Friday, December 16, 2011

The Life of Forry, by Deborah Painter

I have reviewed Forry: The Life of Forrest J. Ackerman, by Deborah Painter, in the e-pages of The Thunderchild (, and now share it here.

When Jefferson Davis became President of the Confederate States of America, one of his admirers said, "The man and the hour have met." The implication being that Davis was the best possible man for the job. This turned out to not be true, however, Davis had plenty of detractors then and now who thought he was totally the wrong person to lead the fledgling country through the Civil War.

The same can not be said for Forrest J. Ackerman. He was born in 1916, and thus, was in on everything from the beginning - the perfection of silent movies, the coming of sound, the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction, the first fan club, founded by Forry himself, and the first fan conventions.

In the 1930s and 40s, from the 60s even up to the 70s and 80s, no one, least of all the movie makers concerned, thought that props, costumes and sets from movies were worth saving. With Forry Ackerman, it was very much the "man and the hour" meeting. Forry corresponded with many film makers, asking for props and posters and so on (beginning with Carl Laemmle.) Many of these film makers obliged, and Forryassembled quite a collection of material that otherwise would have been destroyed.

Forry is perhaps most famous as being the editor of the seminal magazine, The Famous Monsters of Filmland, published by James Warren. The magazine debuted in 1958 and ran until 1983. (Its resurrection, by Ray Ferry, in 1993, would prove not to be a happy one for Forry.)

Forry's success with Famous Monsters of Filmland is actually ironic, as science fiction rather than horror was actually his first and main love. Indeed, Warren put out the magazine Spacemen which attempted to do for sci fi what FM did for horror, but it was not a success and folded after 8 issues.)

Forry is also well known as a friend of the "two Rays" - Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury, meeting each at the very start of their careers, and in Bradbury's case, helping him along. Forry also knew the other great sci fi luminary (well, in this case, SF luminary) as Isaac Asimov.

In Forry: The Life of Forrest J. Ackerman, Deborah Painter shares stories from that life. In the best tradition of biographers, she starts with Forry's grandparents, and moves onward from there.

Table of Contents
Foreword: Marching to the Beast of a Different Drummer, by Joe Moe
1. Forry's Background, Family and Early Years
2. "I Couldn't Sleep with Marlene Dietrich!"
3. Sergeant Ack-Ack
4. The 1950s - Forry's Rise to Fame
5. The 1960s - Forrest J. Ackerman, Movie Actor
6. The 1970s - Colleges, Conventions and Creatures
7. The 1980s - the Best of Times, the Worst of Times
8. The 1990s - Pinnacles of Achievement
9. The 2000s - Documentarian and Octogenarian
Five Personal reminiscences: Martin Powell, Paul Knight, Rick Atkins, David Hawk and Jim Morrow
Chapter Notes
A Brief Bio-bibliography

Author Deborah Painter was a friend of Forry's for 20 years, and her biography is full of warmth and affection. Unfortunately, it could have benefited from a bit of work by an editor. The biography moves along at a fast that many events are glossed over, and some events are gone into in too much detail.

For example, Forry was married to Wendayne (Wendy) Wahrman. Her real first name was Mathilde, but Forry nicknamed her "Wendayne," and "always referred to her thereafter as Wendy."

Why Wendayne? Where did that name come from? Inquiring minds want to know!

Inserted right after that comment about Wednayne is a single sentence paragraph, quite out of the blue and apropos nothing that had gone before and nothing that went afterward:

"Forry took one alcoholic drink at the age of 30 and never drank again. He also never regretted that."

She then goes on to talk about fandom, and Forry's attempts to arrange conventions.

This kind of thing is prevalent throughout the book.

Having said that, these kinds of undeveloped non-sequiturs are a mere bagatelle. Forry led a fascinating life and Painter gives us a good view of it (including the Ackermansion and later the Ackerminimansion that housed Forry's collection of memorabilia.

In 1993 Ray Ferry brought Famous Monsters of Filmland back to life and invited Forry to be editor. Their relationship was not a happy one, culminating in Forry suing the new publisher for defamation of character. Painter covers this sorry time, then ends the book by sharing reminisces from five of Forry's admirers and friends: Martin Powell, Paul Knight, Rick Atkins, David Hawk and Jim Morrow.

The book is also chock full of photographs, of Forry as a young man, with his wife, members of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Robert Bloch, Basil Gogos, the interior of the Ackermansionat various conventions, and so on.

I recommend this book highly for any genre fan.

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