Musings & Meditations

Famous Monster: A Tribute to Forrest J Ackerman

Posted in Friends by Pam Keesey on March 9, 2009

Forrest J Ackerman, Famous MonsterOn December 4, 2008, Forrest J Ackerman left us. On March 8, 2009, six hundred of his closest friends and fans gathered to celebrate the extraordinary life of the one and only 4SJ.

The tribute to Forry was held at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. By the time the event was scheduled to begin, a line nearly a block long had already formed to pay tribute to the world’s biggest fan.

Among those who paid tribute were friends old and new. People began standing in line at 1:00 p.m. for an event that started at 3:00. There were several Forry friends by way of Facebook who had RSVP’d, and were able to move to the front of the line. I was running around, helping where I could: a bit of catering, a bit of ushering, culling RSVP respondees from the line. Certainly a great way to see everyone I knew, if only for a few seconds at a time.

Soon it was time for the tribute to begin. Tim Sullivan, director of 2001 Maniacs, emceed the event, and the list of speakers was quite remarkable. Forry’s dearest friend from his youth, Ray Bradbury, was the first featured speaker. And as much as I thought I’d cried myself out, Ray started me crying all over again. Ray reminisced about the good old days, their early days of science fiction fandom, the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention, of going to see Dracula and Frankenstein when a local theater offered not only a double bill, but a double bill every day for 365 days. He spoke of how Forry supported his early writing efforts, helping him to meet editors and agents. “If there were no Forry,” said Ray, “there would be no Ray Bradbury.” Ray, who eschews emotional displays at funerals and memorial services, said, “You have my permission to be sad. I’m sad. We miss him and we love him very much,” after which he began to cry and left the prodium, and the audience, in tears.

Old friend John Landis also said a few words, describing Forry as “a tireless promoter of his friends, science fiction, horror and fantasy.” Landis spoke of Forry’s utopian vision and unique generosity, two qualities for which Forry will always be remembered. Bill Warren, a friend from the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society and author of Keep Watching the Skies remembered Forry as a vocal fan through his early contribution to newsletters and fanzines before remarking, “this man means more to me than my own father,” at which point he, too, left the podium in tears.

Paul Davies shared a clip from The Sci-Fi Boys, a documentary that celebrates the pioneers of the science fiction cinema. Forry friend Brad Lineweaver also reminisced about Forry’s influence on generations of children that became not just fans, but creators in the genres that Forry celebrated.

Director Guillermo del Toro, who came directly from the airport after his arrival from New Zealand, told stories of growing up a misfit — “a pale, fat, quiet kid who hung out with his grandmother” — in Mexico who found a sense of belonging in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. “There are places inside of us that are only touched by monsters,” he said, “Good places.”

“I learned to speak English with Famous Monsters, Mad Magazine, and the Larousse Spanish-English Dictionary,” he said. He talked of how he convinced himself that he was born to the wrong family in the wrong place, and how he stayed up one night writing letters to Forry. “I wrote a letter asking him to adopt me. Then I decided it wasn’t good enough, so I tore it up and started over. I wrote another letter begging Forry to adopt me. I tore that one up, and wrote another letter pleading with Forry to adopt me. And then my dad caught me, read the letter, and then beat the crap out of me.”

In remembering Forry, del Toro also remembered one of Forry’s most famous stories, “Letter to an Angel,” a story in which a young, crippled boy who admires Lon Chaney dies to find that Lon Chaney is God. “To me,” he said, “Forry Ackerman is God.”

Jovanka Vuckovic, editor of the magazine Rue Morgue, talked not only of the generation of monster kids raised by our dear Uncle Forry, but also of the new generation, the monster grandkids, and the continued love of classic monsters that represent the “misunderstood child in each of us.”

Director Joe Dante, in remembering Forry and the influence he and Famous Monsters had on him as a child, described Forry’s passing as “putting a nail into a part of our childhood.” Rick Baker, makeup artist and Landis’ partner in the creation of the movie Schlock, paid homage to Forry, reiterating how Famous Monsters paid tribute not only to the actors, but also to those who worked behind the scenes, elaborating for young adults not just who was in the movies, but how those movies were made.

Producer Kevin Burns, who is also the executor of Forry’s estate, spoke not only of Forry’s love for a genre that inspired us all, but of his utopian vision and his generosity, commenting that those who were remembered in Forry’s will were those who Forry thought he could help the most.

In closing, writer, director, singer/songwriter, and Forry’s “best pal” Joe Moe paid tribute to him in true Forry fashion: by singing a song. Forry, a life-long fan of Al Jolson, had at one point memorized 300 songs, many of which he would sing. Joe and Forry would sing a variation of Jolson’s “Sonny Boy” which they called “Forry Boy.” With Kevin Burns (who has many famous monster voices at the ready) filling the role of Forry, Joey had us all sing along in a lovely tribute to Forry:

When there are gray skies…

(Kevin: “What don’t you mind in the least?”)

I don’t mind the gray skies…

(Kevin: “What do I do to them?”)

You make them blue…

(Kevin: “What’s my name?”)

Forry-boy!

After which followed a lovely video of our dear Forry saying goodbye. Of course, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The tribute was followed by a showing of Famous Monster, a Canadian documentary about Forry, and The Time Travelers, the Ib Melchior film in which Forry makes one of his many famous cameos.

The festivities continued late into the night, with people sharing stories, memories, laughter, and tears. Forry did so much for all of us in so many ways, not the least of which is bringing so many people together to forge friendships that will last the rest of our lives.

We love you, Forry, and we miss you each and every day.

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