Life is full of transitions; it is a part of life that friends we cherish shall eventually yield to the ravages of time and depart this mortal coil. That does not mean we can easily accept the passing of people we will greatly miss with an easy equanimity.
A recent loss underscores this. Forrest J. Ackerman has passed away. Who was Forrest J. Ackerman? You mean, you really don’ t know? That is a story, and I’ll let Wikipedia give me a hand with it.
Forrest J. Ackerman or, “Mr. Science Fiction”, saw his first “imagi-movie” in 1922 (One Glorious Day), purchased his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, created The Boys’ Scientifiction Club in 1930 (“girl-fans were as rare as unicorn’s horns in those days”), contributed to both of the first science fiction fanzines, The Time Traveller, and the Science Fiction Magazine, put out and edited by Shuster & Siegel of Superman fame, in 1932, and by 1933 had 127 correspondents around the world. He attended the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939, where he wore the first “futuristicostume” (designed and created by Myrtle R. Douglas) and sparked fan costuming or cosplay. He has since attended every Worldcon but two thereafter. Ackerman invited Ray Bradbury to attend the now legendary Clifton’s Cafeteria Science Fiction Club, where Ray met the writers Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Petaja, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Williamson. And with $90 from Forrest, Bradbury launched a fanzine, Futuria Fantasia, in 1939.
Ackerman helped found the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a prominent regional organization in science fiction fandom, as well as the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F). He also provided publishing assistance in the early days of the Daughters of Bilitis, and (as the author of several lesbian novels under the name “Laurajean Ermayne”) was dubbed an “honorary lesbian” at a DOB party. He was personally acquainted with many twentieth-century writers of science fiction. Hewas noted for having amassed an extremely large and complete collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror film memorabilia, which was, until 2002, maintained in a remarkable home/museum known as the 18-room “Ackermansion” in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, filled with 300,000 books and pieces of movie memorabilia. He has entertained approximately 50,000 fans at open houses beginning in 1951, including 186 fans and pros in one memorable night, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Ackerman is a board member of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, where many items of his own collection are displayed. Ackerman received a unique 1953 Hugo Award for “#1 Fan Personality” which some might say is the equivalent of the present-day Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer.
Ackerman is credited with nurturing and even inspiring the careers of several early contemporaries like Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Charles Beaumont, Marion Zimmer Bradley and L. Ron Hubbard. He was Ed Wood’s “illiterary” agent and has represented 200 authors of science fiction and fantasy.
Ackerman has had 50 stories published, including collaborations with A. E. van Vogt, Francis Flagg, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Donald Wollheim and Catherine Moore and the world’s shortest — one letter of the alphabet. His stories have been translated into six languages. Ackerman named the sexy comic-book character Vampirella and wrote the origin story for the comic.
Ackerman is fluent in the international language Esperanto, and claims to have walked down Hollywood Boulevard arm-in-arm with Leo G. Carroll singing La Espero, the hymn of Esperanto.
Through his magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958–1983), Forrest J Ackerman introduced the history of the science fiction, fantasy and horror film genres to a generation of young readers. At a time when most movie-related publications glorified the stars in front of the camera, “Uncle Forry”, as he was referred to by many of his fans, promoted the behind-the-scenes artists involved in the magic of movies. In this way Ackerman provided inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, including Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Penn & Teller, Billy Bob Thornton, Gene Simmons (of the band Kiss), Rick Baker, George Lucas, Danny Elfman, Frank Darabont, John Landis and countless other writers, directors, artists and craftsmen.
In the 1960s, Ackerman organized the publication of an English translation in the U.S. of the German science fiction series Perry Rhodan, the longest science fiction series in history. These were published by Ace Books from 1969 through 1977. Ackerman’s German-speaking wife Wendayne (“Wendy”) did most of the translation. The American books were issued with varying frequency from one to as many as four per month. Ackerman also used the paperback series to promote science fiction short stories, including his own on occasion. These “magabooks” or “bookazines” also included a film review section, known as “Scientifilm World”, and letters from readers. The American series came to an end when the management of Ace changed and the new management decided that the series was too juvenile for their taste. The last Ace issue was #118, which corresponded to German issue #126 as some of the Ace editions contained two of the German issues, and three of the German issues had been skipped. Forry later published translations of German issues #127 through #145 on his own under the Master Publications imprint. The original German series continues today and passed issue #2400 in 2007.
He has also contributed to film magazines from all around the world, including Spanish speaking La Cosa: Cine Fantástico magazine, from Argentina, where he had a monthly column for over four years.
Uncle Forry was the most accessible, friendly personality in science fiction, in my opinion. I had met him several times at conventions in earlier years and had dinner with him twice. He was quite a character– even in his later years he possessed an effusive personality and coupled with encyclopedic memory capable of near-eidactic recall. I knew better than to challenge him any niggling point in the SF genre– there wasn’t any future in it. On the flip side, he was a genuinely caring and friendly man, not in the least bit arrogant and always a tad bewildered that people made such a fuss over him. His 100% unaffected sense of glee about life allowed him to get away with a sense of humor that was pure corn… I would groan at the same material from anybody else, but from Uncle Forry, you knew he meant it.
I won’t be a hypocrite and pretend we were fast friends– he was a fixture at many SF conventions from my youth and I greatly benefited from knowing him. His loss is a bitter blow. God rest, Uncle Forry. You lived exactly the life you wanted to and ended up, by accident or design, enriching the lives of those that knew you. Enjoy the Ackermanision in the sky.