It must’ve taken superhero strength to endure the summertime swelter beating down on Forrest J. Ackerman as he stood outside New York’s Caravan Hall on July 2, 1939. Decked out in a long-sleeved “futuristicostume” modeled after the costumes worn in the 1936 sci-fi feature Things to Come, Ackerman in his green satin cape, peg pants and button-down shirt embroidered with his nickname 4SJ stationed himself at the entrance to the First World Science Convention (Worldcon) to greet attendees while only speaking Esperanto. This was the first American con that beget future cons, such as San Diego Comic-Con, DragonCon and PAX Prime, and Forrest J. Ackerman in his futuristicostume effectively became the o.g. of cosplay.
Forrest J. Ackerman in his futuristicostume (r) based on the 1936 sci-fi film “Things to Come” (l). (Images courtesy: Yahoo! and DVD Talk.)
But Ackerman, who had just financed the publication of Ray Bradbury’s early zine Futuria Fantasia, didn’t arrive alone in costume at Worldcon. With him was fellow fan, then-girlfriend and pioneer cosplayer Myrtle R. Jones, better known in sci-fi circles by her Esperanto name, Morojo. It was Myrtle, in fact, who designed and constructed Ackerman’s futuristicostume, as well as the space-age gown that converted into a cape-romper combo she wore to that first Worldcon.
While Ackerman went on to become one of the most visible members of the sci-fi fan community, aside from a few brief mentions in comtemporary sci-fi histories, Myrtle is shrouded in more biographical mystery despite her unsung status as the first lady of cosplay. In The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey, author Fred Nadis name-checks her along with other early female sci-fi fans of the 1930s and 1940s who were apparently held in high esteem by their male fellows in fandom: “Bright young women who appeared among the fen [Esperanto for "fans"] — and often took on nicknames such as Pogo (Mary Gray), Morojo (Myrtle R. Jones — a nickname based on her initials in Esperanto), and Tigrina (Alicia Aria) — were treated with near reverence.”
And here, she pops up in Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1929 – 1965 by Eric Leif Davin:
Other well-known female fans included Myrtle R. Jones (“Morojo”), Douglas and Mary (“Pogo”) Gray, both active in [Los Angeles Science Fiction Society] in the late 1930s and mentioned above by Jack Speer. “Morojo,” dressed in supposed twenty-fifth century fashion, made a big impression on New York fans at the First World Science Fiction Convention in 1939…”Morojo” was famous enough to be asked to write about “The Woman in Science-Fiction” for the June, 1940 issue of Science Fiction (p. 55). She explained why she liked science fiction and said “undoubtedly” other women would soon be writing in to give their own reasons.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find her “Woman in Science-Fiction” article, but a post over at Geekquality helps flesh out how Myrtle became Morojo. It turns out Myrtle and Ackerman met at a “world language meeting” and initially bonded over their shared passion for speaking Esperanto. Ackerman then introduced her to the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, the world’s oldest sci-fi fan club, and they later started the sci-fi fan zine Voice of the Imagi-Nation, co-editing it for 50 issues from 1938 to 1947. Meanwhile, she also published her own Esperanto-evangelizing zine Guteto from 1941 until 1958. From then until she died from cancer in 1964, Myrtle remained an active member of the Los Angeles Esperanto and sci-fi fan community and along with her last husband, John Nolan, “shared a love for the outdoors and a love for the nudist movement.”
After Myrtle’s death, Ackerman, who had broken off their relationship many years prior reportedly because she wouldn’t quit smoking cigarettes, produced a zine in memoriam that included a farewell essay from him, “I Remember Morojo.” Though not exactly a gushing eulogy, it cements her importance to early American fandom:
I remember Morojo as the greatest female fanne who ever lived…
She designed & executed my famous “futuristicostume” — and her own — worn at the First World Science-Fiction Convention, the Nycon of 1939. In 1940 at the first Chicon she & I put on a skit based on some dialog from Things to Come, and won some kind of a prize. In 1941 at the Denvention she wore a Merrittesque AKKA-mask (frog face) devised by the then young & as yet unknown master filmonster model maker & animator, Ray Harryhausen. In 1946 at the Pacificon in LA, I understand she created a sensation as A. Merritt’s Snake Mother — I did not see her in this costume, being ill in bed at the time…
She was a real science fiction fanne. That is my final remark.