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A Entries
  Forrest J Ackerman
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ACKERMAN, FORREST J
(1916–2008). American science fiction fan and actor.

IMDB credits In his occasional, and usually brief, film appearances, Forrest J. Ackerman always seemed like an amiable amateur, content to do exactly what the director told him to do as best he could while striving to stay out of the way of the other, more capable performers. And, while sometimes given larger roles in cheap, terrible films, he was virtually invisible while making brief, uncredited appearances in major films like King Kong (1976), The Howling (1981), and Michael JACKSON's video Thriller (1983). Clearly, this is not an acting career that demands much analysis; rather, it is the reason why Ackerman was offered all those parts that makes him a figure of critical importance to science fiction film. Of critical importance, because Ackerman was the first and most enthusiastic science fiction film critic.

At a time when their creators regarded horror and science fiction movies as ephemeral junk to be rushed to theaters for a quick profit and then thrown away, Forrest J. Ackerman loved all of those movies; and, since other science fiction fans of his time were mostly devoted to the written literature, Ackerman made the celebration of those films his special mission. His activities on their behalf took many forms: he collected science fiction film props and memorabilia that might otherwise have been discarded; he sought out and talked to the actors, directors, and technicians who made those films, obtaining invaluable information and insights; he launched a magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, featuring articles about old and new genre films; he invented his own fantastic character for comic books, Vampirella, who later became the protagonist of a 1989 film, Vampirella, that naturally included an uncredited Ackerman cameo; and he wrote and edited books about science fiction and horror films, including an evocative tribute to Boris KARLOFF, The Frankenscience Monster (1969). Having become a regular and well-received visitor to science fiction film sets, Ackerman was consequently invited to appear in many of those films as well; but his public activities on behalf of the genre were more influential, as his proselytizing encouraged many other people to acknowledge, or discover, that they loved those films too.

Witness, therefore, the curious rewriting of film history that has now occurred in the public imagination. The cheap old films with Karloff and Bela LUGOSI, the movies about mad scientists and zombies and giant dinosaurs, are the ones that still appear on television, DVDs, and Netflix, and they are regularly remade by modern directors who vainly attempt with bigger budgets and better special effects to recapture their charm and energy; the expensive old films which had lavish budgets, big stars, and Oscar nominations are, with a few conspicuous exceptions, ignored and forgotten. To a large extent, then, the world has come to see film history in the way that Ackerman saw it; and it surely provided consolation to Ackerman in his declining years to witness the world adapting his point of view and seeking him out more than ever to make cameo appearances in nostalgic films and to provide documentaries with expert testimony about the early years of science fiction film. Indeed, with involvement in some 30 films and documentaries during the last five years of his life, making it the most active phase of his film career, it is possible to speculate that all of this attention had a draining effect on this elderly man, contributing to his death at the advanced age of 92.

True, any assessment of Ackerman's career must acknowledge that some of his decisions in later years indicate that he was not always the avuncular, nice old man he purported to be. There is the story, for example, that he badgered a dying Robert BLOCH to sign some of his books and thus make them more valuable, and after vowing to donate his vast collection of science fiction books, magazines, and memorabilia to a library that could forever make them accessible to fans and scholars, he ultimately sold his possessions to several buyers to boost his income. Still, none of these controversies significantly diminished the affection that everyone in the science fiction community long felt for him; as one piece of evidence, I was present at the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention where the genre's coveted "Big Heart Award," recognizing fans who have generously contributed to science fiction, was officially renamed in his honor.

In The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon asks, "Aren't you tired of movie books beginning with Abbott and Costello?" Yes, which is exactly why I would prefer to omit them and instead begin with Ackerman, a lesser-known but more significant contributor to science fiction film. The fact that I am completing a biographical encyclopedia of science fiction film with reasonable expectations of reaching a wide audience is due in large part to Ackerman's herculean efforts on behalf of this field, so it would only be appropriate to grant him the honor of being its very first entry.

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