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The Forrest J Ackerman Effect…

09 Jun

Well, the third part of the Silent Porn Star interview about my life as a smut scribe has just been published here, and it’s stirred up even more memories seeing it online…

Now, the first magazine I edited, in 1982 after being its staff writer for almost a year, was GAME.

By 1983 I was much better at evocative coverlines than when I started editing in 1982.

By 1983 I was much better at evocative coverlines than when I started editing in 1982.

As an editor I had three influences, besides learning the basics of the job from my predecessor at GAME, a great lady who called herself “Doc Silver.” I had read A. Scott Berg’s biography Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius in 1979, and that formed my mental template of how an editor should compassionately and constructively deal with his writers or, in my case, writers and photographers and porn stars and nude models. Perkins was patient and dedicated to bringing out the best of the great talents he edited, people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Wolfe.

This was the cover of the paperback edition of this great book.

This was the cover of the paperback edition of this great book.

My second influence was John Willie, the fetish artist whose BIZARRE magazines from the 40s and 50s I came upon in Times Square porn shops in the early 70s.

This is one of the first of John Willie's Bizarre mags that I saw in Times Square in the 70s.

This is one of the first of John Willie’s Bizarre mags that I ever saw.

In their quirky individualism, these BIZARRE magazines were antecedents to what eventually would be called “zines,” and I was very much attracted to the idea of doing a periodical in that idiosyncratic way, openly expressing my obsessions (in my case, for femdom or butts or legs or pinup style beauty), just as John Willie did with his interests in BDSM in the pages of BIZARRE. I was able to express myself in a oft-quirky way sometimes when I became a porn editor, depending on the amount of editorial oversight the various publishers gave me.

My other influence as an editor was Forrest J Ackerman, who edited FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, a magazine I read especially in my pre-adolescence in the early 60s and later too, which helped foster my love not just for horror films but movies in general.

Many parents of that era found covers like this rather disturbing! But kids loved them.

Many parents of that era found covers like this rather disturbing! But kids loved them.

Forrest J Ackerman in the Ackermansion in the mid-20th century

Forrest J Ackerman in the Ackermansion in the mid-20th century

Like Perkins, FJA (or 4SJ as he also liked to be known) had a great love and positive attitude toward the material he worked with (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror); a positive attitude toward his contributors (Ackerman was also an agent to many prominent sci-fi and fantasy authors); and an especially positive attitude toward the fans of his magazine, young and older. When I first edited FOR ADULTS ONLY magazine in 1983, I started the issues with a section of “what’s coming up next in porn movies” that I deliberately modeled in tone on Ackerman’s enthusiastic “coming next in horror” sections in FAMOUS MONSTERS.

Ackerman’s influence on creative people cannot be underestimated, whether he was mentoring them as writers or filmmakers, or giving them tours of his “Ackermansion” in Los Angeles, which was filled with an incredible collection of movie memorabilia.

What I personally got from Ackerman about the art of editing, just by reading his magazines from the time I was about eleven and absorbing subconsciously, was the need for strong pictures; powerful covers; catchy headlines and blurbs; and most of all, the use of humor in material where it might seem a little incongruous. Ackerman mixed puns and jokes with his descriptions of horror films, a blend which worked in his hands. I similarly found when editing sex magazines that the careful and judicious use of humor provided an additional release for the readers, even though some people believed that erotica and humor do not go together.

A terrific new documentary entitled The Ackermonster Chronicles, available here at JaSunni Productions, takes you into the life of this extraordinary man, from his beginnings as a science-fiction fan in the 1920s to his magazine editing in the 50s and 60s and beyond, to his mentoring of many talents like the film director Joe “Gremlins” Dante or John “American Werewolf in London” Landis.

Uncle Forry's colorful life from 1916-2008!

Uncle Forry’s colorful life from 1916-2008!

The documentary also discusses Ackerman’s interest in erotica, which I knew little about before. I had read previously elsewhere that he was a fan of burlesque and striptease, especially in the 50s, but not that he also had a collection of erotica and that he contributed fiction to the first lesbian zine ever. The movie tells the wild story of how Forry got in trouble with the postal authorities for having a mail correspondence with a male married janitor who pretended he was a lesbian! So the flick is interesting not just as a piece of cinematic and editorial history, but also as sex history. Producer and director Jason V Brock is to be commended for a fascinating piece of work.

Ackerman was great friends with Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen too.

Ackerman was great friends with Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

I got to meet Forrest J Ackerman in person once myself, around 2000, when I attended a fan convention in Virginia. I brought along a copy of Phantom X to give to him, the porn version of The Phantom of the Opera, which I’d written for director Paul Thomas in 1989, knowing that the 1925 Lon Chaney version of the story was one of Forry’s favorite films. At the time I felt a little embarrassed to give this eightysomething gent a porn tape, not knowing that he was an “honorary lesbian” and fan of erotica himself! His image as “Uncle Forry,” editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS, creator of VAMPIRELLA, and avuncular icon to his fans, many of whom were kids, never seemed to intersect with porn–but as the documentary makes clear, erotica played a part in Ackerman’s life, and pinups even helped Forry get through World War 2 in a funny and unique way: he used girlie photos given to him by a friend in order to give his fellow recruits the impression that he was a ladies’ man, instead of the anxious virgin he actually was when he went off to war! But check out the DVD for the full details of this anecdote, and many more. Forry’s kindness and encouragement to many people are recalled in the great array of interviews in this fine film.

———–

I found the scan of the GAME cover at OldMags.com; the scan of the Max Perkins book here; the scan of Bizarre here; the scan of FAMOUS MONSTERS here; and the picture of Forrest J Ackerman here.

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3 responses to “The Forrest J Ackerman Effect…

  1. Jason V Brock

    June 9, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I love it! Thanks so much!

     
    • irvoneil

      June 9, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Thank YOU, Jason, for a most enjoyable documentary! I showed it to some buddies and they got a kick out of it, too. What a character Forry was, and it’s great that you got to do all those interviews with him & his friends.

       

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