Sunday, September 4, 2011

Forrest J Ackerman: A Life as a Fan

It's struck me that I have more material from the interview that I was planning to make into featurettes, but when Forry died on December 4, 2008, the thought kind of went out of my mind, and I never made the others.  Well, it's something to look forward to here on the blog.

I met Forry through his capacity as agent for the estate of many science fiction writers.  It was thanks to him, for example, that I was able to reprint Raymond F. Jones' "The Alien Machine" in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1 (aka Summer 2007).  It was a great thrill to be able to visit the Ackerminimansion, and see some of his incredible collection.  (Imagine having original Frank J. Paul paintings on the wall!)  And I was delighted to be invited to his big 90th birthday party in the fall of 2006, not long after the interview.  I still have the impressive souvenir book, celebrating him, in a play on the title of the magazine he created, as the "Famous Monster of Filmland."

I didn't get to know him well, but it was a blast to know him at all.  As I wrote here when I reported his death, "Like, I suspect, many people my age who knew him, I kind of thought of him as the science-fiction-nerd grandfather I never had."  I don't want to get all maudlin, but I did become a tad... emotional when I looked over the online catalog from his estate sale, a few months after his death.  What really did it was seeing the armchair where he always sat when I visited, and the space-themed rug that sat at his feet.  Kind of forcefully brings home that their owner will never again have need for them.

But that's not why I called you all here today.  I've re-uploaded to YouTube the memorial video I originally posted on December 6, 2008, so now you can enjoy in 480p this reflection on the life of an early and prominent fan of science fiction.

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"Well, I can tell the entire story of my life in five minutes." —Forry Ackerman

This footage from our interview with Forry for Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 1, has all appeared in our previous featurettes (apart from the comment quoted above), but in his memory, I put together this video, in which he does tell the story of his life in five minutes.


Well, I can tell the entire story of my life in five minutes.

Well, in October 1926, little nine year old me was standing in front of a magazine rack, and the October 1926 issue of a magazine called Amazing Stories jumped off the newsstand, grabbed hold of me, and in those days magazines spoke. And that one said, "Take me home little boy, you will love me."

Several years later, my mother came to me quite concerned, she said, “Son, do you realize how many of these magazines you have”—'cause I never threw them away—said, "I just counted them. You have twenty-seven! Can you imagine? By the time you’re a grown man, why, you might have a hundred." Well, mother lived with me till she was 92, in my 18-room home with 50,000 science fiction books and complete runs of Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories and Astounding Stories and Unknown and Strange and 200 different science fiction magazines from all around the world.

Well, as fast as I read an issue, I was impelled to write a letter and give my opinion of the stories.
And before I knew it, I was kind of considered, along with another chap named Jack Darrow, to be one of the leading science fiction fans of the era.

Originally, a fan named Rick Sneary said it is a sad and lonely thing to be a fan, because... well, for instance, at high school, I was regarded as the resident crazy. Everybody was ridiculing Forry Ackerman, he thought we're going to the Moon, we're gonna have atomic power, all these things they knew were never gonna happen. And I remember on that fateful evening when I saw a human being set foot on the Moon, I said, "Vindication!"

Hugo Gernsback, who was regarded as the father of science fiction, called me "the son of science fiction," and he inscribed his novel Ralph 124C 41+, "to Forrest Ackerman, the premier science fiction authority in America." And in 1949, Willy Ley, the great exponent of space travel, in a public newspaper named me "Mr. Science Fiction."

I don’t believe in life after death, or reincarnation. I feel I'm only here once, and I've been fortunate to have been born with what is called a sense of wonder. I've wondered about prehistoric times, and dinosaurs, and the sunken city of Atlantis, and I've, via the imaginations of H.G. Wells, and Olaf Stapledon, and Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein, I've been catapulted from my armchair into distant times of the future. So I’ve been able to live a very exciting, fulfilling life via the imagination of the authors of science fiction.

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