Did Robert Heinlein pull a fast one on a 1940 census taker?

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Dec 17, 2012

One zealous sci-fi fan decided to do a little digging into the history of classic science fiction author Robert Heinlein—instead, he found evidence of a pretty hilarious prank Heinlein may have pulled on a hapless 1940s census taker.

It seems Heinlein, author of acclaimed works such as the short story "—And He Built a Crooked House—" and the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, was not entirely honest with a government employee conducting the 1940 census when he stumbled upon his California home.

With vintage census data being released online by the truckload, File 770's Mike Glyer decided to do a little digging and see how Heinlein was listed on the report. Once he tracked it down, that's where things got a little weird.

"It's evident that Arthur Harrell, the census taker, was not a science fiction fan and he knew nothing about the occupants when he arrived," Glyer wrote. "Nor was he any better informed when he left, which is the truly bizarre part of the story."

The report says Heinlein worked as an artist in the movie business, making $4,200 a year, and his wife's name was listed as Sigred, not Leslyn. It also notes the couple were naturalized U.S. citizens from Germany (Heinlein was actually born in Missouri).

Barring a recording error, which is unlikely, it seems Heinlein and his wife Leslyn blew a lot of smoke on the census taker, and he took it all and headed down the street.

"Maybe Leslyn, in the true libertarian spirit, decided to slap some perjury on this bureaucrat and send him on his way," Glyer wrote. "Whatever personal details about the Heinleins anyone dreamed of discovering in these unsealed records—forget about it. The Heinleins always liked their privacy and even the 1940 U.S. Census did not penetrate it."

As weird as it is, this seems to be just another footnote in the interesting history of one of America's greatest science fiction writers.

(via File 770)