Friday, December 05, 2008

RIP Forrest J. Ackerman

Facebook has allowed old friends to dig me up all these decades after grade school. The first thing one asked was, "Still collecting monster magazines?"

I suppose if one stretches the definition of "monster magazine" to include Tim Lucas' essential-for-other-reasons Video Watchdog, the answer is yes. (And I've written for them, too.) But my golden age of poring over copies of The Monster Times and others like it was when I was a kid, and my collection fascinated friends whose parents weren't quite so indulgent about their children's reading material.

(Digression: I have a mean collection of 70s-era Mad magazines, too, and Marvel's monster comics like Tomb of Dracula and Man-Thing, which were the ones I liked best. Superheroes were for losers. And I grew up relatively normal, a rebuke to hand-wringing over bad influences.)

The one that really stoked my imagination, though, was "Uncle Forry's" Famous Monsters of Filmland, founded 50 years ago, with its gorgeous Basil Gogol covers and irresistible, photo-packed articles, which made me a genre fan for life. The jaunty, pun- and wordplay-filled writing style I carried over into my own a little bit. It just sort of seeped in, like the Blob.

I never met Ackerman who died at age 92. There's little disputing that he was the ultimate fan, credited with coining the term "sci-fi," and he shared his incredible collection of memorabilia with his young readers and visitors to the treasure-laden "Ackermansion" in L.A. Through the magazine I felt I knew him, and he turned up in small roles in movies like Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). My parents took me to the first Famous Monsters convention in New York, where he is said to have signed 10,000 autographs. Sadly, not mine. I was too shy to ask. Nor did I meet guest Peter Cushing. But to be in their proximity was thrilling, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a mom and dad who supported my offbeat obsession. So did my grandmother and grandfather, who escorted me to Rosemart's in Harrison, NJ, down the street from where they lived, to pick up the latest copy of the magazine when I visited. What a cool family.

My parents were cleaning out the basement this summer, and asked me to help with the removal. Sad to say some of my magazines and comic books, as old as the 37-year-old house itself, had pretty much yellowed into illegibility and tattered in my hands. But the Famous Monsters of Filmlands, while showing their age (I was good at collecting them but, alas, not preserving them), were in not-bad shape, and I got a kick out of revisiting them. They stayed. What I wonder will Larissa think of daddy's hobby when she learns of it? I suspect the Ackerman influence is in her genes, too.

Arbogast on Film has a few words to say about Ackerman, and the veteran actress Nina Foch, who also passed away this week. I remember reading about Return of the Vampire and Cry of the Werewolf, early credits for her, in Famous Monsters.

1 comment:

Arbogast said...

I've had to re-purchase most of my old FMs, which are actually pretty affordable, and I keep them now in the requisite plastic bags. It really is a joy to revisit them. I think I first saw the magazine in a friend's barn, up in the haystack (how quintessentially American) and I specifically remember the Bela Lugosi as Dracula from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein cover from the mid-60s (this was the early 70s). Not long after, I ran across the new issue and used my 60 cents (or whatever pittance it cost) to make it mine. I find myself positioned between Ackerman's apostles and his detractors. Self-promotion may have been his real talent but he did make a difference, if principally in assuring a generation of MonsterKids that they were normal to like the things they did. That in and of itself is enough to at least nominate him for sainthood.