In Memoriam – Frank M. Robinson

Frank M. Robinson (b.1926) died on June 30.  Robinson worked as an office boy at Ziff-Davis in his native Chicago in the 1930s before being drafted and serving in the Navy during World War II.  Following the war, he attended Beloit College and attempted to establish a career as a writer, only to end up serving in Korea.  He began publishing fiction in the science fiction magazines during his tour of duty, beginning with “The Maze” in the June 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine.

Following his Korean tour of duty, he was able to find work as a writer in Chicago, eventually writing for men’s magazines Rogue and Cavalier before Playboy offered him the Playboy Advisor column, which he wrote from 1969-1973.

In the 1970s, Robinson published several novels co-written with Tom Scortia, most famous of these being The Glass Inferno, which was filmed as The Towering Inferno.  Their other collaborations included The Prometheus Crisis,The Nightmare Factor, The Gold Crew, and Blow-Out!.  In 1991, Robinson published the solo novel The Dark Beyond the Stars, which he followed with Waiting and The Donor.  He also published three non-fiction works about science fiction, Pulp Culture: The Art of Fiction Magazines in 1998, Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History, and The Incredible Pulps: A Gallery of Fiction Magazine Art.  

Robinson, who served as a speech writer for San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in the 1970s and was on the board of directors of the Trevor Project, recently finished writing his autobiography.  He was named an honored guest at the 2014 Nebula Awards in San Jose, but was unable to attend due to health reasons.

Steven Gould, current SFWA president, reached out to past SFWA president Robin Wayne Bailey for a statement as it was Bailey who introduced Robinson to Gould thirty years ago. 

With Frank Robinson’s passing, the sf field has lost one of its treasures today, and I’ve lost a long and dear friend.  I know I’m not alone in this grief, though, that I share it with a lot of others who knew Frank well — Mike Resnick, Steve Gould and Laura J Mixon, Derryl Murphy, David Hartwell, and so many others.  

I feel this loss acutely.  Frank, or “Frqnkie,” as many of us knew him, was friend, mentor, and “grandfather” to me.  An extraordinarily versatile writer himself, he taught me one of the most important lessons a writer can learn, never to put all your eggs in one literary basket, to stop thinking of myself as a science fiction writer and start thinking of myself as a writer.  Frank exemplified that advice, writing mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, screen plays, and non-fiction all equally well with dazzling skill and enthusiasm.  His unpublished memoir sits here on my desk with a personal note, “Well, what do ya think?”

I think I shall miss him dearly.  I think I’d better keep this short.

— Robin Wayne Bailey

5 Responses

  1. Thom Osburn

    I met Frank in 1979 and we became fast friends. He was the guy who would send you a rare cd in the mail or a copy of his new novel. I was in my late teens and became an audiophile early, he advised me to buy NAD equipment and I lucked into a McIntosh rig shortly afterward. We talked about his life in Chicago, friends he made in the music biz after Playboy moved him to SF. I’ll bet I spent a fortune in l.d. calls before 1988, just chatting him up random evenings (I was in Nashville or Atlanta, 3 time zones away).

  2. Sherry Gottlieb

    Oh, Frqnk, my dear Frqnk! I remember all the times we spent together: at conventions — we always made a point of having the terrific chocolate milkshakes at the Red Lion Inns and at your house on the hill, where you regaled me with wonderful stories of your past. When I began writing my first novel, you sat me down and shared your wisdom about How to Write a Novel — and even though I’d gotten so many things wrong in those first two chapters, you set me on the right path and told me I was a “natural writer”; the finished book sold to the first editor who saw it. I couldn’t have done it without your help, so my second novel was dedicated to you. I passed along many of your lessons to new writers I worked with as an editor; together, we worked to stem the tide of multiple POVs. You were my mentor and my friend, and I am a better person for having known and loved you.

    Sherry Gottlieb

  3. Robin Wayne Bailey

    The New York Times Sunday edition today ran a very nice article and obituary for Frank. If you get the paper, its on page 16. If you don’t, you can read the article here:

    A memorial event is currently being planned for Friday, August 8th. This is one day before Frank’s 88th birthday. It will be held at the Women’s Center in Castro. An exact time and details will be forthcoming.


  4. Robin Wayne Bailey

    The LOS ANGELES TIMES will also carry an article/obit for Frank Robinson tomorrow, July 8, Wednesday.


  5. Sally Harms Brice

    I knew Frank Robinson in the 1970’s when I was writing magazine articles with John Levin, a friend of Frank’s with whom he co-wrote The Great Divide. Frank was incredibly generous with his time and suggestions when John and I asked for guidance. He didn’t pull his punches, though. I still remember Frank’s succinct advice to me: “You’re too wordy.” I was in need of employment when Frank and John finished what was to become the hard cover version of The Great Divide, and they were kind enough to offer me the job of typing the manuscript. Decades later I received an invitation to the launch of the paperback reissuing of The Great Divide and was moved that they remembered my involvement. When I think of Frank, I also remember his beautiful home and the warm feeling I got whenever I crested the hill and thought about Frank taking in the view of the city he loved and served so well. Sally Harms Brice