|A lot of Monster Boomers
grew up on classic horror and monster films and, for them, editor Forrest
J Ackerman's Famous Monsters Of Filmland was essential
reading. One lucky young reader eventually got to work with "Forry"
and "FM", as we learn in...
By RON WAITE
(Note: Ron Waite, age 52, currently living in New Mexico, was a fan and contributor to the classic and original Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine from the beginning (1958). He began working for the famous Forrest J Ackerman in in 1978 and left in 1983. Then he worked as entertainment editor for Pleasure Hunt Magazine from 1983 through 1987, and as contributing editor for same and the new Bucks County Magazine published in Pennsylvania. He's currently writing a sci-fi novel and a collection of short stories. He donated the bulk of his memorabilia collection to Eastern New Mexico University in 1999. Ron maintains an active correspondence with fans and professionals alike the world over.)
First let me say I owe my interest to all things bizarre to my mom and my aunt. The first movie I remember seeing was Destination: Moon back in 1950. I was only three years old, but I was so impressed I was hooked for life. Nothing else mattered after that. My imagination had been tapped and nothing "mundane" could ever satisfy it.
My mom took me to all the movies I ever wanted to see. And when she wasn't there, my aunt complied. We saw War Of The Worlds, When Worlds Collide, The Thing, Conquest Of Space, and This Island, Earth. Each time I grew more fascinated with the genre. And when TV came along, well...Captain Video, Science Fiction Theater, all those great shows that were forerunners of Star Trek and The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.
On one particularly miserable day (it had been snowing and was bitter cold) I was walking home from school in Trenton, New Jersey and I had 50 cents in my pocket. I went into the old corner drug store and...before I continue, I must use a speech Forry Ackerman is famous for. When he was nine years old he saw Amazing Stories magazine and it leaped off the shelf and said "Take me home, little boy, you will love me." With me it was this strange magazine with a red cover. The first issue of Famous Monsters Of Filmland or FM.
Naturally my mother, as all moms, bless
them, are apt to do, regarded this literary masterpiece with doubtful and
suspicious gaze. "Monsters?" she asked. Why it was all right to see those
movies and watch TV but not read monster magazines, I never understood.
She had no such trouble with my earlier attraction to Tales From The
Crypt and that lot. But I stray...I went into my room, sat on the bed,
and began to drool over every page. This
Psychologists and "experts" can say what they want about such things but I know otherwise. Reading The Vault Of Horror did not make me an ax murderer. Seeing Psycho did not make me Norman Bates. And reading FM did not turn me antisocial or a demented creature bent on mayhem and destruction! They--and Mom--were wrong. Quite the contrary. I learned, absorbed, and made up my mind to become a writer, a make-up artist, director, actor, any number of new and exciting professions I had never before dreamed of. Suddenly my weekly piano lessons seemed unimportant.
And, most of the credit for this has to go to the FM editor-in-chief, Forrest J Ackerman. His guidance, his ever-so-awful puns, his knowledge of the subject and his first-hand accounts of people, places and things that go bump in the night. That's what made it special. He'd run a particularly horrible still, whether it be some Mexican wrestling Aztec mummy or Mr. Sardonicus, then there'd be some terrible pun-chline. I don't know about you, but Sardonicus scared the yell out of me! It took me a while to even look at the still, but then there'd be a line like, "Guess Sardonicus' mother never warned him his face would freeze that way!"
As I mentioned, I've been a fan most of
my life. But I've been lucky in the sense that I've been in the right
place at the right time. Growing up in Asbury Park, New Jersey, my
grandparents ran a restaurant during the summer and a rooming house year
'round. I later
Around 1960 or so, FM was in full gear. They had contests and people were writing letters, monster clubs were starting up, and of course some of the best covers ever appeared during this time. I had entered several hand-written short stories into a contest. Imagine my glee when I got a check for $10 for my winning entry. Little Steve King did--now one of the biggest writers of all time. My story, "Night Key", was chosen and I was paid for it, but never used for whatever reason. But I was not discouraged.
Of course, when you grow older and reality sets in, we all can't follow our dreams. So the once-little Stevie King and Steve Spielbergs, John Landis, and Rick Baker and so many more, determined to follow their heart's desire, did become directors and make-up artists and the like. I never did.
In 1975, I decided to try my hand at
writing once again and, I might add, with no success. In 1976 I was
living in San Francisco and was invited to Forry's birthday bash in Los
Angeles. Of course I attended and scared to death, nervous beyond belief,
I met Forry and many of my heroes. Ray Bradbury was there. And Robert
Bloch. Two of my favorites authors at the time. Next to H.P. Lovecraft no
one can hold a candle to Bloch. I met FM's
Shortly after that I decided to submit an article titled: "The Golden Years Of Terrorvision." There I was, some time later, walking through a magazine store and I noticed the new FM was out. I picked it up and began glancing thru it when all of a sudden I see my name plastered across a two-page spread with my article! I literally screamed out loud and had half the store staring at me like I was surely an escaped loon. When some people found out why I was so excited, they bought the issue and had me sign. It was my first-ever experience signing my name.
Again, on a wild far out once in a lifetime go for it idea I wrote to Forry and asked if he needed an assistant, since I had heard his had left. I never thought he'd say yes, but I figured what the hey, go for it. He phoned and said "Yes!" and I was on my way.
There's no way I can describe the feeling when I drove into Hollywood that afternoon, found his home, and began what was to become the best years of my life. Tired tho I was, I went to work immediately. I think it was around 11 p.m. when he said, "Come on. Let's go for ice cream," and we went to his favorite hang-out, The House of Pies.
From then on I answered the phone, conducted tours of the museum, went along on interviews and to movie screenings. I talked one on one with George Pal and Bradbury and Bloch. I met and befriended Vincent Price and John Landis, Angus Scrimm from Phantasm. I not only met Ann Robinson of War Of The Worlds, but attended a Christmas party at her home with Carl Ballantine and others. I got to browse thru the Ackermansion, drool over all those books and stills and props. It was a dream come true.
Working with 4e gave me the most opportunity to meet people. During the week, many people would stop by or call. I'm ashamed to say a few times, when Forry was away, I'd get calls from famous directors or writers and I had no idea who they were! Then later I'd realize, Hey, hat's the guy who directed Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde!
I remember one day we were invited to a screening of Creepshow at the studio. Forry and Brian and I went and had a special press screening. Shortly afterward Stephen King and George Romero came to 4e's home and filmed a TV segment. It was a great day. I took lots of pictures and got lots of autographs and was very excited about it all and sure enough when I went to pick up my three rolls of film--they were lost! Gone. Vanished. I still think whoever processed them and saw them took them. Now if they can invent a video camera to record your memories...
We were all invited to a special anniversary screening of Forbidden Planet which was great fun. Robby the Robot was there plus many of the stars from the movie, and I brought along a prop ray gun. The next day Richared Eyer came to Forry's for a day long visit and yes, more pictures and autographs.
Forry was out of the country when Battlestar: Galactica first aired and in the days before VCRs, I sat and took notes each episode so we could write articles about it. I managed to get to the set a few times and when I wrote a piece about Boltar (John Collicos) we became good friends. We exchanged many letters, I'd run into him at the mall, and I even offered advice when he was remodelling his home. Great actor, great friend.
Who else walked thru the halls of Ackermansion? Too many to list, that's for sure. Lily Tomlin dropped by one day with her antique Dodge. Seems she loves classic cars. Another time John Landis came by with many of the Muppet people, the "hands beneath the character" and the voices, too. John was always stopping by with friends like Jane Seymour (an incredibly beautiful woman) and Martine Beswick, Jenny Agutter, and many more.
One day we learned of an independant
movie called Nocturna, featuring Nai Bonet in the lead role and
John Carradine as her aged, toothless father, The Count. I wrote a small
piece about it which the producers liked very much. Next thing I know Nai
is in town and I'm picking her up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We spend the
day at 4e's taking pictures and talking, then I drop her off at a
shoot--they're filming Roller Boogie with Linda Blair. Being the
gentleman I am I escort Ms Bonet onto the set during a film break. Next
thing I know
Willis O'Brien, of course, was the genius behind King Kong. And any fan worth their salt knows he inspired countless fans, most notably Ray Harryhausen. Willis died many years ago, and thru Forry I got to meet his widow Darlyne. She was a wonderful person. We became good friends and stayed in touch until she passed on. Toward the end, Ray Harryhausen let her live in his home in Pacific Palisades and cared for her like she was his own mom. I always thought that was a wonderful gesture. Little known fact, Darlyne was an artist in her own right and created dioramas made with--of all things--popcorn!
Being at Forry's I had the chance to do
something very few people ever do: Touch the models! I removed the
miniature Pteronodon used in the original King Kong. I oiled
When I met Leonard Nimoy I found him to
be not only a quiet man but very intense and intelligent and truly
genuine. We remained in touch for many years and again I have nothint but
find memories of him. Same with Bobbie Bresee and Brinke Stevens,
both of whom I met at 4e's and remained in touch with ever since. Frank
and Bobbie send me
I'm now living the quiet life in New
Mexico. But I still manage to run into famous people. In Roswell at the
UFO festival you'll find stars and writers and researchers from Star
Trek to Von Daniken. In Carlsbad, I ran into several soap opera stars
and one Dr. Tony Jones
Then came bad times. The relationship between Forry and Jim Warren, publisher of FM, was strained at best. Things were getting worse and had changed dramatically from the 1976 birthday party to then. They were hardly on speaking terms, and on rare occasions when Warren did call it was to complain or gripe about something or other. I recall one time when he was in a rage about 4e using "GAL-axy of my Dreams." I thought it was funny but Warren fumed. Forry was both upset and angry and hurt as well.
Around that time Brian Forbes, a fan from Michigan and going to college in L.A., became a good friend and a big help around the office. He'd stop in and donate his time doing all sorts of useful things and became 4e's right hand man in many ways. We had heard--how I can't remember right now--that Forry was being replaced and was being called "Editor Emeritus" beginning with the next FM. Well, in the days before e-mail and FAX, we burned up the phone lines between L.A. and New York. On our side, Forry, Brian, and myself. And in New York, Jim Warren, certain assistants and Jeff Rovin. Insults, blame, threats, cursing and more went back and forth. Then Brian penned a fabulous letter (I wish I had a copy) that we all signed and sent off to New York. Within days we got a letter back saying we were going to be sued for slander, etc.
Finally, Forry had had enough. He wrote a one-page resignation letter, first asking for more money and more control over the magazine, then saying in essence that he had enough and quit. It was to be printed in the next issue of FM. But, on the NY end, Randy Palmer had penned a "Farewell Forry" letter stating that he was no longer editor and he would be missed, etc. That letter and that issue became the last FM, virtually on the eve of it's 25th anniversary.
It was a sad way to end an era. You know how Columbia Pictures paid The Three Stooges the same salary for years? It was the same with Forry. He was literally working for peanuts and never got an increase. Then, with the upkeep of that huge house, the expenses, the care of the museum and contents, it's a miracle how he ever made it.
To end this saga, all I can say is this: One can hardly imagine a world without Famous Monsters. And one can only imagine how many people it--and editor Forrest J Ackerman--inspired.
You never saw ads in FM. Oh sure, there was Captain Company, but no cigarette ads, or Diet Coke, or anything other than "fun stuff." You were never preached to. No politcal issues or current events. That was left to other magazines. With Forry his love of the genre came first. Never did he discuss the private lives of the actors, writers, technicians, etc unless it was in a positive way. And this adoration came thru and we, the fans, ate it up.
My greatest dream came true and that's
a memory I'll hold forever. Having lunch with Ray Harryhausen and actually
making a home movie at his home. Getting a Christmas card each year from
Vincent Price. Discussing movies with George Pal. Talking with Bill Nolan
and George Clayton Johnson about Logan's Run. Meeting all the
stars from Star Trek. Going to Hollywood's Magic Castle and
meeting John Carradine. Being on the set of Battlestare:
Galactica and the first Star Trek movie. And I owe it all to
FM. Like Spielberg so
Thanks, Ron, for your "starry-eyed" memories of life with Forry, FM, and some of the stars of the last great days of horror in the movies. You had a "dream job" as far as many Monster Boomers are concerned...including old Renfield!
Article copyright © Ron Waite. Famous Monsters Of Filmland covers and logo are copyrighted by Dynacomm Publications.