For this entry in GEEK Classics we take a look at one of the first and most famous of all Fanzines, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Created by Mr. Science Fiction himself, Forrest J. Ackerman, both the man and the magazine have had an immense influence on generations of artists and industry vets, from Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson to Rick Baker and Dennis Muren.
Born November 24, 1916, Forrest J. Ackerman (known as Forry by fans and friends) purchased his first science fiction magazine in 1926. He passed away in December of 2008, but remains a legend in the sci-fi community for, among other things, coining the very phrase “sci-fi.” Forrest J. Ackerman dedicated his life to amassing what many consider to have been the world’s largest personal collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror memorabilia in the world. He was the founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which went on to inspire a generation of individuals who are at the forefront of the entertainment industry right now, and he did it all relatively independently and without any filtering.
What was so inspiring about this lone individual living atop the Hollywood hills?
Ackerman provided inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, filmmakers, technicians and industry professionals. The list reads like a who’s who of Hollywood players, including: Guillermo del Toro, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Donald F. Glut, Penn & Teller, Billy Bob Thornton, Gene Simmons, Rick Baker, George Lucas, Danny Elfman, Frank Darabont, John Landis and many others.
Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine was published from 1958 to 1983 and was “the world’s first filmonster magazine” that went on to inspire generations of young moviemakers and fandoms alike. The magazine was usually filled with behind-the-scenes articles, photos (both rare and promotional), all with Ackerman’s trademark puns. The magazine was published by James Warren and edited by Ackerman.
As early as 1932, Ackerman was involved with science fiction and horror acting as associate editor of The Time Traveller, which is often cited as the first Fanzine. For many decades after that he wrote short stories and articles for journals published under his own name, as well a many under aliases including Dr. Acula (yes. Not very subtle but he wore his fandom on his sleeve), Hubert George Wells, S.F. Balboa, Sylvius Agricola, and Weaver Wright. Ackerman won several awards during his life including a Hugo award in 1953, a Bram Stoker Life Achievement award in 1997, and a World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2002. He was also co-creator of the popular comic book superheroine Vampirella. Over time, Ackerman became known among fans as “Mr. Science Fiction.”
Here he is discussing many early sci-fi films and their influence:
For decades Forry gave tours of his Hollywood hills “Ackermansion”, which contained the world’s largest collection of sci-fi/horror memorabilia and movie props. Among many of the youngsters who visited him were a youthful Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, and Dennis Muren, the last of which would later help revolutionize modern visual effects with his Oscar-winning work on films like Star Wars, The Abyss, and Jurassic Park.
Murren was starting his own career with a DIY creature feature entitled Equinox. Originally called The Equinox . . . A Journey into the Supernatural, the film was picked up for distribution by producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob), who along with writer-director Jack Woods, shot new footage and released it in 1970 as Equinox. Ackerman caught a showing of the film and would continue to lend his support for Murren and his crew, going as far as to offer a video intro for the Criterion Collection’s release of the film. This is just one example of the kindness the man and his magazine shared with a generation of special-effects wizards.
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro recently released a book titled Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions. In the book del Toro details his creative process, using jotted-down ideas, drawings, and photographs that he has used to craft films from Cronos to Pacific Rim, and even some projects that have never been made.
“When I was a kid growing up in Mexico, it gave me great hope to read about [movie memorabilia collector Forrest J.] Ackerman or to read about Ray Bradbury’s library or Harlan Ellison’s house with all the crazy secret passages. It really fed my imagination. I thought, if a book like this gives hope to anyone … with the same love and dedication and detail orientation anywhere in the world, it would be great. That’s what those people, those characters or those books and magazines did for me.”
Del Toro is continuing the fascination he experienced while growing up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland and has even modeled his Southern Californian home, Bleak House, a sanctuary for his massive collection of pop culture artifacts, books, paintings, and obscurities, after Forry’s “Ackermansion”. Below, del Toro discusses the book and Forry’s inspiration on him both growing up and as a filmic heavyweight:
Ackerman’s house is filled with thousands of collectibles and after his passing a recent auction listed some of the items, which included a signed first edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein; a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula signed by the author, Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and a copy of Triton bearing the property label of L. Ron Hubbard; all of which went for thousands of dollars. The most expensive items are those Ackerman cherished above all others. Lugosi’s black cape is priced at $15,000 to $20,000; His ring at $20,000 to $30,000. And that is merely the surface of Forry’s collection.
Watch this 1986 video of Forrest J. Ackerman giving a short tour of his multi-million dollar science fiction and horror collection:
The magazine was revived in July 2010, with the publication of Famous Monsters of Filmland #251. It has since expanded its distribution and circulation into major bookstore chains and independent retailers throughout North America and select markets in the US, Canada, and UK. Movieland Classics, LLC announced that the magazine would go into bi-monthly publication continuing on Forry’s legacy and love of all thing science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
“My hope for humanity – and I think sensible science fiction has a beneficial influence in this direction – is that one day everyone born will be whole in body and brain, will live a long life free from physical and emotional pain, will participate in a fulfilling way in their contribution to existence, will enjoy true love and friendship, will pity us 20th century barbarians who lived and died in an atrocious, anachronistic atmosphere of arson, rape, robbery, kidnapping, child abuse, insanity, murder, terrorism, war, smog, pollution, starvation and the other negative “norms” of our current civilization. I have devoted my life to amassing over a quarter million pieces of sf and fantasy as a present to posterity and I hope to be remembered as an altruist who would have been an accepted citizen of Utopia.”
― Forrest J. Ackerman
Looking at any modern-day fanzine or publication related to sci-fi, fantasy and horror, you can’t help but notice the influence Famous Monsters of Filmland has had on both the layout and structure of many other genre-based magazines. There is little doubt magazines like Fangoria, SciFiNow, Apex, Realms of Fantasy, among so many other excellent publications, don’t owe something to Ackerman’s fanzine. It didn’t start with Forry and Famous Monsters of Filmland, but it certainly held a significant spot in the hearts of many who are now pulling the strings of the industry. Just check out a [small] sample of the magazine’s cover art. A beautiful art form that is sadly out of practice today.
After his death a plaque was erected in Forrest J. Ackerman’s honor. It simply reads, “Sci-Fi Was My High”. The message is loud and clear.
If you’d like to learn more about Ackerman and Famous Monsters of Filmland check out the documentary The Ackermonster Chronicles by Jason V. Brock or the book Forrest J Ackerman’s World of Science Fiction, and as always, check back with GEEK or on the Facebook page for any future installments of GEEK Classics.
Images: Warren Publishing, The Donning Company,
YouTube, Harper Books, aboutsf, Movieland Classics, LLC