Saturday, December 6, 2008

Deceased--Forrest J Ackerman

Forrest J Ackerman
November 24th, 1916 to December 4th, 2008

No, Forrest J Ackerman was not a scientist but promoter and custodian of all that dealt with science fiction or as he coined "sci-fi" from the literary to motion pictures--an adult with a little boy's imagination and spirit. I well remember heading to this city's most famous newsstand, "Time To Read", on the south side of 12th street between Main and Walnut streets. Probably the busiest business save the greasy spoon fair at S.S. Kreskies' and Woolworth's luncheon counters...and the bookstore was open 24 hours a day offering a huge selection of magazines [domestic and import], paperbacks, and newspapers from around the world. And it was there that Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine found my fancy of rare, still photographs of many of my favorite horror and sci-ci films with "behind the scenes" narrative. Alas, I later abandoned the cult of sci-ci cinema for Scientific American and esoteric science paperbacks but it was comforting that Forrest J Ackerman continued assisting writers and collecting memorabilia. The sad part of his life is that he had to liquidate some of his property and collection to pay medical bills. I wonder what will happen to the collection now?

"Forrest J Ackerman, High Elder of Fantasy Fans, Is Dead at 92"


Bruce Weber

December 6th, 2008

The New York Times

It's a common claim that someone is the world's biggest fan of such-and-such. Elizabeth Taylor's biggest fan. The biggest fan of the New York Jets. The world's biggest country music fan. Hardly anyone takes such a designation seriously, except, perhaps, when it comes to Forrest J Ackerman, whose obsessive devotion to science fiction and horror stories was so fierce that he helped propel their popularity. Indeed, he was widely credited with coining the term sci-fi.

Mr. Ackerman died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92. The cause was heart failure, The Associated Press reported, quoting Kevin Burns, who is head of the production company Prometheus Entertainment and a trustee of Mr. Ackerman's estate.

In the cultural niche defined by monsters, rocket ships and severed body parts, Mr. Ackerman was decreed by acclamation to be its leading citizen. He was a film buff, an editor of pulp magazines and anthologies, a literary agent for dozens of science fiction writers and an amateur historian. No one has evidently disputed his claim that he created the expression sci-fi.

He was also an omnivorous memorabilia collector who once turned a former home of his overlooking Los Angeles into a sort of scream-a-torium. Thousands of science-fiction fans made pilgrimages to the house, a repository of more than 300,000 books, posters, masks, costumes, statuettes, models, film props and other artifacts. (He sold the house several years ago to pay for mounting medical bills.)

"He was the world's biggest fan", the writer Stephen King said in a recent phone interview. "If you had been to his house, you wouldn't doubt it."

Mr. Ackerman's appetite for science fiction embraced the highbrow as well as the low. His favorite film, he often said, was Fritz Lang’s futuristic masterpiece from 1927, "Metropolis." He said he had seen it nearly 100 times. In 2002, when he received a lifetime achievement award at the World Fantasy Convention, he shared honors with one of the most admired writers of fantasy and science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin, whose book "The Other Wind" was named the year's best novel.

But Mr. Ackerman spent most of his time in the arena of pop culture. Between 1958 and 1983, he wrote and edited Famous Monsters of Filmland, a seminal black-and-white magazine heavily illustrated with photographs from Mr. Ackerman's collection. The magazine emphasized the scream-worthy features of movies and was fond of groan-worthy wordplay. "Menace, Anyone?" was a typical title. But it also conveyed the idea that language was flexible and that using it could be fun.

The magazine fired the imaginations of generations of young horror fans, including Mr. King and the filmmakers George Lucas and Joe Dante ("Gremlins").

"When you think of the size of the business, the dollar amount, that has sprung up out of fantasy, the people who made everything from 'Star Wars' to 'Jaws,'" Mr. King said, "well, Forry was a part of their growing up. The first time I met Steven Spielberg, we didn't talk about movies. We talked about monsters and Forry Ackerman."

Forrest James Ackerman (he used his middle initial, but without the period) was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 24, 1916. His father was a statistician for an oil company. He saw his first science-fiction film in 1922: "One Glorious Day," the story of a disembodied spirit that takes over the soul of a tired professor, played by Will Rogers. Four years later he discovered science-fiction magazines, starting with Amazing Stories, and began collecting them and science-fiction memorabilia. His collection eventually included more than 40,000 books and 100,000 film stills.

His wife, Wendayne, a teacher who translated many science-fiction novels from French and German into English, put up with the collection but restricted it to the lower floors of the house, which in the science-fiction world was known as the Ackermansion, in Horrorwood, Karloffornia. (After her death in 1990, the collection began creeping up the stairs.)

The couple had no children, and Mr. Ackerman leaves no immediate survivors.

After serving in the Army during World War II, he started a literary agency that eventually represented, by his count, 200 writers, including, at different times, Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft and L. Ron Hubbard, who later founded Scientology.

Mr. Ackerman said he came up with "sci-fi" in 1954. He was driving in a car with his wife when he heard a radio announcer say "hi-fi." The term sci-fi just came reflexively and unbidden out of his mouth, he said.

Over the years he published as many as 50 short stories of his own, wrote most of the articles in Famous Monsters himself under pseudonyms like Dr. Ackula and wrote and edited many other magazines with titles like Monster World. At his induction into the Horror Hall of Fame in 1990, the actor Robert Englund (a k a the serial killer Freddy Krueger in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films) introduced Mr. Ackerman as "the Hugh Hefner of horror."

Mr. Ackerman also invented the comic character Vampirella. And as testimony to his ubiquitous presence, he acted (sort of) in more than 50 films, almost always as an extra. His longest screen appearance was a two-minute scene in which he played the president of the United States in the science-fiction spoof "Amazon Women on the Moon" (1987).

"He was an appreciator, a collector, not a creator," Mr. King said. "Well, he was a creator in the sense that with the magazine he gave us a window into a world we really wanted to see. He was our Hubble telescope."

"Forrest J Ackerman, writer-editor who coined 'sci-fi,' dies at 92"

The Los Angeles native influenced young fans with his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and spent a lifetime amassing a vast collection of science fiction and fantasy memorabilia.


Dennis McLellan

December 6th, 2008

Los Angeles Times

Forrest J Ackerman, who influenced a generation of young horror-movie fans with Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and spent a lifetime amassing what has been called the world's largest personal collection of science-fiction and fantasy memorabilia, has died. He was 92.

Ackerman, a writer, editor and literary agent who has been credited with coining the term "sci-fi" in the 1950s, died Thursday of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles, said John Sasser, a friend who is making a documentary on Ackerman.

As editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Ackerman wrote most of the articles in the photo-laden magazine launched in 1958 as a forum for past and present horror films.

"It was the first movie-monster magazine," Tony Timpone, editor of horror-movie magazine Fangoria, told The Times in 2002.

Timpone, who began reading Famous Monsters as a young boy in the early '70s, remembered it as "a black-and-white magazine with cheap paper but great painted [color] covers. It really turned people on to the magic of horror movies."

Primarily targeted to late pre-adolescents and young teenagers, Famous Monsters of Filmland featured synopses of horror films; interviews with actors such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price; and articles about makeup and special effects.

The magazine reflected Ackerman's penchant for puns, with features such as "The Printed Weird" and "Fang Mail." Ackerman referred to himself as Dr. Acula.

"He put a lot of his personality into the magazine," said Timpone, who became friends with Ackerman. "It was a pretty juvenile approach to genre journalism, but as kids that's all we had."

Among those who grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland was author Stephen King. Other childhood readers included movie directors Joe Dante, John Landis and Steven Spielberg, who once autographed a poster of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" for Ackerman, saying, "A generation of fantasy lovers thank you for raising us so well."

Ackerman was a celebrity in his own right, once signing 10,000 autographs during a three-day monster-movie convention in New York City.

This, after all, was the man who created and wrote the comic book characters Vampirella and Jeanie of Questar and was the ultimate fan's fan: a man who actually had known Lugosi and Karloff and whose priceless collection of science-fiction, horror and fantasy artifacts ran to some 300,000 items.

For years, Ackerman housed his enormous cache of books, movie stills, posters, paintings, movie props, masks and assorted memorabilia in his 18-room home in Los Feliz.

He dubbed the house the Ackermansion. The jam-packed repository included everything from a Dracula cape worn by Lugosi to Mr. Spock's pointy ears and from Lon Chaney Sr.'s makeup kit to the paper-plate flying saucer used by director Ed Wood in "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

For Ackerman, a native Angeleno born Nov. 24, 1916, it all began at age 9.

That's when he stopped at a drugstore on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood and bought his first copy of the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories.

Ackerman was helplessly hooked.

By his late teens, he had mastered Esperanto, the invented international language. In 1929, he founded the Boys Scientifiction Club. In 1932, he joined a group of other young fans in launching the Time Traveler, which is considered the first fan magazine devoted exclusively to science fiction and for which Ackerman was "contributing editor."

Ackerman also joined with other local fans in starting a chapter of the Science Fiction Society -- meetings were held in Clifton's Cafeteria in downtown L.A. -- and as editor of the group's fan publication Imagination!, he published in 1938 a young Ray Bradbury's first short story.

During World War II, Ackerman edited a military newspaper published at Ft. MacArthur in San Pedro. After the war, he worked as a literary agent. His agency represented scores of science-fiction writers, including L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, H.L. Gold, Ray Cummings and Hugo Gernsback.

In 1954, Ackerman coined the term that would become part of the popular lexicon -- a term said to make some fans cringe.

"My wife and I were listening to the radio, and when someone said 'hi-fi' the word 'sci-fi' suddenly hit me," Ackerman explained to The Times in 1982. "If my interest had been soap operas, I guess it would have been 'cry-fi,' or James Bond, 'spy-fi.' "

At the time, Ackerman already was well-known among science-fiction and horror aficionados for his massive collection. After a couple from Texas showed up on his doorstep in 1951 asking to view the collection, Ackerman began opening up his home for regular, informal tours on Saturdays. Over the years, thousands of people made the pilgrimage to the Ackermansion.

The Dracula/Frankenstein room featured a casket as a "coffin table" and the cape Lugosi wore in the stage version of "Dracula." A case displayed one of the horror film legend's bow ties, which, Ackerman would gleefully note, contained a drop of blood.

Among the collection's other highlights: the ring worn by Lugosi in "Dracula," the giant-winged pterodactyl that swooped down for Fay Wray in "King Kong," Lon Chaney's cape from "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Metropolis" director Fritz Lang's monocle.

The affable Ackerman would escort his visitors through the priceless warren of books, posters and memorabilia, settling into a chair in each room and answering questions.

"He was always just a big kid," said Fangoria's Timpone. "I really cherished all the times I've been with him."

Ackerman wrote more than 2,000 articles and short stories for magazines and anthologies, sometimes under the pseudonyms Dr. Acula, Weaver Wright and Claire Voyant.

He also wrote what has been reported to be the first lesbian science-fiction story ever published, "World of Loneliness." And under the pen name Laurajean Ermayne, he wrote lesbian romances in the late 1940s for the lesbian magazine Vice Versa.

Ackerman edited or co-edited numerous books, including "A Book of Weird Tales" and "365 Science Fiction Short Stories."

Over the years, he made numerous cameo appearances in films, including Dante's "The Howling" and Landis' "Innocent Blood." Landis also had Ackerman eating popcorn behind Michael Jackson in the movie theater scene in his "Thriller" video.

Famous Monsters of Filmland ceased publication in 1983, but returned a decade later with Ray Ferry as publisher and Ackerman as editor. Ackerman, however, reportedly had a falling out with Ferry and left the magazine. Years of litigation followed. In 2000, after a civil trial, Ackerman won a trademark infringement and breach-of-contract lawsuit against Ferry, though he said a year later that he had not yet collected a penny of the judgment.

In recent decades, according to a 2003 Times story, Ackerman slowly sold pieces of his massive collection in order to survive. Because of health problems and his still-unresolved legal battle, he put up all but about 100 of his favorite objects for sale in 2002.

The same year, he moved out of the Ackermansion and into a bungalow in the flats of Los Feliz. But he continued to make what was left of his collection available for fans to view on Saturday mornings.

"I call it the Acker Mini-Mansion," he said.

Ackerman's wife, Wendayne, died in 1990; he has no surviving family members.

"Sci-Fi's No. 1 Fanboy, Forrest J Ackerman, Dies at 92"


Richard Corliss

December 6th, 2008


Fan as in fanatic. Fan as in fancier. Fan as in fantasy lover. Forrest J Ackerman, who died Thursday at 92 of a heart attack in Los Angeles, was all these things and many more: literary agent for such science fiction authors as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Curt Siodmak and L. Ron Hubbard; actor and talisman in more than 50 films (The Howling, Beverly Hills Cop III, Amazon Women on the Moon); editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and creator of the Vampirella comic book franchise. But each of these trades was an exponent of his educated ardor for science fiction, fantasy and horror, and his need to share that consuming appetite.

The Scifipedia, an online biographical dictionary, defines Ackerman first as "American fan." That's good enough. As much as almost any writer in the field, he created a devoted, informed audience for speculative fiction. If he didn't coin the term "sci-fi" — Robert Heinlein used it first — then by using the phrase in public in 1954 he instantly popularized it (to the lasting chagrin of purists, who preferred "SF"). Forry, as everyone called him, was the genre's foremost advocate, missionary and ballyhooer. His love for the form, stretching back more than 80 years, godfathered and legitimized the obsessions of a million fanboys. His passion was their validation. He was the original Fanman.

Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Ackerman traced the birth of his vocation to 1926, when he read his first "scientifiction" tale in an early issue of Amazing Stories, the pioneering magazine published by Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo Awards are named. (Ackerman won a 1953 Hugo as No. 1 fan.) Forry was hooked for life, as he would later hook so many others. Three years later the teenager found his stride. He had his first letter published in Science Wonder Quarterly; won a contest in the San Francisco Chronicle with a story about a voyage to Mars; and founded The Boys Scientifiction Club ("I would have included girls but at that time female fans were as rare as unicorns' horns."). His dream of bringing together the writers and readers of science fiction was starting to bloom. He brought his young friend Ray Bradbury to the Clifton's Cafeteria Science Fiction Club, hangout of Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Fredric Brown and other future giants of the genre. He bankrolled Bradbury's own fan magazine, Futuria Fantasia.

That was 1939, when Ackerman and his friend Myrtle R. Douglas attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in Manhattan — both dressed in space suits. (Trekkies, now you know who originated that imaginative eccentricity.) In a 1996 interview with Ed Grant of the New York City cable access show Media Funhouse, Ackerman recalled that 165 people attended the confab. "We had a banquet so expensive that only 29 of us could afford it," he told Ed. "I couldn't even afford to lend the money to Ray Bradbury, 'cause it was one dollar a plate. Of course no food, you understand, just a dollar for a plate." Forry wore the spaceman outfit around the city, attracting cries of "Buck Rogers!" and "Flash Gordon!" from local children. He added: "They had an Esperanto convention, the artificial language, which I know. ... So I was in this futuristic costume and I went up and explained in Esperanto that I was a time traveler from the future."

To many fan-dults of a certain age, Forry is revered for Famous Monsters. Its first issue came out in February 1958; it lasted nearly 30 years. The first serious (but never solemn) magazine devoted to horror and science fiction movies, FM included appreciations of old and new films, interviews with the genre's actors, directors, writers and special-effects men, all informed by the ripe musings and unabashed enthusiasm of its editor. The photos often came from Ackerman's archive; his collection was likely the world's largest in its category.

In the '80s and '90s, his "Acker-mansion," on Glendower Road in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of L.A., became a museum and a shrine — Mecca for fan-fans. Show up on a Saturday morning, walk past the Lincoln Continental in the driveway (license plate: SCI FI) and find smiling Forry at the door. He leads a tour of his home, every inch of which is crammed and wallpapered with memorabilia: Bela Lugosi's ring and Dracula cape; Ray Harryhausen's miniature of a shattered U.S. Capitol dome from an entire room dedicated to the silent SF film Metropolis; artifacts and fetishes from The War of the Worlds, Invaders from Mars, The Thing from Another World, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ad infinitum, ad gloriam. From a shelf crammed with books he pulls out that early issue of Amazing Stories.

Ed Grant recalls his visit with a friend: "Forry gave us two the full tour ('Don't back into that, boys, it's a maquette from King Kong' — placed so you had to back into it!). ... I'm sure he told the same stories to everybody, but he made it seem as if they were just for you." On the way out you sign a guest book and notice the signatures of early visitors: Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, John Landis, Tobe Hooper, George Lucas... The swag was said to be worth $5 million. In 2002, his funds depleted by a long court case, Ackerman moved to a smaller home (the "Acker-mini-mansion"), where he still welcomed acolytes. For Forry it was always Halloween, and he was the warmest host to trick-or-treaters of any age.

Unlike some fandroids, Ackerman actually got married. His wife Wendayne, four years older than Forry, translated SF novels by the German authors Karl Herbert Scheer, Kurt Mahr and Walter Ernsting. She died in 1990 and is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, Calif., under the marker "Wife of Mr. Science Fiction." On his MySpace page, Forry wrote: "My life companion, Wendayne (the only one in the world) Ackerman, as the aftermath of a mugging in Italy, died some years ago, but not before translating 150 sci-fi novels from French & German, moonlighting while teaching for 20 years at university."

This futurist lived long enough to serenely contemplate his own future, or lack of it. "It would be nice to look forward to going to a Great Sci-Fi Convention in the Sky when I expire," he wrote. "I am vaguely contemplating opting for a cryogenic comeback but in case I don't become a human people-cicle, I, like Isaac Asimov and other thinkers I admire, don't expect to wake up in some spirit realm of an afterlife. I've been a secular humanist since I was 15, long before the term was invented, and nothing since has changed my mind."

The man who claimed he had written "the shortest sci-fi story in the World, consisting of a single letter," went out with a rather longer mystery tale. He had been ailing through the fall, and at the end of October posted a message on Facebook that he was "battling an infection this Halloween. Boo (hoo)." On Nov. 6 the SF site, the British Fantasy Society and Wikipedia all announced Ackerman's death — then retracted it. Not so much undead as not-yet-dead, Ackerman stayed with us for another four weeks. Through this extended expiration, emails flooded into the Acker-mini-mansion — love notes from fans like him, recognizing their model and idol.

Forry must have been touched, because all he wanted was to be of use to people like him. On MySpace he had written: "I regard myself as a sci-fi sponge that should be squeezed for information and anecdotes as long as I'm here. So while I'm still around, squeeze me."

Forrest J Ackerman

1 comment:

Bill Chapman said...

Forrest Ackerman was a great advocate of the planned international language Esperanto.

Li ripozu pace.