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Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Little More Dr. No

What sort of American audience awaited James Bond in 1963? I hadn’t appreciated how familiar spy-spoofing was pre-007 until a recent airing of The Road To Hong Kong, a Hope-Crosby feature released a year before Dr. No, but remarkable for its parallel plot and situations. It was almost as though Bob and Bing were lampooning Bond before we’d been properly introduced to the character. Plenty was in the air to herald a cycle of super-spying and increased sex/violence tempos we credit to UA’s series. British advances since the mid-fifties were a secret kept largely from us thanks to spotty playdates groundbreakers received in the US. Violent rhythms of 007 to come were revealed in the pre-credit sequence of 1959’s Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, and there was Sean Connery amongst participants in a shoot-out edited much in the fashion of Bond openers (even as it preceded them by several years). Horror and science fiction out of Hammer suggested new directions as well, but other than certified hits The Curse Of Frankenstein and Horror Of Dracula, few beyond youths were going to see them (Enemy From Space, aka Quatermass II, had only 5,473 bookings with domestic rentals of $148,602 in this country). A distinctive nervous tempo was  common thread woven into UK thrill-making, with producers before, and besides Bond, quickening pace and making our thrillers look old-fashioned. Dr. No might well have been the first time many adults (in this country) experienced such a punch familiar to their offspring via matinee viewings of newly toughened Tarzans and monsters played more for keeps. Picture yourself grown up and cosseted on a pre-1963 diet of action staged placidly in domestic fare, and suddenly there’s Dr. No's Strangways and his secretary shot down in a way so startling, so modern, that I’m still (happily) disoriented by it. Imagine how it played new, but consider too how quickly Dr. No would be supplanted and rendered passé by slicker Bond models. I remember seeing it a first time on the 1965 reissue with From Russia With Love and thinking how primitive it seemed compared to the recent Goldfinger. A short review in Castle Of Frankenstein that Spring (1965) indicated I wasn’t alone in reacting so … The years have already hurt the first of the Bond series; slickness of later films make this one seem awkward by comparison. Honing the formula did abbreviate the freshness of previous Bonds, but was awkwardness necessarily a bad thing? The more I see of Dr. No, the more endearing its gaucheries become, those edges all the better for being rougher.

My preferred Bond (and Connery) is Dr. No’s unpolished merger between a character in development and a leading man learning the ropes. Polish translates too often to predictable, and early Connery/Bond is anything but. Was 007 intended to be so surly and abrupt, even with presumed colleagues in the field? I like his outburst when told that Crab Key is off limits, as though straining at the bit to push forward the investigation and letting no slower device (or line reading) get in his way. Notice how Connery locks the door in his hotel room and yanks out the key. He’s even aggressive at strapping on a shoulder holster, both these performed while alone and with no threat imminent. My greatest pleasure in Dr. No comes of watching this unseasoned actor play at being a seasoned agent. The film takes its time and lets Bond putter about the room laying traps for would-be intruders (but wouldn’t any one of them notice a briefcase latch covered in talcum powder --- and the clearly visible fingerprints they leave behind?). I was even inspired to pluck a hair off my own head and spread it across closet doors at home just as 007 did, and it might have worked as effectively, but for several shades lighter color that make locating the strand afterward nearly impossible. Getting to know James Bond gave us access to commonplace rituals thought unnecessary in later films. Dr. No finds the agent changing in and out of suit coats, adjusting his cuffs, and seeing to matters of dress and deportment that amount to privileged views we’d not enjoy once the series found its stride. I enjoy watching Bond merely detect, routine investigation being the presumed lot of even an MI-6 man. Phrasing archaic by 1963, but pleasingly maintained in dialogue, includes 007 referring to himself as a clay pigeon, Crab Key as my beat, and in a Connery take on a line referring to casing the joint, tacit awareness that it’s dated and that he (and we) are hep to that. Dr. No is admirable too for holding its exotica in check until at least the second half, even if that makes it seem trifling in comparison with later ones in the series. Jamaican scenics are grounded in a welcome reality of gravel roads, calypso bars, and airy porches. It wasn’t yet policy to find only those locations most glamorous for Bond to visit, a suffocating aspect of entries where a Pierce Brosnan was so freighted with product placement and overwhelming backgrounds as to evaporate into them.

I assumed right through the sixties that England was a power player on the world stage. That came of going to movies lots more than reading newspapers. Practical considerations seldom intruded upon my confidence in Bond and his devices, though I wondered why a man who prevailed so handily at gaming tables would bother exposing himself to the bother and risk of being a secret agent. However tongue-in-cheek the Bonds played, always-lush production and those massive sets commanded my respect and neutralized whatever doubts I’d entertain as to their social and political assumptions. It was trust I kept, along with countless others similarly impressionable, that got critics hot enough under collars to brand 007 fascist or at the least a very bad influence. Dour spy films were correctives to Bond’s irresponsibility, but (comparatively) lower domestic rentals even for quality the likes of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold ($2.9 million) showed our preference for agents we could laugh with (or at). Maybe there was comfort in knowing that for all the sinister power wielded by Soviet and US opponents, there was a SPECTRE looming that trumped both. At a time of such international uncertainties, a worldwide organization devoted to criminal pursuits was not only believable, but likely. The biggest noise Bond made at the time of Dr. No was with a silencer. Oft-referenced casual killing of Anthony Dawson’s Professor Dent was, I’m sure, a calculated bid to separate (absolutely so) James Bond from crimefighters that had gone before. It is a moment still startling, thanks icy way Connery plays it. His hesitation after Dawson attempts to fire his spent pistol was not unlike Jack Palance savoring the moment before killing a defenseless Elisha Cook in Shane, only this time it’s the presumed hero in cold-blooded assassin mode. Judging by Dent’s expressed willingness to talk just prior to his second, and again failed, attempt on Bond’s life, it would seem more practical for 007 to take him in for what would have undoubtedly proven a fruitful interrogation, but as we’re by now tired of the functionary’s double-dealing, it’s as satisfying to see him disposed of, however questionable JB’s morality in doing so.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another Merry Little James Bond Christmas

Who’d have thought James Bond would make his stateside debut in America’s dustbowl? A glittering Hollywood or Manhattan premiere was more what I’d have expected for Dr. No, a red carpet laid before the most successful of all movie franchises to date, but 007 was hardly that in Spring of 1963 when United Artists saturated 450 Midwest theatres and drive-ins. Dr. No loomed large overseas from its UK debut in October 1962. The film is said to already have recouped its negative cost in its initial engagements in England and on the continent alone, was The Motion Picture Herald's tip, their review comparing James Bond favorably with past boxoffice reliables Charlie Chan and The Thin Man. Said negative costs had amounted to $1.211 million, with intent to do more thrillers based on Ian Fleming backlog. Those were known, if not widely sold, in the US. President Kennedy confessed to liking them in a 1961 LIFE magazine profile, but how many Podunk moviegoers shared his tastes? One look at the completed Dr. No and UA merchandisers figured they had an actioner best introduced in further-flung outposts. James Bond might, in fact, develop momentum enough there to spread word-of-mouth toward both coasts. Advance selling would be needed in any case to acquaint both press and public with a character and hopeful star barely known to Yank moviegoers. UK imports were challenging merchandise at best. Most wilted at art houses and exchange shelves. A British (cultural) invasion was imminent but not yet upon us. Dr. No differed for being keyed from its start to reach an international audience, with action and sex the focal points crossing borders everywhere. United Artists was committed to James Bond, viewing the series as a long-range investment likely to gather momentum even if initial returns were modest. UA marketers had announced long-range promotional plans back in December 1961 before cameras began rolling on Jamaican locations in January of the following year. The campaign will precede the film's release by five or six months and will seek to establish James Bond, Fleming's British secret service agent, as a new Thin Man or Philip Marlowe character. UA also pledged at that time to hold down release of series entries to one per year or preferably at eighteen-month intervals. The American campaign began in earnest with a showing of theatre and television trailers to UA field men and trade press in February of 1963. Exhibitors were encouraged to use tie-ups (particularly the paperbacks) rather than just running the pressbooks ads, as 007’s penetration into the national consciousness was very much a goal yet to be accomplished. Part of their effort toward that was bringing the man himself, or at least the actor portraying him, to US shores for a nationwide publicity sweep. Thus did Sean Connery and James Bond make their domestic bow at a raucous showmen’s confab in Kansas City, a trade ad for which is shown here. Would 007 Brag or Drag in ’63?

A "traveling kit" of Dr. No related publicity was in circulation from February 18, with stops at media outlets and placement on editor’s desks. Exhibitors could purchase at cost, and by April 1, over 150 of them had. Boxed sets of the Fleming novels found their (gratis) way to magazines and newspapers, for selling James Bond encompassed more than a mere push for Dr. No. The latter would be 1963’s Midwest/Southwest "project" picture, those territories becoming labs to test what was still regarded an uncertain product. Suggestions from participating showmen would be incorporated into the final campaign. Launching Dr. No in the heartland was anything but surrender, for central US managers were among those most aggressive where it came to grassroots selling, their public likeliest to fill drive-in lots during a hot 1963 summer. Rural acceptance for 007 would after all help seal UA’s urban deal to come. Sean Connery and his retinue of "James Bond Girls" (clad in bikinis or other revealing costumes, as in this pose during a New York press conference, and in more conventional attire with Connery and exhibs at the Kansas City meet) were both incentive and good will outreach to showmen expected to put best foot forward on the project’s behalf. Histories to come would accuse United Artists of dumping Dr. No, but 450 (initial) prints and a saturation opening to encompass Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, and Minneapolis was no dismissive gesture, even if Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli would later disparage it. We were telephoned from New York and told the film was opening in drive-in cinemas in Texas and Oklahoma, so as to get the investment back quickly, from which I gathered their confidence in it was low. Was Broccoli aware of national exposure UA arranged during a March and April lead-up to Dr. No's May 8 bow? There were LIFE and TIME features, plus a network boost on ABC’s March 24 Sunday Night At The Movies in which Connery was "introduced" during a twelve-minute segment to a projected viewership of twenty-seven million. The potential audience for Dr. No was well lubed for its mid-west premiere. So who says legitimate birth for any film could only be achieved via delivery in New York or Los Angeles?

Dr. No was hosted for three weeks in fly-over country before landing in New York as part of United Artists’ "Premiere Showcase", booking new product in metropolitan and neighborhood theatres day-and-date with the Broadway opening. These were really just more saturation dates given a new label. The so-called Summer Festival would encompass nine UA releases, designed for the thousands of visitors to the city, as well as the local vacationers, and included The Great Escape, Toys In The Attic, Mouse On The Moon (another UK import), and Call Me Bwana (also from producers Saltzman and Broccoli). Dr. No began May 29 at eighteen theatres, then widened out to eighty NYC venues for mid-summer play-off. Its Washington DC date got a publicity stimulus when the 1963 Memorial Day parade honoring astronaut Gordon Cooper passed a marquee (shown here) with appropriate tribute (James Bond Salutes …). Business was good, if unspectacular, as Dr. No continued its nationwide run. Stunts included girls "wearing" the Fleming novels for street ballys, and the inevitable bikini models displayed where volunteers showed up (generally in exchange for passes and press notice). Such efforts resulted in $2.4 million in domestic rentals, a figure well short of blacker ink generated by other UA hits that season. Irma La Douce was more the horn they were tooting after a first quarter revenue dip the company had experienced (and at which time president Arthur Krim predicted that forthcoming It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Greatest Story Ever Told "would shatter without question all precedents in the history of the motion picture industry"). In fact, Billy Wilder’s comedy received far more in the way of trade ad support (many in full color) than a more self-sufficient Dr. No. Again they predicted (perhaps more accurately this time) that Irma La Douce would be the biggest grossing film in our history, with the exception of the top roadshow attractions, and none matching its holdover power. Irma La Douce eventually took a fantastic $11.920 million in domestic rentals, more than five times Dr. No’s figure.

It was reissues that leveled the playing field for Dr. No, plus foreign rentals way in excess of what the film realized domestically. Once the James Bond craze caught fire with Goldfinger, UA was quick to repackage their first two 007 features. Dr. No and From Russia With Love were offered 4-14-65 as a double feature and at terms of 50% to the distributor. Theatres were swamped, as many fans hadn’t noticed the secret agent prior to seeing Goldfinger. Now they were intent on catching up, and this time Dr. No realized a brisk $2.255 million in domestic rentals, nearly what was recovered during its original release. There would, in fact, be a total of six theatrical waves for Dr. No, including that 4-14-65 combo with Russia, an 8-31-66 parlay with Goldfinger (at which time an alerted UA increased its percentage demand to 60% --- domestic rentals were $645,000), again on 3-29-69 with Goldfinger, a 6-1-71 reunion with Russia, and finally a triple bill of Dr. No with both From Russia With Love and Goldfinger released 6-7-72. As of November 1991, Dr. No had taken $6.446,349 million in domestic rentals and a whopping $16.515,215 in foreign (that number as of 1986). Profits through 1984 were $15.745 million, this including revenues from television showings (ABC began telecasts of Dr. No on 11-10-74, and that sale netted UA an additional $800,000). There were 29,882 domestic bookings of the film, and 90,462 bookings foreign. Dr. No, along with the rest of the James Bond series, has had an incredible shelf life of over forty-five years and counting. A minute doesn't pass when one or more Bond isn’t generating profit somewhere. Dr. No thrives also on Blu-Ray, yet another incarnation, perhaps a best so far, for one of filmdom’s truest evergreens.
The End of Dr. No --- Part One, but James Bond Will Return in Dr. No --- Part Two

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stateside Theatres Of War

There’s nothing like the urgency you get from World War Two films made during that conflict. Imagine how they played to audiences still in doubt as to its outcome. Whatever tension was generated on screen was redoubled by real-life anxiety over who’d win or lose. Were the likes of Flying Tigers and Across The Pacific there as much for reassurance as escape? Looking back from our comfortable distance makes it easy to wax superior over cliches and wrong then and wrong now attitudes, but how many films since have confronted such an imperative, with the very survival of democracy hanging in the balance? I’d have sure looked to Bogart and John Wayne as counterweights to headlines appearing in 1942, a year mostly bleak for the Allies. Theatres were a refuge that promised ultimate victory with a necessary caution that getting there would be rough and demand sacrifice. Unlike dreamscapes of the thirties, wartime movie houses were recruitment and basic training sites for home-fronters anxious (or not) to do their civilian part. You ran a gauntlet of war bond selling booths positioned in most lobbies. Kids rolled discarded tires to scrap drives showmen sponsored. There was no more prominent community center than a theatre in small towns, and no experience so intense as moviegoing with stakes this high. Content of newsreels was trumpeted in newspaper ads. Captured Jap Footage or Fall Of Corregidor were as much lures as features, even double ones. It was vital in early days of war to give the impression we were whipping the Japanese even as they were actually creaming us. For whatever pleasures are had watching Flying Tigers and Across The Pacific, it’s all so much quicksilver compared with excitement and encouragement they provided to 1942 patrons far more in need of it than we’ll (hopefully) ever be.

Calendars are the stuff of high drama in both Flying Tigers and Across The Pacific. A date shown close-up assured gasps of recognition and grim foreknowledge of dreadful things about to happen. Timeliness was advantage for war stories. Set the action in months just previous and features became an extension of newsreels preceding them, a kind of seamless narrative lots more realistic than movies had been before. Flying Tigers was shot during May-July 1942 and released in October. It told of Americans volunteering to help the Chinese rout Japanese oppressors in the air. Their war become ours when a third act set-piece shows John Wayne and others listening to President Roosevelt declare war just after Pearl Harbor. Action stops for this and we linger over troubled expressions as the speech is heard in its near-entirety. I’m betting very little popcorn went into mouths as the President spoke and Wayne reacted. Flying Tigers was barely rejiggered from aerial dramas Howard Hawks (Only Angels Have Wings and Ceiling Zero) and others had done, though they lacked blood-quickening propaganda values furnished by a real-life war. Familiar narrative devices of reckless pilots and cowardice aloft were buttressed by opponents foreign, sinister, and since Pearl Harbor, easy to hate. Never had the "other" exhibited such otherness. Japanese pilots in Flying Tigers are subhuman and lethal. They wear caps with mangy fur linings. When shot down (often), they clutch throats and upchuck blood (imagine post-December 7 cheering at that!). Ads shown here are first-run and mince few words as to Flying Tigers’ propaganda mission --- To Blast to Bloody, Burning Hell The Sneaking Japs Who Unleashed Their Terror On The World. Patrons might indeed have benefited by issuance of Valium tablets with their concessions for appeals so forceful as this!

Flying Tigers was the only feature in 1942’s top twenty not produced by a major studio. Small-timer Republic had never had product so grand, or timely, as this to sell. Budget was set at $264,384, but negative costs ran to $397,690. The company accustomed to flat rates for its westerns and serials now demanded 35% for Flying Tigers. They’d not have gotten such terms but for John Wayne, now a bonafide "A" star and bound by a Republic contract. You can look at this show and those he did before it and know that Wayne’s essential screen character was born in Flying Tigers. He’s fully formed at last after years in rough draft. No longer the uncertain youth of Stagecoach and Seven Sinners, but a leader of men and warrior of unquestioned judgment. Wayne from this point would remain the sober alternative to recruits brash and green, exemplified in Flying Tigers by John Carroll as go-it-alone hotshot pilot based on the old Cagney model discredited now in a war demanding team effort. To be exemplary in battle meant pitching in for the good of all. One-man bands played mostly in graveyards. Wayne was fortunate for age advantage promoting him to onscreen officer status and roles better suited to underplaying he was best at. It’s efforts of a John Carroll, all smirk and acrobatic eyebrows, that emphasize Wayne’s cooler hand and firmer grip on his audience. As an actor, he could finally benefit for doing less. While Wayne developed his soundstage combatant, eager players like Carroll and James Craig over at MGM followed examples soon to be outmoded, patterning themselves on Clark Gable, the latter service-bound as were many pre-war first-teamers. Wayne knew his career turned upon opportunities he might seize while these rivals served. The decision to stay out of the war probably spared him the afterward fate of many who’d enlisted short of firming up stardom.

Across The Pacific, if not heralding the arrival of Humphrey Bogart as romantic leading man, at least gave him recognition as such after years of varied service to criminal enterprise and "B" leads onscreen. Jack Warner saw ATP and wired home that his studio finally had its own Clark Gable in Bogart, little realizing that his asset was one of greater longevity than he’d suspect. Bogart was like Wayne in shaping a hero for the war that would sustain beyond its conclusion and help redefine masculine codes for a generation to come. He’s more believable for being less fully committed than others who lay down sacrifice without question. Bogart cashiered from the service seems not an unlikely premise. His turning out to be working undercover is frankly less plausible. Despite the several war-themed films they did together, Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet’s characters seem always to function as men without countries, at most figures without loyalty except to themselves. The template established by The Maltese Falcon died hard, but the conversion of self-server Bogart to an Allied calling made hits like Casablanca possible. His patriotic fervor seemed more an informed choice than those of guileless leading men suiting up at the bugle’s first call, but again, it was Bogart’s age and presumed maturity that made his character’s choices more reasoned ones. Across The Pacific combines that equivocation with a playful undermining of the straightforward Know Your Enemy message put forth by Flying Tigers and simpler-minded Jap-slappers. Here we have Sydney Greenstreet as jovial, if untrustworthy, proponent of oriental culture given legitimacy by his appreciation of it. A judo exhibition in Across The Pacific amounts to endorsement of that art as superior to defense tactics of our own. For all the film’s recognition of a cunning and formidable enemy, Across the Pacific’s promotion relied on Yellow Peril devices and a by-now familiar revenge theme (I’ve Been Hoarding This Sock Since December 7, says Bogart in poster art). Its September release brought domestic rentals of $1.3 million against negative costs of $576,000, with foreign an additional $994,000. Final profits of $1.1 million were the largest yet for a Bogart vehicle.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Farewell To The Acker-Monster

A lot of readers are likely to drop off right here upon seeing the name of Forrest J Ackerman and realizing that I intend paying tribute to him and a magazine a lot of them never cared about. Famous Monsters Of Filmland lasted from 1958 to 1983 in its charter run. I doubt if any of its followers stayed for the whole party. FM was very much a magazine grown out of by most who passed its way and looked back later to happier days when Ackerman’s world was their oyster. A lot of them (or us, if you’re still with me) have spent hours since Friday pondering the legacy of a man unknown to most everyone else. Well, after all, there are legends out there in fields of (other people’s) interest I know nothing of. Who’s the leading totem on stamp collecting, or Buffalo Head nickels? It happens Ackerman knew monsters and sci-fi (yes, he introduced that term) better than anyone alive --- but wait, it just occurs to me that someone else must occupy that throne as of this week --- but who? A lot more people care about horrors and fantasy than used to. That’s all been mainstreamed thanks largely to Ackerman. Maybe we give such stuff too much respect in this era of total youth dominance at the boxoffice. Credit (or blame) Forry for that. I might not have weighed in but for so much online tribute inspiring my two-cent deposit. To eulogize FJA is merely to find excuse for trips down our own memory lanes, and these dozens (so far) of posts remind me yet again how similarly our young lives played out during the late fifties and sixties, but where were you people when I was ten and needed you? I used to wonder who else was buying monster mags I’d scoop up at drug stores and our own Rhodes’ Newstand. Boys from school went with me to see Black Sabbath and Plague Of The Zombies, but few were so committed as to spend allowances on Famous Monsters Of Filmland as I did. There was no point mentioning Ackerman for blanks that drew from neighborhood friends. Others speak of but one or so kindred spirit (if that) in towns where they grew up. Did mythic locales thrive where enclaves of FM readers formed monster clubs and trekked to double features en masse? Not in my hometown.

Castle Of Frankenstein may have been the better magazine, certainly the more cerebral one, but they didn’t have Ackerman. His personality drove Famous Monsters. Producers and even horror stars liked having him around. FJA partied with Chris Lee and Vincent Price. Jim Nicholson invited him to sets (here they are collaborating on a werewolf stunt for Bikini Beach). Forry was presentable. In clover days, he wore dark suits and narrow ties. Once I saw a foto (I’m grooving with his syntax!) of Dr. Acula carrying a leopard skinned glasses case in his shirt pocket, which for unknown reason lingers in my memory. Will that be part of an eventual estate sale? The man had a staggering vault before collectors versed in his magazine began to siphon it off. Note walls casually adorned with posters he used to have that are worth serious dollars now. He’d stick them up with thumb tacks and as much reverence as anyone might observe for items they’d bought (or been given) at pocket change rate. Ackerman was said to deal kindly with fans. Hundreds have confirmed as much in the past three days. I’ll Be Glad To Fill In Your Name and Sign It greeted readers to one of many books he piloted once we’d accumulated enough of our own (as opposed to parent’s) disposable income and went looking for that childhood more rewarding in hindsight than so-called maturity and burdens attendant upon it. You might gauge our progress with escalating price tags these trade paperbacks carried --- Mr. Monster’s Movie Gold (1981, $12.95), Forrest J Ackerman, Famous Monsters Of Filmland, #1 (1986, $10.95) and #2 (1991, $19.95), plus The Famous Monsters Chronicles (also 1991 and $19.95). Past years have been rife with salutes, collections (Rare and Never Before Published Stills!), and ongoing liturgy with Ackerman as monster of ceremonies, and tried though I might, it’s likely I missed several of what’s been published.

Lugosi’s Doctor Vollin said the Raven was his talisman, but mine was Issues #29 and 30, along with the 1965 Yearbook issued during a flush summer of 1964 when monsters discovered me. Two survivors are here, and note battered condition of each. I could no more have preserved them mint than lay both aside altogether, for FM was a constant companion then. Mine may be among few back issues extant with candle wax drippings on covers, for I kept them with me as we designed various Houses Of Horror in the basement that summer, and of course, images of Lugosi had to be clipped out for placement in frames and albums. #30 eventually lost its back cover. Maybe I used it to send off for something. My first exposure to the mag came by way of a neighbor kid who’d bought one, that being #27 with a Cyclops cover, and yes, I can go back to the exact spot on the street in front of my house where we stood when he revealed it. Next morning I inveigled my parents to stop by Thrift Market for the latest issue, to-wit #29, with a particularly nauseating cover depicting effects of The Flesh Eaters upon a hapless victim. I remember watching the backs of their heads from the rear seat as my mother and father examined what fifty cents had wrought before exchanging resigned looks, then hesitating but a moment (had they but known!) before handing it back and thereby consigning me to a life perhaps squandered in triviality, but one yet enjoyed for having fully embraced Famous Monsters that day. I even begged my father to call Colonel Forehand at the Liberty and ask when The Flesh Eaters might be playing, his embarrassed look during that phone conversation being one I’ll never forget (and no, the Liberty would not then or ever show The Flesh Eaters).

How many parental observations began thus … If you cared half as much about your schoolwork as you do about these monsters … and yet how much of my present vocabulary may I safely attribute to unlikely Professor FJA, his aim generally upward toward readers whose intelligence he often flattered. Silly puns were easily enough ignored. My eyes learned to breeze over such and not be annoyed by what I realized were commercial expediencies. What Ackerman gave me, and I suspect lots of you, was radar for contents of TV GUIDE and theatre ads in newspapers, both of which I scoured daily for a possible run of features he wrote about. One still in FM and I’d be on the lookout from there on (no wonder Nicholson and Arkoff welcomed Forry to their sets). My father had trouble sleeping and thus deplored my late night viewing habits, but thankfully took no measures to shut me down (and yes, I inherited his malady, as witness my pecking out this post at 4:30 AM). Ackerman and publisher James Warren’s fairground was the Captain Company, FM’s truest profit center (say, did Forry receive a cut?) and dream merchant to kids who could barely afford the magazine, let alone films and masks and models costing several times its cover price. I ordered but thrice --- a pair of 8mm reels bought in partnership with friends, a single back issue (the 1962 yearbook) and the Horrorscope shown here, which allowed for flip-frame shows not unlike those enjoyed in arcades at the turn of the last century. My friend Mike Ferree, of the introductory Cyclops issue, ordered a so-called Creature From the Lagoon mask, which looked well enough itself, but was unexpectedly festooned with a shock of bright red hair, dulling more than somewhat the desired horrific effect. Mike’s frustration was redoubled when his mother forbade removal of said headdress, an edict rendering the mask useless both to him and the rest of us (that’s Captain Company architect Jim Warren struggling with Ackerman in a gag still for FM).

Upwardly mobile intellects were quick to transfer affections from Famous Monsters to Castle Of Frankenstein, but even the ficklest of suitors knew Ackerman was a safer bet than behind drawn shades Calvin T. Beck, editor of COF and not the least solicitous toward readers of his mag, though he did solicit, then purloin, hard earned monies from those who ordered, but never received, goods from his Gothic Castle selling arm. Beck was the monster fan that stereotypists and mothers (including his own) warned us about. He was, by most accounts, creepy and suspicious and lacking of a moral compass where making good on obligations was concerned, simply tossing letters that arrived with checks he never failed to cash. CTB was FJA’s dark mirror but reliably unpredictable and a boon to readers willing to explore a wild side. I was told that he went nowhere without his mother, not even to the mailbox. Like vampires, Beck was seldom photographed, while Ackerman stood for more snaps than a mid-level movie star (and did cameos in as many features). Collectability of Famous Monsters was tempered somewhat by massive warehouse finds of back issues that had never gone out. I remember having my acquisitive bubble burst by the sight of hundreds of "rare" editions piled high on dealer’s tables at a monster show I attended some years back. There were only the ones I’d had as a boy that appealed to me however, and most of those had survived various Spring cleanings. Besides, to fill in issues predating #29 only served to remind me that I’d come late to the bash by twenty-eight numbers, and mine’s a keen envy yet for those older, or more precocious, monster fans who got their starts before I did. As to my stopping point, which came in Summer 1971 with #86, there were no regrets. The fact that FM lasted all the way to March 1983 and #191 surprises me for having virtually no memory of it in those final years. The attempt at a 90’s revival that ended in much Acker-imony (his lawsuit against the publisher) found FM lost in a crowd of boomer monster zines it couldn’t hope to compete with, whatever sentiment might have accrued to its venerable editor. Ackerman spent his final years being feted not only by those who’d grown up under his tutelage, but also by sons of many who’d collected Famous Monsters. I never met the man, and it’s as well perhaps, for what could I have done but repeat a fan’s testimony he’d heard so many times before? Now it’s left to his students to share and refresh the drill that will keep Ackerman’s legacy alive, as I’ve no doubt these voices (including my own) will continue being heard until such time as Prince Sirki comes calling for the rest of us.
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