RIP FJA | Bleader

Sunday, December 14, 2008

RIP FJA

Posted By on 12.14.08 at 03:31 PM

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Horrorwood will surely mourn the passing of Forrest J. Ackerman, the founding editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. A noted editor, literary agent, and collector of science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies and memorabilia, FJA (as he was often called) died of heart failure on December 4 at age 92 in his Los Angeles home.
 
Widely credited with coining the term "sci-fi," Ackerman used his magazine (which he launched in 1958) to introduce the baby boom generation to the classic films of the 1930s and '40s just as TV began broadcasting the old black-and-white movies to fill up late-night airtime. Youngsters of the 50s, 60s, and 70s learned about Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong, and the Phantom of the Opera from the Ackermonster's enthusiastic, knowledgeable, witty, pun-packed puff pieces. The magazine introduced young audiences to such stars as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney (senior and junior).
 
And just as important, Famous Monsters acquainted fans with the creative contributions of such artists as directors Tod Browning and James Whale, stop-motion animators Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen, and writer Ray Bradbury, a close friend of Ackerman's. The two met in the late 1930s when they were members of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society; Bradbury launched his career by helping Ackerman put out a mimeographed fan magazine called Imagination.
 
Famous Monsters of Filmland paid attention to new films too—atomic-mutant and alien-invasion flicks, the sexy Frankenstein and Dracula remakes from Britain's Hammer Films, and a slew of adaptations of stories and novels by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and of course Edgar Allan Poe.
 
Ackerman's own personality was as important to Famous Monsters readers as the information he imparted. "Uncle Forry" was the playful, approving father figure thousands of kids dreamed of having. While our real parents told us to "turn that junk off TV," Ackerman was encouraging us to turn up the volume. And, as New York Times writer Bruce Weber aptly noted in his obituary, Ackerman's sometimes over-the-top writing style "conveyed the idea that language was flexible and that using it could be fun." I am not at all ashamed to confess that the first arts criticism that caught my attention appeared in Famous Monsters and its more erudite rival, Castle of Frankenstein.
 
I interviewed Bradbury and Ackerman for the Reader in 1993. "I was the resident crazy in high school," Ackerman told me. "We were all ridiculed by the world—we who thought men were going to the moon someday."

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