In Memoriam: Forrest J Ackerman

December 22, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman magazine editor, literary agent, actor, and Ray Bradbury’s discoverer, passed away Thursday, December 4, 2008 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home, Kevin Burns, Prometheus Entertainment head and trustee of Ackerman’s estate said. He was 92 years-old.

Entrenched in the sci-fi genre, Ackerman is credited with coining the term “science fiction”. He is a legend through sci-fi circles as the founding editor of the pulp magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. “He became the Pied Piper, the spiritual leader, of everything science fiction, fantasy, and horror,” Burns said last Friday.

Ackerman was the owner of a huge, private collection of science fiction movie and literary memorabilia that filled his mansion. The collection once included over 50,000 books, thousands of sci-fi magazines, and incredible pieces like Bela Lugosi’s cape from 1931’s Dracula. On Saturdays, he opened his home to anyone wanting to view the treasures within. He told the Associated Press, “My wife used to say, ‘How can you let strangers into our home?’ But what’s the point of having a collection like this if you can’t let people enjoy it?”

Discovering Ray Bradbury, the author of classics like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, is considered among his greatest achievements. He later gave Bradbury money to start his sci-fi magazine Futuria Fantasia. Grateful for the guidance, Bradbury once said, “I hadn’t published yet, and I met a lot of these people who encouraged me and helped me get my career started, and that was all because of Forry Ackerman.”

Ackerman said that he came up with the term “sci-fi” in 1954 after hearing an announcer on the radio say the word “hi-fi”. Soon he used it in Famous Monsters of Filmland and it caught on. He appeared in many films, including, Queen of Blood, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Amazon Women on the Moon, Vampirella, The Howling, Michael Jackson’s music video for the song “Thriller”, among others.

He was preceded in death by his wife Wendayne.

He was born on November 24, 1916 in Los Angeles, to Carroll Cridland Wyman (1883–1977) and William Schilling Ackerman (1892–1951).[4][5] His father was from New York and his mother was from Ohio, and she was nine years older than William.[6] He attended the University of California at Berkeley for a year (1934–1935), worked as a movie projectionist, and spent three years in the U.S. Army after enlisting on August 15, 1942.[5][7]

Ackerman or, "Mr. Science Fiction",[8] saw his first "imagi-movie" in 1922 (One Glorious Day), purchased his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, created The Boys' Scientifiction Club in 1930 ("girl-fans were as rare as unicorn's horns in those days"), contributed to both of the first science fiction fanzines, The Time Traveller, and the Science Fiction Magazine, put out and edited by Shuster & Siegel of Superman fame, in 1932, and by 1933 had 127 correspondents around the world. He attended the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939, where he wore the first "futuristicostume"[9][10] (designed and created by Myrtle R. Douglas) and sparked fan costuming, the latest incarnation of which is cosplay. He attended every Worldcon but two thereafter during his lifetime. Ackerman invited Ray Bradbury to attend the now legendary Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club, where Ray met the writers Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Williamson. With $90 from Forrest, Bradbury launched a fanzine, Futuria Fantasia, in 1939.

Ackerman helped found the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a prominent regional organization in science fiction fandom, as well as the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F). He also provided publishing assistance in the early days of the Daughters of Bilitis, and (as the author of several lesbian stories under the name "Laurajean Ermayne", written for Vice Versa[11]) was dubbed an "honorary lesbian" at a DOB party.[12] He was personally acquainted with many twentieth-century writers of science fiction. He was noted for having amassed an extremely large and complete collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror film memorabilia, which was, until 2002, maintained in a remarkable home/museum known as the 18-room "Ackermansion" in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, filled with 300,000 books and pieces of movie memorabilia. He entertained approximately 50,000 fans at open houses beginning in 1951, including 186 fans and professionals in one memorable night, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Ackerman was a board member of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, where many items of his own collection are displayed. Ackerman received a unique 1953 Hugo Award for "#1 Fan Personality" which some might say is the equivalent of the present-day Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer.

Ackerman was credited with nurturing and even inspiring the careers of several early contemporaries[13] like Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Charles Beaumont, Marion Zimmer Bradley and L. Ron Hubbard.[2] He was Ed Wood's "illiterary" agent[14] and represented over 200 authors of science fiction and fantasy.

Ackerman had 50 stories published, including collaborations with A. E. van Vogt, Francis Flagg, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Donald Wollheim and Catherine Moore and the world's shortest – one letter of the alphabet. His stories have been translated into six languages. Ackerman named the sexy comic-book character Vampirella and wrote the origin story for the comic.

Ackerman was fluent in the international language Esperanto, and claims to have walked down Hollywood Boulevard arm-in-arm with Leo G. Carroll singing La Espero, the hymn of Esperanto.[15]

Through his magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958–1983), Forrest J Ackerman introduced the history of the science fiction, fantasy and horror film genres to a generation of young readers.[16] At a time when most movie-related publications glorified the stars in front of the camera, "Uncle Forry", as he was referred to by many of his fans, promoted the behind-the-scenes artists involved in the magic of movies. In this way Ackerman provided inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, including Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Penn & Teller, Billy Bob Thornton, Gene Simmons (of the band Kiss), Rick Baker, George Lucas, Danny Elfman, Frank Darabont, John Landis and countless other writers, directors, artists and craftsmen.

In the 1960s, Ackerman organized the publication of an English translation in the U.S. of the German science fiction series Perry Rhodan, the longest science fiction series in history. These were published by Ace Books from 1969 through 1977. Ackerman's German-speaking wife Wendayne ("Wendy") did most of the translation. The American books were issued with varying frequency from one to as many as four per month. Ackerman also used the paperback series to promote science fiction short stories, including his own on occasion. These "magabooks" or "bookazines" also included a film review section, known as "Scientifilm World", and letters from readers. The American series came to an end when the management of Ace changed and the new management decided that the series was too juvenile for their taste. The last Ace issue was #118, which corresponded to German issue #126 as some of the Ace editions contained two of the German issues, and three of the German issues had been skipped. Forry later published translations of German issues #127 through #145 on his own under the Master Publications imprint. The original German series continues today and passed issue #2400 in 2007.

He also contributed to film magazines from all around the world, including Spanish speaking La Cosa: Cine Fantástico magazine, from Argentina, where he had a monthly column for over four years.

Ackerman said, "I aim at hitting 100 and becoming the George Burns of science fiction". His health, however, had been failing, and there were several premature reports of his death as of November 6, 2008. These reports originated from a news article on the British Fantasy Society website; a correction was subsequently made.[17] Friends and fans were encouraged to send messages of farewell by mail.[18] He last logged in to his Myspace page on March 19, 2008.

He died on December 4, 2008.[19][2][1][16] He had been living in his "Acker-mini-mansion" in Hollywood where he entertained and inspired fans weekly with his collection of memorabilia and stories of the golden age of art, filmmaking, literature and all things fantastical.

Appearances in film, TV and music
In 1961, Ackerman narrated the record "Music for Robots" created by Frank Allison Coe. The cover featured Forrest Ackerman's face superimposed on the movie robot Tobor the Great. The record was reissued on CD in 2005.

Ackerman himself appeared as a character in the movie Dead Alive, The Vampire Affair by David McDaniel (a novel in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series), and Philip José Farmer's novel Blown. A character based on Ackerman, and his "Ackermansion", appears in the Niven/Pournelle collaboration Fallen Angels. He has a cameo role, apparently as himself, in The Wizard of Speed and Time, perusing and buying film memorabilia and comic books at a garage sale.

A life-long fan of science fiction "B-movies", 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 is 2.

Ackerman appeared extensively on-screen discussing his life and the history of science fiction fandom in the 2006 documentary film Finding the Future.[20]

He also appeared on the intro track of Ohio horrorpunk music group, Manimals' 1999 album, Horrorcore.

In 2007, Roadhouse Films of Canada released a documentary titled 'Famous Monster: Forrest J Ackerman' which took a fast-paced, colorful look at the life of science fiction's greatest fan. The documentary is currently only available on DVD in the UK, but airs regularly on the BRAVO channel.

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