[Flashback] I’m an expert?

Okay, I think this really is the last one. It’s from January 7, 2006:

I hate being cited as an authority.

I love passing on odd bits of information, but it creeps me out when I see them turn up in reference works without any real authentication.

What brings this to mind is the Wikipedia entry on Lester del Rey, which gives his real name as Leonard Knapp.

Mind you, I honestly and sincerely think it was Leonard Knapp, but I would not state that as a fact, without qualification, if I were writing the Wikipedia entry. And yes, I’m apparently the source for that datum, as someone e-mailed me to verify it.

Note: Someone has since verified it through his sister, invalidating my complaint, but in 2006 they hadn’t done that yet.

But the verification was just, “How sure are you of that?” and my reply was, “Pretty sure.” No attempt to contact any of Lester’s old friends or legal contacts.

The way this came about: I started corresponding with Lester del Rey in May 1979, when he accepted my first novel, and back in those pre-net days I was an obsessive letter-writer, so the correspondence covered a lot more than business. I met Lester and Judy-Lynn in 1982, hung out with them a few times before Judy-Lynn’s death in 1986, talked to them on the phone, but we weren’t close friends or anything.

A couple of months after Lester died in 1993 I got a phone call from someone who gave his identity as the lawyer representing Lester’s estate. I don’t remember his name, unfortunately. Anyway, he said he was trying to track down any potential heirs, and told me that Lester’s story about having been born Ramon Alvarez, which I already seriously doubted, was bullshit from the word “go,” that his birth name had been Leonard Knapp.

This struck me as entirely plausible, and I’ve repeated it as fact since then — but I don’t actually know it’s true. I don’t know the guy was really the estate’s lawyer; I took his word for it. I don’t know he wasn’t bullshitting me just as much as Lester always had. I have no proof, no evidence except one unrecorded phone call.

I’ve also been cited as an authority on comic-book artist William Ekgren’s background, but that’s entirely based on an e-mail I got from a Swedish woman wanting to know whether the comic book artist I’d mentioned in an article was the same guy as her uncle William, an artist who’d gone to New York for a few years in the late forties/early fifties to make his name in the art world, failed, and come home. I said I didn’t know, but the times matched and the styles matched, so it was probably him.

Now I find myself being cited as the expert who identified the comic book guy as the fine artist.

I was once cited on WPRB radio as having explained the way all of Jim Morrison’s songs fitted together into a single huge suite, the implication being that I had some sort of secret inside information, when actually I’d made the whole thing up while drunk and hadn’t realized this idiot disk jockey was listening and taking me seriously.

(Years later, Patricia Kenneally, the woman who claims to be Jim Morrison’s widow but couldn’t produce a marriage license and lost out to Morrison’s parents in court, told me I had part of it right but that it was mostly bullshit — Morrison was never that organized.)

I hate this. Haven’t any of these people ever heard of things like “corroboration,” “confirmation,” “fact-checking,” “documentation,” or even “evidence”?

At least the Wikipedia article doesn’t name me as the source.

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