Musings & Meditations

Dark Angels

Posted in Family, Friends, Relationships, Spirituality by Pam Keesey on April 3, 2009

I can’t say why I picked up a copy of Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Stories this evening. Inspired, I guess. I hadn’t looked at a copy — well, beyond looking at the spine or the cover — in so long. But something urged me not only to pick it up, but to actually open it and read what I had written so long ago.

It’s probably not that unusual for a writer to revisit her own work, even after many years. But this weekend is especially important. The anniversary of Jenny’s death is approaching — Sunday, April 5th, in fact — and I’ve chosen to spend the weekend on my own, remembering, reflecting, mourning, and also celebrating the amazing life of my dear departed sister.

But that wasn’t foremost in my mind when I picked up Dark Angels. Not at all. My thought, really, was to shelve the book. I’d picked up a used copy somewhere, as I do from time to time with the out-of-print editions, and thought to actually put it away. Instead, I opened it, and read about archetypal images of death as seen through the eyes (my eyes) of someone who had, at best, a metaphysical relationship to the phenomonenon.

I’ve commented on more than one occasion that it’s probably a good thing that I spent so much time comtemplating death before facing an intimate, tragic, and untimely loss. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have handled it if I hadn’t had at least some preparation, even if only philosophical in nature.

But rereading the words I wrote some 15 years ago is striking, especially so when the anniversary of Jenny’s death is so near. Reading it also brings Forry to mind. Especially this passage:

The followers of Kali believe that it is essential to face the terror of death as well as the beauty of life. What if, when we look death in the eye, we see not the horrorific figure of death that we are taught to expect, but the beauty of death when it comes to us in its natural form?

After losing Jenny so unexpectedly and so tragically, it was an incredibly healing experience to spend time with Forry in his final days. Forry lived a long, satisfying, and fulfulling life, and was ready to leave this world on his own terms. There was something inherently peaceful about seeing, knowing, and understanding that he was ready to go, and that I was there to show him my love and support and to help him in any way that I could. I couldn’t have anticipated how deeply being with him during this time would move me, how much it would help to heal me, and help me move on from an experience of deeply felt grief and back into my life fully lived.

His death, and the fact that I was able to spend so much time with him, was his final gift to me.

Jenny and Forry. My angels. I love you both very much.

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Vamping

Posted in Friends by Pam Keesey on March 11, 2009

Received a book in the mail today from Forry. They found it in the house, with a note with my name on it and inscribed “For my favorite vamp — Here’s blood in yer eye. Dr. Ackula.” It made me smile, and brought a tear to my eye.

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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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Forrest J Ackerman, favorite uncle to monster-loving kids, has passed away

Posted in Friends by Pam Keesey on December 5, 2008

My dear friend, Forry Ackerman, died last night at 11:58 p.m. A sweet, generous, and loving man, he passed away peacefully, and surrounded by friends. An extraordinary man, and an extraordinary life well lived.

It was an amazing gift to be able to spend as much time with him as I did in his final days. Reflecting on my time spent with him, I wrote a little history of my friendship with Forry, which you can read here: A Date with Prince Sirki.

Forrest J Ackerman, aka 4SJ of Karloffornia, the Ackermonster

Forrest J Ackerman, aka 4SJ of Karloffornia, aka the Ackermonster

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A Date with Prince Sirki

Posted in Art & Society, Friends, Sexuality and Culture by Pam Keesey on November 22, 2008

Death, the one appointment we all must keep, and for which no time is set.

 — Charlie Chan

Some of you know that I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks in Los Angeles with a dear friend who, soon to be 92, is nearing the end of his life. When I left somewhat unexpectedly, we weren’t sure that he was going to make it through the night. He did, and showed considerable improvement until the following Saturday, when we thought once again we were to be witness to his date with Prince Sirki, the figure of Death as portrayed by Frederic March in Death Takes a Holiday (1934). An atheist since the age of 15, Forry has often spoken of the end of his life as his date with Prince Sirki, and it seems that the time of their rendezvous is fast approaching.

For those of you who are familiar with Forrest J Ackerman, he needs no introduction. For those of you who might not know him, his names are legion: 4SJ, the Ackermonster, Dr. Ackula, Les Angeleno, Weaver Wright, Laurajean Ermayne. While there is no question that Forry was influential in the formation of science fiction and horror film, writing, and fandom, it remains to be seen if the monumental influence of Forrest J Ackerman on the world of speculative film and fiction can be quantified.

Forry, born in 1916, discovered science fiction in 1926 through the magazine Amazing Stories. He was a founding member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, the first of its kind, where he befriended the equally young Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers) and Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451). He later became Ray Bradbury’s first literary agent, at one time represented L. Ron Hubbard and Robert Bloch, as well as many others, and has famously said that he was Ed Wood’s “illiterary” agent. He coined the term “sci-fi,” a term that, I’m told, will soon have an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary citing him as the originator.

Forry is, perhaps, most well known for his monster movie magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, first published in 1958, and as the creator of the sexy vampire alien comic book character, Vampirella, first published in 1969. In his years editing Famous Monsters, Forry became friends with some of the most famous names in the industry, including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Fritz Lang, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price, just to name a few.

I wasn’t the avid Famous Monsters reader growing up that most I’ve met through Forry have been. But I was a fan, and know that it was his influence that helped pave the way for the plethora of monster movies, music, and pop culture that was so formative in my early years. Forry has raised several generations of monster kids, and has been fondly referred to as “Uncle Forry” by innumerable fans, young and old alike.

An extraordinary number of today’s most well known names and faces credit Forry as one of their earliest influences: Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, John Landis, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and so many others. Even Gene Simmons has recently written that “Forrest J Ackerman invented Gene Simmons.” In a wonderful line from his tribute to Forry in the magazine Rue Morgue, Gene writes, “I am all I am because Forrest J Ackerman taught me to love and respect the monster/sci-fi genre.” And he isn’t the only one. 

I first met Forry in 1994 at Gaylaxicon after my first book was published. I was invited as a professional guest, and had no idea who the guest of honor was. In fact, I was completely new to the whole science fiction convention phenomenon, this being only the second convention I’d been invited to. I wandered into the main event space, and there was Forrest J Ackerman, sitting in a chair, casually chatting with people who stopped by to have a word or two with him. I joined the fray, thinking that this would be my one opportunity to tell him how much he and his magazine meant to me. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Forry made kids like me — introverts, geeks, misfits — feel like they belonged somewhere. Which is why Forry had been invited to this gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered science fiction, fantasy, and horror aficionados. Little did they know just how much a part of gay culture Forry was. An avid reader, Forry discovered lesbianism in Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. He shared it with a woman friend who was also a science fiction fan, and in those pages, she found herself reflected back. Adopting the pen name Lisa Ben (an anagram of lesbian), she started the first lesbian themed magazine, Vice Versa, which first appeared in 1947. Lisa hoped her friends would contribute to this new endeavor, but afraid of being outed, they chose not to. Lisa turned to Forry and asked him to write for the magazine. Forry enthusiastically agreed and, under the pen name Laurajean Ermayne, wrote lesbian romance and fantasy stories. In Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-century America, Laurajean Ermayne is quoted as a formative figure in the development of lesbian fiction. Forry was also involved with the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the U.S. formed in 1955, who named him an honorary lesbian for his support for and assistance to the organization.

Forry and I have been good friends since that fateful day in July 1994. Through him I’ve met people that I would never have otherwise had the pleasure to meet; not only Stephen Spielberg, John Landis, Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Gene Simmons, but also Ray Bradbury, Vampira, Elvira, Hugh Hefner, Martin Landau, Olivia. I’m not even sure I can remember all those I’ve brushed shoulders with because I was by Forry’s side.

Most importantly, there are the lifelong friends I’ve made in L.A. and around the world that I would never have met if it hadn’t been for Forry: Joe, Jessica, Ogre, John, Glen, Lee, and many others. And, of course, there is Forry himself. I’ll never be able to fully express just how much he has touched my life, what an influence he has been, or just how much this dear, sweet man means to me.

And perhaps, whether you are aware of it or not, he has touched your life in some way through his words, his work, and his influence.

I love you, Forry, and I treasure the time I have left with you.

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