Interview with Forrest J. Ackerman (FJA) by Rusty Nails (RN) and Eric Eichelberger (EE).
QRN: What was life like for you as a child?
AFJA: Well, I was send to seven Sunday schools and I rebelled and at the age of fifteen I became a born again Atheist. I am now 87 and I have never had any reason to change my mind.
QRN: What kind of things did you do for fun when you were a kid?
AFJA: I was a real loner. I went through High School without attending any of the dances or Football rallies or anything. I just did my work at school and came home as quickly as I could and at 3:30 PM via typewriter I was communicating by the time I was fifteen with a hundred and twenty-seven Science Fiction fans from around the world in Russia, England, Scotland, Ireland. Only one of the 127 was a female. Today it is about 50/50, 50 males and 50 females in the Science Fiction world, but they were as rare as a Unicorn’s horn in the early days. In 1929 I created what was called “The Boys Scientifiction Club.” In the beginning they melded Scientific and Fiction together into one word “Scientifiction.” We had nothing against girl members except there virtually weren’t any. It was all young fellows around my age and it was a correspondence club. In order to join you sent one book or three magazines with a complete serial in them. It was ten cents a month. In those days, a two cent stamp brought me mail in the morning at 11oclock and a second delivery at two in the afternoon. I believe I could send a book or a magazine anywhere in the United States, I think it was just two cents a copy. So, I became the club librarian and was mailing books and magazines out to young fans all around the United States.
QRN: When you were doing the correspondence, how did you find out? Was there an ad in a magazine or something?
AFJA: No ads but, Hugo Gernsback, the editor and publisher of the original “Amazing Stories,” had a department called “The Reader Speaks.” Every issue there were letters from fans, and he included their addresses. One day in 1929, I believe, I was a little under the weather and staying home from school and I got my first letter from a fan, Linus Hoganmiller of Farmington, Missouri. He was a boy about my age, and I was so excited. There was a saying, “It is a sad and lonely thing to be a Science Fiction fan.” In the beginning that was true. It was such a rare breed. You didn’t bump into Science Fiction fans all the time as you do today. Today we have The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films and I see 104 Fantastic films a year as a member of that society. In my day, a Science Fiction film was a real rare thing. In the first issue of the first fan magazine “The Time Traveller” I had the first article which was a compendium of all know Imagine-Movies. There were just 32 that I was aware of like Metropolis, and The Lost World, and The Invisible Man. I was fortunate that I picked the right pair of maternal grandparents. They took me to my first film in 1923, when I was 5 1/2 years old. In that film, which was called One Glorious Day, for the first time on the screen I saw a spook. There was a little kid who had died and gone to heaven. In the first reel, they kicked him out of heaven because he caused such a commotion up there and for the rest of the film we in the audience could see him, but the actors couldn’t. The man was going to light a cigarette and this little imp would blow it out, and I found that hysterically funny. And, then a man named Lon Chaney began to make movies just for me: The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Monster…etc. I guess there is just two of us left, one old lady in Mexico and I. She and I both saw the lost film London After Midnight.
QRN: So there are no more prints anywhere that exist of that film?
AFJA: Seems to be lost.
QRN: Well, hopefully they will dig something up. I think I heard something of that film existing somewhere. Hopefully, for all the other fans in the world…
AFJA: Once or twice a year I would hear somebody down in Australia would say I was looking at a TV commercial the other night and I recognized that was from London After Midnight so I ran down to the station and they said oh, yes. He was going to airmail me a copy of it within a week and years later I am still waiting for that copy from Australia.
QRN: Was it film or books that first got you interested in Science Fiction and Horror?
AFJA: Well, in October 1926 little nine year old me was standing in front of a newsstand and a magazine called Amazing Stories jumped off the newsstand and grabbed ahold of me. You are too young to know, but in those days magazines spoke and that one said, “Take me home little boy. You will love me!” So, 300,000 things grew from that one magazine.
QRN: That’s excellent. Did you ever get to meet Lon Chaney Sr.
AFJA: No, Lon Chaney Sr. died in 1930. I was living in San Francisco at the time. I never got to meet him, but I met H.G. Wells and shook his hand and I knew Fritz Lang very intimately, the man who directed my favorite film Metropolis, which I have now seen 102 times. One magic hour every word that was coming out of Boris Karloff’s mouth, I had put into it. I wrote a record album and was present when he was recording it. I was with Bela Legosi just two weeks before he died and I have known John Carradine and Elsa Lanchester and met Malena Dietrich when I was fifteen years old. There was a young actor opposite her, it was his second film I don’t know if he went on to make other films or not: Cary Grant? Oh, he did. (laughter) Stop Smiling!
QRN: What was the first movie set that you ever stepped onto?
AFJA: I believe that is the first time I have been asked a question that I haven’t been asked before. Well, possibly it was The Time Travelers, because I had a little cameo in that. I have now had 104 cameos. I play president of the United States in Amazon Women on the Moon. The next film, which hasn’t been released yet, is called Turkeys in Outer Space. I graduated and became president of the world and then after two terms I was out of a job and all I could get was to be a judge in Nudist Colony of the Dead.
QRN: Out of all of the people you have met, who would you say is surprisingly the nicest compared to what you would expect?
AFJA: Well, there is a film called The Unholy Three, and the Holy Three to my mind were Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price. 15 years after Boris Karloff had died, Vincent was flying over to Barcelona to meet up with me for a week long Fantasy Film Festival. He said during the night a lady came to him all excited and said, “Oh, sir, can I have your autograph? I can’t tell you how many years I have enjoyed your films, Mr. Karloff.” (Laughter) So, Vince Price brought Boris Karloff back to life, the only autograph fifteen years after he died. Two years ago, I was in London for a showing with Ray Harryhausen of the original King Kong, and as I was leaving the audience a woman came up to me and said, “Sir, were you the man in the gorilla suit?” and I said, “Oh, no. That was my father. I was too young.” (laughter)
QRN: What is it about Science Fiction first, and Horror second…What is it about those genres that is interesting to you?
AFJA: Science Fiction is my prime time favorite. I guess because I was born with an inquisitive mind. I feel I am only going to pass this way once and I want to pack as many fascinating experiences as possible into my lifetime. And since I won’t be here 100 or 1000 or 1 million years from now, I have been taken by the hand by authors like A.E. Van Vote, and H.G. Wells, and Olef Stapleton, and I have time traveled in both directions to prehistoric times and to the future. I am putting the finishing touches at the moment to my autobiography, which I call My Life in a Time Machine. As for Horror and monsters, I am not personally so interested in all that area, but it has made me famous of sorts and given me a living and a lot of adulation. At one time there were 1300 boys and girls, readers of my Famous Monsters of Filmland, who wanted to meet me, so I zigged and zagged, driving all over the United States for seven weeks meeting as many as possible of these young readers. I remember I went thirty-five miles out of my way to Niles, Michigan because the boy had written me, “Mr. Ackerman, if you will visit me, there will be fifty here for you.” Well, there was one boy and forty-nine sheep”
QRN: How were the sheep as an audience? (Laughs) I bet you got some free coats out of that one. Since you were a larger fan of Science Fiction, why wasn’t Famous Monsters perhaps Famous Science Fiction?
AFJA: Well, during the time that I was editing Famous Monsters the publisher let me loose with a Science Fiction magazine called Space Men, and in that I was able to cover The Woman in the Moon, and Metropolis, and The Invisible Man, and Destination Moon and so on. But, it didn’t turn out to be a money-maker and afternine issues the publisher said, “ I am not a altruist. I am in business to make money.” So, he cancelled that publication.
QRN: What are some of the great unknown Science Fiction movies in your opinion?
AFJA: Well, they are not unknown, but little known are the works of Olef Stapleton, the English author. Books like Last and First Men and its sequel Last Men in London and Serious, about an intelligent dog, virtually everything Stapleton ever wrote. And, H.G. Wells’ Star Begotten and a novel called The Four Sided Triangle by the British author William F. Temple. A lot of the early John Tane novels and novels by Stanton A. Coblitz. I am quite an archivist of the past. I feel that the golden age of Science Fiction has passed. We would do well to revive a number of the great stories by Henry Cutner and Arthur C. Clarke and Hine Line and H.G. W