Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Biggest Kid

When I was a very young child, I happened upon a magazine in the vast stacks of books, comics, and other printed material that my father was accumulating in preparation for opening his first used bookstore. That magazine had a garish cover featuring a monster.

At seven years of age, I was already a fan of dinosaurs and anything that smacked of the fantastic. The cover hooked me and I picked it up and began reading the text and looking at the enormous wealth of photographs from various monster movies. I was instantly addicted to this magazine. It was Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Published by a guy named James Warren, it was edited by one Forrest Ackerman who, I came to realize, was probably the biggest overgrown kid who ever lived. "Forry" (as he was affectionately know to his legions of fans) was the editor of the coolest magazine on the racks. He was packed with enthusiasm for all things fantastic, the progenitor of some of the worst puns of all time, and purveyor of the wackiest editorial style I'd ever encountered.

While he was a grown-up, he seemed to be no more adult than I was at that age. He soon became my hero. But the thing about Forry is that he wasn't just one of my heroes; he was hero to hundreds--maybe thousands--of young people who would go on to become famous in careers that took them into directing, acting, writing, painting, sculpting, special effects, movie producing, etc. If it was attached somehow to filmmaking or writing or to comics, Forry seemed to touch just about everyone involved in these endeavors.

I finally met Forrest Ackerman when I was an adult, a published author, and the father of a little boy. When my son got the chance to meet this man, he treated my little boy with the same attitude that he took with everyone who met him: respect. Andy ended up spending most of that day hanging around Forry, listening to him tell his tales, and getting an education in all things out of fantastic "Horrorwood". Forry had made another fan.

About six months later, my son accompanied me to another convention where I was selling collectibles. He walked into the dealer's room with me and saw Forry standing across the huge hall. "Look, Daddy! It's Mr. Ackerman!" And he dashed off to say hello to his new hero. I knew he was in good company and had to smile as Forrest Ackerman looked down with a grin to see my tiny boy rushing up to him to say hello. The image still brings a tear to my eye.

Well, at the age of almost 92, Forry is dying. Likely, he won't be with us much longer. A life-long atheist, he has no illusions about waking up in some never-never land when that big heart finally stops beating. I'm assured that he's resting comfortably, waiting for the end, while well wishes pour in from his contemporaries--guys like Ray Bradbury, Ray Harryhausen, Richard Matheson, William Nolan--and the folk he influenced when he was editing FM and they were all little kids on their ways to not growing up--just like Forrest Ackerman.

We're all of us that he touched nothing but big, overgrown kids.

In spite of whatever faults he may have had, he has given unmeasured joy to generations of his fans who look to their imaginations. Thank you for adding to a life-time of wonder, Forry!

These three guys were actually childhood pals: Forrest Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury. Thankfully, none of them ever really stopped being children filled with fantastic dreams.


dogboy443 said...

That's an amazing threesome!!!

James Robert Smith said...

Ain't it??!!

And they were pals since high school!