Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Famous Monsters Changed My Life

Most people can remember some pivotal moment that changed the course of their life. I remember mine vividly. I grew up in a neighborhood where we kids ran around in packs like little wild animals. I lived on a dead end street that had a dairy farm around one corner, and if you went round the block in the other direction and crossed the street there was a shopping plaza that had an A & P, a bagel store, a butcher, a deli, a drug store and... best of all... a candy store. This was where I bought my comic books. Where I discovered the joys of Superman, Archie, Betty and Veronica and assorted others like Millie the Model. Then, one day, I walked in and went over to the comic racks and there was something different about it, I looked, what was it? I reached out and picked it up and behold! This is where dramatic music plays and light fills the room.

 I held in my hands the first issue I had ever seen (it was actually issue # 3, I don't think the candy store ever had # 1 and 2) of FAMOUS MONSTERS of FILMLAND!
 I had to have it, even though in 1958 I was only 7 years old,
I still knew enlightenment lay in the pages I held in my hands.

     I learned a LOT from that and the issues that followed. For the first time I understood what an editor was. Forest J. Ackerman became my GOD.

Here were photographs and articles that taught me about the great silent actor, Lon Chaney and set me on the path of obsession with the Phantom of the Opera.

 FM introduced me to the bad guys. Dracula with the great Bela Lugosi. I'd never seen anything like him before. 
I poured over those images and fell madly for the Count and it began my life long passion for Dracula because, after Bela, FM introduced me to Christopher Lee! If Bela was attractive to me, Christopher Lee's Count was absolutely mesmerizing. Thanks to FM I joined Mr. Lee's fan club and saw every movie as they came out, with heads up from Famous Monsters.
Forest or Forry, as we, his disciples, knew him in print, introduced me to authors that became favorites, like Ray Bradbury, and Thea Von Harbou the author of Metropolis which became the great German Expressionist film  directed by her then husband Fritz Lang!

I learned all that and German Expressionist film became a great love of mine, as well, and before I ever saw the films, I saw the photos of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler and many others. Forry was way ahead of his time. He coined the term "sci-fi" to describe the wonderful world of the future, of robots and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Time Machine and Forbidden Planet and all the nuclear disaster horror mutants that filled the drive-in screens and the movie houses back then. When I talk to people who grew up in an age when you can see or hear anything at any time it's hard to know what a lightening bolt Famous Monsters was for the kids that read it in the 50's and 60's. It was a thrill for me when Ch. 9 showed Dracula every afternoon for a week and I watched it every time! We used to get dumped off at the movies on Saturdays for double feature matinees that always included a horror or monster movie. Parents weren't too concerned about censoring so we'd be regularly traumatized by House on Haunted Hill or 13 Ghosts. They were often black and white and we were fine with that because Famous Monsters showed us the way and all those images they showed us were in black and white though they seemed like vivid 3D technicolor to me!

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