Robert A. Heinlein, 1907-1988
Robert Anson Heinlein was born July 7, 1907, in Butler, Missouri and died May 8, 1988, in Carmel, California. Son of Rex Ivar, an accountant and Bam Lyle Heinlein, he was the third of seven children. He married Elinor Curry in 1929 but they divorced in 1931. His second marriage to Leslyn McDonald lasted from 1932 until their divorce in 1947. He married his third wife, Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, on October 21, 1948 and stayed with her until his death in 1988. None of the marriages produced any children.
Robert attended University of Missouri in 1925 and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating in 1929. He completed his graduate studies in physics and mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1934.
In 1929, Heinlein was commissioned as an ensign by the U. S. Navy and became a lieutenant, junior grade, serving aboard the aircraft carrier Lexington before becoming gunnery officer on the destroyer Roper. He suffered from seasickness and eventually contracted tuberculosis, which caused him to be retired from active duty in 1934 on a small pension. After the Navy, Heinlein worked at a variety of jobs besides writing. He was owner of Shively & Sophie Lodes silver mine in Silver Plume, Colorado from 1934-35, ran as a candidate for California State Assembly in 1938, and worked as a real estate agent during the 1930s. He also worked as an aviation engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station, Philadelphia, from 1942-1945. During the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969 he was a guest commentator for Columbia Broadcasting System, and delivered the James V. Forrestal Lecture at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973.
His writing career spanned almost five decades, from 1939-1988. After working as an engineer during World War II, Heinlein returned in the late 1940s to writing short stories and juvenile fiction. It was during this time that he moved from the genre magazines in which he had made his reputation to more mainstream periodicals, particularly the Saturday Evening Post. In talking about his career with the pulp magazines, Heinlein noted, "They didn't want it good. They wanted it Wednesday." (Pace, 1980).
As Joseph Patrouch wrote, "Heinlein was the first major science-fiction writer to break out of category and reach the larger general-fiction market, and therefore he was the first to start breaking down the walls that had isolated science fiction for so long." In a poll taken by Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1953, eighteen top science fiction writers of the time cited Heinlein as the major influence on their work. His fictional writings repeatedly anticipated scientific and technological advances (Pace, 1988), from atomic power plants to water-beds.
In 1959 Heinlein published the first of what became a string of controversial novels. Starship Troopers speculated on future societal changes, postulating a world run by military veterans. It spawned a deluge of controversy among his fans, and yet Starship Troopers is still one of Heinlein's most popular novels. It won a Hugo Award and has remained in print for more than three decades.
Heinlein followed Starship Troopers with Stranger in a Strange Land, which tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a Martian with paranormal cognition, who establishes a religious movement on Earth. Members of his 'Church of All Worlds' practice group sex and live in small communes. Stranger in a Strange Land is perhaps Heinlein's best-known work. It has sold over three million copies, won a Hugo Award, created an intense cult following, and even inspired a real-life Church of All Worlds, founded by some devoted readers of the book.
In subsequent novels Heinlein continued to speculate on social changes of the future, dealing with such controversial subjects as group marriage and incest. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, lunar colonists practice a variety of marriage forms because of the shortage of women on the moon. In I Will Fear No Evil, an elderly, dying businessman has his brain transplanted into the body of a young woman. He then impregnates himself with his own sperm, previously stored in a sperm bank. Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long explores varieties of future incest through the immortal character Lazarus Long.
In the novel Friday, published in 1982, and later in Job: A Comedy of Justice and The Cat Who Walks through Walls: A Comedy of Manners, Heinlein tempered his social speculations by combining serious subject matter with rollicking interplanetary adventure.
In the 1950s, Heinlein had entered the field of television and motion pictures. His novel Space Cadet was adapted as the television program "Tom Corbett: Space Cadet." He wrote the screenplay and served as technical advisor for the film Destination Moon, described by Peter R. Weston of Speculation magazine as "the first serious and commercially successful space flight film" which "helped to pave the way" for the Apollo space program of the 1960s. Heinlein also wrote an original television pilot, "Ring around the Moon," which was expanded, without his approval, by Jack Seaman into the screenplay for the film Project Moonbase. The 1956 movie The Brain Eaters, was based on Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, also without his knowledge or approval, and in an out-of-court settlement, Heinlein received compensation and the right to demand that certain material be removed from the film. In 1994, Red Planet was made into a mini TV series, and The Puppet Masters was released starring Donald Sutherland. Starship Troopers, released in 1997, became perhaps his most notable film adaptation.
Virginia G. Heinlein, 1916-2003
Virginia G. Heinlein was born on April 22, 1916 in Brooklyn, New York, to George (a dentist) and Jeanne Gerstenfeld. She had one younger brother, Leon. She died in Florida on January 18, 2003. She attended New York University, majoring in chemistry. She lettered in swimming, diving, basketball, and field hockey. She also reached national competitive levels in figure skating, the sport that became her lifelong passion. In time, she came to speak over seven languages, including French, Latin, Italian, and Russian.
After graduating in 1937, Ginny worked for Quality Bakers until 1943 as a chemist, when she enlisted in the Navy during World War II. She advanced to lieutenant in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES). She served first at the Bureau of Aeronautics, where she met Robert Heinlein in 1944 while both were working at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia. She then served as his assistant on several classified development projects as chemist and aviation test engineer. After World War II, she came to Los Angeles to study for an unfinished doctorate in biochemistry at UCLA.
She married Robert Heinlein in Raton, New Mexico in October 1948. Ginny became his closest companion, critic, editor, and staunch supporter. She was also his muse and model for many of the savvy, brainy, redheaded female protagonists in Heinlein's oeuvre.
Robert and Ginny were a formidable team. She fielded and co-coordinated much of his correspondence, and graciously received guests and fans in public appearances and in their home. She worked tirelessly with him on blood drives held at science fiction conventions around the country. She was strong-willed and generous, and totally devoted to Robert. She nursed Robert through two life-threatening illnesses, spending years involved in every facet of his business and social life. Robert credited Ginny for the conception of Stranger in a Strange Land. When their health was robust, the Heinleins traveled extensively; their adventures around the world resulted in the travel memoir, Tramp Royale which Ginny published after his death. There is also evidence to suggest that Ginny also functioned as a political catalyst for the socially liberal Heinlein. Very shortly after their marriage, Robert's change in ideology from liberal to libertarian becomes apparent in his correspondence, and his stories.
After Robert Heinlein's death in 1988 Ginny moved to Florida where she continued her interests in gardening, cooking, reading, and politics. She gathered a selection of her husband's letters in Grumbles from the Grave, printed for the first time his travel memoir Tramp Royale and political handbook Take Back Your Government (originally titled How to Be a Politician), and oversaw the restoration of several texts she felt had been badly edited, including Red Planet, Puppet Masters, and Stranger in a Strange Land. In her later years she was active in an online listserv where she communicated with fans about her husband's work.
To futher her husband's legacy, she endowed the Robert Anson Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis with a gift of over $2.6 million, and helped found 'The Heinlein Society', an educational charity dedicated to the Heinlein legacy. She also endowed the public library in Robert Heinlein's birthplace of Butler, Missouri.