Forrest J Ackerman Dies
One of the founders of First Fandom, Forrest J Ackerman died Thursday of heart failure at his Los Angeles home, said Kevin Burns, head of Prometheus Entertainment and a trustee of Ackerman’s estate. He was 92.
Born November 24, 1916, Ackerman is best known today as godfather to a generation of filmmakers who were raised on his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine but he had an extensive career as an author, agent, and most of all, a fan. He also co-created Vampirella, writing for her first adventure for publisher Jim Warren.
His influence to the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic book fields cannot be overstated. He was the living embodiment of fandom and a tireless ambassador for close to seventy years. Hundreds of working professionals owe some debt of gratitude to Ackerman’s efforts.
The Early Years
Ackerman grew up on the early days of science fiction as the category grew in pulp magazines. His diet of reading included Amazing Stories and other titles, leading him to write letters to the editor, which were published. As a result, he struck up correspondence with other fans leading to the formation of his The Boys’ Scientifiction Club in 1930. The young man also contributed articles and reviews to the earliest fanzines including Julie Schwartz and Mort Weisinger’s Time Traveller and Jerry Siegel’s Science Fiction Magazine.
On the west coast, Ackerman is known to have invited would-be writer Ray Bradbury to Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club, where the newsboy was introduced to met the writers Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Williamson. He’s also credited with founding the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and the National Fantasy Fan Federation.
When New York fans in 1939 put on what is now considered to be the first science fiction convention, Ackerman traveled east and arrived, wearing an outfit based on the 1936 Things to Come film. As the World Science Fiction Convention established itself, Ackerman prided himself on attending all but two through 2007.
His Los Angeles home was known as the Ackermansion and he proudly displayed his wares for all to see despite the countless incidents of theft through the years. Fans, beginning in 1951, flocked to visit the mansion even after he moved and downsized until the doors closed for good in 2002. His collection, at its peak, contained invaluable stills, scripts, props, costumes and memorabilia.
His efforts as a fan and collector were acknowledged when he received a unique 1953 Hugo Award for "#1 Fan Personality".
He was prolific author, penning tales under a variety of names including, according to Wikipedia, Weaver Wright, Spencer Strong, Walter Chinwell, Allis Villette, Alus Kerlay, Alden Lorraine, J. Forrester Eckman, Fisher Trentworth, SF Balboa, Hubert G. Wells, Jacues De Forest Erman, Jone Lee Heard, Sgt. Ack-Ack, and Dr. Acula. In collaboration with others: Jacques de Forrest Erman (with Wilfred Owen Morley), Geoffrey Giles (with Walter Gillings). As Laurajean Ermayne, he wrote lesbian novels to help Daughters of Bilitis get established.
He had over 50 stories published in addition to countless articles, essays and book introductions.
In 1957, the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s was packaged for syndication around the country.
At much the same time, a group of American science fiction fans traveled overseas to attend that year’s World Science Fiction Convention. Among their group was Ackerman. He spotted a French magazine about a then-current horror film, and when he bought it for his collection, took the first step on a new path.
“On the cover was Henry Hull as the Werewolf of London. That attracted me, and inside I found the entire issue was dedicated to imagi-movies,” Ackerman recalled years later.
“I stopped in New York on the way back home to California. At the time, I had been involved as a literary agent specializing in science fiction. I’d been selling to a magazine called After Hours, which was a kind of a poor man’s Playboy; it was edited and published by a fellow named James Warren.
“Warren knew I was in town, so he came to meet me at my hotel, and we went down the street to an eating place. I told him about the convention, and then I showed him this movie magazine from France. Well, in his mind’s eye, he could immediately see it turning into English. As he began reading and translating the text, he found it all rather dry and didactic, which he felt wouldn’t exactly appeal to an American audience.
“At that point he was ready to give up on the notion, but I spoke up and I said, ‘Well, I have about 35,000 stills at the present time. I’ve been seeing these fantastic movies ever since I was 5½, back in 1922. I’m sure I can put together a magazine like this for you.’
“When he came out to my home and saw that, indeed, I did have 35,000 stills, the next thing I knew I was sitting at a dining room table with an old mechanical typewriter, and he was sitting opposite me with a sign which read, ‘I’m 11½ years old and I am your reader. Forry Ackerman, make me laugh!’
“At the time there were thirteen distributors and every last one of them had turned down the idea of a magazine with crazy messed-up faces in it. That might have been the end of it, but right about then Life magazine came to his rescue with a feature on the runaway success of teen-age monster movies such as I Was a Teen-age Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. After that issue appeared, one of the magazine distributors remembered that crazy editor who’d been around. That distributor called Warren back, and when Warren again brought up the idea of Wonderama, the distributor told him, ‘No, no, forget about that — put monsters on the cover and you’re in business.’ He didn’t care much what was inside as long as it was appealing to the teenage crowd that was into monsters.
“Well, that didn’t make me too happy; I had really wanted a serious publication. I had no original intention of funning around with fantasy films. But that was what was required, so for about twenty hours a day I sat in front of a typewriter so hot it was smoking (I was afraid I was going to die of cancer, it was smoking so badly). At about four in the morning, publisher Warren and I would go over to a 24-hour eating place for orange juice, coffee, and hot cakes. After that I would take him to his motel, then four hours later, pick him up at about eight o’clock in the morning and away we would go. It went on for days and days like that, but in the end we had a magazine we were both reasonably happy with — it was the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.”
The February 1958 magazine was merely envisioned as a one-shot but while there had been a movie magazines about celebrities and major motion pictures, never before had there been a nationally-distributed magazine about a single genre. As a result, it sold beyond their expectations and Warren asked Ackerman to produce more issues.
Ackerman’s love for the field was felt on every page, as he approached the subject with a child’s enthusiasm. He featured the classic horror movie monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula, but approached them with some reverence and lots of irreverence as he regularly used puns to keep himself, and his readers, entertained.
The magazine proved a success and was the foundation for Warren’s publishing company which later added familiar titles including Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.
Over time, Ackerman’s coverage went from the monsters and their portrayers to those who actually made the movies. He interviewed the directors, producers and screenwriters, making their names as familiar as those of Chaney, Karloff and Lugosi. Forry went a step further, spotlighting the makeup artists and special effects masters of the day, explaining how the movie magic was made.
An entire generation of reader was heavily influenced by this magazine since nowhere else was this information available. Steve Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren and John Landis, all of whom have entered the film business, point to FM as their inspiration.
The magazine spawned annuals and one-shots with Ackerman helming every issue until 1983. After a disagreement with Warren, Forry withdrew from his offspring. The magazine limped on without him for another issue, shitting down after 191 issues.
In 1993, Ray Ferry made a deal to acquire rights to revive the publication and hired Forry to once more assume his Dr. Acula guise and crank up the pun machine. Fans greeted the title like a long lost friend but complications forced Forry to step down after ten issues. Ferry continued the publication until 2008.
Ackerman also was largely responsible for the 1970s arrival of German science fiction hero Perry Rhodan to arrive in American bookstores. The Ace translations ran from 1969 through 1977 with his German-speaking wife Wendayne handling the work.
Ackerman was a frequent actor, cameoing usually as himself in television, film, and novel projects including Dead Alive, The Howling, Innocent Blood, Amazon Women on the Moon and others.
He was heavily featured in the documentary Sci Fi Boys, chronicling his influence on Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, John Landis and others.
At the time of his death, Ackerman was a board member of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, where items from his own dwindling collection are displayed.