November 2009 Web Edition Issue #3
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Merely A Century
Forry is 100
by Brad Linaweaver
"He was a dear man."
Deborah Painter: Forry: The Life of Forrest J Ackerman
Exclusive to Mondo Cult, artwork by L.J. Dopp and © 2016. No reproduction without permission.
The first time was in Dallas, Texas, the summer of 1971. A childhood dream came true. Not an adolescent dream, confused with inchoate ambitions and ill defined lusts for an imaginary adulthood. Childhood fantasies come before all that. They are about the Sense of Wonder.
Suddenly, I was more than an undergraduate at Florida State University, attending Dallascon, my first science fiction convention. Finally, I was meeting Forrest J (no period for some arcane reason) Ackerman. Seeing a letter of mine published in Famous Monsters of Filmland the previous year had been a thrill, but it didn't compare to an actual encounter.
As we shook hands, I was transported back in time to the stark fears and desperate hopes of a crazily imaginative childhood. I could hear the music again. Science was magic. The future, whether good or bad, was going to be wildly different than the present. It just had to be.
Growing up, I needed Forry's magazines even more than the movies and books he celebrated. At that age, I needed a trustworthy guide for safe travel to those Other Places. There was nothing laughable about the shadow lands. Of all the wonders and horrors that might be over the next horizon, there was only one unimaginable spectre. No kid could imagine fans devouring other fans. Monsters were real. Forry was real.
MST3000 was an impossible horror to come in the real future. There was nothing that hideous when I was a kid. So it wasn't surprising when the writings of Forrest J Ackerman convinced me that I was not alone in my respect for fantastic fiction. Fandom could be trusted, back then.
In those days, fans were only mocked by those outside our world. Forry used his books and magazines and records and public appearances to bring our secret joys close enough for us to touch. And that is why he was the one to teach us that we didn't have to be serious all the time. We could laugh at ourselves (a little), and not be traitors.
We could relax. It had been natural for us to treat the scorn of the relentlessly mundane with a fannish version of payback. As the villagers lit their torches, and prepared to march on the Castle, we kept the diabolical engines running and humming and sparking in the laboratory. Our light would shine a thousand times brighter than the torches, and burn out the eyes of the enemy.
Pretty serious stuff.
Then came Forry, FJA, 4e, 4SJ, the Ackermonster, Dr. Acula, Karlon Targosi, Weaver Wright, Robot Mitchum (remember that one?), Spencer Strong, Writer to the Stars, the original Sci-Fi Guy, Mr. Science Fiction and Forrest J Ackerman. He was all of them. He was Uncle Forry, and he calmed us down. He winked at us, and threw out terrible puns that Isaac Asimov and Robert Bloch would hesitate to use. We could laugh again, without insulting the things we loved. We turned off the engines of the night, and didn't turn destructive rays on the villagers.
Well, not yet.
For all the intellectual and aesthetic achievements of Calvin T(with a period) Beck, he never understood the historic importance of Ackerman's achievements. Beck wasn't alone. In times to come, others would fail to understand.
As for Calvin, Castle of Frankenstein in its brief run became a better magazine than Famous Monsters of Filmland, Spacemen and Monster World. But CoF would never have existed without Forry blazing the way.
We were adolescents by the time of CoF. We had needed FM at a more important period of life. But FM helped us to grow up. No publication strictly for children could do that. Besides, Forry found all sorts of ways to reach an older audience throughout his multi-faceted career.
Over the years, it's been my honor to write about Forry—and with Forry. That experience remains with me, long after his death.
When she sat in the Famous Monsters Editor's Chair, Jessie Lilley allowed me pretty much to say it all in FM #251. Now, Mondo Cult is the right place for expressing heartfelt gratitude to Jessie for that opportunity in 2010.
I only wrote for FM when Forry was editing it during the Ray Ferry period, and when Jessie was editing it in the continuing undead Phil Kim era. FM became Forry's Frankenstein monster, lumbering off a cliff from time to time. Then it would be necessary for Fritz or Igor to bring the comatose creature back to the lab. When the latest in Frankenscience was about to restore the creature, here comes the sleazy criminal hypnotist from The Evil of Frankenstein to chart a new course. Let's trust this guy!!!
The truth is that Famous Monsters of Filmland can never be permanently severed from its founding genius, any more than Playboy can be torn away from Hefner's vision, despite strenuous efforts in that direction. The old movies teach us well. The monster will always return, even less cooperative when encountering new management.
Forry left his mark in many places. No telling where his influence will be felt next. That signpost up ahead, it's a weird suburb in Hollyweird, Karloffornia....
L. J. Dopp, the artist who created the remarkable painting gracing this tribute, was present at the dedication of a square in honor of FJA at Franklin & Vermont in Los Feliz (LA), on Nov. 17, 2016.
In addition to giving us a picture, he offers these words of how Forry touched his life.
"Forrest J Ackerman brought people together. He helped me in life, partly by hosting my star-studded co-production of The Boneyard Collection, agreed upon with a handshake over a milkshake at McDonald's on Vermont. He helped me in death by passing in 2008 at the exact minute depicted by the hands on the clock in the "Blue Forry" painting I had given him in 2004. That simple gift saw me written-up in Fate Magazine for the coincidence: an article interrupted by a mysterious, inexplicable line of type IN THE MIDDLE OF MY NAME, which had seemed a message from Forry when the same line of type was mysteriously, inexplicably altered by a precise ink stain—after coming out of Paul Davids' printer UNSTAINED a year earlier. The Blue Forry painting has subsequently been used by writer-producer Davids (The Sci-Fi Boys) as DVD cover art for his film, "The Life After Death Project," which documents phenomena associated with FJA from "beyond the grave;" and again as the jacket illustration for Davids' hardcover book, "An Atheist in the Afterlife," a companion piece of over 150 further, mysterious and inexplicable incidents regarding Forrest J Ackerman, the titular atheist who promised to send a "convincing message" if he found there was a hereafter, after all. Forry also indicated he would stick around for a hundred years... but what now?"
FJA Square dedication at Franklin & Vermont, 11-17-16; (l-r standing) Sean Fernald, Kevin Burns, Paul Davids, Joe Moe, L.J. Dopp, Mick Garris, William Malone, Joel Eisenberg, and don't know the rest. Happy to fill in the names as they are sent along.
We continue to honor our late friend, just as we honored him when he was one of the most alive individuals we ever met. Memory marches on, leaving very large footprints in the snow.
Forry loved to do film cameos. A perfect one was thanks to Fred Olen Ray.
Fred has this to say about how Forry touched his life.
"When I moved to Los Angeles, one of the first things I did was contact 4SJ, legendary for his willingness to meet fans. True to his history, Forry invited me over to the Ackermansion and predicted I would do great things in Hollywood. I never looked back."
Fred did right by Forry.
On the set of Attack of the 60 foot Centerfold with 4SJ and Fred Olen Ray
Dressed in full Lugosi regalia, Forry was the statue of Dracula that came to life in front of the Hollywood Wax Museum. The film was Attack of the 60 foot Centerfold. It was seen everywhere by everyone, and was promoted in the real Playboy. In other words, it received what might be called exposure.
T & A, giants and Dracula. It was an adolescent fan's dream come true. Those of us involved with it will cherish the experience forever.
"The blood is the life."
Or . . . "Blood and brains," as Lugosi's Dracula expands the menu in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Forry gave equal time to the emotions and the intellect in entertainment. He used films to inspire young fans to read; and then used literary influences on film and TV to inspire older fans to give mass media a look. His lifelong campaign was to forge an alliance between the head and heart, the theme of his favorite film, Metropolis.
In his introduction to the reissued novel by Thea von Harbou (also the screenwriter and then wife of director, Fritz Lang) Forry, compiled his definitive list of what attracts us to the fiction of dreams: "Science and Fantasy, Horror and Beauty; Mystery, Menace, Madness, Magnificence, Significance."
Forry was a literary agent for numerous writers. No author embodied his vision more completely than science fiction grand master, A. E. van Vogt, a star of the John W. Campbell, Jr., Astounding. Van's widow, Lydia, who will be 90 years young in 2017, shares this with us:
"I married Van in October of 1979. That's when I met Forry, his agent for many years. I liked Forry very much. He was a positive person who made a contribution to science fiction."
"I'd reached some kind of summit. Plus, there was Lydia sharing the stage."
One of the highlights of my life was when Lydia van Vogt presented me with the Helping Hand Award at Forry's 88th birthday event. I had collaborated with Forry on Worlds of Tomorrow: The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art. As a Sci-Fi Kid, and self appointed member of the Slan Pack, I'd reached some kind of summit. Plus, there was Lydia sharing the stage. Forry and I couldn't do a book like that without references to Van.
Yes, it's an amazing universe. Monsters are someone else's Aliens, and vice versa. We explore all the possibilities with pictures and words, images and ideas, blood and brains.
Forry's greatest achievement was breaking down the barriers in fandom. The result is a force that is in the process of taking over Mass Media.
When I first met my best friend Bill Ritch, he was more of a reader and less of a watcher. I made a good impression on him because I straddled both domains without getting a hernia. The wisdom of Forry was what the doctor ordered. Bill will explain what kind of doctor:
"Forry Ackerman enticed us with stories of maniacal MDs and misunderstood monsters, all while lauding the actors who brought them to life—and the writers, directors, and artists who made them part of real life and reel life."
If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the right sequence of words can be worth a thousand pictures—as the flow of images carries us in our mind's eye to the Citadel of Dreams.
But as we all know, a dream can go from good to bad without internal vigilance. When our hero went through his nightmare with Ray Ferry, and FM wandered away from Forrest into the forest, two of the world's good guys came to the rescue: Buddy Barnett and Michael Copner. They offered Forry a temporary revival of another of his classic filmagazines, Spacemen. There would be special double-issues of Cult Movies, in the style of old Ace science fiction double novels. You could flip the magazine over for SM, then back again for CM. It was fun while it lasted.
At any rate, Buddy and Mike were not finished helping Forry. Next on the agenda was Cult Movies TV, a short lived series that never dies, and is more popular than ever on DVD and online. The first guest was never in doubt. Forry launched the series. (He also attacked me on camera with one of the original Tingler props. Always give the audience what it wants.)
"Always give the audience what it wants." | CULT MOVIES TV
Photo lovingly restored by J. Kent Hastings
The story of Cult Movies and Forry has yet another chapter. Long time readers of Mondo Cult know about Forry's involvement as Dr. Acula in the film, The Boneyard Collection. L. J. Dopp shares info on the genesis of the project with his comments that were quoted in this article.
Mondo readers who weren't part of the Golden Age of Cult Movies might not be familiar with another horror comedy film in which Forry plays a major role.
Buddy tells us about that one.
"Before Ed Plumb was co-producing The Boneyard Collection, he was the hands on producer and primary writer on The Vampire Hunters Club. His Irena Belle Films co-produced with Doodle Barnett Productions, and we were happy with the final result. Forry looks great in it. The cast is made up of classic Cult Movies stars. We are hoping to make it available on the Internet in the near future."
I hope this happens, and not only because it's my only appearance as a werewolf. The Vampire Hunters Club is part of the history of cult movies and must not vanish from the earth. What is also interesting about this film is that instead of playing a monster or mad scientist, Forry is hunting the creatures of the night. We get to see him in a costume inspired by the H. G. Wells film, Things to Come.
Poster art by Gahan Wilson
Speaking of which . . . .
Not every hope for the future has come to pass. Moving from understatement to declaration, the 21st Century is something of a disappointment.
Too often, when something promising begins to grow in the garden of earthly delights, a disreputable gardener shows up with rusty shears. Or are those brown splotches dried blood? Snip Snip Snip. He cuts the life out of all the blooms. So it is with the ongoing tragi-comedy of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Jessie Lilley took the editor's chair as a sacred duty. She worked hard. She kept true to Forry's original intent as well as anyone could in this Century.
After her departure, others have come and gone, some more dedicated to Forry's ideals than others. The last man standing expressed his regrets in issue #288, which was out in time for the century mark of the FJA birthday.
His name is David Weiner, and the following appears in his farewell editorial:
"After seven memorable magazine entries under my stewardship as its executive editor, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine—in its current format—is ending. Moving forward, FM will continue on as an art-driven publication . . .As a company and a brand, Famous Monsters continues to thrive in other fields from comics, art publication, and live events, to merchandising and other forms of mass media."
As a British bobby might ask, after surveying the scene of the crime, "What's all this, then?"
Sounds as if there's some thriving going on.
It's all about Phil Kim, who has finally reduced Forry to a face icon, a Halloween mask.
Paging the Bat Pack. Calling all Monster Kids. Hello? Is anyone there? Has this line gone dead?
Bet you didn't know that FM lacked a pictorial emphasis in the Golden Age. Many of us leafed through the magazine, and looked at the pictures before we read the first article. The Basil Gogos covers reached out from the news-stands and grabbed us by the eyeballs.
The parents groups and morality police who hated the magazine thought it was an art-driven publication. They were more bothered by the images than the words. A reprinted movie poster caused more alarm than blocks of text.
Throughout this tribute to my hero, I have stressed that Forry was equally dedicated to pictures and words. Now the policy of the Phil Kim Entity has taken a page (so to speak) from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and thrown away the words.
Years ago, I met Phil Kim in company with Jessie Lilley and J. Kent Hastings. As the new publisher of FM, Phil sang the praises of Ackerman. He was more grandiose than Ray Ferry. The more Phil talked about the future, the more my heart sank. The days when I believed in the future were already relegated to the past.
Phil was passing out goodies. That was appropriate. Jessie was his new editor and I was one of the writers. I asked him for his autograph on slick paper items where a silver sharpie was the best way to oblige.
The combination warehouse/office was loaded with attractive collector's items, and office supplies, but Phil couldn't lay his hands on a sharpie.
Then Kent spoke these immortal words: "Forry would have a silver pen."
I thought that was pretty funny. Phil Kim didn't share my amusement. He stopped referring to Kent by name after that. He'd say things like, "Here is a poster for your friend."
In retrospect, I should have realized that someone who loved Forry would have laughed at Kent's remark, instead of being irritated or mildly threatened. I wasn't smart enough to see what was really going on that day. I didn't predict a Thing to Come real soon now, when only a shambling zombie, covered in high end art, but bereft of thoughts and a soul, will pretend to be Famous Monsters of Filmland.
The worst development in contemporary business practices is an almost hysterical insincerity. The new kind of businessman doesn't respect his customers enough to believe his own malarkey. The old school actually believed in the goals before going to market.
Forrest J Ackerman stood by everything he did. He was a positive person, as Lydia van Vogt says.
And he had a silver pen.
Read Jessie Lilley's Birthday Thoughts HERE