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American Science fiction author/editor/publisher

Born October 1, 1914 in New York City
Died November 2, 1990 in New York City

pseudonyms include:

  • Martin Pearson
  • David Grinnell
  • Lawrence Woods
  • Millard Verne Gordon
  • Robert A. W. Lowndes
  • W. Malcolm White
  • Braxton Wells
  • Arthur Cooke

Donald Allen Wollheim was born the son of a doctor, and attended New York University where he earned a BA degree.

Love at first bug eyed sight
Wollheim soon caught the SF bug, becoming involved in the field with the sale of his first story in 1933 to Astounding Stories. He is credited by some as the Father of the SF Convention, being one of the prime motivators behind the first national SF convention ever held, an event which occurred in New York City in 1939. He was editor for 2 SF/fantasy periodicals, Stirring Science Stories and Cosmic Stories in the period preceding WW II.

Wollheim is also credited as producing the first US science fiction anthology, a collection published in 1943 and entitled The Pocket Book of Science Fiction for Pocket Books, go figure. Wollheim became editor-in-chief for Ace Books from 1943 -46, then left them to take the same role with Avon Books from 1946-52. He quit Avon in 1952 to work with A. A. Wyn, returning to Ace Books. He was responsible in 1953 with the introduction of science fiction into the Ace stable, which had heretofore been known for westerns and mystery novels. Wollheim created the famous Ace Doubles, 2 complete novels in a single book, often by two different authors. Wolheim was known to make sweeping changes to make the work fit the format. His editorial axe extended beyond paring the size of the novel to changing the title. Fellow editor and compiler of SF Terry Carr once quipped "If Donald Wollheim had published the Bible (as an Ace Double), it would be War God of Israel / The Thing With Three Souls.

Treading on a champion
A dark chapter in the history of Wollheim and Ace Books occurred in 1965 when Wollheim, through explotation of a loophole in the copyright laws, brought The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien to the US mass audience. Ace's unauthorized paperback edition of Tolkien's work was published as a trilogy. The three novels were The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. He suspected that the publisher would find itself in court for doing so, but gambled that the work would sell well enough to offset legal penalties. Ace was forced to discontinue publication not due to legal process but due to grassroots lobbying from US fans of Tolkien. The publisher finally made a nominal payment to the author, adding insult to injury.

DAW Books
Wollheim's association with Ace ended with the death of A. A. Wyn. He left, and along with wife Elsie, founded DAW Books in 1971. Daw Books (so named for Wollheim's initials) was created as a publishing house devoted exclusively to the SF/fantasy genré. Wollheim steered the course until 1985, when he stepped down due to medical problems, turning the helm over to daughter Betsy Wollheim. DAW Books is now a division of Penguin. DAW Books in its role as a specialty publisher sought out and nourished the talents of several newcomers to the field, among them Tanith Lee and C. J. Cherryh. DAW now has over 3 decades under its well-inked belt and over 1000 titles.

Championing the downtrodden
In 1974, Wollheim went to war with New American Library, who were distributors of his own works. The battle was over Thomas Burnett Swann's biblical fantasy How are the Mighty Fallen, which contained homosexual themes. New American Library was going to quash the book, withholding distribution. Wollheim took up the cause on behalf of Swann, arguing for 'freedom of content', and prevailed. NAL relented in their position and the book was released.

Donald A. Wollheim is probably best remembered by readers of SF for his long running Best of the Year anthology series. The series ran for an incredible quarter century, from 1965 until 1990. From 1965-71 he co-edited it with Terry Carr and from 1972-90 co-edited alongside Arthur W. Saha.

Donald A. Wollheim died of an apparent heart attack while a patient at Jewish Home and Hospital, Manhattan, NY on November 2, 1990. He was 76 years of age at his passing, and is interred at Mount Carmel Cemetery, Queens, NY.


SciFiQuest 2107

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