Willis Clark Conover, Jr. (December 18, 1920 – May 17, 1996) was a jazz producer and broadcaster on the Voice of America for over forty years. As a young man Conover was interested in science fiction, and published a science fiction fanzine, Science Fantasy Correspondent which brought him into contact with horror writer H. P. Lovecraft in the mid-1930s. The prolific correspondence between Lovecraft, who was at the end of his life, and the young Conover, has been published as Lovecraft at Last (Carrolton-Clark, 1975; reprint 2004).
Lovecraft at Last
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an enthusiastic letter-writer all throughout his life, sometimes writing to several people a day. Among his regular pen pals during the last year of his life was Willis Clark Conover Jr. (1920-1996) who was then a 15-year-old boy living in Cambridge, Maryland. While writing his book Lovecraft At Last, decades after HPL's death, Conover stated, "There is a paradox I can't resolve. When our correspondence began, H.P. Lovecraft was forty-five. Today I am older than he ever was, yet he is forever the older man. He was three times my age when I knew him. I still know him, and he doesn't change.... HPL lives and speaks in his letters. I am newly affected - and as much as ever - when I read them again now, from the beginning of our correspondence to its inescapable end. I don't recognize the boy any more. I do recognize the way he felt about H.P. Lovecraft because I feel the same way today. It was the boy who disappeared, not HPL."
He wrote to Weird Tales, got HPL's address in Providence, R.I. and contacted him directly. Not only did HPL agree to an interview, he supplied Willis with out-of- print poems and short stories and put him in touch with other [science fiction] and fantasy writers of "the Lovecraft Circle." [...]
In November 1936, Willis wrote [describing a dream to Lovecraft], "A few feet above the sidewalk across the street from my own house, there was a warp in space - the focal point of where the four ends of space meet. It resembled the navel of a seedless orange, but it was almost perfectly transparent: I could barely see it. On the sidewalk, my younger brother was walking - backwards - toward the space-warp. I realized it was a passage into another dimension or another time. In a moment my brother would fall right through it. He would disappear into another dimension. And I would follow him. My mother ran out of our house and into the street, to stop my brother. 'What is he doing?' she yelled. I explained that we were going into a different time-dimension - adding that we had often taken long trips in space-time, through another passageway hidden in our attic. Now I had gone - without my brother - through the space-warp above the sidewalk, and I was walking down High Street [in Cambridge, Maryland] in the early 1900s. I came to some sort of small restaurant or grille out over the [Choptank River's] edge on stilts or pilings, the entrance level with the street and touching it but some ten or fifteen feet above the water.... I asked the white-jacketed cook if he could tell me where I might find 'young Lovecraft.' He said Lovecraft was out on the river in his leaky rowboat, and pointed. Sure enough, there was the H.P. Lovecraft of about 1910, rowing toward a ladder hanging from the side of the restaurant down to the water's surface. The cook told me to stick around for a moment, he'd soon have the young fellow here.... Young Lovecraft, a somewhat frail lad of nineteen or twenty [a pretty accurate description of HPL at that age, considering that Willis never met Lovecraft--J.T.], walked up High Street with me. We chatted quite pleasantly, despite a certain reserve on his part. He seemed astonished when I told him I had come from the future to see him, that I knew the H.P. Lovecraft of nearly thirty years ahead..." At that, Willis woke up, only to find himself lying in his own bedroom in 1936.
Intrigued by the boy's letter, Lovecraft wrote back: "Your recent dreams surely seem up to the usual standard - that one about the hidden room and the not wholly alive sleeper being a winner! You ought to make a story of that!" Then came HPL's astounding revelation: "I feel greatly complimented by my inclusion in the time-juggling dream, and am glad of the data on my 1910 whereabouts. I was very ill [with a bad case of the prosaic malady measles - HPL] early in 1910, and have only a hazy recollection of things for some time during that year. Now I know where I was! Undoubtedly I had gone down to the Eastern Shore [of Maryland - J.T.] to recuperate... With this memory-jogging I distinctly recall that prepossessing visitor from the future - although I'll admit I didn't believe that time-travelling stuff. I thought you were just spoofing. Indeed, I never thought I'd be alive as far into the fabulous future as 1936. Pray accept my belated apologies for the skepticism of 1910! Incidentally, I used to do a little rowing here [on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island - J.T.] as well as in Maryland." ...Apparently, HPL's mother, Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, brought her ailing son to her brother Elliott Phillips' house in Maryland, to get away from New England's cold weather... [Willis'] "Lovecraft dream" remains unexplained.
- "UFO Roundup" ed. Joseph Trainor, Vol. 9, May 26, 2004
Conover as Jazz Producer and Broadcaster
Willis Conover was a jazz producer and broadcaster on the Voice of America for over forty years. He produced jazz concerts at the White House, the Newport Jazz Festival, and for movies and television. By arranging concerts where people of all races were welcome, he is credited with desegregating Washington D.C. nightclubs. Conover is credited with keeping interest in jazz alive in the countries of Eastern Europe through his nightly broadcasts during the Cold War.
Conover attended the Maryland State Teacher's College at Salisbury, Maryland, and became a radio announcer for WTBO in Cumberland, Maryland. He later moved to Washington, D.C., and focused on jazz in his programming, especially the Duke Ellington hour on Saturday nights. His guests on this program and Saturday morning shows included many important artists, such as Boyd Raeburn.
Conover came to work at the Voice of America, and eventually became a legend among jazz lovers, primarily due to the hour-long program on the Voice of America called Voice of America Jazz Hour. Known for his sonorous baritone voice, many would argue that he was the most important presenter on Voice of America. His slow delivery and the use of scripts written in "special English" made his programmes more widely accessible and he is said to have become the first teacher of English to a whole generation of East European jazz lovers. Conover was not well known in the United States, even among jazz aficionados, as the Voice of America did not broadcast domestically except on shortwave, but his visits to Eastern Europe and Soviet Union brought huge crowds and star treatment for him. He was a celebrity figure in the Soviet Union, where jazz was very popular and the Voice of America was a prime source of information as well as music.
He died of lung cancer. He had been a smoker for 57 years.