06 December 2008

Farewell, Forry

Forrest AckermanForrest ("Forry") J. Ackerman has died at 92 (reported many places, including here and here).

If you knew Forry Ackerman, you were one degree of separation from everything connected to science fiction and fantasy in the 20th century. He was an architect of today's society. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and thousands more like them learned about movies through Forry's Famous Monsters of Filmland, for decades the only SF magazine about film and TV until Starlog came on the scene.

I can't say I knew him, but had the honor of seeing and meeting him a couple of times.

The first, at Norwescon, he brought the voice of H.G. Wells to the fans. Ackerman had seen a talk by Wells when he was young, and decided that he would try to memorize the way Wells spoke and some of his words. he had been inspired by one child who was so moved by Lincoln's Gettysburg address that he memorized it and would recite it in Lincoln's style to preserve it. Ackerman relayed his surprise that Wells had a thin, high voice, almost like one of old ladies in Monty Python skits. And the phrase was something like, "I am going to talk to you about the war. [Not certain if it was "war," actually.] East is east. West is west. And the two are coming together with a bang."

Additional: A better recounting of Ackerman's anecdote is here.

RYAN: MR. ACKERMAN, YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR [AUTHOR H.G. WELLS) SPEAK. WHAT DO REMEMBER ABOUT THAT?

Ackerman: It was 1938. It was predicted that 100 years into the future that on top of Mt. Everest, a statue would be erected in his memory, 'First of Civilized Men.' When he spoke, because he had given us WAR OF THE WORLDS and TIME MACHINE and so on, I thought he'd have this deep, sonorous, Orson Welles personality. I was very surprised to hear he had this squeaky little voice. He had this small rolly-polly, bloody complexion and said [in a high accented voice], 'I am going to talk to you for about an hour. Today, East is West, and West is East, and they're coming together with a bang.' He was very prophetic, because unfortunately we went to war with Japan.

The second time, at Con*Cept, I had more opportunity to hear him. He was in Montréal tracking down a rare edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. He gave an hour long panel talking about some of his many experiences. He talked about his love of Esperanto, and complimenting a beautiful woman in the audience in Esperanto. He expressed how disappointed he was with Tim Burton's movie Ed Wood, a depiction Forry said was terrible. (Forry had been Wood's agent.)

I asked him if, in building his renowned collection of sci-fi memorabilia, there were any pieces that he had tried to get for his collection that "got away," as I phrased it. His reply was not what I had expected, and he talk about items that had literally got away because someone had stolen them from his house.

At the end of his panel, I was able to get an autograph from him on -- of all things -- a Vampirella trading card. (Vampirella was a character Ackerman named that was undergoing a resurgence of popularity at the time.)

Robert J. Sawyer's post on meeting Forry gives a good sense of the well known generosity of the man.

I have to disagree with the reports that say he died from heart failure. A heart like his would never fail -- only stop.

2 comments:

Bill Chapman said...

It was interesting to see the mention of Esperanto here. Forry was indeed a pioneering advocate of the language.

Your readers may gain the idea that Esperanto is something historical or experimental. In fact this planned second language is spoken by a growing population of people across the world. Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net

Zen said...

The fun thing was, even though I am certain nobody other than Forry spoke Esperanto, the words were similar enough to other European words that the woman in the audience recognized the compliment, smiled and said, "Thank you."