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November 25, 2006

The Forrest J. Ackerman Blog-a-thon

I wrote this article back when the blog-a-thon was announced. What I did not know is that I would be without regular internet during this week. I am back at the world famous coffee house, my source for connectivity, although I have been assured I will have my own DSL line at my current home starting Monday.


I was maybe ten years old when I first came upon "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine in 1961. At the time, my parents were less than encouraging about my watching horror films in general, no doubt aided by my own over-active, and sometimes literal, imagination. That I was freaked out by the insistence of the kids next door that The Tingler was virtually a documentary probably played no small role in my parents' attitude. My parents were, however, somewhat more tolerant about my reading about horror films, although initially I snuck the first couple of copies of "Famous Monsters" I bought into my house.

As best as I can remember, the first copy I owned had this cover. Even if I couldn't actually see Curse of the Werewolf or the new (1962) version of Phantom of the Opera, I loved reading about them. Even if they scared me, I would try to see what I could on television, particularly anything starring the actor formerly known as William Henry Pratt.

But more than feeding my addiction to horror movies, what I owe to Forrest J. Ackerman is his planting an idea of film scholarship in my life. Even though it would be several years before I would actually see any complete films, I absorbed everything I could about Lon Chaney. Had it not been for Ackerman, I may not have made a point of watching the original Phantom of the Opera or Hunchback of Notre Dame on television in the Sixties, as well as seeing The Unholy Three on screen in San Francisco. It was also Ackerman who introduced me to Fritz Lang with stills from Siegfried and Metropolis. I also picked more obscure nuggets of information, such as the identity of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

What this added up to for me was an informal, if very partial, history of film from the silent era, as well as a glimpse into how films were actually made. One of the articles I remember was about Eiji Tsuburaya, the man behind the Toho movie monsters. While "Famous Monsters" may have been aimed at a youthful audience, several of those readers grew up to be filmmakers. Among those paying tribute to Ackerman by putting him in cameo roles are Joe Dante and John Landis. Ackerman's influence on those who grew up to be film critics and historians is less clear. I can only state for myself that it was "Famous Monsters" that prepared me for a later time at New York University when I had to seriously view films films by F. W. Murnau and Paul Wegener. Others may write more scholarly pieces on Roger Corman or James Whale, but when it came to taking cinematic gods and monsters seriously, for many of us, Forrest J. Ackerman got there first.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 25, 2006 05:09 PM