Monday, December 08, 2008

RIP Forrest J. Ackerman: A Childhood Hero Has Died.

Last week, one of my childhood heroes, Forrest J. Ackerman, died at the age of 92. He was the unofficial leader of a group of baby boomers now known as Monster Kids. Even at the age of fifty four,I still proudly consider myself to be one. During the late fifties through the 1960's we were exposed to the Universal horror classics of the 1930's and the 1940's via television. We also enjoyed the American International drive-in treats from the 1950's, the infamous Hammer Studio horrors,not to mention the many other genre films available to TV stations,while munching on potato chips and glugging bottles of soda(root beer was my soda of choice).

And if merely watching films were not enough to slake our thirst for the weird, the fantastic, there were monster toys,monster trading cards, monster shaped candy,  Super 8 cutdowns of  monster movies and last,but surely not least,were the monster magazines. Most were run of the mill(the notable exception of course being Castle of Frankenstein edited by the notorious Calvin Beck.),but the one magazine that stood out from the pack was Famous Monsters of Filmland,which was later shortened to Famous Monsters. But to those of us loyal readers it was simply referred to as FM. From the colorful,eye caching covers to the pages chockful of information and entertainment,it was fifty cents well spent as far as the devoted Monster Kid was concerned.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher gave our class the assignment of writing a paper about the men and women we admired most. My classmates and friends chose sports figures, military heroes or people who performed acts of supreme bravery. You know, the usual suspects. The two people who I wrote about were Boris Karloff and Forrest J. Ackerman. Naturally,I received a razzing from my fellow classmates for what they considered as odd choices for heroes.

My defense was:Boris Karloff was one of my heroes because at the age of eighty years old, wearing a leg brace and breathing with only half a lung,  he continued to act in movies because in his words," I want to die with my boots on." As for Forrest Ackerman, I reasoned that he brought so much pleasure to people all over the world as the editor of a magazine called Famous Monsters.

It all began at the tender age of eight when I watched The Outer Limits on television and discovered a science fiction world of monsters, space ships and interplanetary exploration. Quite an experience for one so young. The following summer, I watched Voodoo Island starring Boris Karloff on one particularly hot afternoon(the reason I was indoors that day) and from then on was hooked on horror and science fiction movies.

One day in a pharmacy I was browsing the magazine section and spotted a periodical called Famous Monsters of Filmland. I was so enticed by the rendering of Bela Lugosi as Dracula on the cover that I purchased it immediately, thus beginning a fourteen year relationship between myself and Famous Monsters.

Many was the time I would buy the latest issue,reading the contents voraciously as I walked home. Every issue was an event that I eagerly waited for each month.It was a world of imagination that inspired me to read the works of Edgar Allan Poe, H.G Wells, Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker. People like Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Sr and Jr., Bela Lugosi became household names to me. And I was even allowed to take a peak behind the cameras at some of these movies as they were being filmed. All of this wonderment was at my disposal for a mere sawbuck. The man responsible was Forrest J. Ackerman or as he was known to millions of fans:Uncle Forry

In 1974,on the eve of my twentieth birthday I packed my things and headed to New York City to spend the weekend at The Commodore Hotel where I attended the first Famous Monsters Convention. There I was, green as an ear of baby corn, all by myself in the Big Apple and I had a blast.I made some new friends,watched classic horror films,wandered around the various dealer rooms and sat in the hotel lobby with fellow genre movie lovers talking about films till the wee hours of the morning. These were were among the many interesting activities I engaged in during that magical weekend.

And I finally met Forry, the man who had guided me through the mystical world of imagination. I remember after eagerly unpacking my bags and heading for the convention, entering the darkened room where the publisher of Famous Monsters(some say scoundrel),James Warren, was giving the attendees a welcome speech. As I glanced to my left I suddenly noticed I was standing next to none other than Forrest J.Ackerman, my childhood hero! There I was, suffering from a severe case of "tongue tied disease". I couldn't even manage to squeak out a pitiful,"Hi Forry" and sadly watched as my idol made his way to the stage where he would speak to the roomful of Monster Kids. Later on I finally met Forry and even had him autograph my convention souvenir book.

Eventually, I stopped reading Famous Monsters because as I was growing up, the magazine remained in a state of juvenile limbo. James Warren's motto from the first issue was " I'am twelve years old. Make me laugh." Well, I was twenty two and needed articles that had more depth, more intellectual content than Famous Monsters was offering. Hell, the magazine was even beginning to feature lame brained fiction. This however was engineered by Warren;Forry had nothing to do with this sad state of events. Thus, my love affair with the magazine came to an end and I moved on.

Years later,in 1995, I saw Forry again at a movie convention in Baltimore. It was there I told him just how much he and Famous Monsters meant to me when I was kid. As I delivered my verbal love letter to him, Forry had the look of of a proud father whose son was giving him heartfelt praise; he seemed genuinely touched he had such a positive influence on someones life. And I know for a fact I wasn't the first person to say this to Forry, but it came from the heart. As were similar proclamations that came from the untold number of Monster Kids who ever picked up an issue of Famous Monsters.

As I say goodbye to Forry Ackerman, I'm also saying a sad farewell to a part of my childhood. Goodbye Forry,you were the Uncle some of us always wanted but never had. And although you were an atheist, let me just say in the words of Jimi Hendrix: If I don't see you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one.

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