Sunday, December 07, 2008

R.I.P., OUR BELOVED ACKERMONSTER-- FORREST J. ACKERMAN 1916-2008



Forrest J. Ackerman didn’t start my love of monsters and horror and sci-fi films—that probably had something more to do with Dark Shadows and a chance Saturday afternoon TV encounter with Godzilla, King of the Monsters, both when I was around six years old—but he surely did enrich it. I literally cannot imagine my budding life as a film geek without the awareness and influence of this genial punster with the boundless enthusiasm and the encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to the worlds of fantasy and horror. For every impulse toward monster love that I knew would get me branded a nerd or get my ass kicked in the tiny cow town where I grew up, it was a real comfort knowing that somewhere there were not only other kids like me, who congregated under the iconographic banner of Famous Monsters of Filmland, but that there was an adult who knew and loved even more deeply than I did; who understood where I was coming from; who validated the interest and passion that so defined my worldview; who stoked the fires of that passion and introduced me on a monthly basis to ever more wondrous and fascinating levels of horror’s glorious past.


Forry, as he was known by those of us who never knew him (but felt like we did), lived on this earth for 92 years, and when he passed away this past week it was not unexpected news. Indeed, word of his failing health had been circulating for some time. And though during his final years he saw slip through his fingers the beloved collection that filled to bursting the halls of the Ackermansion (located in Horrorwood, Karloffornia), he lived a grand and full life. He must have gone to his final sleep well assured of his place in the hearts of everyone for whom horror and sci-fi films meant so much—because his own stewardship of those films and that of an entire generation of fans who grew up to be writers and filmmakers, as well as the appreciation of writers like myself who had to make do not with a career in film but simply with feeling his influence in almost everything I’ve ever written or thought about the genre.


As I write these words of remembrance I’m imagining Forry right now reunited with his beloved wife Wendayne, holding court at a grand table around which sit the likes of Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone, Colin Clive, J. Carroll Naish, George Zucco, John Carradine, Glenn Strange, Jack Pierce and every other major figure of the horror and science fiction realm who passed before him. For Forry’s sake I want it to be better than the biggest Universal Studios greatest hits monster movie of all time, every creature gathered together at last for one last free-for-all at the hillside digs of Dr. Victor Frankenstein before the dam breaks and washes away the castle. Maybe even Abbott and Costello are waiting the table and serving drinks—the afterlife as directed by Roy William Neill or Erle C. Kenton, and Forrest J. Ackerman is the biggest star, the fan with the top-most billing.

In 1998 my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Ackermansion and, some 20 or so years after my obsession with Famous Monsters had been tabled, I finally got to meet the man who had meant so much to me in the formative years of my film education. I brought along a video camera and taped the entire affair, a glimpse inside the halls of the most famous movie mansion of them all. Another great appreciator of the work and influence of Forrest J. Ackerman, Ray Young a.k.a. Flickhead, mounted a wonderful 90th-birthday blog-a-thon in Forry’s honor two years ago, and these videos were part of my contribution to that celebration. In addition to encouraging you to revisit Flickhead’s tribute, I have reposted them here so that you can, if you never got a chance to take the trip yourself, spend some time with the Ackermonster and enjoy him doing what he enjoyed most—interacting with fans and reliving a life well spent chronicling his beloved history of horror.

My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 1)



My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 2)



My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 3)



As for the many other tributes coming across the wires this weekend, Jonathan Lapper boils the Forry influence down nicely, Tim Lucas and Bob Westal provide a personal connection, and Glenn Kenny’s appreciation is one of the most heartfelt, especially the comments that ensue, which will lead you to still more links celebrating the life of this influential and genuinely kind man. Of course if you have any thoughts or personal experiences to relate about Forrest J. Ackerman, I hope you will feel free to do so here.

8 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

Dennis, how cool! Thanks for putting those videos up. I would have love to have done that. That was a real treat to watch.

And as a sidenote, may I just say, and this is no phony flattery, in 10 years you haven't aged. Did you discover the fountain of youth or something?

Anonymous said...

GREAT. I met the man twice in the past. I just wished I had the gone to the Ackermansion.

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for this. I posted a link to your terrific essay on my blog.

Dave S said...

Uncle Forry and FM were such a major part of my childhood and those of countless others that their impact is immeasurable. We Monster Kids have developed into a diverse group of adults, many of whom were helped along to careers in the creative arts by Forrest J. Ackerman and his publication. Regardless of where we've ended up (to this point anyway), Forry was a solace and an inspiration who showed us that a world of possibilities existed out there somewhere, and we could dare to be a part of it --- an exclusive club whose only requirement was imagination.

blaaagh said...

Rest in peace, Forrest J! I'll miss you, but Prince Sirki has finally called you home. Dennis, this tribute really warmed my heart, and actually brought a tear to my eye. I love your vision of the get-together in heaven.

It's hard to imagine what our young lives might've been like without the influence (and what felt like friendship) of this kind, funny and optimistic man. I, like you and many others, remember finding the magazine (first at shops on the Oregon coast when my family would go for a weekend in a rustic cabin--I never seemed to find it in Portland) and being astounded that all these people not only shared my enthusiasm for old horror films (I thought only my mom and I even remembered them) but had access to all those photos and anecdotes. My cousins in New Orleans had several issues which we cut up and pasted into our own scrapbooks. Even then, we thought the puns were painful.

I'm hardly ever starstruck, but that's how I felt when you and Pattie and I ran into FJA at that cool old Hollywood museum in '84 or so. So funny that he first struck up a conversation with Pattie, who had no idea who he was! Sigh...what a guy.

Lindsay Vivian said...

This was a beautiful post, Dennis. I got goosebumps thinking about the homecoming party formed by a committee of Forrest's horror inspirations. Wouldn't that be nice!? I'm going to have to link this article...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jonathan-- my secret? Ramp up to looking like you're 50 by age 35, and then if you're lucky you flatten out for a while and the aging process becomes less noticeable!

All: I am really glad to be able to share these videos and that I finally managed to get up to Karloffornia before Forry had to close his house to the public. It was a special day, indeed. Thanks for your thoughts, Dave S., Mike, Anonymous.

Blaaagh-- I only wish you could have been there with me. But I will always remember meeting FJA in that Hollywood museum. And I always regretted that we didn't take him up on his invitation to come to the Ackermansion right then and there! Why the hell didn't we? Were we just stupid?

Lindsay, welcome! I have always loved thinking of gathering together all those old stars for one big heavenly blowout like that, and what better host than Forrest J. Thanks so much for your kind words. And hey, did you notice the identity of The Bunker's first follower? Don't worry, I'm not dangerous!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'm well past 35 so I guessed I missed my chance. Damn. I'll go ahead and ramp myself up to 50 anyway. Thanks for the advice.