Rob and Mike watch Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) at The Projection Booth. “The first big American studio film — and last big American studio film – directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, The Black Cat is, uh, ‘inspired’ by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story and stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in a taut game of life and death.”
Posted December 17, 2008
1. Overture Island
On December 4, 2008, the future ended. The event that marked its end was the death of a 92-year old man from the not uncommon cause of heart failure. It would not have been an epoch-ending event save for one detail: the man’s name was Forest J Ackerman.
2. Birth of Zenith
According to Ackerman’s own MySpace page (the maintenance of which is a feat in and of itself for a man in his 90s), Ackerman saw his first imagi-movie, One Glorious Day, in 1922, and read his first scientifiction magazine, an issue of Amazing Stories, in 1926.
3. The Twin Who United Himselves
Ackerman founded The Boys’ Scientifiction Club (the sexism of which was not typical of Ackerman; see below) in 1930; in 1938, as editor of a fan publication entitled Imagination!, he became the first to publish a story by a promising young author named Ray Bradbury.
Throughout his life and career – although the two are really inseparable – Ackerman straddled the line between curator and creator, amateur (in the truest sense of the word) and professional.
4. More Tongues Taste Babel
After WWII, Ackerman worked primarily as a literary agent, representing writers including Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, H.L. Gold, Ray Cummings and Hugo Gernsback. Stunningly enough, he also repped Ed Wood (the mind boggles), and L. Ron Hubbard. Those last two alone justify a Gutter screen article – because where would modern cinema be without Wood and Hubbard? (And more importantly, why did they never work together? Or did they?)
5. After Evolution
And at the same time as he was pimping the greatest generation of American science fiction authors, he was contributing regularly to lesbian romance magazines; he went so far as to write what is considered the first lesbian science-fiction story ever published, “World of Loneliness”.
6. The Radiant Brains
In 1954, Ackerman coined the term sci-fi; four years later he published the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, perhaps the most influential magazine ever produced.
7. The Neo-Nexialists
Why the superlatives about Famous Monsters’ influence? The magazine was favourite, mind-warping childhood reading of the generation that would go on to entertain the world: Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, John Landis, Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Rick Baker, Danny Elfman and Gene Simmons all self-identify as Famous Monsters readers inspired by Ackerman’s dedication to the magic of the movies. Spielberg famously autographed a Close Encounters of the Third Kind poster for Ackerman with the words, “A generation of fantasy lovers thank you for raising us so well.” Peter Jackson described him as “The wise adult who whispered to us kids that it was ok to love Dracula and Frankenstein.” Is there a more important lesson?
8. Cryogenes For Dying Earth
Interesting side note one: Ackerman’s grandfather, George Herbert Wyman, was the architect of Los Angeles landmark the Bradbury Building.
9. The Luster
Ackerman appeared in some 100+ motion pictures throughout his life, and the list represents what I can only describe as a charming lack of pretension – appearances made out of pure fanboy enthusiasm and unadulterated celluloid love.
11. Beyond the Sevagram
Service – to the great cause of imagination, perhaps – seems to have been a life-long pursuit for Forest J Ackerman. He was well known for opening his home to the public. In its hedyday, the 5,800-square-foot, 18-room, “Ackermansion” housed a collection of (by some accounts) hundreds of thousands of books and pieces of sci-fi, fantasy and movie memorabilia.
12. The Catacomb Equation
And that may be, in a nutshell, why I think of the Gutter and its adherents as Ackerman’s Children – in the way that the Broken Social Scene generation describes itself as Trudeau’s Children. Everything that washes up here floated downstream from the Ackermansion. Case in point: the section titles in this article come from a list of titles Ackerman published as a challenge to writers (here are the titles – you supply the stories). They have an intriguingly translucent quality that seems right at home here.
Interesting side note two: Ackerman was a fluent speaker of, and a passionate advocate for, Esperanto. Kiam flugos porkoj.
14. The Oblivion Index
According to a 2003 LA Times story, Ackerman slowly sold most of his books and memorabilia – “all but about 100 of his favorite objects” – in 2002 to make ends meet. The same year, he moved out of the Ackermansion and into a bungalow that he dubbed the “Acker Mini-Mansion”. Like its namesake, it was open to the public.
15. One-Way Pendulum
He lived there alone. His wife, Wendayne (“the only one in the world”) died in 1990, “the aftermath of a mugging in Italy, but not before translating 150 sci-fi novels from French & German.”
According to all official obituaries, he has no surviving family members. Which is true.
16. Final Blackout
Unless you count us.
Ian Driscoll wishes he’d had room to fit in the other titles (The Scintillants, The Regeneratives, Test of the Nocturnes and The Maelstrom Mutation). Yeah, that would have been nice.