Warren: Frankenberry at LaCon

After seeing Mark Evanier’s story about Forry Ackerman and monster-themed cereal, Bill Warren sent this related fannish memory:

At the 1972 Worldcon costume contest, Don Glut went as Frankenberry, pink with that huge head. It was scrupulously accurate. (Linda [Gray, who soon wed Don] went hubba hubba as “Conana,” with a sword she borrowed from Bruce Pelz, a few ounces of copper, a few hard of filmy yellow cloth.)

Don Glut as Frankenberry at the 1972 Worldcon. Photo by Al Kracalic.

War Eagles by Conover and Riley

Bill Warren recommends War Eagles: The Unmaking of an Epic by David Conover and Phillip J. Riley, available in both hardcover and paperback from BearManor Media.  Bill writes:

Merian C. Cooper had a busy and productive career as a movie producer all through the 1930s, but his personal favorite remained King Kong; he loved the gigantism of the whole thing, the astonishing imagery. Toward the end of the 30s, he was at MGM, and envisioned a giant eagle with a Viking for a rider, perched atop the Statue of Liberty. Hot damn. He roughed out a story, apparently with historical-fiction novelist Harold Lamb, engaged Willis O’Brien of Kong fame to handle the extensive special effects, which would include a lot of stop-motion animation. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, who some 12-15 years later wrote Forbidden Planet. The book includes lots of production drawings obtained from many sources, including a couple of frame blow-ups from the test footage that was shot. These frames are in Technicolor; Cooper, a major backer of the process, was eager to shoot this big movie in color.

The story is somewhat cornball, and the hero (Slim) is very cornball–an eager test-and-military pilot who’s scared of girls–but the script makes the movie sound nothing less than swell, in the glorious old meaning of that word. Slim crashes in Antarctica, in a valley warmed by volcanic heat. Here he discovers the descendants of a lost tribe of Vikings, who speak English, more or less, and fly about on giant eagles. They are periodically menaced by a few dinosaurs. The tribe has a bard who sings legends in what reads like a cross between the usual form “Beowulf” appears in and “The Song of Hiawatha”–but, by George, it works. The climax: a suspiciously Germanic Evil Nation from Europe has developed an engine-killing “death ray” (and engines invulnerable to it); they launch an aerial armada to attack New York, disabling all American aircraft. Slim learns of this and leads his Viking companions to defend New York from the aerial menace–on the backs of giant eagles. Wow.

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.]

Was that H.G. or He?

“Forry always said H.G. Wells had a high-pitched voice,” writes Bill Warren. “I never would have dreamed it was this high-pitched.”

Bill had just watched two British Pathé video newsreels, “H G Wells Offers His Solution For Economic Crisis”, and Wells’ press conference on America entering WWII.

“He sounds as though he’s speaking with a lungful of helium,” says Bill. “Imagine him reading his books aloud.”

Republic Films 75th Anniversary

Republic Pictures, historic home of sci-fi serials and B-movie cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, celebrated its 75th anniversary on September 25. In the meantime the former Republic Studios has become the CBS Studio Center, but its role in cinematic history is still remembered.

Click on the link to the 75th anniversary website for galleries filled with nostalgic images of old movie posters and photos of B-movie stars.

Those who attended the festivities in person saw screenings of Republic films, serials and trailers, live performances of swing and western music, entertainment by gun spinners, rope twirlers, trick horses, and cowboy poets, and a diverse collection of memorabilia. There also was a special Republic Pictures stamp cancellation ceremony of the U.S. Postal Service’s Cowboys of the Silver Screen postage stamps.

Republic Pictures was founded in 1935 by Herbert J. Yates and its fare became synonymous with Saturday afternoon matinees. It gave fandom science fiction serials like The Adventures of Captain Marvel and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe. The studio launched the careers of Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Roy Rogers  — and John Wayne who starred in some of its best-known movies, Flying Tigers (1942), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and The Quiet Man (1952).

[Thanks to Bill Warren for the story.]

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.]

Bill Warren Interviewed for DVD Savant

When a well-prepared interviewer meets an articulate expert sometimes the result is pure gold, as it is with “STILL WATCHING: An Interview with Science Fiction Historian Bill Warren” by Stuart Galbraith IV. It’s filled with the kind of discerning historical and critical observations that make Bill Warren’s Keep Watching The Skies: The 21st Century Edition so worthwhile.

For example, Bill analyzes why there a legion of new fans for the cheap SF movies of the 1950s:

One reason seems to be that movies of today are largely fueled by knowing irony, sarcasm, a kind of bitter attitude that comes from too many experiences with those who let you down. But the movies of the 1950s are eternally optimistic, even Rocketship X-M and The Lost Missile, in which the heroes die at the end. There’s not a trace of irony in these films, and that’s probably refreshing for latter-day generations of movie watchers.

The interview is also filled with appealing examples of Bill’s candor and self-effacing humor:

I found that my taste as a kid was pretty reliable, even if more enthusiastic than myself as an adult. I no longer think that It Came from Beneath the Sea and Creature with the Atom Brain are the two best movies ever made, though I still like both of them. And those I didn’t like then, I still don’t like.

Dan O’Bannon (1946-2009)

Famed sf movie maker Dan O’Bannon died December 17. The Los Angeles Times reports his death was caused by complications of Crohn’s Disease, which he had battled for 30 years.

He is best known for writing Alien, winner of the 1980 Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo, and the Guardian’s excellent tribute to O’Bannon insightfully comments:

Over the years, many connected with the film have greedily and not entirely accurately claimed credit for just about everything good about Alien. But if you search out the original script on the internet, you’ll see most of it was already there courtesy of O’Bannon.

Other science fiction films he co-authored include Lifeforce and Total Recall.

He also directed several movies. Bill Warren considers the best of these to be The Return of the Living Dead, a comedy sequel to the original film that opens with a title card revealing that everything you’re about to see is absolutely true and all the real names are used.

O’Bannon’s career began with the low-budget 1974 sf film Dark Star. It originated as a USC student project co-written with director John Carpenter. The movie was not a commercial success, but it developed a cult following among sf fans and inspired the name of the student sf club at UC San Diego.

Continuing a Forry Tradition?

Bill Warren has a suggestion: “Based on the long-time fannish semi-joke that no matter where the Worldcon was held, the first person you saw was Forry Ackerman, I’ve suggested that LASFS pay for a nice mounted portrait of him to be sent each year to that year’s Worldcon committee.  It would be displayed behid the registration desk, so the first person at a Worldcon people would see would still be Forry Ackerman.  No response from LASFS bigwigs as yet….”

Ackerman Tributes All Over the Net

Forry Ackerman touched the lives of hundreds of fans, writers and filmmakers, and many are saluting his memory by telling their favorite stories about him.

bobgable’s posterous retells Walt Willis’ really funny story about a cross-country trip with Forry Ackerman

Robert J. Sawyer shares warm memories of meeting Forry, and a cherished visit to the Ackermansion:

I remember Forry’s wonderful kindness to a young writer he’d never met before. And I remember, all over his mansion, portraits of his deceased wife Wendayne, and how he spoke repeatedly about her with so much love.

First Fandom president Joan Marie Knappenberger’s obit on the SFWA News site incorporates several classic Ackerman chestnuts:

His stories of his life’s adventures were legendary, and his puns were fabulous. He once told me that he had read every last word in every book in his collection. When he got a new book for his collection, he would open it to the last page, and read the last word.

Forry’s passing has been noted on lots of major media sites, not the least of them Time Magazine, whose research revealed what we all know ain’t so, about who originated “sci-fi”:

If he didn’t coin the term “sci-fi” — Robert Heinlein used it first — then by using the phrase in public in 1954 he instantly popularized it (to the lasting chagrin of purists, who preferred “SF”).

Update: Bill Warren adds, “There’s an interesting tribute to Forry on the Ain’t It Cool News website, including Forry’s comments on his own death. The Classic Horror Film Board has a topic devoted to Forry’s demise.”