The Ackerman Oeuvre

Christopher M. O’Brien’s The Forrest J Ackerman Oeuvre is now available from McFarland.

For the benefit of those who only know the French they learned from Pepé Le Pew, ouevre means a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer.

A bibliography listing Ackerman’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, film appearances, speeches and other works, plus a filmography and concise biography, fill the book’s 242 pages.

This includes a foreward by Dennis Billows who met Forry at the San Diego Comic-Con around 1975 and spent his free time for the next 20 years organizing his collection. Billows also worked as assistant editor of Ackerman’s magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

O’Brien has spent more than a decade researching the pulp magazines and early science fiction fandom. His fannish credits include an article about William Hamling in Earl Kemp’s eI #55.

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

Hollywood Underground

When CBS failed to stop ABC from broadcasting a new reality series “The Glass House,” which it called a rip-off of its own “Big Brother,” the network retaliated with a satirical announcement of its plans to develop an imitation of a well-known ABC series to be called “Dancing on the Stars.”

The Washington Post reports:

“Dancing on the Stars” will be broadcast from the celebrity-strewn Hollywood Forever Cemetery, CBS claimed. It will feature “moderately famous and sort of well-known people you almost recognize competing for big prizes by dancing on the graves of some of Hollywood’s most iconic and well-beloved stars of stage and screen.”

The cemetery houses the remains of such Hollywood luminaries as Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr., Tyrone Power and Terry, the dog that played Toto in “The Wizard of Oz.”

If denied its first choice, CBS says “approaches will be made to Westwood Village Memorial Park, where equally scintillating luminaries are interred.”

Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery is where Ray Bradbury was laid to rest earlier this month, joining others with strong ties to the sf/fantasy field, Richard Basehart, Robert Bloch, Alexander Courage (composer of the Star Trek theme), and Ray Walston.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in addition to the dog from The Wizard of Oz, is the last resting place of tangential sf/fantasy figures Mel Blanc, Elmo Lincoln (Tarzan in silent movies), Peter Lorre, Darren McGavin, and Fay Wray.

The Ackerplaque

Forrest J Ackerman, who once speculated about being buried at the Hollywood cemetery with an interactive audio-video plaque, was ultimately interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale with a standard memorial plaque which reads, “Sci-Fi Was My High.” Other notables at Forest Lawn, Glendale with connections to sf/fantasy are James Arness, Joe Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera), L. Frank Baum, Lon Chaney Sr., Walt Disney, Errol Flynn, Fritz Leiber Sr. (the writer’s father), and Jay Ward.

And that’s only scratching the surface…

Bill Warren: Ray Bradbury, Professional Writer

By Bill Warren: I’ve never met someone who was so enthusiastic, ebullient, upbeat all the time.

At the Oakland-Berkeley Worldcon in 1968 (or so), I was sitting in the coffee shop with some friends when we saw Bradbury enter the hotel.  He smiled and waved at me — then, to my surprise, made an abrupt turn and came into the coffee shop to talk to me.  He said I always knew where the best stuff was going on, so where should he go?  We chatted a bit, and he breezed out of the place.  My friends stared at me in shock.  Ray fucking BRADBURY?  Did I know Bradbury THAT well?  I said “Evidently so,” but I was quite puzzled myself — yes, I knew him (thru Forry), but I didn’t think I did know him that well.  So later I encountered him in a hallway and asked about it.  He was ready for me.  He said that at an early convention (I figure this was the post-WWII Worldcon in LA), he was with a bunch of friends when Leigh Brackett came up and chatted with him about his work.  He was puzzled; they WERE friends, but it seemed out of character for her to approach him like that.  So he asked her about it.  She said she was trying to encourage his career as a writer, by treating him as a fellow professional — and did it in front of his friends, to give him egoboo.  Bradbury said “Now you have to pass it on.”

People don’t quite seem to realize how VERY unusual he was — not really so much so in his fiction (though nobody else ever wrote like him), but in how he used his fame.  He was EVERYwhere in Los Angeles, turning up for many events, always upbeat, always booming and very much there (that stunned me when I first met him; I thought he’d be a shy, quiet poet type, not so much like say Jack Carson or Sonny Tufts).  He had a direct, forceful way of talking that still seemed fresh and spontaneous and friendly, dropping in little affirmations (“doesn’t it?” “don’t they?”) of what he’d just said.  He was just about the most PUBLIC writer I have ever seen, or will ever see again.  He was a very big booster of Los Angeles, so much so that it still seems a little odd that he ever lived anywhere else.

Side note: I read, then heard directly from him, about how he changed his mind about Disneyland.  At first, he was highly skeptical of the place, and of Walt Disney.  He refused to go to the park for a couple of years, then Charles Laughton, “the biggest child on Earth,” impatiently took him by hand and down to Disneyland, where he showed Ray that the place was not at all what he had imagined it to be.  Too bad there are no photos of Laughton leading Bradbury around Disneyland.  To me, that’s as wonderful a thought as imagining Ray Bradbury as a grandfather.  He would have been the greatest grandfather who ever lived — except maybe for Walt Disney.

Today, I thought further on the strange tale (I think I heard it from Bill Nolan) that in the 1940s, Bradbury had a big bonfire in his back yard, where he burned all his unsold stories–and he must have had hundreds of them.  At first, I was horrified — all that great Bradbury stuff, gone up in a gout of fire, undoubtedly burning at Fahrenheit 451.  But then I realized what it was: His way of ensuring that he would not be followed around by the ghosts of his past writing, of stories that he knew weren’t as good as what he was turning out by then.  He also knew he had become a professional writer; he couldn’t yet have been certain that he could be the sole breadwinner of his (new or about to be) family, but he knew he could write stories that would sell.

I hope someone more skilled than me can write about the habits of Ray Bradbury, Professional Writer.  He said he wrote a thousand words every day of his life, and I have no reason to disbelieve him; I’ve heard that he kept on doing it, up until a few months before he died.  That indicates a steely, hard-learned discipline — even though he came on like a house afire (which greatly surprised me), even though his reputation at LASFS was that of a practical-joking chatterbox, he was very serious about becoming a writer.  Then he was very serious about BEING a writer; he was just about the most public writer I’ve ever heard of.  He loved being famous, and he used his fame very wisely, and very often.  Okay, so his plays were usually not very good, and his poetry was limp, but long ago he won the right to be judged by his best work.  Don’t all writers have a falling-off period? 

Take a look at his Internet Movie Database (imdb.com, I think) pages; he wrote for a LOT of TV series in the 1950s, many more than I knew about, some of which seem highly unlikely as a venue for Bradbury material (Steve Canyon???), but he was a pro, and pros sell their stuff.  He even wrote 65 scripts for his own Ray Bradbury Theater, which was often not all that good, but by George, he did it, he did it.  There’s a whole lot of filmed Bradbury, much more than most people realize–and even more yet when you count all the student and amateur productions of his work.  He told me that he allowed any film student who asked to adapt his work, as long as they sent him a print of the finished product.  As he said this, he gestured sort of absently toward the darker recesses of his basement office, where there was a lot of room.  I hope his family considers collecting the best of those student films into a set of DVDs.

I’ll attach three or so photos.  The black-and-white was taken (by Daugherty) at a big surprise party for Forry in 1967, about five minutes after I first met Ray Bradbury.  We swapped glasses, and found our prescriptions were similar. 

Bill Warren meets Ray Bradbury at the Dracula Society banquet.

The shot of Ray talking was taken at the 2nd LASFS clubhouse in North Hollywood, when it was still under construction.

Bradbury addressing the LASFS.

The odd shot requires a little explanation.  Remember the Lytton Center for the Visual Arts?  (I think that was the name — the basement of a savings-and-loan place that was at the corner of Sunset and Laurel Canyon)  One night, they showed something of interest; Beverly and I, and our friend Jon Berg, went; so did Forry, Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen and his wife.  We were there for a movie, but there was also a current display of slightly eccentric wire sculptures.  One of them was of an elephant, and was about half the size of a baby elephant.  It had a door and a stool inside; you could sit there and waggle the trunk and ears.  I did this to amuse Harryhausen (“Is this how you do it, Mr. Harryhausen?”) but Bradbury got all excited and insisted I get out so he could get in.  He, too, waggled the ears and trunk and declared “I am the spirit of the elephant!”

Ray Bradbury as the Spirit of the Elephant.

A LASFSian Remembers Ray Bradbury

(L to R) Leigh Brackett (Mrs. Hamilton), Ray Bradbury, Marguerite Bradbury, Edmond Hamilton, at 1968 World SF Convention, Hotel Claremont, Oakland, Calif. Photo by © Andrew Porter.

By Mike Glyer: Ray Bradbury had discovered science fiction when he was eight. Now at the age of 17 he was about to discover fandom.

T. Bruce Yerke, secretary of the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League — an office I held 50 years later in the renamed LASFS – was given Bradbury’s name as a membership prospect. Yerke sent a letter on the club’s hectographed stationery inviting him to attend their meetings at Clifton’s Cafeteria. Ray Bradbury appeared on October 7, 1937 asking, “Is Mr. Yerke here?”

Bradbury was then in high school, graduating in 1938, and already turning out stories. Within a week, Forry Ackerman had him writing and drawing for the clubzine Imagination!, beginning a lifelong friendship. With Ackerman’s encouragement and occasional financial assistance he weathered a stream of constant rejections from sf prozines. Ackerman also underwrote Bradbury’s fanzine Futuria Fantasia, with material by Kuttner and Heinlein, and loaned Bradbury the money to attend the first Worldcon in New York in 1939.

The young fan’s full name was Ray Douglas Bradbury. His father had named him for the silent movie star Douglas Fairbanks. And in the pages of The Damned Thing editor T. Bruce Yerke teased the lofty, Hollywood aspirations of “Rayoul Douglasse Bradbury” who sold papers on a Normandie Ave. street corner.

This sounds snarky, taken out of context. In fact, Bradbury probably enjoyed the teasing — he was one of Yerke’s regular contributors and even drew the cover of The Damned Thing #2.

Bradbury himself told stories about those days in the 1930s when he would roller-skate up to the gate at Paramount and hang around trying to get stars’ autographs. After W. C. Fields complied he dismissed Ray, saying, “Here you go, you little son-of-a-bitch.” And Ray liked to loaf at the famous Brown Derby restaurant — but bought his meals at Hugo’s Hot Dog Stand across the street.

Ray cultivated his many talents to entertain and win friends. He played the violin (badly), impersonated FDR, W.C. Fields and radio star Fred Allen, cracked jokes at club meetings, sang loudly enough while riding a boat in Central Park that the authorities complained, and wrote plays and acted in a little theater group led by actress Laraine Day.

All the while he was faithfully writing 1,000 words a day and selling nothing, until at last he broke through with his first sale in 1941, “Pendulum,” written in collaboration with Henry Hasse and published in Super Science Stories. Soon he was selling regularly, with Julius Schwartz as his agent. He eventually shed the pulps and began selling to major magazines – once hitting the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Coronet and Esquire within a three-week period.

Bradbury married Marguerite McClure in 1948 and they had four daughters. Maurgerite passed away in 2003.

Quite a bit of his most famous fiction was written before 1955. By then television was booming and Bradbury began writing scripts for Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and many other shows.

In 1956, John Huston hired him to write the screenplay for the movie Moby Dick. This took him to Ireland and inspired a series of Irish stories – my favorite when I was much younger was “The Anthem Sprinters,” about Irishmen who tried to get out of the theater between the end of the film and the start of “God Save the Queen.”

In the Sixties filmmakers began making movies from Bradbury’s own work, Fahrenheit 451 directed by Francois Truffaut (1966) and The Illustrated Man (1969).

An amazing thing is that even with his ever-increasing fame, speaking schedule and strenuous writing workload Ray remained cordial towards his fans. I think he actually reveled in his fame, one of the fruits of his success as a writer, but he was an incredibly generous spirit by nature, who gave his time and attention to any cause he felt indebted to – such as the libraries where he’d educated himself – and paid forward the encouragement and mentoring he’d received as a young, unpublished dreamer.

When I got into fandom in the late Sixties I was part of a local library discussion group. I persuaded them to put out a fanzine and as the editor assigned myself the job of trying to get contributions from pro writers. Nearly all of them sent friendly replies saying “no.” Ray Bradbury actually sent us something to use – a tearsheet of “These Unsparked Flints, These Uncut Gravestone Brides,” a poem that essentially compares spinster librarians to unused tombstones, a metaphor less appreciated by the library staff than the rest of us who fixated on the “Wow! Ray Bradbury is in our zine!” part.

He clearly relished an audience, speaking often at libraries, universities and civic events. He spoke at USC during my freshman year, the first time I got his autograph. That was 1970, and Ray had already shaped the basic autobiographical speech that he continued to present til he was 90, about his childhood memories, the art he loved and his successes as a writer. That day he said, “I wanted to become the greatest writer in the world. Aren’t you glad I finally made it?” The audience cheered like mad.

Ray became pretty receptive to invitations to speak at LASFS’ annual convention, Loscon, after his friend Julius Schwartz got active in fandom again in the Eighties. I always hoped to pull off an appearance by Ray for one of the cons I programmed. When at long last his schedule and health seemed likely to permit it, he unfortunately got sick the weekend of the con and had to cancel. Forry Ackerman saved my bacon by agreeing to take that hour and tell stories about Ray, by then his friend for over 60 years.

Writing this blog drew me back into Ray’s orbit once more by connecting me with John King Tarpinian, Bradbury’s batman on outings and one of my colleagues at the IRS. John lives in Glendale near Mystery & Imagination Bookshop, scene of a plethora of Bradbury appearances like his annual birthday parties. (See Ray Bradbury’s 89th Birthday Party, article and photos by John King Tarpinian.)

John helped make File 770 “all Bradbury all-the-time,” our incessant drumbeat of reports about signings and sales amplified by the occasional news blast, like when John snapped a photo of Ray’s gobsmacked expression as he watched Rachel Bloom’s “F*** Me, Ray Bradbury” music video for the very first time (V*** For Me, Ray Bradbury).

I’ll continue to celebrate Ray’s work and life because I’ve never had more fun as a fan of any science fiction writer than I’ve had following the exploits of that unpublished teenager who wandered into LASFS in 1937 and went on to be one of our greatest fantasists, opening the genre to millions of readers.

Update 06/07/2012: Corrected full first name to Ray, which Tarpinian says is on his birth certificate. “Raymond” I got from Warner’s All Our Yesterdays. Bill Warren also sent me the correction. Thanks!

Blog Bites Man

Politico didn’t confine itself on Tuesday to ridiculing Mitt Romney’s sci-fi cred, it also managed work in a horror reference by headlining another column ”Is Mitt Romney Count Dracula?” No quotes from fans in that one, however. You know if Forry were still alive he’d have been happy to provide as many as they wanted, and let them photograph Bela Lugosi’s ring in the bargain. And when asked if he’d read Bram Stoker’s book Forry could resort to the answer he gave fans who asked if he’d read all the books in his collection. “Every last word,” he’d say. For as he wrote in Mimosa #26, “It’s true! When I get a new book I turn to the last page — and read the last word!”

Mark Plummer on Hugo History

At Renovation I attended “How Did We get to Where We Are? A Brief History of the Hugos” with Vincent Docherty, Janice Gelb, Rich Lynch and Mark Plummer, who each contributed interesting stories and exotic trivia.

The fascinating research Mark Plummer shared from 1953 Worldcon progress reports with the committee’s explanation of its newly-invented award is further discussed in his column for the August 1 Strange Horizons, “Rockets in Reno.”

For example, I had never before heard that the 1953 committee encouraged participation by announcing in-progress voting results. Mark says in his column:

Progress report 4 was issued on 1 August 1953 and contain[ed] an update on the voting…. We can see, then, that about four weeks out The Demolished Man was leading over The Long Loud Silence for novel; “old-timer Forrest J Ackerman and new-timer Harlan Ellison” were splitting the votes for Fan Personality….

While remarkable in its own right – such a practice would set off a riot in the blogosphere nowadays – Mark’s information could have been used to immediately settle an old argument if anyone had been aware of it at the time: the question of whether Forry Ackerman’s first Hugo had really been voted by members or was merely the equivalent of today’s committee awards? (See “Ackerman’s Hugo” and “Listing to the Other Side” from 2009.) Since Ackerman and Ellison were “splitting votes for Fan Personality” clearly there’s no room for doubt that the award was put to a vote.

If you have an interest in this slice of fanhistory Mark’s column is well worth your time.

Ackerman Cited in Horror History

Jason Zinoman, best known as a contributor to New York Times on topics including theatre, turns his attention to cinematic horror in Shock Value: How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, published by Penguin Press in 2011.

Although the NY Times own review of Shock Value complains that “the ‘fanboys’ are given short shrift” Zinoman did not neglect the #1 fanboy of all time, Forrest J Ackerman. For example:

Ackerman knew something was changing in the late Sixties when he saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time. He didn’t care for it, but what really captured his attention was not the undead gnawing on human flesh. It was the sight of small children watching the movie, cowering at this shocking violence. It baffled him. He had built an entire career on understanding what makes little kids tick, and this proved to be a complete mystery. After the movie Ackerman, always friendly, walked up to a child, who was maybe eight years old, and asked him what he thought. ‘I loved it!’ he said, running out the door, thrilled. Ackerman stood there, truly horrified.

Zinoman also notes that Forry came up with the idea for Famous Monsters of Filmland after the 1957 LonCon. Forry was at a newsstand in Paris, where he saw some French monster magazines. He then decided that a monster magazine would work in America, and took the idea home with him.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

Hertz: Notes on Japan Fanac

Over the past year John Hertz has helped honor two late, internationally famous fans in Japanese fan publications:

By John Hertz: My appreciation of 4e Ackerman (Vanamonde 853) was translated into Japanese and reprinted in Uchuujin 202. Uchuujin which means “cosmic dust” or by a typical Japanese pun almost means “space man” was Takumi Shibano’s fanzine (unsure if it will continue now he is gone). Shibano-san said 4e was a great benefactor of s-f in Japan.
 
A short appreciation of Shibano-san by me was translated into Japanese and published in the Shibano memorialzine, including the tanka I gave him at Conolulu the 2000 Westercon (File 770 #138) reprinted in English with a Japanese translation. This was an honor since the only other gaiji (foreigners) included, according to a Japanese here I consulted, were David Brin and his wife Cheryl Brigham, Joe Haldeman, Peggy Rae Sapienza, and Michael Whelan. Brin and Whelan were Guests of Honor at Nippon 2007; I was the only non-Japanese advisor to the concom, and sent to the con by the one-time travel fund HANA (Hertz Across to Nippon Alliance) resulting in On My Sleeve; Sapienza was the immensely helpful North America Agent (who did so much her husband John a wargamer said “She wasn’t in charge of a division, she was in charge of a corps); Haldeman was Shibano-san’s good friend.
 
The Shibano-zine was called Chiri mo tsumoreba hoshi to naru which by a typical Japanese pun changes the proverb “When you gather dust it becomes a mountain” (yama) into “it becomes a star” (hoshi). Note allusions to cosmic dust and to the stars. Shibano-san himself was a star, perhaps becoming so by the gathering of cosmic dust.

Ackerman’s Heir, del Toro

“I never expected to see Lovecraft’s name mentioned in The New Yorker,” says Moshe Feder about the latest issue, “But what really made me sit up straight was that the article’s first paragraph is devoted to Forry Ackerman!”

In 1926, Forrest Ackerman, a nine-year-old misfit in Los Angeles, visited a newsstand and bought a copy of Amazing Stories—a new magazine about aliens, monsters, and other oddities. By the time he reached the final page, he had become America’s first fanboy. He started a group called the Boys’ Scientifiction Club; in 1939, he wore an outer-space outfit to a convention for fantasy aficionados, establishing a costuming ritual still followed by the hordes at Comic-Con. Ackerman founded a cult magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and, more lucratively, became an agent for horror and science-fiction writers. He crammed an eighteen-room house in Los Feliz with genre memorabilia, including a vampire cape worn by Bela Lugosi and a model of the pteranodon that tried to abscond with Fay Wray in “King Kong.” Ackerman eventually sold off his collection to pay medical bills, and in 2008 he died. He had no children.

But he had an heir. In 1971, Guillermo del Toro, the film director, was a seven-year-old misfit in Guadalajara, Mexico. He liked to troll the city sewers and dissolve slugs with salt. One day, in the magazine aisle of a supermarket, he came upon a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. He bought it, and was so determined to decode Ackerman’s pun-strewed prose—the letters section was called Fang Mail—that he quickly became bilingual.

The New Yorker’s February 7 issue profiles filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, discussing his abortive attempt to make The Hobbit, now back in Peter Jackson’s hands, and his proposal to film Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness

[Thanks to Moshe Feder for the story.]