November 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Uncle Forry

On this day, in 1916, Forrest J Ackerman was born. Ninety-one years ago!

As a boy, Ackerman fell in love with science fiction. Growing up, he was a seminal figure in science fiction fandom. He became an expert on the subject, “Mr. Science Fiction”, and an agent to some of the best-known writers in the field. In the 50’s, he coined the now ubiquitous shorthand expression, “sci-fi”. Ackerman also loved horror and fantasy movies and he was one of the first fans to collect fantasy film memorabilia.

Forry Ackerman would make a living from scifi, but it was the monsters that would make him famous.

In 1957, the Monster Boom was getting underway. Universal had released its package of classic horror movies to television. Local stations across North America played them up, fielding comedic horror hosts to accompany the films, introducing a whole new generation — boomer kids — to Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman and Mummies. Soon, the craze would include bubble-gum cards, plastic kits, toys and other paraphernalia.

A young Philadelphia-based publisher, James Warren, took notice and proposed to issue a one-shot magazine devoted to the newly popular monster movies. Needing an editor to put it together, pure serendipity brought Warren into contact with the absolute, perfect man for the job, Forrest Ackerman. Famous Monsters of Filmland hit the streets in February 1958. It was an instant success, and a lasting one. The one-shot novelty magazine turned into a twenty-five year long adventure. It is one of the most influential magazines ever published in America.

Publisher Jim Warren created Famous Monsters of Filmland, that’s him in the monster mask on the cover of issue number one, but it was Forrest Ackerman who made it swing.

Forry, as his fans would come to know him, filled each issues with large monster movie stills and simple but fascinating news and stories about the stars, the special-effects technicians and the makeup men of monster movies, all of it topped off with corny jokes and unrepentant puns. Famous Monsters — FMOF, or FM, to fans — was FUN. Editor Forry — also known as FJA and 4SJ — was, after all, the ultimate fan. The magazine’s young readers would thrill at glimpses of Forry’s home — The Ackermansion! — stacked room after room and floor to ceiling with books, posters, lobby cards, monster masks and movie props.

FM’s success inspired countless knockoffs and, eventually, serious-minded fantasy film magazines emerged. The original FM, aimed squarely at younger readers, hardly changed through the years, progressively losing ground as its readership moved into their late teens. The last issue of the original run, No. 191, appeared in 1983.

Along the way, FJA created the comic-book character Vampirella and pursued an unusual hobby of making cameos in genre movies, over 200 appearances — some kind of record, I’m sure — including a popcorn-eating moviegoer in John Landis’ first film, Schlock!, in 1973. Forry reprised the part ten years later in Landis’ video of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

The magazine that had been created to ride the revived popularity of monster movies became the essential, central focus of the Monster Kid boom of the 1960s, and Forry Ackerman, “Dr. Acula of Hollyweird, Karloffornia”, editor of “The World’s First Film-Monster Fan Magazine” was its driving force: An entertainer, a guide, a revelator and a generous older brother who instilled and nurtured a love of monster movies to thousands of spellbound fans.

Thank you, Uncle Forry. Happy Birthday, and best of health to you!

Forry’s website, with bio.

Wiki pages for Forrest Ackerman, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and Warren Publishing.

Read a touching profile of Forry Ackerman on Flickhead, along with a list of bloggers who posted tributes celebrating Forry's 90th in 2006.


Adam Gott said...

I am glad to see that Forry is still kicking along. It has always been a pleasure to read anything that he was involved with.

Nice article!

Max the drunken severed head said...

Thanks for this post! I've linked to it at my own blog.

Joe Thompson said...

Pierre: Thanks for reminding us about Forry's birthday. I had a copy of FM taken away from me by a grammar school teacher.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Wich2 said...

Here's to (one of the) Founder(s) of the Feast!

Continued Happy Holidays, all!
-Craig W.

Pierre Fournier said...

Joe: I had a school friend who was caught in class with a copy of FM, by a nun! She took one look at the Gogos cover of The Phantom of the Opera and pronounced it “satanic”. Of course, that made the magazine twice as cool, and it also taught me that adults can be so very silly sometimes.