of THS’s Board of Directors at that time, just the “Chairman of the Social Activities Committee,” so after revealing the invitation to the then-Board to avoid a conflict of interest situation (even volunteering to resign from my committee), for the next 18 months I actually attended both THS and Centennial meetings, often on the same day at the same time. At that time, Mike Sheffield was not on the Board either, but served as Chairman of the Blood Drive Committee. Mike was asked to run the Centennial’s Blood Drive.
What I recall about the planning effort for the Centennial was it was a high-wire act from start to finish. I had never helped run an SF convention before (or since), but had heard such endeavors often led to friendships being shattered and divorces initiated.

In the aftermath, I could see why. For a couple of months, Peter Scott was the “Chairman of Centennial Year Activities” for THS, but resigned quickly. To be honest, the Society’s plan for “a centennial gathering” was so stultifying in concept (membership perhaps over $1,000 per person; “from soup to nuts” regimentation of meals and programming items; one-track programming; the notion that a working convention could be pulled together in just a few months) it was actually a good thing (in my humble opinion) that incarnation never happened. Peter’s departure left some bad feelings on the part of THS, and a Newsletter item actually discouraged THS members from attending the Centennial. Needless to say, this situation did not help my work situation.

The Centennial that DID happen was a unique confluence of attendees and program items, all Heinlein, all the time. About 800 people eventually attended, some from as far away as Asia and Australia if I recall correctly. Tim Kyger’s day job was a Congressional staffer for space affairs to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from California, and Tim’s rolodex produced the attendance of the Head of NASA, Michael Griffin, and Patricia G. Smith, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation within the Federal Aviation Administration, people you would not see even at Worldcons. The Centennial was also the site to co-locate the Campbell Conference, and the Science Fiction Research Association Conference, with reciprocal attendance rights to the Centennial. Peter Scott was largely in charge of Programming (I think we had over 100 panels, sometimes six running in parallel), and Jim Gifford pulled yeoman’s duty in pushing the Centennial to completion, especially with a fairly significant financial loan to keep things going at a critical time.

Kyger, Scott, Gifford, and Patterson were jokingly referred to as “Cell B” of our effort, as per The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress; Robert and Ginny Heinlein were considered the Adam Selene/Mycroft Holmes/Cell A of the structure. People like Kansas City fan Tina Black and I were “Cell C” operatives, and the actual nitty-gritty running of the Centennial (Registration, for example) would not have happened without the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, KCSFFS.

My job was “Manager of Static Displays” which meant anything not having a live human talking on a panel was my gig. My responsibilities included arranging the Blood Drive setup with Mike Sheffield, the audio and video program, the Marketplace, the Exhibit Display (including the Brass Cannon), the Art Display, and the Life Exhibit. I actually did not see much of the actual programming because I was working, but I managed to be on one panel called “I Remember Robert Heinlein” with David Gerrold, Yoji Kondo, Neil Schulman, and (invited from the audience) Dorothy Heinlein, Robert’s sister in law, his brother Jay’s wife. (Dorothy revealed that, among his siblings, Robert was considered “the dumb one.”) I also managed to get to the black tie Saturday night Gala, with awards, speeches, and a video from Arthur C. Clarke.

The final day of the Centennial involved taking down the physical aspects of the layout and moving everyone out by a certain time. Virtually everyone in Cell B and Cell C was a roadie, moving stuff literally onto the trucks. I had basically six weeks before departing to attend the 2007 Worldcon in Yokohama, Japan, the first Worldcon in Asia, so decompressing from and evaluating the Centennial took many months. In the aftermath, Jim Gifford, Peter Scott, and Tim Kyger “gafiated” the SF field (SF fan speak for “getting away from it all”), Bill Patterson would continue his efforts on Heinlein’s biography, and the rest of us sort of plugged along. Fairly recently, Jim Gifford has granted access and use of some Centennial-related materials to THS, and Tina Black, who created T-shirts and coffee mugs with Centennial designs on them, granted THS the design rights to re-create these items for sale.

I’m glad I did my part for King, Country, and Heinlein during the Centennial, but look askance at some smart aleck asking for a Heinlein Sesquicentennial in Luna City in 2057. We have linked other memories of the Centennial, and especially if you did not attend, I encourage you to read and wonder that it happened at all.

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