In 1957, classic Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s were experiencing a renaissance as they began syndication on TV stations across the country.
At much the same time, a group of American Sci-Fi fans traveled overseas to attend the World Science Fiction Convention. Among their group was Forrest J Ackerman, one of the founders of science fiction fandom and one of the first to have spent his entire life amassing a collection of books and movie memorabilia. On his travels he spotted a French magazine about a then-current horror film, and when he bought it for his collection, unknowlingly took the first step on a new path.
“On the cover was Henry Hull as the Werewolf of London. That attracted me, and inside I found the entire issue was dedicated to imagi-movies,” Ackerman recalled years later.
“I stopped in New York on the way back home to California. At the time, I had been involved as a literary agent specializing in science fiction. I’d been selling to a magazine called After Hours, which was a kind of a poor man’s Playboy; it was edited and published by a fellow named James Warren.”
“Warren knew I was in town, so he came to meet me at my hotel, and we went down the street to an eating place. I told him about the convention and then I showed him this movie magazine from France. Well, in his mind’s eye, he could immediately see it turning into English. As he began reading and translating the text he found it all rather dry and didactic, which he felt wouldn’t exactly appeal to an American audience.”
“At that point he was ready to give up on the notion, but I spoke up and I said, ‘Well, I have about 35,000 stills at the present time. I’ve been seeing these fantastic movies ever since I was 5½, back in 1922. I’m sure I can put together a magazine like this for you.’”
“When he came out to my home [in Los Angeles] and saw that, indeed, I did have 35,000 stills, the next thing I knew I was sitting at a dining room table with an old mechanical typewriter, and he was sitting opposite me with a sign which read, ‘I’m 11½ years old and I am your reader. Forry Ackerman, make me laugh!’”
“At the time there were thirteen distributors and every last one of them had turned down the idea of a magazine with crazy messed-up faces in it. That might have been the end of it, but right about then Life magazine came to his rescue with a feature on the runaway success of teenage monster movies such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. After that issue appeared, one of the magazine distributors remembered that crazy editor who’d been around. That distributor called Warren back, and when Warren again brought up the idea of Wonderama, the distributor told him, ‘No, no, forget about that—put monsters on the cover and you’re in business.’ He didn’t care much what was inside as long as it was appealing to the teenage crowd that was into monsters.”
“Well, that didn’t make me too happy; I had really wanted a serious publication. I had no original intention of funning around with fantasy films. But that was what was required, so for about twenty hours a day I sat in front of a typewriter so hot it was smoking (I was afraid I was going to die of cancer, it was smoking so badly). At about four in the morning, publisher Warren and I would go over to a 24-hour eating place for orange juice, coffee, and hot cakes. After that I would take him to his motel, then four hours later, pick him up at about eight o’clock in the morning and away we would go. It went on for days and days like that, but in the end we had a magazine we were both reasonably happy with—it was the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland.”
The February 1958 magazine was merely envisioned as a one-shot. But while there had been movie magazines about celebrities and major motion pictures, never before had there been a nationally-distributed magazine about a single genre. Much to their surprise, it sold beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, requiring several reprints. Warren, smartly, asked Ackerman to produce more issues.
Ackerman’s love for the field was on every page. He approached the subject with a child’s enthusiasm. He featured the classic horror movie monsters such as Frankenstein and Dracula, but approached them with reverence (and irreverence) as he regularly used puns to keep himself, and his readers, entertained.
The magazine proved a success and was the foundation for Warren’s publishing empire which later comprised other classic titles Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.
Over time, Ackerman’s coverage went from the monsters and their portrayers to those who actually made the movies. He interviewed the directors, producers and screenwriters, making their names as familiar as those of Chaney, Karloff and Lugosi. Forry went a step further, spotlighting the makeup artists and special effects masters of the day, pulling back the curtain on the movie making process.
An entire generation of readers was heavily influenced by this magazine since nowhere else was this information available. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker, Guillermo del Toro, Steven King, and John Landis—all of whom have found great success in the entertainment business—point to FM as their inspiration.
The magazine spawned annuals and one-shots with Ackerman helming every issue until 1983. After a disagreement with Warren, Forry withdrew from his offspring. The magazine limped on without him for one last issue, shutting down after FM #191.
Now, Famous Monsters of Filmland is back. We aim to be the destination site for fans of horror films, literature, role playing games, comic books and the entire field of the fantastic. We’ll be growing and evolving regularly, largely based on your feedback and participation. Don’t be shy, but step into our new cobwebbed crypt and make your presence felt.