Sunday, December 07, 2008

R.I.P Forrest J. Ackerman

I was going to write a tribute post to Forrest J. Ackerman, but I cannot begin to do justice to a sci-fi pioneer like Ackerman. So I'm simply going to post some of what is being said about the founding father of sci-fi fandom. Be sure to read the tribute by Elizabeth Bear on Wil Weaton's website -- the last entry in this post-- it's especially moving to the hear from someone who knew the man. From Time Magazine 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. From The Los Angeles Times 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 9From Outer Space." From SciFi Guy I offer up my list of Twelve Fascinating Things You Should Know About Forrest J. Ackerman. 1. Amassed the world's largest personal collection of science fiction and fantasy memorabilia (over 300,000 pieces) 2. Coined the term “sci-fi” 3. Was editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland 4. He attended Bela Lugosi's funeral and the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1939 5. He was a founding member of LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) 6. Published author with over 50 stories 7. Literary agent to over 200 authors of SF&F 8. Created and wrote the comic book character Vampirella 9. Highlights of his Ackermansion collection included: 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. 10. Ackerman had cameos in over 210 films, including bit parts in many monster movies (The Howling, Innocent Blood, Return of the Living Dead Part II), more traditional "imagi-movies" (The Power, The Time Travelers, Future War), spoofs (Amazon Women on the Moon, Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold), and at least one major music video (Michael Jackson's Thriller). Thus, his Bacon number was 2. 11. Was a Hugo and Bram Stoker Award winner 12. He has his hand prints and autograph in the sidewalk outside the Vista Theatre in Hollywood From Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America He attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939 and wore the first costume to that convention. By my count has only missed 2 or 3 Worldcons. From Wil Wheaton (Written by Elizabeth Bear) I do need you all to know what a class act Forry is. For decades, Forrest J Ackerman opened his private home every week for public tours of his literally overwhelming collection of sci-fi and horror memorabilia. He had a practiced patter and plenty of horrid puns worthy of the founding editor of Famous Monsters Magazine. A few years ago, Mr. Ackerman was hospitalized in serious condition. I had recently lost an inspirational college professor who I didn't even know was hospitalized, so I made a point of traveling to see Forrest to deliver a rocketship-featuring get-well card. He looked bad. Really bad. He had spinal blocks in following a surgical procedure, a scar on his scalp, his partial dental bridge was out, his skin was ghastly pale, his hair was sick greased, and his medically paralyzed body was arranged at odd angles within the tucked-in blanket. He literally looked like the bag of bones he was. And he was smiling at his visitors. He was telling his trademark corny jokes. He insisted I take a complementary copy of Cult Movies magazine, an issue for which he recently wrote a column. He was a gracious host even on what looked to be his deathbed. That amount of grace in a person is stunning to experience. You become very conscious of the air you walk through after such an encounter. He gave me proof of the possibility and ability of Human Grace firsthand. That's the kind of good man he is. I am glad that in the subsequent years, and the last few weeks, he's had additional opportunity to receive well-wishers and tributes to him personally as well as his legacy to the fandom that Wil wrote about in the previous post. I'm saddened he's gone, but I'm glad he existed, as Ray Bradbury said of our purpose, "to witness and to celebrate."


RD Williams said...

I spent the last few days out of town, and out of cell phone service(wonderful Medieval themed B&B, but anyway), and I was saddened to see that such a great man, fan, author, etc. has left us.

Forrest, you will be greatly missed.

crunchycarpets said...

My husband met him a few years a tour and took him out for lunch..he had been the man who shaped his formative years and was in awe to meet him.

Here is his tribute...