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.]

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

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.]