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.]

How Harryhausen Found LASFS

Harryhausen, Bradbury and Ackerman at the Three Legends event in 2008.

Forry Ackerman, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen were three amigos for many years. How did they meet?

Let Bill Warren tell us the story:

I have been exchanging a lot of e-mails with Chris O’Brien, who’s working on what sounds like a major project: the bibliography of Forrest J Ackerman.  And yes, he’s going all out — tracking Forry’s letters in prozines and fanzines of the 1930s onward.  I originally feared he was a Famous Monsters fan who knew little about Forry prior to 1958, when the magazine began, but far from it; he’s doing lots of research on First Fandom itself, in addition to Forry; he recently did an interview with Dave Kyle which appeared in the two most recent issues of Filmfax. 

Today he passed along to me a link to eFanzines (the specific link is below) which was a reprint of a British zine [Futurian War Digest #9, PDF file] which featured a big chunk from an issue of VoM, written by Forry. I always knew that Ray Harryhausen saw some stills at a theater showing a revival of King Kong; he wanted to copy them, but was told they were the property of Forrest J Ackerman. The guy at the theater put him in touch with Forry, who put Harryhausen in touch with Bradbury–and so forth and so on.

The guy at the theater was Roy Test, Jr.  This is the first time I saw his name in conjunction with this encounter.

Roy Test Jr. in later years.

Roy was a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League (renamed the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society when it left the SFL). Roy died just about a year ago.

Ackerman’s account from that 1941 issue of Futurian War Digest (with Forry’s famous simplified spelling) reads:

“Cashing in on Fantasy” on pg 568 of Pop Mechanix for Apr. Fan pictured is LA’s own Ray Harryhausen (Hon Mem LASFS) who came to our notice when he attended, a revival of “King Kong” at a theater where imagi-native Roy Test Jr was working at the time. Stills loand by me to the theater attracted Ray to me & hence to the Club. I’m proud to be the owner, by the way, of that original of the Jupiterian Monster pic on 569.

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

Tarpinian: Glendale Bookstore
Celebrates Forry’s 94th

By John King Tarpinian: Today was Forrest J (no dot) Ackerman’s 94th birthday party at Mystery & Imagination Bookshop in Glendale, CA. Forry would have been 94 on the 24th.  The party was hosted by George Clayton Johnson (the man gets around for an 81-year-old!) George talked for about half an hour about Forry and his influences on people and his being the first real fanboy. He talked about how Forry was a founding member of LASFS. How he took a young Ray Bradbury under his wing and loaned him the money to go East to meet publishers.

Among the people doing readings were actor James Karen. James is a longtime friend of 4E and is best known for his performances appearing in the Living Dead cult classics and soap operas. James read Forry’s obituary for Boris Karloff.

Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man in the Phantasm movies) was among those in the audience.

Michael Gough, stage and voice actor brought his Theremin and played “Happy Birthday.” Michael has performed at six of 4E’s birthday parties.

George Clayton Johnson

4e’s Cake

 

Angus Scrimm

Michael Gough

 

James Karen

Forry Bio Due in November

Forry: The Life of Forrest J Ackerman by Deborah Painter (with a foreword by Joe Moe) will be released November 3, 2010 according to Amazon.com.

Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008) was an author, archivist, agent, actor, promoter, and editor of the iconic fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland; a founder of science fiction fandom; and one of the world’s foremost collectors of sci-fi, horror and fantasy films, literature, and memorabilia. This biography begins with a foreword by Joe Moe, Ackerman’s caregiver and close friend since 1983. It documents Ackerman’s lifelong dedication to his work in both literature and film; his interests, travels, relationships and associations with famous personalities; and his lasting impact on popular culture. Primary research material includes letters given by Ackerman to the author during their long friendship, and reminiscences from Ackerman’s friends, fans and colleagues.

The 224-page hardcover with 88 photos can be pre-ordered from publisher McFarland for $45.

Painter’s previous book was Hollywood’s Top Dogs (Midnight Marquee Press, Inc., 2008) covering 100 years of canine hero movies. She has written articles for such magazines as Filmfax and Horse and Horseman. Painter is currently an environmental services director for REMSA Incorporated.

Further Down Underness

Aussiecon 4 has set the record as the largest Worldcon Down Under. The convention’s onsite newsletter Voice of the Echidna reports, “At the close of Saturday, there were 1649 pre-registered members on site, as well as 63 walk-ins so far. 142 Saturday Day Memberships were sold.” Even without aggregating the data into a proper warm-body count, attendance clearly exceeds Aussiecon 3 (1999)’s figure of 1,548.

Aussiecon 4 can also brag about its voter turnout for the Hugo race. Vincent Docherty wrote in Voice of the Echidna:  “After the record number of Hugo Nominations, we had high hopes about the voting numbers and we are pleased to announce that there were 1094 valid Hugo Voting Ballots. This total is the highest since the 2000 Worldcon, and second highest since 1988.”

Let’s see, what other stories can I pass on from the most excellent Echidna?

The First Fandom Hall of Fame awards for lifetime service to SF fandom this year went to:

• First Fandom Hall of Fame – Terry Jeeves and Joe Martino (tied)
• Posthumous Hall of Fame – Ray Cummings

The Art Show Awards were won by:

• Best SF: Sky Burial #1 by Wayne Haag
• Most Humorous: Sales Pitch by Kathleen Jennings
• Most Stylish: SF Adventure by Naoyuki Katoh
• Best 3D: Mask of Odin by Annette Schneider
• Best Miniature: T is for Trilobite by Marilyn Pride
• Special Award For Overall Excellence in a Body of Work: Shaun Tan

What else impressed me about Aussiecon’s newzine was reading that Echidna’s morning edition is prepared by Alison Scott — at home in London!

Now I’d better lift some news from another source before ending this post — for as you know taking from one source is plagiarism, from more than one is research…

SF Site says the Forrest Ackerman Big Heart Award was presented at Aussiecon 4 on September 5 during the Hugo Award ceremony to Australian fan Merv Binns.

And here are the Aussiecon 4 masquerade winners. (John Hertz was a judge — a fine choice, indeed.)

Heinlein Letter on Ebay

Robert Heinlein’s 1945 letter sympathizing with Forry Ackerman about the death of his brother, Alden, at the Battle of the Bulge was discussed here a few months ago. Now that letter has suddenly popped up for sale on Ebay.

Listed as coming “From the Collection of Forrest J Ackerman,” the letter is offered for $1200 by James Van Hise. Here’s a physical description:

Original two page letter sent to Forrest J Ackerman by Robert Heinlein dated January 28, 1945. Two separate pages, 8 x 10 1/2, original typescript. Excellent condition. Signed “Bob” and last sentence refers to Heinlein’s then wife Leslyn. Heinlein letters of this early vintage are scarce.

It’s quite the letter, Heinlein taking the death of Forry Ackerman’s brother as an opportunity to deliver a long, stinging criticism of “the way active fans have met the trial of this war.”

I’m not discouraging anyone from buying the item because of its historic value. Though speaking for myself, if I was inclined to pay four figures for an autographed Heinlein letter I’d be looking for more than “Bob” on the signature line.

[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

How Did I Not Know This?

Letters of Note has posted Robert Heinlein’s letter to Forrest J Ackerman offering condolences on the death of his brother, Alden, at the Battle of the Bulge on New Year’s Day 1945.

Forry had a brother who died in the war?

It’s hardly shocking that another fan would be ignorant of a friend’s mundane relatives who passed away decades before the two of them met. But what if that fan has written dozens of news stories about the friend? What if that fan not long ago spent hours researching the friend’s obituary? What if that fan is me (coff coff) and the information is on a page I consulted in Harry Warner Jr.’s All Our Yesterdays?

His only brother, Alden Lorraine, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge on New Year’s Day, 1945. Ackerman published a memorial booklet in which he spoke with a simple eloquence, like a newly matured person.

Forry evidently had asked Heinlein to contribute to the booklet and the letter conveys Heinlein’s answer.

Alden Lorraine Ackerman died at the age of 21 while serving in D Company of the 42nd Tank Battalion of the 11th Armored Division. It’s entirely possible that his death is the subject of this entry on the unit’s webpage describing the events of January 1 (the only deaths specified that day) while the battalion was fighting its way to Bastogne to relieve the 101st Airborne:

Between 1930 and 2000, one enemy airplane bombed Rechrival three times scoring a near miss on one tank which was not damaged. However, two men standing near-by were killed. The rest of the night was marked with scattered artillery fire which did no damage. 

Heinlein not only said no to the invitation, he took the opportunity to tee off on fandom for its perceived failure to join the war effort. One of his milder statements is:

I know that you are solemn in your intention to see to it that Alden’s sacrifice does not become meaningless. I am unable to believe that fan activity and fan publications can have anything to do with such intent. I have read the fan publications you have sent me and, with rare exceptions, I find myself utterly disgusted with the way the active fans have met the trial of this war.

Of course, it should not be surprising that in 1945 Heinlein would feel that way toward any able-bodied person who was not in the service or doing war work. Therefore, the most remarkable thing about this letter actually is the warmth Heinlein expresses to Ackerman in closing (after attempting to persuade him to request a transfer to serve in Europe):

We are very fond of you, Forry. You are a fine and gentle soul. This is a very difficult letter to write; if I did not think you were worth it, I would not make the effort.

I was really surprised by this. Til now, all the stories I have ever heard were about the friction between them, such as Heinlein’s famous letter telling Ackerman to “Keep your hands off my property” after Forry sold Heinlein’s 1941 Denvention GoH speech to Vertex in 1973.

[Via Ansible Links.]

Ackerman Tributes Among Rondo Nominees

Online voting has begun for the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

Nominees for Best Article of 2009 include two tributes to the late Forrest J Ackerman.

Steve Vertlieb’s “The Most ‘Famous Monster’ of Them All” originally appeared on his own Thunder Child site and was recently added to the newly-relaunched Famous Monsters website.

Daniel Kirk’s “How I Met the Man Behind Famous Monsters of Filmland” reminisces about the day Ackerman’s 1963 cross-country tour stopped at his house in Columbus, Ohio. His article ran in Scary Monsters #70.

Up for Best Book of 2009 is Bill Warren’s Keep Watching the Skies, American Science Fiction Movies of the 1950s, the 21st Century Edition, the revised and expanded edition of the classic film study.

Any fan can vote. Send an e-mail containing your name and your picks to David Colton (taraco at aol.com) by April 3.

[Thanks to Steve Vertlieb for the link.]

Takumi Shibano (1927-2010)

Rick Sneary, Roy Tackett, Takumi and Sachiko Shibano at the 1968 Worldcon, BayCon.

Rick Sneary, Roy Tackett, Takumi and Sachiko Shibano at the 1968 Worldcon, BayCon.

Takumi Shibano died January 16 at 8:06 p.m. (JST). The reported cause of death was pneumonia.

His life spanned the founding of Japanese fandom to the announcement of the Nippon 2017 bid. He was a guest of honor at two Worldcons, L.A.con III and Nippon 2007.

Japanese author Tetsu Yano, who Gene Van Troyer called Japan’s Robert Heinlein, said he could hardly imagine what would have become of SF in Japan if Takumi Shibano had not existed: “Thanks to his fanzine Uchuujin, we had a network that allowed us to meet, and I feel blessed that Shibano-san was here to create it. All of Japanese science fiction and fandom was born as a result.”

Takumi, born in 1927, was the son of a Japanese Army officer. Following his father’s postings, Takumi attended schools in Taiwan, Tokyo and Manchuria. Upon finishing high school in 1945 he was drafted into the Physico-Chemical Research Association. There he learned the essentials of modern physics. After the end of WWII, Takumi attended the Tokyo Institute of Technology, graduating in 1950.

That same year he sold his first story, which appeared under the name “Kozumi Rei” (a wordplay on “cosmic ray”). He would later use that pen name as a novelist and translator of science fiction stories.

Takumi taught math for 26 years at Tokyo Municipal Koyamadai high school, from 1951 until 1977 when chronic asthma led him to quit teaching and become a full-time writer and translator. Among the works he translated into Japanese are Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” and Larry Niven’s Ringworld and “Inconstant Moon.”

A colleague, veteran translator Hisashi Asakura, paid this compliment to his work in 1996: “Takumi Shibano has such a fundamental grasp of science that he understands the nature of the ideas that the writers have. If he has the slightest question about anything, he pursues the answer with total dedication, writing letters of talking directly with the authors. He’s peerless — a real role model for translators and authors.”

Takumi and Sachiko Takahashi married in 1954. They had two daughters, Miho and Minae.

Takumi’s fascination with SF first drew him to join the UFOs Flying in Japan’s Skies Research Group in 1956. As he explained in a quote run in the Nippon 2007 Souvenir Book, “It wasn’t that I was so enamored of UFO research, but that I was interested in those basic, fantastical science ideas, so I wanted to do SF.” The group was as close as he could get, but that would soon change.

At one of the meetings he threw out the idea of doing an extra issue of the group’s publication solely devoted to SF. Several members responded so enthusiastically they launched the first issue of Uchuujin (“space dust”) in May 1957. Uchuujin’s first issues were handwritten on mimeograph stencils, but it transformed into a typset publication by 1960. In later years, the zine’s best stories would be collected in five professionally published volumes.

Production of the magazine soon led to in-person discussion and the formation of Kagaku Sosaku (variously translated as Science Fiction Club or Science Creation Club), led by Tetsu Yano.

Takumi chaired four of the first six Japanese national science fiction conventions. He also helped establish the Federation of SF Fangroups of Japan in 1965 and served as chairman from 1966 until 1970.

He wrote several original juvenile science fiction novels, all published in Japan under his pen name Rei Kozumi: Superhuman ‘Plus X’ (1969), Operation Moonjet (1969), and Revolt in North Pole City (1977). He was also the principal author of The World of Popular Literature (1978), a nonfiction work.

Takumi was effectively introduced to American fans through the pages of Roy Tackett’s fanzine Dynatron. People became eager to meet him in person. LA’s bid committee for the 1968 Worldcon simultaneously ran a fan fund to bring Takumi Shibano to the Worldcon. Only the fan fund succeeded, consequently Shibano-san attended BayCon, the Worldcon in Berkeley, California.

He and Sachiko attended many more Worldcons through the years. At Denvention 2 in 1981 they appeared on stage during the Hugo Awards for the first time to present Seiun Awards to the Western sf writers whose translated works had won. (The winners are chosen by the Japanese national convention.)  It became a Hugo night tradition for the Shibanos or other Japanese pros to appear in ceremonial robes and recognize the winners.

Takumi won World SF’s President’s Award in 1984 and its Karel Award in 1991. He received a Special Committee Award from ConFrancisco, the 1993 Worldcon. And he was the winner of the E. E. Evans Big Heart Award in 1987.

Takumi, through his love of science fiction, achieved a rare bridging of cultures. He was a gracious man who warmly responded to anyone’s welcome and questions. Like Ackerman, to whom he is invariably compared, he was one of fandom’s early organizers who became an international ambassador of science fiction.

[Thanks to Atsushi Morioka, John Hertz, Glenn Glazer, Craig Miller and Peggy Rae Sapienza for the story.]

Update 01/18/2010: Adopted correction by John Hertz — the proper order of Takumi’s pen name is “Kozumi Rei.” Then, based on Petrea Mitchell’s suggestion (and a consultation with John) altered the spelling of the fanzine title to ‘Uchuujin,’ as the most accurate translation within the power of my limited coding skills….