beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

The Mystery of the Vanishing Heinleins

Here is the beginning of a story about a house.
Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world.

They will usually concede a basis for the accusation but point to California as the focus of the infection. Californians stoutly maintain that their bad reputation is derived solely from the acts of the inhabitants of Los Angeles County. Angelenos will, when pressed, admit the charge but explain hastily, "It's Hollywood. It's not our fault.we didn't ask for it; Hollywood just grew."

The people in Hollywood don't care; they glory in it. If you are interested, they will drive you up Laurel Canyon "where we keep the violent cases." The Canyonites—the brown-legged women, the trunks-clad men constantly busy building and rebuilding their slap-happy unfinished houses—regard with faint contempt the dull creatures who live down in the flats, and treasure in their hearts the secret knowledge that they, and only they, know how to live.

Lookout Mountain Avenue is the name of a side canyon which twists up from Laurel Canyon. The other Canyonites don't like to have it mentioned; after all, one must draw the line somewhere!

High up on Lookout Mountain at number 8775, across the street from the Hermit—the original Hermit of Hollywood—lived Quintus Teal, graduate architect...
Thus begins "'—And He Built a Crooked House,'" by Robert A. Heinlein, the celebrated science fiction writer. It was written in 1940 and published in 1941.

I have learned another story, a story about a different house nearby.

The 1940 U.S. Census forms, kept confidential for 72 years, have just been released.

On 26 April, 1940, census enumerator Arthur B. Harrell called upon the home at 8777 Lookout Mountain Boulevard in Hollywood, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. He was filling out blocks 49 and 50 in Census Supervisor District 16, Enumeration District 60-173 on sheet 6A. On this sheet, indicating that he had spoken to a woman who resided there, he recorded the following story.
At 8777 Lookout Mountain Boulevard lived Richard Heinlein, his wife Sigred Heinlein, and their son Rolf Heinlein. Richard and Sigred were naturalized citizens, born in Germany. Richard's age was 35, Sigred's 31, and Rolf's 4. "Color or race" for all three was "white." Both Richard and Sigred had completed four years of high school. The couple had been living at this address for at least five years. She did not work, but Richard worked as an artist in the motion picture industry; in the last week of March 1940, he put in 30 hours. He had worked 52 weeks during 1939, earning $4200. The Heinleins had no other source of income during that year.

Portion of the census form for 8777 Lookout Mountain Ave. Click to see the full form.

Here is yet another story I have heard.
At 8777 Lookout Mountain Avenue lived Robert Anson Heinlein and his wife Leslyn Macdonald Heinlein. They had no children. Robert had been born in Missouri, Leslyn in Massachusetts. Robert's age was 32, Leslyn's was 35. They had been living at that address for approximately five years. Robert had graduated from Annapolis, and Leslyn had a master's degree. Robert's income came from his naval retirement pay, and he had recently begun writing stories for magazines. Leslyn considered herself a housewife and Robert's secretary.
Learning that the much-anticipated census data had just been placed online, I went looking for the Heinleins' house. Imagine my surprise to find Richard, Sigred, and Rolf living there, a veritable family of Goldilockses, with Robert and Leslyn nowhere in sight.

At first I thought Leslyn had, for reasons unknown, fibbed to Mr. Harrell. I sent these facts off to some Heinlein researchers. I wrote: "Lacking a better explanation, it would appear that the fabled eccentricities of Lookout Mountain Avenue's residents extended to manufacturing immigrant families out of whole cloth."

Bill Patterson, author of Robert A. Heinlein: Learning Curve, argued that the Heinleins, both experienced at working on political campaigns, appreciated the value of accurate voter rolls and census data. He thought it more likely that Mr. Harrell transcribed something incorrectly and mixed the Heinleins' surname and address up with information from some other nearby family. I was persuaded that this scenario was more plausible.

Meanwhile, that tireless chronicler of fandom, Mike Glyer, had been digging into the same information I had. He posted it to his File 770 newsblog. Mike consulted Los Angeles city directories and phone books of the era. He found that information from two nearby families was recorded accurately in the census (so Mr. Harrell was not simply making stuff up). He also failed to find another family named Richard, Sigred, and Rolf. So Mike leans toward the "prank" theory.

I have tried to find further information about R, S, & R, without success. I can't rule out either the Prank Theory or the Error Theory on the evidence available. Maybe someone more familiar with census-taking in that era will be able to tell us whether this sort of error is common, rare, or impossible.

It looks like Robert and Leslyn Heinlein managed to vanish from the United States.

(Thanks to Gary Farber for letting me know the Census info had been posted.)
Tags: heinlein, science fiction

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