No archeological dig through fandom would be apropos without some mention of Forry
Ackerman, who has been continuously active as a fan for over sixty years. However,
this latest installment of Forry's autobiographical series describes an event that
made him famous outside fandom, and in the process, creating a whole new
kind of fandom.
I've already mentioned how, in 1951, when I was in Europe, I went over to Northern Ireland and met the Big Three, including Walt Willis. Walt probably wasn't aware of it, but for that entire trip, the only time I was ill was when I was with Walt Willis. And when he came to America the next year, he returned the compliment -- the only time he was ill was when he was in my home!
When Walt came back to Los Angeles during his second North American trip, in 1962, he had wanted to do some things he hadn't been able to on his previous trip. One of these was to see Disneyland, so we spent a full day there, having a good time, but managing to lose a roll of exposed slide film at some point. Six months later, a fan from Chicago, Bob Greenberg, while on the submarine ride at Disneyland, felt something rolling around by his feet. He reached down and picked up a little can of undeveloped photographic film. When he got back to Chicago he had it developed, and to his surprise staring back at him on the very first slide was a face he recognized -- me! It was sheer luck that a fan had found the roll of film -- for six months it had been rolling around where anybody could have picked it up!
Well, it turned out that one of the reasons Greenberg recognized me was that he was a fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, of which I was the writer and editor. But for more on that subject I should go back a few more years.
# # # #
In 1957, fifty-five of us chartered a plant to fly over to London for the World Science Fiction Convention that year. Dave and Ruth Kyle had just gotten married, and that was their honeymoon. When the plane landed, there was some question as who should be the first American fan to set foot upon British soil for the World Convention, and we finally all decided on Sam Moskowitz. So when the door opened, Sam paraded down the stairway, and I followed shortly thereafter.
Well, after the Loncon we had a couple of weeks before the plane flew back to America, so we fans scattered out around Europe. I went first to France, and while I was passing by a news stand in Paris, I noticed a motion picture magazine. On the cover was Henry Hull as the Werewolf of London. That attracted me, and inside I found the entire issue was dedicated to imagi-movies. So I of course purchased a copy for my collection.
I stopped in New York on the way back home to California. At the time, I had been involved as a literary agent specializing in science fiction. I'd been selling to a magazine called After Hours, which was a kind of a poor man's Playboy; it was edited and published by a fellow named James Warren.
Warren knew I was in town, so he came to meet me at my hotel, and we went down the street to an eating place. I told him about the convention, and then I showed him this movie magazine from France. Well, in his mind's eye, he could immediately see it turning into English. He felt that all he had to do was write a letter and somebody over there would lend him all the stills. What he didn't realize was that they were not the property of any one person, but belonged to maybe half a dozen collectors, and it would have been quite difficult to get them back together again. Also, as he began reading and translating the text, he found it all rather dry and didactic, which he felt wouldn't exactly appeal to an American audience.
At that point he was ready to give up on the notion, but I spoke up and I said, "Well, I have about 35,000 stills at the present time. I've been seeing these fantastic movies ever since I was 5½, back in 1922. I'm sure I can put together a magazine like this for you."
Even though he was buying fiction through me, he still didn't know me from the proverbial Adam, or if I was just a Holly-wooden head full of hot air, so he said, "Okay, I'll come out to Hollywood and check you out." And he did, arriving with a flourish at the airport. But I didn't know until many years later that he had had nothing in his expense account for cross-country plane trips. So in order to impress me, he had taken a bus all the way to Las Vegas, and then got on a plane. When he came out to my home and saw that, indeed, I did have 35,000 stills, the next thing I knew I was sitting at a dining room table with an old mechanical typewriter, and he was sitting opposite me with a sign which read, "I'm 11½ years old and I am your reader. Forry Ackerman, make me laugh!"
Well, I hadn't the slightest intention of being funny about anything. What I had really planned to do was produce about a hundred-page magazine. There would be one definitive still of Dracula, with an explanation on how the public reacted to it at the time, my own feeling about the film, and a summary of the plot. There would be similar entries about Frankenstein and Things to Come, and the whole thing would be more or less like an encyclopedia. But it turned out that Warren had already gone around New York with an idea similar to that for a proposed magazine called Wonderama. At the time there were thirteen distributors and every last one of them had turned down the idea of a magazine with crazy messed-up faces in it. That might have been the end of it, but right about then Life magazine came to his rescue with a feature on the runaway success of teen-age monster movies such as I Was a Teen-age Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. After that issue appeared, one of the magazine distributors remembered that crazy editor who'd been around. That distributor called Warren back, and when Warren again brought up the idea of Wonderama, the distributor told him, "No, no, forget about that -- put monsters on the cover and you're in business." He didn't care much what was inside as long as it was appealing to the teenage crowd that was into monsters.
Well, that didn't make me too happy; I had really wanted a serious publication. I had no original intention of funning around with fantasy films. But that was what was required, so for about twenty hours a day I sat in front of a typewriter so hot it was smoking (I was afraid I was going to die of cancer, it was smoking so badly). At about four in the morning, publisher Warren and I would go over to a 24-hour eating place for orange juice, coffee, and hot cakes. After that I would take him to his motel, then four hours later, pick him up at about eight o'clock in the morning and away we would go. It went on for days and days like that, but in the end we had a magazine we were both reasonably happy with -- it was the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
That first issue was not circulated simultaneously all over the United States -- there was at first just a try-out in New York and Philadelphia, in February of 1958. Unfortunately, the day it appeared in New York there was a terrible snow storm going on, and Warren must have thought, "Oh death, doom and destruction. Nobody will be going out to buy Playboy or Life, let alone our little curiosity." But the next week he called, very excited, and said, "We're getting fifty fan letters a day! There have been 200 fan letters just from Philadelphia and New York! If it goes on like this, in other parts of the country, don't you think we ought to squeeze out one more issue? Can you do it?"
I laughed and replied, "Jim Warren, you don't know me very well. I don't happen to believe in reincarnation, but in case I'm surprised and I keep coming back for the next 5,000 years, I think I can go on and on without ever duplicating myself."
Well, I didn't quite go on forever, but I did edit 190 issues of the magazine, ending in the early 1970s. It was the economics that convinced me to quit. I was never really paid any fabulous sum of money to begin with, and it never got any bigger. Even in times of rampant inflation, I continued to get the same check every time I created a magazine, at the end of a year it was buying me five or ten percent less than at the beginning of the year. I had discussed this with Warren four years before I resigned as editor, and he had agreed in principle to increase my payment. But year one went by, then the second, and then year three. At the end of year four, I thought, "Well, I'm chopped down by about one-third of what I could buy four years ago." Also, the two-hundredth issue of Famous Monsters was on the horizon, so I wrote Warren and said, "I know you won't pay an extra penny for this, but I would like to give the readers two hundred pages for the two-hundredth issue." I got no response to that, so I resigned after issue 190. The magazine went on one more issue after I resigned, and that was the end of it.
A few years before all of this unpleasantness happened, while Famous Monsters was going very well and I was happy, Jim Warren called me up one day and said he was going to create a comic book about 'a mod witch' and he wanted to know, "What would you call her?"
Well, just off the tip of my tongue, I said, "How about 'Miss Terry'?" If you say it fast, it sounds like 'mystery'.
He replied something to the effect, 'Not bad but no cigar', which I didn't mind, since I don't smoke anyway. So I kind of forgot about it until 1969, when I was flying down to Rio de Janeiro for the Science Fiction Symposium that was going on there in March of that year. Sitting directly behind me was George Pal, director of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, and sitting with him was Yvette Mimieux, who played 'Weena' in Pal's adaptation of The Time Machine. Across from me was Roman Polanski, who gave us The Fearless Vampire Killers. A. E. van Vogt was aboard, as were Robert Bloch, Poul Anderson, and Harlan Ellison. If that airplane had gone down it would have wiped out about half of the fantasy and science fiction community.
Around midnight there was some thunder and lightning, and I was wide awake, looking down at the Amazon River snaking along. The hungry pirhana were probably jumping up, hoping we would crash and they would get a free hot meal for a change. I began thinking, gee, if we crash-land, we've got our fearless leader, Harlan Ellison, who could hack away through the jungle and get us back to civilization. And we have the white goddess, Yvette Mimieux, and there was George Pal to direct and produce -- we'd have a fabulous movie!
But then, oh yeah, what about that mod witch? Well, Barbarella was very big at the moment, and I realized they'd be bringing back Cinderella, and would probably make a movie about a space siren called 'Asterella'. Wait! How about 'Vampirella'? The idea for the name had leaped into my mind! She, along with her twin sister, Drakulina, lived on the planet Drakulon, where the rivers flowed with blood instead of water.
When I got back to New York, Warren had about half a dozen possible titles on a bulletin board, to which he added 'Vampirella'. And as people came in, he said to them, "If you were interested in comics and had half a buck to spend, which of those titles would you buy?" They all gravitated toward 'Vampirella', so that evening he told me, "OK, you just named her."
# # # #
I've not only edited a magazine about movies, I've also been in a fair number of them. It started back in the 1940s. By the time I had become a Corporal at Fort MacArthur in California during World War Two, a studio, I think it was Columbia, came to the base. They were making a movie called Hey, Rookie; in one sequence they had extras getting out of a bus, and they included me in a scene as the editor of the Fort MacArthur Bulletin. Shortly after the war, my friend Walt Daugherty was involved as an extra in a film which got an Academy Award, The Farmer's Daughter. He asked me if I was also interested in being in it. As an ex-GI, I wasn't making much money; I was interesting in anything to keep body and non-existent soul together, so I took the job. My big scene was in an auditorium where I sat right behind Loretta Young, which later turned up as a little postage stamp-sized picture in an issue of Life magazine.
Many of the bit parts I've had have been in science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies. I think that the main reason I'm in so many of them, including six by John Landis, is because for years I brought Halloween to the kids in the country in every issue of Famous Monsters. These kids grew up and turned out to be Stephen Spielberg, and George Lucas, and John Landis, and Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. They feel it's kind of amusing to have Uncle Forry in their films.
Some of my 'roles' in various movies have been interesting. One I was pleased with was in a movie called Aftermath, where I was the curator of the last museum on earth, after World War Three had destroyed civilization. I became President of the United States in Amazon Women on the Moon, and to follow that up in the next film, Turkeys in Outer Space, I became President of the World. Then I was out a job for four years, after which all I could get to be was a judge in Nudist Colony of the Dead. It was quite a comedown from President of the World. In all, I've had cameo appearances in fifty-two films. If you put them all together, I'd guess they last about an hour. Perhaps somebody will do that some day!
All illustrations by Teddy Harvia