Musings & Meditations

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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“I am…Vampira”

Posted in Art & Society, Friends, Horror, Movies, Vampires by Pam Keesey on January 10, 2008

The scene is black and white, the setting gothic — a cathedral perhaps, or maybe a crypt. The lights are low; a candelabra is burning in the shadows. A low mist rises over the vast expanse of the foyer. A figure forms in the mist, advancing through a doorway at the far side of the room. She has an impossibly small waist, a wasp-like cinching between the swelling breasts and the voluptuous hips of a fertility goddess. Her black dress is in tatters, a form-fitting, cleavage-revealing shroud. Fingernails like straight razors extend from her long, pale fingertips. her face is white, placid with dark lips and kohled eyes. Eyebrows like flying arches frame her face, marking the space between her eyes and her black serpentine hair. Her gaze is fixed on the camera before her as she approaches, her eyes locked with yours. She raises her talons to her hair and screams an ear-piercing wail, a banshee’s cry. In a voice deep and rich, a timbre reaching from beyond the grave, she speaks:

“Good evening,” she says. “I am…Vampira.”

from Vamps: An Illustrated History of the Femme Fatale

Vampira (Maila Nurmi)It was my mother who told me that Maila Nurmi died today. She’s not a fan, nor of the era of the Vampira show. But she knew of Vampira through my love of horror and my friendship with Maila herself, so when she heard the news, her first impulse was to call me.

I first met Maila in 1995, at the Son of Famous Monsters convention at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Maila made several appearances throughout the weekend, and told some wonderful stories about how Howard Hawkes brought her to Hollywood to make her “the next Lauren Bacall,” her split with Hawkes, her adventures with James Dean, and her later association with the infamous Ed Wood.

One of my favorite stories from the weekend was when she was asked who she most enjoyed working with in Hollywood. She mentioned how much she enjoyed working with Basil Rathbone, her co-star in The Magic Sword, and how much she admired and appreciated him.

“He took me under his wing and advised me, a young actress, about how to be successful in Hollywood.”

“What was his advice?” I asked her.

“Honestly, I don’t remember,” she answered, in inimitable Maila style. “At the time I thought, who the hell is this guy to be telling me what to do?”

We spent a lot of time together that weekend, talking about her expriences as a child and young woman, about great actresses such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and the world of the classic femme fatale. I bought one of my prized possessions from her that weekend, too: a painting of Vampira, by Vampira, standing in Holy Cross Cemetery, with soil from the cemetery mixed in with the paint.

We saw each other many times of over the years, at various events and conventions. One of my favorite memories is the time we were lucky enough to find her at one of her favorite haunts, the McDonald’s on Sunset Boulevard, sitting in the booth under a portrait of Greta Garbo. Intelligent, dynamic, engaging, witty, it was always a delight to visit with her. I always regretted not being able to spend more time with her because I lived so far away, and now I’ll never have that opportunity.

You’ll be missed, Maila. Thank you for everything.

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