Friday, December 5, 2008

R.I.P.: Forrest J. Ackerman

Just a short note in passing to commemorate the death of Forrest J. Ackerman on Thursday. He was 92 years old. He was the founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine dedicated to cinematic horror, fantasy and science fiction. He is credited with introducing the term "sci-fi" to the language. He was also famous for his home in California, the "Ackermansion", which contained over 50,000 volumes and unique items of memorabilia, such as Bela Legosi's Dracula cape and the ring Boris Karloff wore as the Mummy. He was the friend and inspiration to many famous writers and movie personalities in his specialized area, and was the power behind the infamous "Zimmerman treatment"; a proposed outline for a The Lord of the Rings movie that was so bad Tolkien demanded that if they were to make it they would have to give him complete power of veto on any future developments or an enormous wad of cash.

During a very formative part of our lives (mid-70's to early 80's), Famous Monsters was one of our regular reads and a great source of b&w photos of great monsters collected into one place. Before the internet it was one of our few sources of info on the movie genres we so loved. So thanks, Forrest J. Ackerman. I know you didn't believe in any sort of afterlife, but I hope you were pleasantly surprised when Prince Sirki came a-calling.


AlanDP said...

Wouldn't it be awesome to be able to read that treatment!

Brer said...

To clarify a little, FJA was the agent for the film company who sent the treatment written by Morton Grady Zimmerman to JRRT. I have never seen a copy of this script, but tantalizing hints of what it was like can be gleaned from the critical letter JRRT sent to FJA, which is published in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Main objections appear to be the "twee-ification" of certain parts of the script (Tom Bombadil calls Old Man Willow "Old scamp!", the hobbits munch ridiculously long sandwiches, Caras Galadhon in Lothlorien is described as having "delicate spires and tiny minarets"), the concentration on battles to the diminution of the ringbearer's trials, and the over-use of eagles for getting around. Overt "anachronisms" abound, not sanctioned by mention in the original tale, and a general failure of tone in the dialogue is apparent.

It can all be summed up in Tolkien's comment to FJA: "Z[immerman] may think he knows more about balrogs than I do, but he cannot expect me to agree with him."

Babel said...

Another icon leaves us...I'll always love Forry for the fun he brought to the subject matter. He made it seem like harmless fun to fixate on vampires, werewolves, etc., instead of playing up the sick side of it,(like Fangoria) he played up the fantastic. And his unabashed enthusiasm for the talents of many artists considered by the world as second rate, made you look deeper at them as performers and interpreters of classic characters into iconic cultural figures. Bravo, Uncle Forry, and sleep in peace.

Brer said...

I was disappointed that the website "Dead Or Alive", dedicated to the death-notices of the famous, did not consider him famous enough to note. Surely there must be some category he fell in: pop cultural icon, or super-fan, or even minor movie actor. Officianado comes to mind.

Brer said...

I remember when "The Empire Strikes Back" came out, reading in Famous Monsters FJA's excited comment on seeing Yoda: "That's how I would have done the Hobbits!"

I'm sure in his excitement and enthusiasm he never considered the difficulty of having four major characters being puppets. Yoda of course only appeared in a specialized environment, had limited facial expression, and did no difficult stunts as such.

And considering the state of FX in 1958, which was when the treatment was considered, what kind of movie could we have seen? At best something like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad; on the lower end possibly something like The Magic Sword. Even as late as a movie like Willow is disappointing. Still, if someone had the vision, which is the most important element, what kind of movie would we have had?

Dreamcasting for a circa 1958 LOTR! Director, actors, special FX artists? This deserves its' own posting!

Anonymous said...

I vote for Charlton Heston as Strider and Basil Rathbone as Gandalf! NO Mickey Rooney hobbits, though!

Brer said...

Rathbone is definitely high on my list for Gandalf, and is one of the first candidates that leapt to my mind. For Aragorn--"Darby O'Gill and the Little People" came out in 1959, and I think Sean Connery could have handled the role well. A little way-out possibility for either Gandalf or Aragorn woulf be Max von Sydow ("The Seventh Seal" came out in 1957).

Perfect casting of the time for Saruman and Wormtongue would be Torin Thatcher and Walter Burke; Torin Thatcher played the evil sorceror Sakurah in "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad' and Burke was his henchman in "Jack the Giant Killer". Burke could also have done a fine Gollum.