Although we’re at the brink of Thanksgiving, let’s pause to send birthday wishes out to a character more associated with Halloween.
As anyone who ever met him can attest, Forrest J Ackerman – known as 4E, and the “Ackermonster” – was a little kid trapped in an old man’s body. The twentieth century’s biggest science fiction fan and promoter was born on this date in 1916 in Los Angeles. After discovering science fiction as a boy, he and the genre were mated for life.
Forry soon began contributing stories to the very first science fiction magazines, including Amazing Stories, which was published by Hugo Gernsback, who the Hugo Awards for best science fiction and fantasy works were named. (Forry would win his own Hugo Award in 1953.) He would continue writing throughout his entire life, creating the Vampirella comic book franchise along the way.
In the 1930s he helped create the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society which met weekly for years at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown L.A. Many of the later titans of the genre attended these meetings, including Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, and Robert A. Heinlein. He became a literary agent and worked with nearly every science fiction writer of the first half of the twentieth century, with a clientele that included Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, and Ed Wood.
In 1939 he attended the very first World Science Fiction Convention in Manhattan where he tooled around town dressed in a space suit. Later, as the editor of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, he introduced new generations to the magic of B-Movie monsters. He was often honored by these fans after they became persons of influence in Hollywood, by being offered cameo appearances in over 200 films, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
Forry was such a “character” in real life that it was natural for him to end up in fiction. He appeared as himself in a book from the Man From U.N.C.L.E. series and in Philip Jose Farmer’s novel Blown. His name was actually used as for a character in the original Superman story.
I had the pleasure of meeting Forry on several occasions at the “Ackermansion,” his home near Griffith Park. Forry was always the most welcoming celebrity in Hollywood, opening his home to everyone on Saturdays at noon whenever he was in town.
On entry to his 18-room home, Forry would welcome you with his trademark, “What are you all about?” greeting – a provocative question clothed in simplicity. There was no question as to what Forry was all about. As he led you through his floor-to-ceiling labyrinth of science fiction books, posters, and memorabilia, you knew you were exploring the corridors of the mind of the Ackermonster.
Among his thousands of items on display was a “coffin table,” dozens of original props from classic science-fiction films, and the first Stephen King story ever, which young “Stevie” hand-wrote and submitted to Forry for publication.
Despite being among priceless items from Forry’s collection, the Ackermonster was always the real star of the tour. Forry loved to clown around for the visitors, employing a host of often-used jokes and stories. His shtick was always the same, but never got old. He would greet women on the tours with poems in Esperanto, the universal language that he spoke; fight off imaginary monsters in the cellar to the squeals of the children; and claim to have read every last word of all the thousands of novels in his home. (“You see, when I get a new book, I open to the back page so that I can read the last word!”)
Forry passed away two years ago after hosting a “living funeral” where he invited several of his friends by to say so-long.
Happy birthday, Forry … and thanks for sharing what you were all about.
(“Deadwrite’s Dailies” will be back on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!)