IT'S HARD to come up with words right now. The AP just reported that Forry Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and pretty much the father of all science fiction fandom, died yesterday of heart failure at the age of 92.
Ackerman was a big influence on me as a writer. Although I never adopted his use of bad puns, I cannot escape the flair for alliteration that I gleaned from him and Stan Lee (to the chagrin of lit snobs everywhere). But Forry’s impact on me wasn’t one so much of style. By being so visible in the pages of the issues of Famous Monsters that I read as a kid, he showed me that you could be a writer and have a hell of time doing it. Forry’s example led me to want to be a writer or editor from the age of seven onward. He also encouraged me to read H. G. Wells, Poe and Bradbury. That didn’t hurt either. Forry had an eight year old version of myself struggling to read War of the Worlds and the dreamlike prose of The Pit and the Pendulum.
I had a couple of opportunities to meet Forry. In the early 1990s, I visited him at his home in the Hollywood Hills, which he opened to the public as a veritable sci-fi (a term Ackerman coined) and monster movie museum that he called The Ackermansion. Almost every wall in his home was lined with bookshelves crammed with books. He had files filled with old movie stills in the basement. The actual armatures of the vicious stegosaurus, brontosaurus and pterodactyl from the original King Kong were displayed among other less notable pieces of memorabilia. When I was there, he still had a fair amount of models built and used by Harryhausen to bring mythical creatures to life in such films Jason and the Argonauts, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Among the items from Harryhausen’s collection were the miniatures of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco ferry building that the radioactive octopus attacks in It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). Those pieces, although more plain than so many spaceships, monsters and Spock ears, had a special resonance for me. There was an armoire stocked full of costumes from classic horror films. Forry often wore one of Bela Lugosi’s black capes with a Hawaiian shirt.
In the later 1990s, I had an opportunity to grab a bite to eat with him at the Fisherman’s Wharf Denny’s when he was in San Francisco for a book signing. The last time I saw Forry was after he had sold the Ackermansion. I was visiting my friend Pat Burger down in LA and we went to the House of Pies. “This is the place that Forry Ackerman always goes to,” I told Pat. We parked the car and then strolled through the glass doors. Forry was standing right there in front of the counter, facing us as if he were the diner’s maitre d’. It felt like it was a scene from a movie, which is a fitting final memory to have of someone like Forry.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, Ackerman is responsible for so much of the pop culture we take for granted today. I doubt we’d have Comic Con without him championing science fiction fandom and an appreciation for the offbeat or otherworldly. We might not even have Star Wars or Quentin Tarantino without him imbuing at least two generations with an appreciation of films and serials of the past through Famous Monsters. Forry is also credited with discovering Ray Bradbury, and he was L. Ron Hubbard’s literary agent back in the Scientology founder’s pre-religious figure days as a pulp sci-fi author.
But most importantly (at least to me), Forrest J. Ackerman is responsible for me. I doubt that I would have written two books if it weren't for his example. All I can say is thank you 4-E. You’re going to be missed.