Saturday, December 06, 2008

Uncle Forry has gone to the grave

Forrest J. Ackerman, who entertained and influenced a legion of monster movie lovers via his seminal "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine throughout the 60's and 70's, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 92.

Ackerman, a childhood (and lifelong) friend of genre legends Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen, is also generally credited with coining the term "sci-fi," and also famous for the huge collection of science fiction and horror movie props and memorabilia he amassed over the years, even letting fans come into his "Ackermansion" in Hollywood to check out the merchandise.

Ackerman launched "Famous Monsters" in 1958, and the black & white magazine, with it's awesomely painted covers (many by the master Basil Gogos), quickly became a favorite of young boys, and along with Saturday afternoon showings of horror movies on TV, spurred the horror boom of the time. The magazine featured stories about horror films, make-up and special effects and the actors featured in the films, exposing legends like Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi to a new generation of fans. It was very behind the scenes for the time and was pretty influential, with young fans including Stephen King, Rick Baker, John Landis and Steven Spielberg, among others.

It probably goes without saying that as a kid I thought this magazine ruled. Anytime I saw it at the store I would instantly pester my parents to buy it. Being a magazine it was more expensive than a comic book and thus was a tougher proposition, but I still managed to get my mitts on many issues, despite my mothers distaste of the lurid covers. And, true to form, I still have a nice little wrinkled stack of those same issues.

Dr. Acula (as he referred to himself in the mag; Ackerman loved puns) eventually managed to acquire over 300,000 items in his collection of memorabilia, and he had awesome stuff - including Lugosi's Dracula cape, Mr. Spock's ears, a martian ship from "war of the Worlds," stop-motion armatures from "King Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young" and even the paper plate used by Ed Wood as a flying saucer in 'Plan 9 From Outer Space." Holy cow.

Ackerman spent his later years giving tours of his house, but also sadly fighting for the ownership rights of his magazine, because some dickhead / ass-face partner of his that came aboard in the late 80's managed to swindle them away from him. Regardless, he was without a doubt a seminal influence on the genre and early force in establishing the now-familiar concept of "fandom." His passing is a sad occasion to genre fans, and he will be missed.

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