Today is the 100th birthday of the man who defined science fiction fandom as we know it. Literally.
Whether you knew him as the Ackermonster, Mr. Science Fiction, Dr. Acula, 4sj, 4E, FJA or just Uncle Forry, if you knew Forrest J Ackerman, you were in the company of Sci-fi royalty. For example- the very term “sci-fi” was coined by Forry, since “scientifiction” was just too long to say.
Ackerman was at the forefront of “first fandom”, the guys that paved the way for the rest of us. He saw his first “imagi-movie” in 1922 and was hooked, eventually developing his first crush on the magnificent robot “Maria” from Fritz Lang’s masterpiece, Metropolis. He soon picked up his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories. At the age of 14 he founded “The Boys’ Scientifiction Club”, not considering the inclusion of girls because, in his words, “girl-fans were as rare as unicorn’s horns”. Not so any more, to everyone’s relief.
If you cosplay, you owe a debt to Forry and partner in crime Myrtle R. Douglas, who dressed in costumes she made at the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939. Cosplay, seemingly a more recent phenomenon, actually got its start 77 years ago, albeit without a clever name- though Forry called them “futuristicostumes”, a name that didn’t quite stick. Some of those costumes you see walking around at cons were inspired or influenced by Forry: Ackerman named the vampiric-yet-sexy red-bikini-clad comic-book femme fatale “Vampirella” and wrote her origin and background story. Plus, if you stopped him in the hall, he’d be ever so glad to tell you the tale of Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” ring from “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”, how he came to posess it and why it was ever-present on his finger.
Along with publisher James Warren, he was founder of the Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, as well as editor and writer; through his efforts Uncle Forry unwittingly raised a generation of “Monster Kids” who loved the hollywood horror scene as much as he did. For 25 years and 191 issues of the first incarnation, fans could read about and discuss and write for monsters and horror buffs alike. To get your name in FM was a milestone, and some authors even cherish the rejections. Steven King was surprised to be presented with an unpublished story he’d submitted at the age of 11, readily available because Forry never, ever threw anything out.
And these “monster Kids” went on to create monster projects of their own: Makeup FX man Rick Baker, directors like Tim Burton, Guillermo Del Toro, Frank Darabont, John Landis, Joe Dante, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, writers Stephen King and Donald F. Glut, entertainers like Danny Elfman, Penn & Teller, Billy Bob Thornton, and Gene Simmons of the band Kiss.
In addition to publishing, Forry was also literary agent of such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, A.E. Van Vogt, and even L. Ron Hubbard. Many of these same individuals became involved in the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, along with Robert A. Heinlein, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett, and Jack Williamson. Bradbury, who credited Forry with starting his career, often attended meetings with his friend and special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, whom he met through Forry.
For a guy that wasn’t an actor, Forry spent a lot of time appearing in film productions from, as he used to like to say, “Fangtastic Hollyweird, Karloff-ornia”. over 50 in all, from goofy productions like Schlock!, Amazon Women on the Moon and Kentucky Fried Movie to more mainstream fare like 1976’s version of King Kong and Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop 3. If you want an easy way to spot him, dressed in his typical uniform of gray leisure suit, wide-collared shirt, thick glasses and pencil mustache, you can find him in the most successful music video of all time; the John Landis-directed Thriller; He’s sitting right behind Michael Jackson and his date in the movie theater, blissfully munching popcorn and watching the on-screen horror film play out over Michael’s shoulder. You’ll notice that, besides Michael, Forry is the only one not recoiling to the events on screen, obviously a seasoned horror pro.
Over the years, Forry had gathered an extremely large and complete collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror film related items, which he displayed in his incredible 18-room home and ad-hoc museum known as the “Ackermansion.” In the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles near Griffith Park, it contained an estimated 300,000 books and pieces of movie and sci-fi props, costumes, and memorabilia. For over 50 years, Forry would give tours on Saturdays at his home, free for the asking. Celebrities, writers, astronauts, scientists, and fans of all descriptions would make the pilgimage for the opportunity to scour his home from the top floor to the under-house crawlspace (known as “Grislyland”) to marvel over the amazing things he’d amassed. While the Ackermansion is no more, Forry was a board member of the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, where many items from his collection can now be viewed.
In 1953, 14 years after his first convention, he was voted “#1 Fan Personality” by the members of the World Science Fiction Society, a unique honor, commemorated with a Hugo Award never granted to anyone else.
And though he passed away in 2008, Forry is still collecting accolades.
Last week, at the corner of Franklin and Vermont in Los Angeles in front of a crowd of friends and fans and Forry’s favorite eatery called “House of Pies”, Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu declared the intersection “Forrest J Ackerman Square”. Marked at the corners by four official signs, the dedication reads:
In Honor of Forrest J Ackerman (Mr. Sci-Fi)
Who inspired generations of fantasy filmmakers and monster-movie fans.
Thank you for raising us so well.
If you’re a science fiction or pop culture fan, and you unabashedly live a life that lets you revel in public without fear of condemnation, take a moment on today, his 100th birthday, to reflect on Uncle Forry. He came before us all, bravely blazing the trail for us to follow, and set the course for the open and accepted level of fandom we enjoy today.
This is Shawn “Obi-Shawn” Crosby, for SCIFI.radio.
Shawn “Obi-Shawn” Crosby portrays Obi-Wan Kenobi for scores of charity events each year, owns two Star Wars custom cars, and is the host of the hit SCIFI.radio live program, “Docking Bay 94”.