In the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror, there was one man whose spirit and enthusiasm for fantastic film was stronger than anyone other personality.
With the inception of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Forrest J. Ackerman created the ultimate fan guide that inspired generations of fans.
The magazine, and the enormous collection of memorabilia Ackerman accumulated throughout the years, has proven to be a true testament to his love of fantastic film and literature.
Ackerman had been a collector since 1926. When he was in his twenties, he wrote to Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal, for movie stills from their classic horror films, and would travel by streetcar to pick up them up (he eventually accumulated 125,000 stills).
He had every issue of the old sci-fi pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, which he bought when they were new. He owned a copy of Frankenstein that was autographed by Mary Shelley when she was 19. He also had the Creature from the Black Lagoon costume a janitor at Universal had taken home for his kid to wear on Halloween.
Not to mention Bela Lugosi’s cape, the model pterodactyl, the original King Kong battles, one of the model Martian ships from the original War of the Worlds, and much, much more.
Forry’s collection never stopped growing, and like a malevolent 50’s science fiction monster, it ended up consuming his house, a four story, eighteen-room mansion in the hills of Los Feliz, which he dubbed the “Ackermansion.” According to one report, the house became so overcrowded with memorabilia that Ackerman and his wife had to park on the streets because their garage was too full.
The Ackermansion was open for tours every weekend, and making the pilgrimage to Forry’s home was a badge of honor for any true monster fan. It’s been estimated that over 50,000 people came to visit when he lived there. When you arrived, he would greet you through the intercom: “Who dares disturb the tomb of the vampire?”
Ackerman also coined the term “sci-fi” and told GQ Magazine that he said “science fiction” every night before he goes to sleep because if he died before he awoke, he wanted “science fiction” to be his last words.
Who better to write the definitive magazine on monsters?
The genesis of Famous Monsters began back in 1957 when Ackerman took a trip to Paris, where he picked up a magazine that was dedicated exclusively to fantastic films.
The magazine was called Cinema 57 and inside were classic photos and articles on Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong, The Werewolf of London, and so on. He brought it back with him to the States and showed it to an enterprising young publisher named James Warren.
Warren wanted to be the next Hugh Hefner and had a poor man’s Playboy called After Hours, which Forry wrote for. During a lunch meeting together, Forry showed him his copy of Cinema 57, and Warren was transfixed. Suddenly he saw all the French turning into English, and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine was born.
Warren didn’t think the magazine would last longer than a single issue, so he wanted to do an “instant one shot” on monsters. However, Ackerman already had over 35,000 stills in his collection that could illustrate the magazine. As far as writing about monsters, Forry could do it in his sleep. “I’ve been seeing all the fantastic movies around the world since I was five and a half,” he says. “So I was sure I could fill up a magazine.”
Ackerman thought the issue should be an encyclopedia with page after page dedicated to a monster with a definitive photo, interviews and Forry’s commentary. Warren had other ideas. They sat down together with Ackerman’s huge collection of photo stills and a manual typewriter at Forry’s kitchen table. Then Warren help up an imaginary sign and said, “I am eleven and a half years old and I am your reader. Forrest Ackerman, Make Me Laugh.”
Ackerman’s intentions were more serious, he didn’t want to be funny about monsters, but the magazine had to appeal to kids. They had already gone to 13 magazine distributors with their plan for Famous Monsters and all 13 turned them down. As luck would have it, Life Magazine came out with a feature about a new trend in horror films that appealed to adolescents like I Was a Teenage Werewolf. Finally one of the distributors got it. “Put monsters on the cover, aim it at teenagers and we’re in business.”
“That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” says Ackerman. “I was quite serious about it, but here was at least an opportunity to get a hundred of my stills in print and write about them. So I put on my dunce cap and began writing as funny as possible.”
And the silly, cornball humor became one of the magazine’s strongest trademarks. He liked to call tinsel town “Horrorwood Karloffornia.” In the magazine’s 100th issue, Forry vowed, “I have just begun to fright. Come stay young with me: the beast of life is yet to be!”
This is part 1 of a 2-part story. TG Daily will run part 2 of the “The Famous Monsters of Filmland,” tomorrow, February 15, 2012.