Written by Ryan Brookhart
If you frequent sites like this, over the next few weeks you're going to read a lot of things about a man named Forrest J. Ackerman, creator, founder, rightful father of Famous Monsters of Filmland, easily the best periodical ever produced on films of the fantastic; I say that with no qualification because none is needed. If you knew the magazine in its heyday, when Forry ran it, you know exactly what I mean. Forry's love of the medium of film and his keen understanding of the mechanism of fandom is unrivaled. I say 'is' because as of today, Forry is still with us. But word has spread 'not for very long.' Forry's 92 birthday is on November 22 of this year, but there is serious doubt he'll be with us to celebrate it in body; spirit is another matter entirely.
We live in a new age of information: collection, dispersal, digestion, and disposal. For my view, it's a pretty ugly time. Web "magazines" are, by-in-large, passive experiences that devalue the time and effort it takes to create a well-crafted story on the latest movie or collectible. By its very nature, information on the web is excessively temporal and therefore informs the bulk (not all) of the information we devour every day. If a web site doesn't have updated stories every hour, we tend to lose interest in that site.
But the physical medium of the dying format known as the magazine, specially Famous Monsters, was anything but passive. What Forry did with FM through lengthy articles of everything from Bela Lugosi to Dick Smith was fuel a passion for minute detail, the kind of passion only the true believer, the 'fanboy' can fully appreciate. The list of who was influenced by Forry's publication is a thing of legend and will never be wholly comprehended; it's that wide, that far-reaching, that profound. I'm not sure Mr. Ackerman comprehends the true breadth of his influence.
I had the honor of visiting Mr. Ackerman's home, the aptly named 'Akermansion' all of three times. I found the man exceedingly generous with his time, proud of his collection of misfit toys (often discarded props from horror and science fiction films). The Ackermansion had a scratched film grain appearance; bars of gold light spilled into the living room mingled with ancient dust (think of a film projector's light). Props from King Kong's wire skeleton to random foam tentacles decaying on the ground filled the place. Imagine a towering, lopsided mountain of "things," many recognizable by the 12 year old in you, and you have the Ackermansion. You also have the man.
Forry, or to his myriad collected family of nieces and nephews, Uncle Forry, know him as that insurmountable yet always accessible "Filofax" of information, fiercely proud of his collection but not all that possessive of it; he always knew he was just a caretaker of our dreams made manifest. Or, at least that's what he told me in so many words.
Truth is, Forrest J Ackerman has always been more than a caretaker. He was the first true chronicler, elder statesmen, scholar, of the film fantastic. And when he passes, I don't think there's an heir apparent. Sure, we still have a few very fine publications out there in the world many of us proudly support. But where is the gentleman purveyor of horror after Forry?
Like I said, I met Mr. Ackerman three times, spoke to him a total of five, and always felt humbled by his remarkably kind spirit. I can thank my friend Tim Sullivan (who worked with me on a magazine I ran ages ago) for the introduction. I know Tim and Forry have been friends for a long time and can only imagine what it's like for Tim to say goodbye to his uncle; my thoughts go out to all his nieces and nephews.
For myself, I add another voice to a deafening chorus of praise to you Mr. Ackerman. In a just world, there'd be a statue in Hollywood with your name on it and another one given out once a year at the Academy Awards. Perhaps even recognition in the publishing world your magazine wasn't just a pulpy monthly with a lurid image of a monster glaring out from its cover, but quite literally the Bible millions of us read, chapter and verse.