John Marsland Conly was born and raised in Brooklynn New York, the eldest of five children born to Leslie Conly and Agnes Mary O’Brien. He was born Christmas Eve, 1913. Leslie was a newspaperman, and John grew up to be one, too. The family may have split up in the 1920s for some reason, the youngest three children going to live in another home, where the 1930 census had them as sons and daughters of William Thompson, who was himself only 18. Both families were in Amityville, New York, at the time, though, so there may have been some kind of record-keeping snafu. By 1940, John had left Amityville, with naught but an eighth-grade education according to the census—which seems to have been wrong--and was living as a lodger in New York City, working as a copy boy.
In September of that year, he enlisted with the army, Battery G 207th Coast Artillery. He re-enlisted on 10 February 1941, this time the record giving him a four year college degree. He separated 27 October 1944. A later advertisement in Billboard magazine had him doing post-graduate work in journalism, suggesting he did indeed have much more than an eighth-grade schooling.
That Billboard advertisement is one of the two best sources of biographical information on him after his military years—admittedly, this came from a rather desultory search, Conly only ever being a tangential Fortean, more praised than contributing. The other was a blurb from Best Articles: Most Memorable Articles of the Year. According to these, Conly was doing graduate work in history, when he took a job as a copy boy with the New York Herald. After his stint with the military, he returned to journalism, going to a “North Carolina paper” then the (now-defunct) Washington Evening Star. At some point in the late 1940s he became associated with Pathfinder magazine as a writer. Pathfinder had been started in the 1890s, and was one of the pioneering current events weeklies; by the time he was there, though, it was being outpaced by Time and Newsweek, and would stop publication in 1954. He eventually became its science editor.
Conly was also doing freelance writing, and it seems that here was where he followed his passion. In 1951 he published what’s been claimed as a seminal article on hi-fidelity recordings in The Atlantic, called “They Shall Have Music,” which was credited with kickstarting the magazine into doing regular album reviews. Soon enough, he became associated with High Fidelity magazine, itself only born in 1951—finding his way from a dying magazine to the one at the start of a revolution, LPs in the 1950s. He made his way to editor no later than 1957.
He married in 1964. The woman’s name at the time of the marriage was Nadine H. Klorr, and she was from California. I do not know if either of them had been married before that. The marriage occurred in Greenwich, Connecticut, but the couple relocated to California at some point. They divorced there in 1967 (Nadine’s surname now given as Fine.) John would remarry late in life. On 21 June 1978, he wed Charlotte R. Earhart in Los Angeles. Only was 64; she was 49.
John M. Conly died not five years later, 18 February 1983, in Los Angeles. He was 69.
Conly’s first connection to the Fortean Society did not even involve him. In his controversial introduction to the omnibus version of Fort’s works, Tiffany Thayer listed the many (many) people who had no interest or were actively antagonistic to Fort. One of his categories—it could be 11, or 14, depending upon how one counted, which is such a Fortean thing to write—was “Almost without exception—all persons who have their Science and Scientists from the daily newspapers, Popular Mechanics, Sky, The American Weekly, Science News Letter, the Pathfinder, Grit or Comfort.” He would revise that opinion later.
How Conly himself came to the Fortean Society, or Fort more generally, and why, is completely unknown. The biographical data too scanty. It may very well be buried in an article he wrote, but the time and effort to dig for that (possible) nugget cannot be justified by his thin connection to the Society and otherwise lack of substantial writing (that I can find) on Fort or Fortean themes.
Given all that, there are two definite connections I can find, and, as I suggested, they imply Conly was more admired than an admirer. (Other evidence, of course, could change this conclusion: we must hold it tentatively.) The first mention came buried in Thayer’s long screed on flying saucers, “The United States of Dreamland,” from Doubt 19 (July 1947). Conly wrote one of the few popular articles on the flying saucer flap of which Thayer approved. Rather than dismiss the subject as hysteria or misidentification, he spoke to and recorded the thoughts of three reluctant witnesses. Thayer commented, “By far the best reporting to hand on the subject comes from MFS John Conly, Science Editor of Pathfinder ... Your Secretary pauses long enough to say that a disparaging reference to the quality of Pathfinder’s ‘science’ (which appears in his Introduction to the BOOKS OF CHARLES FORT) was valid when it was written and that it applied to the contents for a number of years previously. Since John Conly has been writing it the criticism is no longer justified. We hope they don’t fire John just because we like him, but if they should that will teach him to be more hysterical.”
One page later, Conly was credited with providing information helpful to the essay. Which suggests that Thayer read the article, liked it, approached Conly, and convinced him to join, allowing the tag MFS. That’s speculation, but as far as I can tell, the one issue, with its two mentions, is the entire of Conly’s career as a Fortean.