Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman, 1916-2008

This morning’s Los Angeles Times bore the news that Forrest J. Ackerman, the writer-editor who influenced a generation of horror movie fans with Famous Monsters of Filmland, who coined the term “sci-fi” (a pejorative term despised by fans of science fiction, incidentally), and who spent much of his life assembling a collection of SF and fantasy memorabilia, died Thursday night at age 92. Somehow I find it remarkable to observe that even if one were never to have read Famous Monsters, even if one were not aware of his name or precisely sure why he was held in such esteem by horror movie fans, Forrest J. Ackerman influenced the way an entire generation—my generation—consumed movies. He did for horror movie actors what fan magazines such as Photoplay, Silver Screen, Motion Picture World and others did for mainstream Hollywood actors: he transformed them into “stars.” Somehow, therefore, it is appropriate that he was born in 1916, the year Motion Picture Classic—not the first but among the first of the Hollywood fan magazines—began publication. It was also the year the United States—or rather “Hollywood”—became one of the top leading motion picture producers in the world, by which time the name “Hollywood” had become a synonym for the American filmmaking industry around the world.

My own close encounter with Forrest J. Ackerman occurred at a convention in 1991. The meeting was brief and unremarkable, and as I recall somewhat awkward. Seeing him standing alone amid a crowd, I introduced myself to him and offered him my hand, saying something banal regarding how it was a pleasure to meet him, finally, and as I did so someone standing behind me caught his eye—author David J. Schow, I believe, someone he already knew and most certainly a person much more famous than I was or ever shall be—a conversation ensued, and I quietly slunk away, realizing at the time that that moment was the first and last time I will have met Forrest J. Ackerman. Some years later my friend David Del Valle drove me past the Ackermansion in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles (prior to it being sold); those two moments are my sole connection to Forrest J. Ackerman, except of course for reading Famous Monsters when I was kid at the newsstand at the local drug store. I don't recall every purchasing a copy of Famous Monsters, primarily because I had a cousin who did, so I saved my money for other important items (I was one of those kids who purchased Classics Illustrated and such).

So he is no more. While my connection to him is slight, I nonetheless acknowledge his influence, both on my imagination and in the way I, even now, consume movies. The L. A. Times obituary can be found here.

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Brad Smith said...

4E. Damn. He was one of the first great SF/fantasy/fans and had a major influence on fandom; I hope many will remember his impact on the genre other than "sci-fi."