Forrest J. Ackerman (born Forrest James Ackerman; November 24, 1916 – December 4, 2008) was an American collector of science fiction books and movie memorabilia and a science fiction fan; a magazine editor, science fiction writer and literary agent, a founder of science fiction fandom and possibly the world’s most avid collector of genre books and movie memorabilia. He was the editor and principal writer of the American magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, as well as an actor and producer (Vampirella) from the 1950’s into the 1980’s, and appears in two documentaries related to this period in popular culture: Jason V. Brock’s The AckerMonster Chronicles!, which details his life and career, and Charles Beaumont: The Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man. He was, for over seven decades, one of science fiction’s staunchest spokesmen and promoters.
Also called “Forry,” “The Ackermonster,” “4e” and “4SJ,” Ackerman was central to the formation, organization, and spread of science fiction fandom, and a key figure in the wider cultural perception of science fiction as a literary, art and film genre. Famous for his wordplay, he coined the genre nickname “sci-fi”. In 1953, he was voted “#1 Fan Personality” by the members of the World Science Fiction Society, a unique Hugo Award never granted to anyone else.
Ackerman was born Forrest James Ackerman (though he would refer to himself from the early 1930s on as “Forrest J Ackerman” with no period after the middle initial) on November 24, 1916 in Los Angeles, to Carroll and William Schilling Ackerman. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for a year (1934–1935), worked as a movie projectionist, and spent three years in the U.S. Army after enlisting on August 15, 1942.
Ackerman saw his first “imagi-movie” in 1922 (One Glorious Day), purchased his first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, created The Boys’ Scientifiction Club in 1930 (“girl-fans were as rare as unicorn’s horns in those days”). He contributed to both of the first sci-fi fanzines, The Time Traveller, and the Science Fiction Magazine, in 1932, and by 1933 had 127 correspondents around the world.
He attended the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939, where he wore the first “futuristicostume” (designed and created by Myrtle R. Douglas) and sparked fan costuming, the latest incarnation of which is cosplay. He attended every Worldcon but two thereafter during his lifetime. Ackerman invited Ray Bradbury to attend the Los Angeles Chapter of the Science Fiction League, then meeting weekly at Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. Bradbury often attended meetings with his friend Ray Harryhausen; the two Rays had been introduced to each other by Ackerman. With $90 from Ackerman, Bradbury launched a fanzine, Futuria Fantasia, in 1939.
Ackerman amassed an extremely large and complete collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror film memorabilia, which, until 2002, he maintained in a remarkable 18-room home and museum known as the “Son of Ackermansion.” (The original Ackermansion where he lived from the early 1950’s until the mid-1970’s, was at 915 S. Sherbourne Drive in Los Angeles) This second house, in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles, contained some 300,000 books and pieces of movie and science-fiction memorabilia. From 1951 to 2002, Ackerman entertained some 50,000 fans at open houses.
He knew most of the writers of science fiction in the first half of the twentieth-century. As a literary agent, he represented some 200 writers, and he served as agent of record for many long lost authors, thereby allowing their work to be reprinted in anthologies. He was Ed Wood’s “illiterary” agent. He kept all of the stories submitted to his magazine, even the ones he rejected; Stephen King has stated that Ackerman showed up to a King book signing with a copy of a story King had submitted for publication when he was 11.
Through his magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958–1983), Ackerman introduced the history of the science fiction, fantasy and horror film genres to a generation of young readers. At a time when most movie-related publications glorified the stars in front of the camera, “Uncle Forry”, as he was referred to by many of his fans, promoted the behind-the-scenes artists involved in the magic of movies. In this way, Ackerman provided inspiration to many who would later become successful artists, including Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Gene Simmons (of the band KISS), Rick Baker, George Lucas, Danny Elfman, Frank Darabont, John Landis and countless other writers, directors, artists and craftsmen.
He was married to teacher and translator Wendayne (Wendy) Wahrman (1912–1990) until her death. Her original first name was Matilda; Forry created “Wendayne” for her. Wendayne suffered a serious head injury when she was violently mugged while on a trip to Europe in 1990, and the injury soon after led to her death.
A lifelong fan of science fiction “B-movies”, Ackerman had cameos in over 210 films, including bit parts in many monster movies and science fiction films (The Howling, Return of the Living Dead Part II), spoofs and comedies (Amazon Women on the Moon), and at least one major music video (Michael Jackson’s Thriller). Ackerman was fluent in the international language Esperanto.
In 2003, Ackerman said, “I aim at hitting 100 and becoming the George Burns of science fiction”. His health, however, had been failing, and after one final trip to the hospital, informed his best friend and caregiver Joe Moe that he didn’t want to go on. Honouring his wishes, his friends brought him home to hospice care. However, it turned out that in order to get Ackerman home, the hospital had cured his infection with antibiotics. So Forrest went on for a few more weeks holding what he delighted in calling, “a living funeral”. In his final days he saw everyone he wanted to say good-bye to. John Landis recalled that “Although he was extremely ill he told me he could not die until he voted for Obama for President and he did.”
Forrest J Ackerman died on December 4, 2008, at the age of 92. He is interred at Glendale Forest Lawn with his wife Wendayne “Rocket To The Rue Morgue” Ackerman. His plaque simply reads, “Sci-Fi Was My High”.
Frankenweenie is about a young boy called Victor and his dog Sparky. One when they were playing baseball, the ball goes on the other side of the road, when Sparky chases it, when he runs back a car hits him and he dies. For his science experiment Victor makes Sparky come back to life by using Frankenstein’s experiment with lightning.
The school was having a science fair and Victor was going to use Sparky as his experiment at the fair, but one of his friends finds out and wants to do the same experiment. He uses a dead goldfish but when the experiment is over, the goldfish is invisible. Then other kids do the same experiments with other dead pets. The best dead pet is Shelley, a turtle who grows into a giant turtle like Godzilla who goes crazy and attacks everything.
I really liked it; it’s funny and spooky, more spooky than Hotel Transylvania. My Dad told me that it’s in black and white to make it like a copy of the old Frankenstein movie, which is called an homage. SPOILER ALERT The end is the same as the old Frankenstein movie when they go to a windmill and burn it. I haven’t seen it yet but my Dad says I can watch it and his other old spooky movies (He means Universal Classic Horror).
I give it 4½ stars
Check out these cool 50’s style posters for Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie. Click on the image to flick through the 6 full-sized individual posters…
With Frankenweenie, Tim Burton goes back to a couple periods of his own history. One is his childhood, during which he was alienated from average school life, and found solace in monsters and movies. Another is his early career, when he created a short film for Disney that, creatively, was his first big success, and professionally his first major failure. Meant to run before the re-release of Pinocchio, the original Frankenweenie, about a boy who reanimates his dead dog, was deemed too dark and weird, and shelved for years, although I do remember seeing it before a screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas in London. Check out this interview with Burton from /Film HERE
Director, Writer, Art Director, Production Designer, Story Artist, Layout Supervisor, it would appear that Deane Taylor has covered most pre-production positions on countless animated productions over the last 30+ years. Although Deane has worked with classic animated shows such as Popeye, The Flintstones, Casper, and Scooby-Doo,the excellent Cow and Chicken as well as features like Happily N’Ever After, he is most well known for his superlative work on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Still incredibly busy on a variety of projects, Deane has been kind enough to answer a few questions about his influences, his art and his work on that classic film.
GEORDIE: With the imminent release of ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania it would appear that the influence of The Nightmare Before Christmas is stronger than ever, are you still surprised at how popular the film remains after all these years?
DEANE: I used to get really surprised but not so much anymore. I worked on the game in Japan and the President of Walt Disney in Tokyo told me that history has shown it gets a new audience every 3 years and can go as low as 4 years old. The film has been criticised for being too dark which I believe is rubbish. “Dark” is often confused with depth of detail and distinctive, original character.I think it has elements of a modern-day fairy tale told with strong humorous undertones . To me, those are the ingredients for classic. ParaNorman has the flavour too…brilliant. I actually did a bit of early concept work on Hotel Transylvania for my very good friends David Feiss and Tony Stacchi.
GEORDIE: Your design style is very distinctive, looking at your work and the work of Tim Burton, recently on show at the Gallery of Victoria, it would seem that you guys are a perfect fit to work together. Can you explain how you came to work on the project and how your working relationship developed?
DEANE: Henry Selick looked at a hundred or so art directors but in visiting animation studios across the States his eye was drawn to faxed cartoons that I’d done, that were on the pin-boards in a number of places. (yes…it was that long ago) This was pure dumb luck in my opinion…these sketches were just me having a laugh with mates I had worked with around the world at different times. Henry saw Tim’s style and thinking in this work and he contacted me for that reason. I was working out of Sydney at the time, but found myself on the job in San Francisco within weeks of that contact. I met with Tim on two occasions. Once for 3 minutes, and again for 4 minutes. Having said that, I believe it was enough. He is very clear in his thoughts, and his style very obviously unique. My brief was to make it look like Tim’s work, and we’d hear about it if it didn’t. Rick Heinrich’s was put on the project as visual consultant. They had worked together as early as Vincent and much more.He was Tim’s eyes and ears, and he is an amazing artist. As an art department we worked very closely with him. I have had a much more direct working relationship with Tim since that time (specifically on the game ) and have found him just as direct and clear as I had before.
GEORDIE: The art direction for The Nightmare Before Christmas is iconic, I can see an incredible blend of Gothic Noir, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr.Seuss and Edward Gorey. Can you describe some of your personal influences and where you drew some of your inspiration from?
DEANE: I really only looked hard at Tim’s work. In that, I saw heavy influences from Edward Gorey and another favourite of mine, Ronald Searle. As you’ve accurately mentioned… Caligari and Seuss are in the top ten also. The way I saw it was that Tim had really blended the flavours of all of these things and brought his own stamp to it, and that’s what I should do as well. We as an art department stayed true to this while allowing additional detail to develop. Kendal Chronkite in particular, brought some very tasty design work into the process, and Henry had the eye to allow it.
GEORDIE: The background work on this film is as much a ‘character’ as the actual characters. Do you have a favourite piece, and speaking of characters, is there a particular character that you identify with?
DEANE: It’s no accident that the environments play into the character so heavily. I believe they really have to, to be believable. I wanted to create illustrations that you could fly in and around. Kind of a pop-up book. The sets were realised with amazing accuracy to the sketches, and in the rendering of the surfaces we went in and painted the hatching as a guide, which really added to the expressionistic finish. We used fat water-colour brushes and black ink. The ink was crushed from hardened coal from the Altai Mountains. Just kidding…it wasn’t THAT long ago. As far as favourites…I am still very fond of Jack’s study, the Evil Scientist Laboratory, the treehouse and Oogies lair. Coincidentally, these were mostly the first sets produced and I believe have the strongest essence. The treehouse interiors especially: you should freeze frame through that sometime and look at the painted lighting and other detail. In characters, I have a very soft spot for Lock, Shock and Barrel.
GEORDIE: You’ve worked in traditional 2D, 3D and Stop-Motion animation; can you explain the difference in approach that was required to bring your designs to life?
DEANE: I think design principles remain largely the same despite the medium but I have to say that the years of having to cheat production value into the limitations of 2-D cartoons was the biggest influence in achieving the style of our sets. Fake perspectives, distorted architecture and scene planning were pivotal. Forcing the viewers eye to look at what you choose to reveal is my preferred way to work. More often than not it’s about what you don’t see rather than what you do. It’s like Keith Richards guitar playing. He knows when to shut up.
GEORDIE: On the audio commentary from the Nightmare DVD, Director Henry Selick talks about how the 1933 King Kong and Night of the Hunter (two of my all-time favourite films), were big touch stones for him throughout the duration of the project. Were there any particular films you could point to as major influences for prep or while you were working on the film?
DEANE: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari obviously, but also the early Universal Frankensteins and Dracula’s…the really early ones. Simple and direct, these films were about three course meals, not pizzas.
GEORDIE: Our influences and tastes change and develop as we age, what were you drawn to as a kid, and what are some of the constants you always return to, or one that simply had a lasting effect on you?
DEANE: The turning point in art for me was seeing huge prints of Ronald Searle’s’ designs for The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. They were probably huge because I was a runty eight year old but I can clearly remember thinking that an adult had done these, and that he was doing this for an actual job. I though they were beautiful to look at, and they were funny. After that I tracked down the St Trinians books and feverishly tried to copy them. Ronald Searle became my personal tutor, though he probably still doesn’t know that. After that…Wizard of Id, BC and Mad magazine, who I eventually did work for. I still keep a lot of Searle’s work handy, for inspiration.
GEORDIE: What advice would you give to any aspiring young animators, story artists or art directors?
DEANE: You have to keep your eyes and ears open to new influences as well as your heroes. Look for the strange, and understand what it is that makes it so. This can be remote tribes, cultures, weird architecture and of course the minute detail of nature. It’s all out there waiting to be interpreted with a fresh eye or a different wrist. Look for the backstory, the “why”
DEANE: I love visual storytelling and in recent years am more convinced that this should be done with a conscience. It’s easy to produce a well told story, but I believe it should matter. I’m in development of an animated property that I believe does this. It’s a mix of styles that draws heavily on the flavours that have shaped my own work for the last 30 plus years. I’m very excited about it, and look forward to bringing it to fruition with a crew of seasoned veterans and new generation artists. I look at new work all the time and am hugely inspired by the freshness and skills that are scattered around the world.
GEORDIE: Thanks to Deane for giving up some of his (VERY valuable) time to do the interview, and for sharing his thoughts and inspiration. For more of Deane’s sketches, pearls of wisdom, and often hilarious recollections, check out his blog: deanertaylor.blogspot.com.au