Monday, January 18, 2010

An Illustrated History of Heidi Saha

Much of what's written about Heidi Saha on the internet takes place in fan boy forums, and most of the comments are directed at a rare magazine called AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF HEIDI SAHA, published in 1973 by James Warren, with a print run of about 500 copies.  The item was available only through the mail, as advertised in Warren's CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA magazines, along with a 2 x 3-foot poster.  Usually only the cover is ever seen, showing a close up of a lovely, blonde 13-year-old wearing a fur bikini and holding a spear.  This infamous magazine, it is said, contains nothing but questionable photos of the young girl.  Taking advantage of the notoriety of a book that few have seen, dealers have fetched $1000 and even more on eBay.  Some critics, who haven't even seen a copy and claim to have no desire to, have condemned it as child pornography, an abominable publication that should be burned, solely based on its lurid reputation.

I remember seeing those little black-and-white ads for the Heidi book in the back section of Warren magazines in the '70s, amidst other ads for monster masks, t-shirts, puzzles, posters, books, and Super 8 films.  I wondered what "Heidi Saha" even meant.  In the poster, she was standing in a fur bikini, a dagger strapped to her waist, a spear in her hands.  Was it a movie or comic book version of the Johanna Spyri classic given a barbarian or cave girl twist?  I had no idea -- until I found a copy 20 years later.  It was in a cluttered used book store, on a very busy street, but few people bothered to walk up the stairs to that lonely old shop.  The slim magazine was tucked away on a shelf filled with books of a fantastic nature.  When I saw it I thought, "Wow!  At last, I'll find out what this Heidi Saha thing is about."  I flipped through the pages -- then I closed it and slid it back into its spot.  They wanted a hefty $15 for the magazine, but I had another reason for not buying it.

So who was Heidi Saha and what really lurks in the 36 pages of her magazine?

Sci-Fi fans galore, at DisCon 1 / WorldCon 21, held in Washington, D.C. August 31 - September 2, 1963.  Young Betsy Wollheim in dragon costume, father Donald A. Wollheim (later publisher of DAW Books), 4-year-old Heidi, Forry Ackerman (genuflecting), and Ozzie Train.  Heidi followed Betsy around, holding aloft her tail.

Heidi Elizabeth Saha was born January 30, 1959.  Her mother, Taimi, was a stage mother whose only claim to fame was having written a short story, "Progress Report", for the May, 1974 issue of the science fiction magazine, PERRY RHODAN.

Her father, Art Saha (1923-1999), was the son of Finnish parents, William and Henrikka Saha.  He served as a Merchant Marine in World War 2 and graduated from Columbia University.  He moved to Cooperstown, New York and became active in science fiction fandom.  He was a member of the Futurians, and a friend of Donald A. Wollheim, publisher of DAW Books, and Forrest Ackerman, the world's greatest science fiction fan.  He became an editor at DAW, putting together numerous "best of the year" anthologies, for which he won many awards.  He served as President of the New York Science Fiction Society, also known as the Lunarians, as well as President of First Fandom.  He is also credited with coining the term "Trekkie" in 1967, to describe fans of Star Trek.

Zap!  Heidi as Wilma Deering, at Phil Seuling's New York Convention, 1971.  She placed 3rd.  As a prize she got to select a piece of original comic art from Seuling's collection.
With so much science fiction in her life, it's little wonder that Heidi would become involved with the fandom aspect of the genre.  She would attend many science fiction and comic book conventions, entering and often winning the costume contests, beginning in 1963.  She was Wilma Deering (Buck Rogers' girlfriend); Sheena, queen of the jungle; Shahna of Triskelion (at the New York Startrekon); a "Bergey Girl" (after the "Good Girl" pulp magazine covers by artist Earle K. Bergey); Lakla (from A. Merritt's 1919 novel, THE MOON POOL); and countless others.  She had fans and admirers, young and old alike, including Forrest Ackerman, editor of Warren's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Gene Roddenberry, and actor Kirk "Superman" Alyn, all of whom were photographed with her.  And through it all she didn't ignore her scholarly duties.  Indeed, she was an honour student, delivering speeches and winning awards and medals for essays.

Virgil Finlay's illustration of Lakla, from A. Merritt's Conquest of the Moon Pool

Heidi as Lakla, WorldCon 1971.  She won "best interpretation" in the junior division.

But the trouble started when a 14-year-old Heidi went to a few conventions dressed as Vampirella.  The costume was skimpy, to be sure, but that wasn't the problem.  Angelique Trouvere, a young lady in her early twenties about to become another popular fixture at conventions, also went as Vampirella to the Sixth Annual New York Comic Art Convention.  She remembers seeing Heidi for the first time in the waiting area for the costume contest:

"Heidi Saha was tall and very pretty -- her baby face sported blue eye shadow and lipstick red lips.  As she peered out from under the long black bangs of her wig she reminded me of a beautiful doll.

TorCon 2/WorldCon 1973, held in Toronto
"Someone told me that she was 14 years old, and I remember thinking how young she was and that she must be rich because her bat wing earrings were gold, as were her armband and bracelets.  Her boots were an exact replica from the famous 6-foot tall Jose Gonzales poster.  It was a well-made and detail-oriented costume that knocked my socks off.

"Heidi's costume was made of polyester and cut like a swimsuit but it still looked great.  She even had a papier-mache bat!  I love attention to details!  Man!  I would've loved to have had a papier-mache bat..."

At the 6th annual New York Comic Art Convention, held July 6 - 8, 1973
As it turns out, the costume was made by Perdida Boardman.  She and her husband were friends of the Sahas, and Taimi, usually the proud seamstress of Heidi's costumes, asked Perdida to create a more professional looking outfit.  Taimi, in a fit of jealousy, tried to have Angelique barred from competition, on the grounds that her Vampirella costume was somehow indecent.  Organizer Phil Seuling bowed to the pressure, and Angelique covered up the "offending area" with flesh-coloured band-aids.

The lovely (and built) Miss Trouvere went on stage sometime before Heidi "and the audience went wild".  Heidi went on last and struck the pose used in the 6-foot Jose Gonzales poster of Vampirella, her out-stretched arm holding a bat.  The crowd "went crazy".  Unfortunately, a rumour had gotten around that Heidi was there operating in a professional capacity for James Warren.  When it was announced that Heidi had won third place, the reaction wasn't kind.  "Poor Heidi.  She stood on that stage, holding her pose like a real trooper amid the boos and heckling.  It must have hurt like hell," says Angelique.  "However, If the crowd had a problem with James Warren or her parents, they shouldn't have taken it out on an innocent kid!"

She was a real trooper: she posed again as Vampirella at TorCon 2 in Toronto.  Angelique didn't attend.

posing at TorCon '73

Warren denies that there was any deal with Heidi's parents -- before her appearance as Vampirella -- to publish the book and poster: "It was my way of paying them back for Heidi wearing a Vampirella costume, promoting a Warren property.  But it wasn't a quid pro quo, it was because they wanted to promote her into the movies.  My guess is that they were grooming Heidi to be a movie star and if she had her own magazine and her own poster, it was a step in the right direction."

An article appeared in the November, 1973 issue of Vampirella under the headline: "TWO VAMPIRELLAS STUN 5,500 AT 1973 COMIC ART CONVENTION", accompanied by photos of both Angelique Trouvere and Heidi.  It read, in part, that a Ming the Merciless costume won first prize, but that "it was undoubtedly the two Vampirellas who captured the hearts of the 5500 fans gathered for the five-day affair.  The first of them was a well-proportioned brunette actress, known professionally as Destiny, who is as ravishing as Vampi herself.  The other was everybody's favourite fan, 14 1/2 year old Heidi Saha, whose distinguished costume was one of the three grand-prize winners."

The caption under Heidi's photo read: "Miss Heidi Saha, a 14 1/2-year-old comic fan, caused quite a stir at the Hotel Commodore when she made her entrance in her award-winning VAMPIRELLA costume.  It was like having Vampi come to life!"

Emanuel Maris edited and published the program booklet for Creation Convention 1974, which took place in January, and included a poem he'd written about Heidi Saha, to the metre of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven".  It was meant as a criticism of Taimi, and what he perceived as her exploitation of Heidi.  It wasn't an unfair satire, but it probably had no business being in a program booklet:

There's a girl that I know,
Who's mom has her for show,
and she's bringing her to the convention

When she gets there, mom knows,
the men will eye her clothes,
With a word she commands her 'bout the floor

And her costumes have shown,
from a tailor are borne,
For her, the portrayals have no meaning

In the line at the ball,
She is there standing tall,
Sometimes all of her faults are forgiven

I've a feel of unrest,
when looking at the best,
and then to know she will wind up winning

And I see all around,
that fine costumes abound,
And hear voices of those who sit booing

And it's whispered that soon,
If we all call the tune,
Then the judges will lead us to reason

And the prizes will pass
to those who stand fast
And the audience will echo with laughter



To make matters worse, Maris included a photo of a barely legal model, "reminiscent of Heidi", from the men's magazine, GALLERY.  Some of the artists and writers he was acquainted with congratulated him "for having taken such bold action".  Others never spoke to him again.

Art Saha ran up to him in the lobby screaming, "That's not my daughter!"  Maris says Heidi's father was so irate he had him off his feet, up against the wall, throttling him.  Phil Seuling had to pull Art off of him.  Jim Warren had little to say to Maris, except that he was sorry to hear his father had passed away a few days before the convention.  Reportedly, Heidi was grateful.  That year, Heidi made her last appearances in costume.  She retired from competition, and Warren Publications discontinued their ads for the magazine and poster.

"That's the Heidi Saha story," as Jim Warren says.  At least, that's the story of the fandom celebrity.  For mild-mannered Heidi Saha, civilian, the story continues.  She graduated from high school in 1977 and has lived a quiet small town life since.  In 1996, Heidi sold her Vampirella costume at auction (Sotheby's), including the brass wrist bands, the bat earrings, leather boots, wig, and even the brush, all said to be in fine condition.  She came out of retirement briefly in 1999 to write an obituary, "Arthur Saha, My Father", which appeared in the January, 2000 issue of LOCUS, a magazine covering the latest in the world of science fiction.  (Arthur Saha died in November of 1999.)

with Forrest Ackerman

Ads for AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF HEIDI SAHA and the large poster started appearing in issues of Warren magazines in the fall of 1973.  The copy read, "Fandom's own famous and fabulous femme, HEIDI SAHA, has thrilled thousands of Comix and Sci-Fi fans with her stunning costumes and winning manner.  Now you can have the pinup of a lifetime: HEIDI SAHA as Queen of the Jungle..."  The book was described as "a pictorial biography of Fandom's Pulchritudinous Princess".

The magazine was filled with black and white photos of Heidi, mostly supplied by her parents, from infancy to age 13.  The project was largely the work of Forrest J Ackerman, who had been the editor of Warren's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND since the first issue in 1958.  The Sahas were old friends of Forry's, and he remembered the first time he saw Heidi, at the costume ball for the World Science Fiction Convention in Washington, D.C., in 1963.  "The next time I saw Heidi was at a Lunacon several years later.  Now about 10, she was a dimpled darling and I delighted in her request to be photographed with me..."  That photo was later printed in an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS.

with Forry, at Lunacon 1970

Perhaps some of the magazine's notoriety stems from the captions accompanying the photos.  Forry was famous for his alliterative sentences and bad puns, and he stayed true to form when writing the Heidi book.  Though he was obviously being playful ("a girl who makes mirrors look good"), to some readers his words might come across as inappropriate by today's standards: "...she's Lilith, Lolita & Lorelei melded into one fantastic young colt around whom there's already a cult."

There's also the paeans of praise which abound throughout the book: "In the so-called real world, among the beasts of science fiction and Comicdom...there now walks a great beauty.  The young Goddess known as Heidi: supple, blonde reed of womanhood, bending in the wind of the sighs of her would-be wooers, her stricken swains.  Heidi the delightful, the full-of-life dweller on the pink cloud of fantasy and wonder.  Heidi -- unbelievably refreshing, soft and shy, wildly exciting -- Heidi -- a poetic blend of fantasy and wondrous reality."

Heidi as Shahna of Triskelion, at the 1973 Star Trek Convention in New York

Forry even included Heidi's measurements: "At the present time she neatly distributes 35" 24" 36" into a 5'7" frame weighing 120 lbs. and topped by a heavenly cascade of honey-blonde hair."  As for her eyes, Forry assures us that they "vary from feline yellow to sea green."

He noted that it was getting increasingly difficult at conventions to get a photo with Heidi.  "I'll be lucky if I can get close enough to ask!"  He made another pun (a good one, but in dubious taste) about Arthur C. Clarke: "take one look at those pictures of him and Heidi and you can't help but wonder if (stand in line) he isn't waiting for Childhood's End?!"

For Heidi, it might have been thrilling to have a magazine devoted to her -- or it might have been embarrassing for a girl who'd just entered high school to have childhood pictures of herself in print, especially when the book contained captions such as, "According to legend, Heidi stuck a star on her popo-nappie when she was only 3 days old and announced in grammatically perfect Finnish, 'Look, ma, I'm the Big Diaper!'"

with Robert Bloch, TorCon

Warren says that as cheap as it was to print the magazine, the company made no money from it.  He probably didn't expect to.  It would have been of no real interest to the readers of his horror comics.  No pictures of Heidi as Vampirella were included, as the book was put together earlier.  It was nothing more than a family photo album, with humorous comments and anecdotes thrown in by Forrest Ackerman.

Today it might be of interest to Warren magazine completists or to fans who were there and would like to recall the good ol' days of early conventions.  Otherwise, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF HEIDI SAHA is an innocuous piece of memorabilia, celebrating a wonderful young fan girl.  As for those who might pay $1000 to glom onto a copy "strictly because he thought it contained a nude shot of a preteen girl," as Angelique Trouvere says, "then he got what he deserved."

Heidi as Sheena, Queen of the Conventions, at the New York Comic Art Convention, 1972

(Also on this blog: Heidi Saha: Addendum)