Sunday, December 14, 2008

Terry Pace on the life of Forrest J. Ackerman

Playwright and journalist Terry Pace has penned his appreciation of Forry Ackerman, and with his kind permission I quote him here. From Terry comes this appreciation of the life of the most world's most influential fan of all things fantastic:

In one amazing lifetime, Forry met and shook the hands – and, in most cases, developed lifelong friendships or professional relationships with – all of the creative luminaries of the science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres, from H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and J.R.R. Tolkein to Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., George Pal, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Robert Bloch, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Richard Matheson and Peter Jackson. Forry corresponded with Carl Laemmle and H.P. Lovecraft, popularized the work of behind-the-scenes cinematic artists Willis O’Brien, Jack Pierce and Ray Harryhausen, he helped start the first science-fiction fan conventions, fan societies and fan magazines (“fanzines”) and served as a literary agent for everyone from Bradbury, Asimov and A.E. van Vogt to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and infamous Hollywood schlock artist Ed Wood (Forry frequently referred to himself as Wood’s “illiterary agent”).

Outside the genre, Forry’s eclectic array of personal passions encompassed the music of Al Jolson (who once put his arm around Forry and called him “Sonny Boy”) and Sammy Davis Jr. (who declared himself Forry’s biggest fan) and the smoldering screen presence of Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich (her inscribed photo remained one of his proudest possessions).

Forry’s few regrets? He never met Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne or the senior Lon Chaney.

As many of you already knew, our beloved “Uncle Forry” had been battling congestive heart failure for the past month. On Halloween night, I told Forry a loving, grateful and reluctant goodbye (both on the phone and in writing) and convinced myself that I was fully prepared for the inevitable and reconciled to the imminent loss. Ray visited the following day, clutched Forry’s hand, and told him just how much he loved him. At the end of their final time together, the Martian Chronicler left his first editor and publisher – and his oldest, dearest friend – with a sweet, tender, “Goodbye – just in case.”

Fortunately, Forry rallied enough over the following week to have one last, lingering chance to enjoy the adoration and fellowship of many other friends and all of his adoring public. In pure Forry fashion, he transformed those five final weeks of his life into what Joe Moe – Forry’s friend, companion, housemate, creative collaborator and all-around right-hand man for the past 20 years – called “a wonderful living funeral” celebrating his life, influence and achievements.

During that marvelous month-plus of fond farewells, Forry celebrated his 92nd birthday (sadly, falling short of reaching his long-desired goal of reaching 100 and becoming the “George Burns of Science Fiction”). He also welcomed illustrious visitors ranging from Twilight Zone scribe George Clayton Johnson (co-creator of Ocean’s 11 and Logan’s Run) and genre historians Bill Warren, Bob Burns and David J. Skal to Phantasm star Angus Scrimm and Oscar-winning makeup maestro Rick Baker and directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood) and Joe Dante (Gremlins, The Howling). From out of town, Forry received birthday greetings from stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen (Forry’s friend of seven decades, brought together by their mutual love of King Kong) and author, screenwriter and longtime friend William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run, The Norliss Tapes).

Forry also enjoyed a visit from the man who was perhaps his most significant professional partner, Jim Warren, who published the endlessly influential Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine that Forry edited for a golden quarter-century period (their first issue together was published in February 1958, with their final collaboration appearing in January 1983). Together those two (as Forry’s loved to say) “brought Halloween to the young boys of America twelve months a year,” directly inspiring young readers like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King, Tim Burton, Rick Baker, Dennis Muren, Peter Jackson, Frank Darabont, Billy Bob Thornton, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons and Rob Zombie into becoming the next generation of writers, directors, actors, musicians and makeup and special-effects artists associated with the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres.

“If Sling Blade was inspired by anything, it was the original Frankenstein film with Boris Karloff,” Billy Bob told the crowd when I interviewed him at the University of North Alabama earlier this year. “When I won a Saturn Award for Sling Blade, I walked up to Forry Ackerman and personally thanked him, because he and Famous Monsters of Filmland introduced me to those classic horror films. Forry was a major influence on my life."

Stephen King – who sent Forry his very first short story, “The Killer,” when he was only a teenager – expressed a similar sentiment: “When I first met Steven Spielberg, we didn’t talk about movies. We talked about monsters and Forry Ackerman.”

Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings filmmaker and loyal Famous Monsters reader Peter Jackson was one of Forry’s foremost fans. Forry made a cameo appearance in Jackson’s early horror film Dead Alive, and the director had hoped to include Forry in his affectionate remake of his favorite film, King Kong. Unfortunately, Forry had recently been injured in an accident in Scotland and wasn’t well enough to make the long, demanding trip to New Zealand. Jackson wrote a fond and insightful tribute to Forry for Harry Knowles’ pop-culture website, Ain’t It Cool News:

“He united a generation – more than one generation actually, and that’s obvious because whenever you read anybody’s tribute to Forry, you only have to substitute names and locations and it pretty much becomes your story,” Peter wrote. “Forry was a product of his time – a unique blend of the individual and world in which he lived. It could never happen again quite like that, and all of us who grew up with him share a very special experience that’s hard to describe.”

Many of Forry’s Hollywood friends and filmmaker fans saluted him over the years by casting him in sly cameo roles in their films. Most memorably, Forry appeared alongside Basil Rathbone in Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood, journeyed to the future in Ib Melchior’s The Time Travelers, lent his voice to the cult classic Equinox, encountered Baker’s mischievous simian in Landis’ Schlock, perused some back issues of Famous Monsters during the bookshop scene in Dante’s The Howling and survived a terrifying visit to the zoo in Jackson’ Dead-Alive.

Also for Landis (his most frequent on-screen employer), Forry popped up in the music video for Michael Jackson’s mega-hit Thriller (which featured the zombie “rap” by Forry’s friend Vincent Price) and demonstrated commendable executive skills as a futuristic President of the United States in Landis’ outrageous movie spoof, Amazon Women on the Moon.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Dana’s colleague David Kipen, literature director of National Reading Initiatives, are self-avowed Forry fans as well as lifelong Bradbury devotees. A few weeks ago they sent me a message that made me feel much better about the value of imagination (and humor) in our nation’s capital: “Forry’s warping influence on impressionable youth all over Los Angeles and around the world is pervasive and never-ending. ... His evil influence is strongly felt in the corridors of power a continent away.”

Once marked by Forry and Famous Monsters, no one was ever quite the same. Movie makeup artist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Ed Wood, Mighty Joe Young) has earned a mantle’s worth of Oscar statues, but he insists that the biggest thrill of his life was seeing the “Rick Baker, Monster Maker!” article Forry published in an issue of Famous Monsters.

“Forry and his magazine inspired so many kids of my generation to get into the film business, and I am sure that the state of the art in make-up and effects wouldn’t be the same today if FM and that strange uncle that we all had didn't exist,” Rick wrote on Harry’s site. “Life will be different without 4SJ, but I will never forget him.”

David J. Skal (Hollywood Gothic, The Monster Show, Dark Carnival, Death Makes a Holiday) delivered his own fond tribute to Forry through the Classic Horror Film Board, and an article written by David Colton for USA Today:

“Forrest J. Ackerman gave me both my childhood and adulthood,” Skal observed. “In the early 1960s, there was no home video of any kind, and the only way to access the old classic monster films was to wait for them to sporadically show up on television, or, better yet, read Famous Monsters of Filmland, where the creatures came to life and cavorted every time you turned the page. Every eight weeks I haunted the local drugstore newsstand with rapt anticipation. His playful use of language and awful puns taught me more about writing than any English class.”

Farewell, my friend, and thanks for a multitude of precious memories. You leave us with big boots to fill.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Terry's initial comment online, after hearing of "Uncle Forry"'s death, was what I felt (and hundreds, even thousands of others felt, judging from the outpouring of sadness on the internet) upon hearing the sad news: "Just too many thoughts, too many memories, too many tears, all at the same time ..."

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

Uncle Forry was also a great pioneer for Esperanto, the global language.

Dankon al vi pere de


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