Sunday, December 7, 2008

When the legends die -- RIP, Forrest J Ackerman

A fond farewell to "ultimate fan" Forrest J Ackerman, whose magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland was required reading for a generation of horror and science fiction fans.

Ackerman, 92, died on December 4th, after years of ill health, and 50 years after the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland was published. I was never a Famous Monsters reader: I preferred my genre-movie writing a little more serious. But Famous Monsters blazed the trail that produced everything from Cinefantastique to Video Watchdog, driven by the once-revolutionary idea that far from destroying the magic, examining the behind-the-scenes details of moviemaking only enhanced it. Famous Monsters is often rememberd — fondly and not-so fondly, depending on your predilections — for its lame puns and goofy jokes. But it also published phots of make-up artists, actors, special effects crews in the process of creating the movies so dear to genre fans' hearts. Ackerman was devoted to the first wave of classic American horror films, moody, B&W Universal pictures like Frankenstein and Dracula (both 1931). But Famous Monsters gave equal time to AIP's teenage monster movies, Toho's kaiju eiga and Hammer's gothic revamps, all of which spawned their own cults.

Ackerman worked as a literary agent specializing in science fiction, and his client list included Ray Bradbury and L. Ron Hubbard, back when Hubbard was pretending that what he wrote was anything but fiction. Ackerman's fans became filmmakers themselves, Ackerman was given bit parts in dozens of movies, including John Landis' Innocent Blood, Jim Wynorski's Vampirella &mdash Ackerman co-created the blood-drinking beauty from the planet Drakulon — and several each by Joe Dante and Fred Olen Ray.

Ackerman was a collector extraordinaire who started accumulating movie-related materials as a child; while still a teenager, he badgered Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle into giving him the sound disks from Frankenstein and Murders in the Rue Morgue. Ackerman gradually filled the Los Angeles home he dubbed "the Ackermansion" with hundreds of thousands of pieces of movie memorabilia, many donated by friends ranging from Ray Harryhausen to Bela Lugosi, and cheerfullyopened his collection to the public. Sadly, most of his books, props, stamps, paintings, models and posters were later sold to pay medical bills and legal fees (he was enmeshed in a long-running lawsuit with a onetime business associate).

This video interview with Ackerman includes a brief tour of the Ackermansion:

They don't make 'em like Ackerman anymore, and his death makes the world of fandom a poorer place.

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