Forrest J. Ackerman

 

Forty-five years ago, a generation of lonely, geeky American kids, isolated in their indifference to sport and their love of horror movies, found a champion - a grown-up who legitimised their taste in trash. In 1957 former literary agent Forrest J. Ackerman created Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, and

Among the teenagers who voraciously devoured each issue were George Lucas, Jon Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter.

Ackerman, now well into his 80s, is a hugely influential figure, credited with opening up worlds of creative possibilities for countless imaginative children. Author Stephen King said of him: "He stood for a generation of kids who understood that if it was junk, it was magic junk. He has always seen the fiction of the fantastic - the stories and the cinema - as a gateway to wonder. His love of the genre is a child's wonder, untouched by the sophistication that eventually corrupts." Affable and portly, with a penchant for atrocious puns, Forry Ackerman was an über-fan for years before he and publisher Bill Warren launched Famous Monsters. As a teenager he corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft and other great fantasy writers of the 1930s and began collecting movie ephemera. In his house in Los Angeles (the neatly-inscribed plate on the door reads "4SJ, The Ackermansion, Horrorwood, Karloffornia") can be found Willis O'Brien's original model for King Kong, Lon Chaney's precious make-up case, and hundreds of thousands of stills, books, posters and mementos from the realms of literary and celluloid fantasy.

Originally, Warren asked him to edit a one-off magazine on classic horror films. "Then Life magazine did a feature on the sudden splurge of teen monster movies," says Ackerman, "and Warren realised that if he produced a magazine with lots of gruesome faces in it and the word 'monster' in the title he'd be in business. Especially if the whole thing was tongue-in-cheek and whimsy-whamsical." Famous Monsters, a big hit right from the start, ran for 30 years, and Ackerman received honours from the Count Dracula Society and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. The readers who went on to become movie-makers have repaid the debt and use him almost as a talisman: he can be seen emoting in bit parts in dozens of fantasy films. As Jon Landis says: "Forry is important, and he's important historically. From the time he was a kid, he had a very distinct vision of an appreciation of fantasy not just as pulp but as a genuine cinematic or literary art form." Whenever Ackerman hears of a Spielberg or a Lucas saying that he grew up with Famous Monsters, his comment is: "Oh, they weren't supposed to grow up!" And in many wonderful ways, thanks to him, they didn't.