Camp David


By • Nov 23rd, 2008 • Pages: 1 2

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As I write these words, 91 year-old Forrest J. Ackerman is on his deathbed in Los Angeles surrounded by die-hard monster fans and his caregiver. It was just a day or so since he was brought home from the hospital at his own request. This is a bittersweet reflection on a childhood relationship that went sour around 1988, and until this week I have kept my feelings private regarding the circumstances that ended such a powerful tie that bound FJA and me in the magical world of fantasy and imagination.

Who is Forrest J. Ackerman? He may be a well-kept secret to most of the civilized world, but if you are connected in any way to Science Fiction or classic Horror films this man is a legend whose lifetime on Planet Earth has been utterly devoted to becoming just that: a legend is his chosen field of Science Fiction. For those of us who write about film his legacy is even more profound. From the early thirties, Forry has taken the task of preserving, at least in memory if not material, all the genre films that would have fallen through the cracks, regarded as worthless by critics of the day, if not for his magazine and his lifelong interest in them. If you look at film history in 2008, his influence is widely apparent, as we now respect the importance of cult films whether they are Ed Wood-directed fever dreams like PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE with Bela Lugosi in his final bow, or a Z-grade Science Fiction film like ROBOT MONSTER with a gorilla wearing a space helmet.

Forrest Ackerman made himself known to me at an early age through the magazine that will always be his legacy, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. This magazine united for the first time children around the age of 12 like me, who found themselves attracted to horror films thanks to the shock packages of CLASSIC MONSTER MOVIES that were sold to television stations all over America during the fifties and sixties. This was the way baby-boomers were first introduced to Bela Lugosi as DRACULA and Boris Karloff as FRANKENSTEIN. Nearly five decades cannot diminish the memory of the first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS I ever laid eyes on. My mother and I were in Portland, Oregon on a shopping trip from Seattle where we were living at the time. We were staying in a large hotel downtown that had a newsstand, and from across the lobby I saw this bright yellow cover with blood-red letters that spelled CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. Above that was the masthead that cried out FAMOUS MONSTER OF FILMLAND.

I must have read that magazine from cover to cover a dozen times before I could put it down and try and comprehend just why I was so excited. Looking back, the magazine justified my obsession with horror films, and for the first time I realized that I was not alone in my rapture for graves and ghouls. Because a guy named Forrest J. Ackerman cared about what I did, all at once as if by magic, I felt endorsed–not to mention part of a coven of like-minded kids that loved what I loved. We would all live then and there for the next issue, which turned out to be number 13.

Thus began my childhood as a fan of the Horror genre in earnest, although by then, 1960, I had already seen most of the Universal classics and never missed a horror film in the theater. My poor mother had to sit through some pretty damaging cinema as I was never “of age” to see a film. When I first saw HOUSE OF WAX in 3-D or, as she always reminds me, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JECKYLL AND MR. HYDE, being just four years-old, I cried during the credits and had to be taken home.

This experience was not unlike what happened to all of us baby-boomers during those days, and Ackerman’s monster parade was always a part of this as his magazine was akin to what the trades are for a Hollywood agent, keeping up with new releases as well as seeing for the first time movie stills from all the horror films that came before.

It was in following the development FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND throughout this period (1958-1983) that Forrest J. Ackerman became more than just the name of its editor. “Uncle” Forry, as he advised all his admirers to address him, lived and breathed what seemed then like an enviable fan-ish lifestyle devotedly to be wished by every reader in each and every issue. He published pictures of himself with notables in the field of horror films and soon we would learn that he had been a fan of science fiction even longer than most of us were on the planet. By the late sixties he had even published an article in FAMOUS MONSTERS about a day in the life of Forrest J. Ackerman. When I read this article, which depicted an adult male, by then in his mid forties, living by himself in the outskirts of Beverly Hills surrounded by nothing but books, Magazines, movie posters and file cabinet after file cabinet of photos from every horror film since CALIGARI, I realized that should be me. He even had his mail box rigged for sound to alert him to what goodies the postman would bring to his house every day. You see, Forrest J. Ackerman was the first of his kind – a FAN, and not just any fan, but a Horror and science fiction fan who lived for that purpose only.

What most of us could not have realized at that time, being so young, was a not-so-subtle variation on the Peter Pan syndrome of never growing up. Forry was Peter and Captain Hook rolled together and we were the lost boys. By the mid sixties Ackerman was allowing the faithful to visit his home if any of us happened to be in Los Angeles and wanted to attend one of his “open Houses,” which took place on Saturdays. We all knew what his place looked like, having seen pictures of every room in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS which, by this time, was simply referred to as “FM”.

This was the best of times for monster fans, remembered in the pages of Famous Monsters as “the Ghoul-don years,” and Forry more than lived up to the image we all had of him as the “PIED PIPER OF Horrordom” with a magic monster magazine that endorsed all of us who worshipped at the altar of Karloff and Lugosi and read EC comics instead of doing our homework. He even published an article entitled “Monsters are good for my children” just in case anybody should miss the point. All of this was perfect for that era where drive-ins were the teenage alterative to staying at home ignoring their hormones. At this point, up and coming studios like American International were grinding out Beach Party flicks as well as juvenile adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, all of which premiered at the drive-in.

Throughout the late fifties and sixties, Ackerman maintained the hugely popular magazine without any reference to the reality of growing up in these turbulent times, yet the readership remained loyal as these monster kids would be among the last to tune in and trip out when the summer of love loomed over the horizon. By this time other monster magazines were beginning to show up on the newsstands, with one in particular standing out as superior in style and content, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN; yet even as adult an approach as CASTLE was, it still owed its existence to the source of it all FAMOUS MONTERS OF FILMLAND.

By 1962 I was traveling with some regularity from Sacramento to Los Angeles in time to catch Forry at the original home he had during the magazine’s heyday. This address was located in the outskirts of Beverly Hills on Sherborne Drive. The Forrest Ackerman of those days is the way I will always remember him best. Forry dressed in business suits with silk ties as if he had a nine-to-five, and he was never without something under his arm, usually press materials from some new horror film, and dozens of genre magazines. He loved what he was doing, and why not? His work was his passion, the never-ending pursuit of all things fantastic in the visual medium.

He idolized PLAYBOY and the lifestyle of its editor, the legendary Hugh Hefner who, like Ackerman, started a magazine from nothing and created a publishing empire beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. At this time I think both Jim Warren, FM’s publisher, and Forry still had hopes of creating a little empire of their own with spin-off magazines like SPACEMEN and WILDEST WESTERNS. However, as influential as FAMOUS MONSTERS was for the baby-boomers of 1958, the kind of success and fame Hefner would enjoy with PLAYBOY was always well out of reach for Warren and his editor. Ironically, years later, Warren would strike it rich with horror comics like CREEPY, ERRIE and VAMPIRELLA.

The first afternoon I spent at the old address was something a 12-year-old would never forget, walking into a house filled with paintings and posters of fantasy and science fiction, the walls lined with bookcases filled with first editions of rare science fiction, weird fiction and pulp magazines with covers of great beauty and imagination. Forry kept a section of his living room for displaying material that was placed there especially for trading to fans like me. Advance copies of FAMOUS MONSTERS, foreign horror magazines filled with rare stills of films I was yet to discover. It was Ali Baba’s cave in the eyes of even a seasoned collector of such material. I still have the hard cover French film book he gave me that afternoon, which is now in shrink-wrap to keep the pages from falling out. He also collected people like Tor Johnson, who appeared in Ed Wood’s essential PLAN NINE, and my favorite, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. To Tor and other exotic types, whose only claim to fame were their appearances in grade-Z horror films, Forry must have seemed like an oasis in the desert after being ignored by mainstream show business. Thanks to him, they all became part of our collective consciousness.

This youthful Forrest J. Ackerman was a wonder to behold, as he gave of his time to make sure others would follow in his example–that is, to always find a place for fantasy and imagination in your life. He loved to play music for his guests, and I remember hearing Marlene Dietrich for the first time singing “Falling in Love Again” in Ackerman’s living room while he sang along; absolutely unforgettable.

I began to collect in earnest after that, adding movie posters and stills whenever I could, and of course having every issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS was a given. Forry encouraged me to collect ALL monster magazines as they popped up, and in those days imitation was the highest form of flattery: Forry never felt threatened by any of them. What is amazing to remember is how nothing we collected was of any monetary value at that time. I hate to tell you what we would have in today’s market if the twelve-year-olds of 1962 had kept everything they collected.

I saw Forry whenever I could get down to Los Angeles. As time wore on, high school began, and soon other interests would take hold, yet my devotion to the Horror genre was now part of my imagination and would never leave me completely. After high school I moved to San Francisco and started college; it was during this period that I would see Forry at Science Fiction conventions in Oakland and San Jose.

Whenever I found something from METROPOLIS (which was, by the way, his favorite film), it never occurred to me to keep it; this was an item for Uncle Forry and I would make sure he got it if possible. Forry was forever buying books and movie material from dealers and fans alike. His collection was a work in progress.

Looking back at those conventions of the mid-seventies, Forry was not the Sci-Fi icon he is today, as we were still more or less a decade away from a major critical re-evaluation of these films, or from universities creating classes examining the films of the science fiction and horror genres. Forry had a reputation for being Sci-Fi’s first fan during the early days of pulp fiction in the twenties where he corresponded with Robert Bloch and the master H.P. Lovecraft, who failed to appreciate Forry’s enthusiasm and told him so in a famous letter to the young Ackerman. Robert Bloch on the other hand became a lifelong friend.

During the brightest period in the magazine’s run, Forry was a welcomed guest on film sets and had the opportunity to interview actors no one else would have thought to question. This habit also gave Forry another career, that of the cameo player in such films as Curtis Harrington’s QUEEN OF BLOOD and THE TIME TRAVELERS with Preston Foster. Forry enjoyed himself hugely on these projects and has since appeared in dozens of films including a moment in Michael Jackson’s THRILLER music video. You can spot Forry seated behind Jackson in the theater as they watch–what else?–a horror film.

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13 Responses »

  1. […] old friend David Del Valle writes a very moving tribute to Forrest J Ackerman in his “Camp David” column for FIlms in […]

  2. FJA will always be an icon to many of us collectors and fans and certainly will be a person many of us will not forget. Despite his faults (and there were some that were a real turn off that I will not go into) I think that his boyish, wide-eyed sense of wonder kept many of us Baby-Boomers interested in the joy of the past in a way William K. Everson couldn’t. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was a stepping stone, along with Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and Frederick S. Clarke’s CINEFANTASTIQUE, pointing a way that we can look BEYOND the monster and learn about the person behind the printed word and the figures behind the camera.
    Forrest J. Ackerman has indeed earned his place in the history of Hollywood and has kept the past alive so now others can carry on to save the past for future generations.

  3. […] can read more details about Ackerman’s life in the AP obituary. Also, check out this tribute by David Del Valle (written shortly before Ackerman’s not unexpected […]

  4. >> I think that his boyish, wide-eyed sense of wonder kept many of us Baby-Boomers interested in the joy of the past in a way William K. Everson couldn’t.<<

    Well, as a fervently devoted acolyte of FJA, and seeing as how I’m married to Professor Everson’s daughter, I can’t resist replying.

    I think I know what you’re getting at, but purely from my own point of view, I must respectfully disagree. Both men influenced and inspired leagues of film fans, and their work will continue to ripple probably for as long as there is audiovisual entertainment, be it on film, tape, byte or centuries-hence cranial implants.

    I knew them both in my youth, and found them equally inspiring. Everson covered the entire history of film, and was of course “inarguably the foremost film historian of the last 100 years” as Richard Gordon once put it in the pages of Psychotronic. But he could be just as kid-like as Forry in his appreciation for bargain-basement productions such as Voodoo Man. Forry, while creating a more kid-friendly front door to all this stuff with Famous Monsters, nonetheless clearly pointed the way to serious literature once we were all gathered around the campfire. He clearly educated as well as informed.

    I miss them both so dearly, and we’d do our best to honor them by trying to pass on their enthusiasm for the fantastic to future generations in our own way.

    I’m giving a copy of THE BAD GUYS to my kid brother for his birthday this weekend, with instructions to share it with his newborn son when he is of appropriate age.

  5. Gentleman

    I just received an email from Joe Moe who was with Forry until the end…FJA was able to read my Camp David and was touched by it. I would like to see more feedback ABOUT the article itself

    We in fandom all know what FJA meant to the world of Fandom but a lot of people are just finding out about who this man was from this website please remember that. This is not the Classic Horror film board forum.

  6. When I was in the fifth grade in about 1959 my dad brought home an issue of FM from Gilmore’s Newstand in Shreveport, Louisiana. It featured King Kong on the cover — and I had no idea at that time in my young life who or what a King Kong was. But inside there was an article which taught me all about Kong, and there were lots of other photos of amazing movie monsters which thrilled my developing theatrical and artistic sensibilities.

    I took the mag to school and showed off the photos inside — and scared a girl classmate with the full page pic of “The Astounding She Monster”. Later that day, in class, I got caught by Mrs. O’Brien as I read the mag behind my math book, and she confiscated it. I went home sublimely dejected. My dad asked about the mag and I told him what happened. He then called Mrs. O’Brien at home, and told her, “I bought it, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for my son. Return it to him tomorrow.” She did. (I must have the greatest dad of all time! And yes, he’s still with us…!)

    I was hooked. For years thereafter my dad brought home FM for me, and then I began buying my own. A lifelong devotion to cinema fright and monsters continues to this day. Along the way I’ve had the grand pleasure to have met and visited with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the 60s and Vincent Price in the 70s. But I only chatted with Forry twice on the phone during the mid 90s. I never visited his home and collection or met him in person. And yet his incredible influence in my life has been profound, from that very first issue my dad brought home.

    My life partner of 25 years died almost two years ago, but from the time we met he was always fascinated with my love of macabre movies and maniacal monsters. I shared with him my childhood remembrances of trying to create make-ups like I saw in FM, and I constantly amused him with my movie knowledge — thanks to FM — of classic creature features. He was an expert on all-things Hollywood, especially musicals — his iconic patron saint was Greta Garbo. So, together, we made quite a pair. I’d been to L.A. many times but he hadn’t. I promised him we’d go someday, but that never happened. He always said he wanted me to get to go to the Ackermansion on a Saturday and visit Forry and see his collection.

    Forry’s influence continued, and I eventually formed a company specifically to design haunted houses, characters and monsters. And now, as a profession, I design dark rides, many featuring animatronic horrors and monsters. Without Forry’s magic and enthusiasm, I doubt I’d now find myself in the wonderful job I am in.

    Well, all the fans of Forry and his monsters WILL be together again, someday. We’ll all hear Kong’s roars and Fay’s screams, and we’ll know we’ve had a great time. And somewhere, in monster movie heaven, Forry will still be giving tours and being the biggest kid of us all! May we never loose his inspiration and excitement!

    Drew Edward Hunter

  7. On a sad somber note Forest I.Ackerman has passed away .I have many fond memories from early and latter life ,looking thru the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine .Even today when I open the pages of my old copies and get that smell …………..that wonderful smell of old news print (its just magical) it takes me back to the very first time I saw and immediately fell in love with the magazine and the man,the man who taught me to stay in touch with my inner child .I was lucky to have met Mr. Ackerman at a Fangoria convention in 1991 he was of very good health then and I am very glad to be able to say that I had a brief conversation with him at that time .I thanked him and made it a point to let him know that I felt that his magazine had secret powers .He looked at me and asked “how so ?” I explained that the magazine and his words are a Fountain of Youth of sorts and if people read these words they will stay young .He laughed stood up and gave me a hug .I had a picture taken with him to commemorate this event and I will cherish it always .So as the crowd now takes their seat from the standing ovation ,and the curtain closes for the final time and a hush falls over the theatre ………………………………………………I bid you BEAST WITCHES you jolly old soul. R.I.P. Forry and “Fangs for the Memories.

  8. Forry’s passing is indeed going to leave a big hole in for us Baby Boomers and I would like to think that “The Sense Of Wonder’ will not be diminished by a passing of someone who was part of our lives growing up (for those who loved FAMOUS MONSTERS). My remark about William Everson was not meant as a slight as I had to chance to meet him a few times over the years (his books CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM/MORE CLASSICS..) grace my book shelves as do several wonderful pieces he has done over the years for FIR. No, my meaning was Forry was that cheerful prankster at the back of the class, loaded with bad puns, while Mr. Everson was the tolerant School Master, who would roll his eyes in turn. No-both men are to be praised and never buried!
    I would like to share a little story with everybody about Forry and my Dad. Now I used to call Forry a lot in the late 80’s and 90’s, send him videos, posters (he used to refer to me as ‘Rick Beal’, after my favorite supernatural thriller ‘ALIA’S NICK BEAL’, especially after sending him a vhs of the film and an original 1 sheet) and my Dad, who is not a film fan, claimed to have seen the cut spider-pit scene from the original King Kong in 33. I never knew this about Dad until the late 80’s when Pop and I saw it on revival, restored, when he mentioned, over coffee at the Middletown Diner ‘Where was the big spider?’. I was talking to Forry when my Dad entered the room and told Forry what Pop told me. Dad got on with Forry. I could hear Forry yelling with glee, getting excited as Dad looked at me wondering what all this crazy fuss was about (keep in mind, my Dad was your typical Blue Collar worker-no interest in old films except when on tv) and what kind of crazy his son had him talking to? Dad just took for granted everyone saw this. For me, that was one of the few highlights that will stand out as my relationship-slight as it was-to Forrest J. Ackerman. And I really hope right now he is sitting with Lon Chaney in that big theatre in the sky watching “METROPOLIS” and “LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT”!

  9. IT is interesting to read these threads that all wind up with which issue they saw that became a defining moment in what has become for all of us a lifelong attachment to these films and the actors who made them famous. Forry will always be remembered for that as long as our generation exists.

    On another note William K. Everson also happened to be a great friend of mine and it is another interesting comparison with FJA. Bill Everson loved film as much as Forry and paid a price for it as well. I was sitting in his living room which was also a make shift screening room for his friends and students who sat there night after night watching rare films you would see nowhere else. One night I was there with just one other guest watching CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT when Bill got a call from the then Mrs. Everson and it seemed that she was no longer able to cope with Bill using the apt for screenings and asked him to make a choice it was her or the films and soon after that they divorced. Forry’s wife Wendy was much like that and they divorced later on but still lived in the same house. Film meant so much to both men that nothing was going to change that not even a wife.

    we will not see men that Bill Everson or Forry Ackerman in the future of that you can depend.

  10. First off, I just got the sad news from Roy Frumkes that Nina Foch and Beverly Garland are no longer with us and Betty Page is seriously ill-let us al pray for a speedy recovery for her. I had heard about Ms Garland’s passing but was caught off guard about Nina Foch. Besides her film roles I’ll always think of her in the excellent “OUTER LIMITS” episode “The Borderland”.
    Being a bit of a collector myself I know how obsessive the hobby can be (another reason I took horseback riding up years ago-to remind myself that there is life outside of a screening room) and what David wrote about relationships with this interest brings to mind that some wives, rather than be ‘film widows’, have joined the club (track down a copy of
    AMERICAN FILM May 1984-“State of Siege” by Stephen Rebello) and have become collectors themselves. For my marriage, I keep the film world in my office but Roberta (wife) has shown her love many times by sitting through several screenings of Paul Wendkos’s excellent “FEAR NO EVIL” and the British “THE HAND OF NIGHT” (“BEAST OF MOROCCO”). Now that’s what I call a woman!!
    And you are right on about Forry and Bill, they are part of a dying breed and they will be missed!!

  11. A great tribute and a very interesting history of the man. I’m sorry for your loss.

  12. I was more than happy to read these little stories about the man I admired for decades.

    I am interested in learning more of his faults, and how this stopped him from storing his collection in a museum in America. This should of happened years ago.

    I too had met him twice, but now I wish I had made more of an effort to see his massive collection. Scattered about now, a real shame has happened to Forry.

  13. I only met Forry once when he visited Australia in 1975, but he was thoroughly charming.

    Having lunch with him in Melbourne, I watched him give a lot of his time to star-struck admirers who had waited hours to meet him. He seemed to genuinely enjoy meeting people and happily spent a lot of time signing autographs, posing for photographs and telling stories.

    I always fancied that one day our paths would cross again, but it wasn’t to be.

    Farewell 4SJ.

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