Saturday, December 06, 2008


There's absolutely nothing else worth talking about: Forry Ackerman is dead.

The bland mainstream obits for Forrest J Ackerman, who died Thursday night at the age of 92, cite his coining of the term "sci-fi" and his role as the guy who discovered Ray Bradbury as his major accomplishments. (He was also L. Ron Hubbard's literary agent!) All well and good, but that's not why he was beloved.

Ackerman founded and edited Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine, and any current or recovering geek who spent a childhood in the sixties and seventies can tell you just what a lifeline that publication was. It reassured you that you weren't alone, there were many, many others out there who had the same obsessions as you, who didn't understand girls (or boys--FM had a surprisingly strong female readership), didn't care about sports, whose dreams all involved dark castles or towering monsters or the presences of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (And some things never change--twice this week, I've had dreams involving Cushing and Lee!)

My first issue of FM was in '76, and its glory days were probably already behind it. Still, it featured those gorgeously-rendered Basil Gogos covers (Rob Zombie hired Gogos to paint the cover to his Hellbilly Deluxe album, a nice reminder that as many musicians as filmmakers found inspiration in Ackerman's work) and Forry's lengthy "filmbooks", detailed plot summaries of classic and obscure fright films, accompanied by a full range of tantalyzing stills.

Those stills...those portraits of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but also George Zucco and J. Carroll Naish and dozens of utility players from the golden age, all beautifully shot by studio craftsmen. And the on-set photos from movies I knew I'd probably never see, not only the Universal classics and obscure Hammer epics (I remember a still from The Reptile, which made me want to see it so bad it hurt) and PCR programmers, and they all looked equally great.

And most importantly, those photos fired my imagination, made me dream of movies more wonderful than anything actually produced. Famous Monsters fed my obsessions when they most needed it, and I could never repay Ackerman all I owe him for helping me become whatever I was meant to be.

Still, as wonderful as FM was, it was essentially juvenile, and largely a vehicle for publisher James Warren to sell a lot of merchandise (including Tor Johnson masks!) in its back pages. Ackerman and Warren had a falling-out not long after I'd quit reading it, having abandoned it for more sophisticated publications like Starlog. (Yeah, I know, but seriously, Starlog in its earlier days was genuinely good, well-designed, well-written and only moderately geeky.) Ackerman found himself fired from the magazine he'd created, locked out of his own playhouse.

But he'd never be forgotten. In 1999, he made an appearance at the Coralville Barnes & Noble, and I had the chance to shake his hand, get his autograph and tell him how he made my life a little better. He just shrugged and said, "Thank you," because he'd heard the same thing thousands of times before.

And it was always true.