Forrest J. Ackerman: Science-fiction magazine editor and collector of movie memorabilia

It was as though he had planned it. The last act of Forrest J. Ackerman, the P.T. Barnum of sci-fi and horror, was not to die. The announcement of his death in early November 2008 was premature. He is said to have enjoyed the plaudits of friends and fans. He was able to take a final bow and then died peacefully, in the Los Angeles bungalow he called the "Acker-mini-mansion", several weeks later. But even this was jumping the gun; he had planned to live to 100, like George Burns.

Forrest James Ackerman was born in Los Angeles as the first film studios were beginning to flourish, and never really left his spiritual home; he was the city's great collector. His obsessively accumulated private museum – manuscripts, magazines, books, movie posters, stills, junk – was much less heterogeneous than it seemed, because in the end it was all about showing off the City of Dreams. Some material was, all the same, "imported". He retained, for instance, the seminal first issue of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories, the first English-language science-fiction magazine, which he had bought at the age of nine, in 1926. But most of his energies as a collector were focused directly on the dream world coming to maturity as he did.

The energy involved in assembling – and the heavy financial cost of maintaining – a comprehensive record of the Hollywood film industry never fazed Ackerman, until recent years. For a long time, he kept the 300,000 or so items of the collection in an 18-room house he called the "Ackermansion" (he was an incorrigible punner and coiner of slogans).

At one stage, the Smithsonian Institution designated it one of the 10 most significant private collections in America, but this did not save it in the end. In 1987, financially strapped at last, Ackerman disposed of some highlights. In 2002, in order to cover the devastating medical bills sick Americans so often incur, the Ackermansion was sold and its contents dispersed, almost at random, and an important record of American life was lost.

Though much of his life was spent collecting and showing this material, Forrie Ackerman's own personal career as science-fiction fan and movie buff was exceedingly active. He seemed to know everyone in Los Angeles. As a teenager, he had helped found the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, and as editor of its journal he published the teenaged Ray Bradbury's first story (they remained friends for 70 years).

He edited an army newspaper during the Second World War and afterwards became a literary agent, representing fledgling writers of science fiction. He also wrote soft porn and bad pulp under many pseudonyms; he was central to the fan subcultures which became the reader and viewer base for popular media in 1950s America and later. He invented the term "sci-fi" in 1954, never guessing it would become a derogatory nickname for the genre he loved. He received a Hugo Award in 1953 for fan activities, the first of several honours bestowed on him as the single greatest showman of the science-fiction world.

But Ackerman was probably even more influential in the larger world of Hollywood itself. He had always loved B-movies. The magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, which he created in 1958 and edited until its demise in 1983, inspired future writers like Stephen King, who submitted a teenage story to it, and future film-makers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Ackerman loved everything about movies and movie culture, from schlock to Fritz Lang's Metropolis; and he became part of the saga which obsessed him through dozens (some say hundreds) of cameo appearances in movies from 1944 until shortly before his death.

He was loud, garish, lovable, fertile. He was a booster, a blowhard, and something of a genius. Sometimes he signed his name "4e", or "Forjak", or "The Ackermonster", but no one was fooled, or was meant to be. Everyone who knew anyone in Los Angeles knew it was Forrie.

John Clute

Forrest James Ackerman, writer, editor and collector: born Los Angeles 24 November 1916; married 1957 Wendayne Wahrman (died 1990); died Los Angeles 4 December 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own