Sunday, December 7, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman - R.I.P. Monster Man

Although I'd known for a while that he wasn't well, it still came as a shock when I read on-line (thanks Joe Moe) that Forrest J Ackerman died at age 92 this past Thursday night.

For those who don't know, Forry (4e, Uncle Forry, Dr. Acula) was the ultimate horror/sci-fi fanboy collector, an inspiration to thousands, and an influence upon... millions(?). He claimed to have coined the term 'sci-fi', and, as a literary agent, represented some of the genres greats, including Ray Bradbury.

Probably Forry's greatest influence came as the amiable, enthusiastic, and pun-prone editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (1958-1983). That's where I got to know of him. His writing was direct and engaging. He knew that kids of all ages would be reading the magazine, and he never talked down to his readers. As noted in one of Forry's obituaries FM was the first serious but not solemn genre magazine. The punning made it charming and gave it an air of innocence - despite the illustrated monstrosities between the covers. And, oh what covers! Those Basil Gogos paintings have become icons themselves.

FM #101 was my first issue, the one with Captain Marvel on the cover. We were on a summer vacation driving to Northern Ontario. I was already a rabid fan of the Universal Studios' monsters, and here was a magazine that featured them. Horror heaven. Standing at the magazine rack, looking at the Fang Mail page with a photo of a kid in monster make-up under the banner "Wanted" More Readers Like (kid's name here)" I realized that I wasn't alone in my obsession. There were more of us out there. All of us united by our fascination with monsters and horror films, and linked together through this magazine, whose beating heart was Forrest J Ackerman.

Many years would pass, with FM threading its way in and out of my awareness. After Star Wars all the genre magazines focused on sci-fi much more than horror. Can't say that I blamed them, although I did resent it.

Many of Forry's fans got to meet him at a horror or science fiction convention, or at his home (the Ackermansion and, later, the Acker-mini-mansion). His house, filled with his immense collection of sci-fi & horror literature and memorabilia, was regularly open to the public for personal guided tours & Q&A sessions. I wish I had met Forry in person and experienced that fabled collection. I had several opportunities to visit him while I studied in L.A., just a few blocks from the Ackermansion, but Forry was never at home when I came calling. During several trips back to L.A. I would check in and learn that Uncle Forry was away at a convention. So, several near misses and no cigar. The best I could do was leave a note or card.

I do have an autographed 8x10 photo of Forry sporting his Dracula cape and ring. He mailed it to me on request. The inscription reads, "Here's lurking at you, Miguel!" It's framed next to a photo of me standing at his Ackermansion gate beside the sign: "4SJ of KARLOFFORNIA". That's as close as we ever got.

During one unsuccessful visit I left a DVD copy of The Crypt Club in a bag hanging from his front door knob. Tribute to a man who I never met, but whose contagious enthusiasm for the monsters affected the course of my life.

So, on one hand, I'm sad that I never got to ask Forry about Bela, Boris, or Vincent, or that I'll never see Forry's wondrous collection of film memorabilia. On the other hand, I'm glad that he and his collection will live vividly in my imagination. Can the dream of heaven ever measure up to the reality of heaven?

I thought it might be cool to post this missive in Esperanto, which Forry knew. I don't know Esperanto, so the translation would be a fair chunk of work. It could be our final private communication. But then I remembered how Forry's writing in FM made me feel part of a community, part of the joke being shared. So I'll limit my Esperanto salute to Forry by saying, "Dankon, Uncle 4e!" You'll be missed, but not forgotten.

Forrest J Ackerman on Wikipedia

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