Friday, December 5, 2008

John remembers Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008)

As it would have appeared in his own magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, Prince Sirki has taken our beloved Uncle Forry from us.

Now, we can look back on his 92 years and celebrate a full life, particularly for someone unknown to the general public, but revered to generations of monster fans everywhere. It's not hyperbole when you read the list of names influenced by this one man: Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg. And that's just the tip of the titanic iceberg.

As a child of the Star Wars generation, I was born a few years too late to be considered a Monster Kid. In fact, if not for my brother Joe being 4 years older, the tail end would have completely missed me. Fortunately, I was instead exposed to classic monster movies on Creature Features, Aurora model kits and a variety of Universal Monster toys at a young, impressionable age.

Fans of Famous Monsters of Filmland would probably argue that by the time I stumbled across my first issue, #149 with a Battlestar Galactica cover, the magazine was well past its prime. I still recall stumbling across it in the magazine rack at the Fry's food store where I did the weekly grocery shopping with my Dad. (For those keeping score, yes, it's the same Fry's food store where we bought our first public domain VHS copy of Night of the Living Dead years later for the insanely reasonable sell-through price of $14.99).

Read a hundred stories of fans first encounter with the magazine, and they're almost identical. The magazine reached out to us. Our friends weren't into the same things as we were, and yet now we had proof that we weren't alone. There were others out there with similar passions. It spoke to us in a way no others had. It not only validated our interest in fantastic films, it relished in it unabashedly.

Readers of FM were aware of Forry's amazing collection, housed in his Ackermansion near Hollywood. And while ALL of us dreamed of someday visiting, I can proudly say I did. It was not in its heyday - years of allowing fans into his home unfortunately resulted in certain relics disappearing. But what remained was still amazing, if somewhat haphazardly preserved and presented.

Peter dragged me out there on our annual trek to Los Angeles back in 1994, and we subsequently ran into Forry at the paperback show we attended in subsequent years. I'll never forget after touring the house, we were told we could go through the shelves of books that Forry was selling. A mix of desire and also a sense of obligation to give something back, I searched the book racks for something appropriate. While most of the items for sale were not of particular interest, I settled on an old, hardcover copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula. It didn't matter what he would charge, it just seemed to be the most appropriate thing to commemorate my visit. I asked him if he would sign it for me, and he graciously inscribed it "John, From Bram Stoker Admirer Forrest J. Ackerman". Forry owned a copy of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker (not to mention Bela Lugosi's Dracula cape and ring) so this inscription seemed very appropriate to me.

It has been some time since I last saw Forry, and I had been following the news of his declining health for the past month or so. Along with the rest of his fans, I was pleased he was around long enough to celebrate his 92nd birthday. And while it's always sad to lose someone you admire, it wouldn't be fair to ask for much more out of life. As long as we remember him, he'll never truly be gone.

So why am I taking all this space to talk about Forrest J. Ackerman, you ask? Without him, there would be no Slaughtered Lamb Cinema. I could go into a lengthy butterfly wings flapping explanation for that - but take my word for it. It's absolutely true. I'm thankful that Forry's influence reached me.

One of my favorite quotes of his can be paraphrased as "what's the point of having such a collection if not to share it." What's the point, indeed. That's why we hope we'll see you well into the 2009 season and beyond.

Thanks Forry.