Goodbye Mr. Science Fiction

Photographs from the movie “Gorilla at Large,” starring Anne Bancroft and the gorilla. The inscription, “Oh Forry, you tickle so,” was written in Forry’s (Forrest J. Ackerman) own hand.
A cover from <i>Famous Monsters of Filmland</i>.

Goodbye Mr. Science Fiction,
Dr. Acula and the Sci-Fi Man

By Allan Maurer

Way back in 1957, at the advanced age of 10, I bought a 35-cent magazine at a small town drugstore’s magazine rack called Famous Monsters of Filmland, the second issue, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, who died Dec. 4, 2008.

That magazine changed my life in more ways than one.

It replayed an incident in Ackerman’s own life, which he often retold. When about the same age as I was discovering FM, Forry saw an early copy of the world’s first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, on the newsstand in 1926. He described the moment this way: “It said take me home, little boy; you’ll love me.” And he did.

Forry became science fiction’s number-one fan, winning a Hugo (science fiction’s highest award) the first year they were presented as just that, the number-one fan. He coined the term “sci-fi,” which many people in the science fiction community dislike for its connotation of junky fantasy that is nothing like literary SF. But it caught on with the general public and press to such an extent that it’s firmly implanted now.

He called himself FJA and Dr. Acula, and others called him Mr. Science Fiction. He played cameo roles in films such as “The Howling,” and “The Time Travelers,” among many others.
Ackerman’s pun-crazed articles about horror and science fiction movies and their stars in FM were on the juvenile side, to say the least, but he illustrated them with an amazing assortment of stills, posters and artifacts from his own vast, 300,000-item collection. It sparked my own lust for movie memorabilia.

While I never did it for money, at least not for decades (I collect as an investment now as well as for pleasure), I never lost a penny on movie memorabilia. Even when I sold items for a tenth of what they would bring now, I made 10 times my own initial investment.

I recently bid on and won a linen-backed glossy still from Forry’s own collection, much of which he auctioned to pay legal and medical bills. It’s from Anne Bancroft’s only foray into the horror movie genre, “Gorilla at Large,” showing her held by said gorilla and has “Oh Forry, you tickle so,” written in Forry’s own hand (and also came with two other stills and his very own file folder). I paid $60 for it, and it was one of the less expensive items the dealer sold in that auction of stills from Forry’s files.

I particularly like it because it unites my substantial Anne Bancroft collection with my equally substantial collection of science fiction and horror movie collectibles, which range from posters, lobby cards and stills, to toys and assorted odds and ends. Not only that, I remember seeing that still in FM so many years ago, not least because of the adolescent excitement Bancroft’s figure stirred in me.

The connection to Ackerman’s FM, which as much as anything is responsible for my collecting in the first place, is equally pleasing to me. I met him several times at science fiction conventions over the years, shaking his hand, on which he wore one of his most prized collectibles, the Dracula ring that Bela Lugosi wore portraying the vampiric count. Forry’s legacy lives on in the work of many people in the science fiction, fantasy, and film worlds.

Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis and many, many others loved his magazine and freely admitted Forry’s influence, and they’re only a few among thousands. I started my professional writing career publishing short stories in science fiction pulp magazines (Fantastic) and magazines about SF films (Starlog), and even when I moved up in the world to major national slick magazines, I published most often in OMNI, which ran both leading edge science stories and science fiction. Even my work for non-genre publications often covers SF subjects, from film and book reviews to assorted related topics.

Many of the obituaries of Ackerman note that he died without heirs. That’s not true. He had many thousands of heirs. I know, because I’m one.

Some links about Forry:

L.A. Times blog

The Wikipedia entry on Ackerman

His My Space Page