1950 – The Kuttner/Vance controversy

In the 50s and 60s, SF fandom rumored that Jack Vance was just one of Henry Kuttner’s many pseudonyms, and this persisted even after his death in 1958.

The rumor spread after the publication of the anthology The Best Science Fiction stories in late 1950, in which the editor T.E. Dikty mentioned, in the authors’ bio section of Henry Kuttner:

As a result, during 1951, letters from readers of pulp magazines such as Thrilling Wonder Stories (TWS) were published in their mail sections (no Internet in those days!), asking the question « who is Jack Vance? » .

His first short story, « The World Thinker », had been published in 1945 in TWS, edited by Sam Merwin, who published twelve of Vance’s short stories in his magazines (TWS and « Startling Stories ») between 1945 and 1950. In the same period, he had published three other short stories in various magazines, including « The New Prime » in Damon Knight’s « Worlds Beyond » magazine.

Henry Kuttner was a popular pulp writer, known for publishing under several pseudonyms, including one – « Lewis Pagett »-with his spouse Catherine L. Moore. The ground was therefore fertile, and fans were fond of this kind of revelation, especially when the source of the information had been unearthed from an innocuous sentence in a widely circulated book.
The appeal of the controversy seems to have outweighed the denials of the editors, who were striving to prove that Jack Vance was indeed Jack Vance and not yet another offshoot of Henry Kuttner (especially Sam Merwin, who had known Jack for a long time).

Henry Kuttner died in 1958 at the age of 42, yet until 1962 the question still seemed unresolved to some in the fandom.

Fortunately, and to our great delight, Jack Vance continued to write for another 40 years – a controversy that has been much written about for nothing.

Jack Vance was amused at the time (1950?) and, according to the editor of TWS, facetiously said to a fan who asked him about Kuttner’s pseudonyms « who knows? » (or something similar). Could this have prompted T.E. Dikty to formally mention Vance in the list of Kuttner’s pseudonyms in his 1950 anthology? So he might not be the villainous author of « fake news » we thought, and we’re faced with the chicken-and-egg conundrum of who started it all?

Excerpt from : Biographical Sketch By David B Williams -2006

(courtesy of the author)

« In 1950, small-press publisher Ted Dikty floated the suggestion that “Jack Vance” was another of Henry Kuttner’s many pseudonyms.  Considering the technical deficiencies of Vance’s earliest stories, this claim was insulting to the technically adept Kuttner; and any reader sensitive to literary style who read The Dying Earth would never have attributed it to Kuttner.  But the rumor persisted for years (reaching as far afield as Germany), in some cases causing librarians to shelve Vance titles with Kuttner’s.  Even Kuttner’s death in 1958 didn’t squelch the error, which managed to live on through repetition like an urban myth. »

Source: Mike Berro  http://www.vancemuseum.com/vance_bio_1.htm

Documented Chronology

Editor’s notes & reader’s letters in pulps magazines

1950-02 Thrilling Wonder Stories (TWS)

 The reader speaks

tter from Dave Hammond – Rumnemede, New Jersey.

 …/  Maybe I am stupid, but I have never heard of Wallace West. Is he a new writer or just one of Kuttner’s pen names?

Neither Wallace West nor Edwin James are other than themselves—although the latter is a nom-de-plume. However, its user is a definite entity on his own.

1950-12 Thrilling Wonder Stories

« The Readers speaks »
letter fromTom Covington
Frankly, every time I hear of Kuttner (or one of his eleven pen names) being the byline on a long novel, l expect a lost race, story of great boredom. That’s what I expected when t picked up the August issue and started reading « As You Were. » But I was pleasantly surprised. It was a time travel story of great boredom. Oh, just a slip— I think it was fairly good.
But, when compared to Jack Vance’s « New Bodies for Old, » « As You Were » is mediocre. The former is really, a classic. Or is it just because I love brain-transference stories that my opinion of it is so high? I think It could have been developed better by a little more play -upon Mario’s emo- tions and blunders when he finds himself in Ebery’s body. Vance might even have injected a little humor into the thing in that manner. Oh well, I guess nothing can be perfect. (Tom Covington)

1951-03 Startling Stories (Men of the Ten books)

Editor’s Note

EVER since THE WORLD THINKER appeared in Summer 1945, TWS, have been asked, « Who is Jack Vance? ». His identity has been faultily surmised to be everything from a house by-line to another pseudonym for the redoubtable Henry Kuttner. Actually he is a young (thirty – ish) alumnus of University of California and World War Two Merchant Marine, where he was torpedoed twice. By his own account he first thought about star travel on his seventh birthday and has not stopped yet. Hallmarks of a Vance story are a crisp polychromatic imagination, swift` well integrated action and a solid bed of human, idealism, often nurtured ingeniously into flowerings of cynicism. His stories and the people and other creatures in them have a way of springing vividly to life—for proof, just road this story!

1951-04 Thrilling Wonder Stories

 –  Readers speaks
Letter from Bob Hoskins.—Lyons Falls, New York.
…But another thing is the basis of this letter. In short, is Jack Vance actually Henry Kuttner??!! If you want I’ll quote my source of information. In fact, I’ll quote it whether you want it or not. Tis « The Best Science Fiction Stories 1950,” published by Fell. I don’t have the exact page reference but it is in the short biographical sketch given in the back of the book

1951-08 Thrilling Wonder Stories

Letter from  Marion Zimmer Bradley
Page n139
Dear Mr. Merwin: I find it rather difficult to understand why the same young demons who castigate Bergey far his large expanses of soft flesh can holler, “We want Finlay!” The illustration for “The Continent Makers”, the girl with the flower-tipped breasts, would definitely not make anybody continent (ooohl). In fact, that picture, put on your front cover, would probably have had the magazine banned in Boston, to say nothing of Bar Harbor, Maine, Brownfield, Texas, and Boola Boola, California. 1 don’t care—I’m married and I don’t give a hoot if the drug-store clerk knows that I know there are two sexes. But it strikes me as an Inconsistency on the part of the fans who holler for Finlay.
That isn’t, however, the purpose of this letter. This missive has two purposes, the first of which is to bawl you out for giving it away that Jack Vance and Hank Kuttner are two different people. I had just read THE DYING EARTH, and had written the duckiest review, which read in part:

“Mr. Kuttner, until the pseudonym of Jack Vance, has recredfed for his readers the pseudo-worlds of THE TIME AXIS and ELAK. For his dark-forestlands of Ascolais are more than reminiscent of the twisting trees and vampiregrass of Medea’s gardens, and Ganelon and Matholch would fit beautifully into this Dark World of Embelyon. Rogol Domedonfors above the dying world of the City brought this reader to a reminiscent remembrance of the chase through the levels of the City on the Time Axis, and of the old, old Nekropolis with the Face of Ea glowing luridly beneath the red sun. In THE DYING EARTH, Kuttner draws together his fantasies fn a^onsistent mythos worthy of R. W. Chambers “Carcosa” or the Jekkara-Valkis-Barrakesh legendry of Leigh »

Then I read that Jack.Vance is Jack Vance—oh, DARN it! Why couldn’t you have kept your big editorial mouth shut for once?

1952-06  TWS

Letter from Bill Tuning  » The 7 Sided Solomon of Santa Barbara »
 Dear Sam: . This, is primarily in reference to the letter by Bob Hoskins in the April, 1951 issue and the ensuing editorial comment, and the event has annoyed me to such an end’ that I’ll not mince words over it. Mr. ‘Hoskins says that he. has a vague proof that Henry Kuttner is Jack Vance, further stating the source of his information as being THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES OF 1950, but not remembering the exact page. Then that nitwit, Lemmuel Mutton (then editor of TWS, tho no longer serving in that capacity I’m happy to know) blithely comments that no, Jack Vance is not Henry Kuttner, and definitely states that the two names in question are separate persons. Curious, I looked under the biographical sketch of Henry’ Kuttner in THE BEST OF 1950 and it states there, with succinct clarity, on page 345 that “ occasionally under the pen names of Lewis Padgett, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Jack Vance.”
Yet, in asinine ignorance, or perhaps in a sadistic desire to see conflict in. the letter column and fandom in general, that stupid oaf, Mutton, says smugly that Kuttner and Vance are two different persons. Then, as if to further arouse the readers, he cleverly defies anyone who can to guess the identity of C.-H. Liddell. How droll! Blazes man! Anyone who has a decent memory and can read knows that C. H. Liddell. is Henry Kuttner, and Lewis Padgett, and Lawrence O’Donnell.
 It is really quite suprising to find that the average fan Has so little awareness of who is who in the way of pen names, in stf, yet they prattle on endlessly deep in the intricacies and differences between tvvo authors’ styles, and sometimes these authors in question are actually the same person. Some authors claim to use pen names to keep separate styles from getting mixed up. Again, how droll ! Anyone who cannot keep his different writing styles separated in his own mind, must have no mental ability to absorb and catalog facts whatsoever.
 No doubt the most prevalent reason for an author to use a pen name is, 1) the story in question is of such a revolutionary or controversial nature that his reputation would be hurt if that story appeared under the name which said author uses most often, 2) the story is a new. type for him, and his reading public would not like such a story, as compared with his previous works, and 3) the author, desirous of some egoboo, writes some stories under a pen name, keeping it a notoriously guarded secret, until the revelation of the fact that the two are one and the same and reaps bushels of egoboo from the. fact that among fan circles and in fan mags everywhere it is excitedly whispered that, “Hey. Max, did you know that McGoozle is really Raymond Owplip?” Et cetera, ad nauseum. Also, Sam, your letter column -seems to be a bit dead. Anent my letter in the December issue, Shelby Vick, said, “Oh eGAD, man. What are you trying to’ do, get lots of letters?” I haven’t gotten one – letter on the subject’ and it was, you must admit, the tender spot of several fen. Also, I fail to find any mention of the contents of this letter in any of the following, letter columns—.


No street address as usual. But if you think that habit is going to save you, you seedy Solomon, you have fatally under-rated the opposition. We got your address from Sprague de Camp and so now your entire insidious plot to make me keep all those stories and poems has collapsed like a house of cards.
As to your inside dope that Henry Kuttner is Jack Vance and vice versa—there is more heat than logic in you, Horatio. No matter what you’ve read or been told, they are not the same. There is a Henry Kuttner—l’ve seen him -—and there is also a real, live Jack Vance, not the same guy. To the ’best of my knowledge, Jack Vance has never used -a pen name. Moreover, right now as this is being batted out on my second-hand Royal, Jack Vance is basking in sunny;- Italy, while Hank -Kuttner is basking in foggy California, not too far from the sage of Santa Barbara.

1952-08 Thrilling Wonder Stories

The readers speaks p.140
Letter By Bill Tuning / Santa Barbara, California

Dear Sammywell : And nowwwwww, I shall perform the masterful coup de gras, (coup de grâce ?) anent my letter in the June ish. Now what I said about Kuttner and Vance is, you may be sure, exactly where I said it was in THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES OF 1950. Look over my letter very carefully. You will note that I never once actually said that I really believed Henry Kuttner to be one in the same with Jack Vance, now did I? True I inferred it most heartily, but that’s what you fell for. Also true, I faithfully quoted an opinion on the matter, inferred, but I never said that that was my exact opinion. So I underrated the opposition, eh? Looks like the opposition underrated the wily 7-Sided Sol (cackle!), and assumed by my infer- ence that I was definitely stating Kuttner to be Vance, which by now you know I wasn’t. Just call me Machiavelli, Sammywell.
Sirius-ly tho, who is right, Blieler & Ditky, or you? Are you pulling my leg Sam? If so, be care- ful of the left one; it has a rheumatic knee. What happened to Blish? Will Fearless Fenwick save the sexy space gal? Tune in next month at thi …. no, wait! Where was I? I was? Well. Anyway, if Vance and Kuttner are the same, and one is in sunny Italy, and the other is in foggy California, it (Vance-Kuttner) must have a split something- or-other. Wait! Hold it Claude! Did you say fog? You should have your mouth washed out with a travel folder. Perhaps you’ve heard of the floods out here? We ’uns don’t fool around. Part of the year the sun shines. Part of the year it rains like Venus, and the rest of the year we have the fog. I go to school by radar beam then so I won’t blunder off in the wrong direction and fall down a manhole, or drown in Neptune’s fish-pond.
Well, by the syntax of a sweating Saturian, Harlan Ellison was the chap who beset you, huh? From his description of your secretary, I tempted to teleportate to “N’Yawk” myself. If I had the cash, I would anyway. I’d have the cash if you bought one of my stories. Awk ! Now I loused up my chances. Honest, Sammywell, I won’t come to see you if you buy a story. Pwetty pleeze? Why don’t you inaugurate a system to give away your interior illos to us poor letter hacks? You could use the same system that Bixby used when he was an ed. Also, I could like to help Bixl clear up the matter of the morons who think he is a psuedonym for you. Dumb jerks. Jerome Bixby (called by one 7-Sided Sol, Bixl), used to edit PS (See my letter in the May ish for how he got there). As a matter of fact, he is the darling lumbering pterodactyl who published my first letter.

A li’l note to A. E, Hitch . . . Hitchy, old boy, are you there ? What if you pushed the button which activated an automatic atomic whatchamajigger to blast ye saucer to a kingdom of cowtails? Incidentally, what’s the number on your friend’s padded cell? The one who assures you that Asimov, Padgett, and Heinrich what’s-his-name (The name is Hauser, dear boy). The friend, not the padded cell. Isaac Asimov is Professor of biochemistry at Boston University, but Lewis Padgett is married to C. L. Moore.
 Confusing? Yeh.

Ah, ’tis ashamed of you I am. Trying to crawl out of it by mumbling that you never actually said you really believed Henry Kuttner and Jack Vance were one and the same. You sure did heartily infer it with both feet, me lad. Who is right, Blieler & Dikty or I ? Are you kidding? Anyway, I know’ Hank Kuttner pussanully; I nearly bought his house up in Hastings-On-Hudson w’hen he pulled out and went to California. And I had a letter from him in California just about the same time I heard from Vance, through his agent, from Italy, And I told you most of that in the June ish, so give up already, willya?
Bixby says thanks.

1952-09 Fantastic Story

Letter from Jack Moskowitz Newark- NJ
Since nobody knows Jack Vance I am wondering if he and Kuttner are one in the same person. They both live in California and nobody has ever seen Vance as far as I know.—

Answer  (Sam Mines)
Just when I thought I had Bill Tuning straightened out on that Kuttner-is-Vance madness you have to start it here! No, dag-nab it, Kuttner is not Vance. To repeat what I told Tuning, Kuttner is in California and Vance is in Europe. I had a letter from Kuttner there practically the same day I heard from Vance in Italy. Heck, their styles aren’t the same at all. Doncha read the stories? Thanks for the assist with Miss Carroll.

1962-02 Amazing Stories

Letter from Stephen Petroschek Lima, Ohio
Page n141
After reading a few stories by Jack Vance, not only in your magazine, but also in others, I noticed a similarity in style between him and the late Henry Kuttner. Also, while reading a paragraph in my limited study of science fiction, I found out that Henry Kuttner did use the pseudonym of Jack Vance. Are these two the same person, and if so, how come there are still new stories of Henry Kuttner ?

 Jack Vance is Jack Vance, himself, in the flesh. Kuttner never used this as a pen name. The source from which you got such information was in error.

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