Thursday, December 18, 2008

The last thing FJA had a hand in--

My good friend Robert Taylor, educator, film buff and the world's premier Vincent Price fan, recalled earlier this year a special project he brought to Forry Ackerman, which 4E ran with and made all his own.

Forry Ackerman, the beloved editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine, and genial, encouraging "uncle" to generations of young people interested in horror and "sci-fi," always delighted in telling how he had met someone who, as a child, had once met Lincoln-- and could imitate Lincoln's voice and accent. (This occurred when Forry was young and the Lincoln witness was very old.)

The idea for the project began some years ago. Robert once wondered, after shaking Forry's hand (Forry met many hundreds of noteworthy people), just how many luminaries' hands Forry's hand had shaken, and he (Robert) was now "linked" to.

So Robert proposed a special project for "4e"-- and this invitation to make a "handy" visual of Forry's Famous Fingerclaspings fired Forry up

Here's Robert:

"In 2005, I approached Forry with an idea for a project, something I wanted him to do for me. I mentioned to him the old saying, "Shake the hand of the man who shook the hand of Lincoln...", and asked him if he'd be willing to trace the outline of his hand on a piece of paper and then write between the fingers the names of some of the famous people he'd shaken hands with. Forry became very excited about this and he agreed he'd work on it. A few months later, he sent me the beginning efforts--Joe [Moe, Forry's friend and aide] had scanned Forry's hand on three sheets of paper, and Forry had handwritten names all over them--both ON the hand 'photos' and around them.

"I stopped counting "handshakes" at 634 and can tell you it went beyond that number.

"On the first page:

I, Forrest J Ackerman, during my lifetime to this day 27 July 2005 have shaken hands with H.G. Wells, "First of Civilized Men", Hugo Gernsback, "Father of Science Fiction", Edgar Rice Burroughs & Danton/Dejan Thoris/Hulbert & Llona Burroughs...

"Some of the other names were: Lon Chaney's brother, Lon Chaney Jr. and wife, Boris Karloff and wife, Bela Lugosi and son, Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich, Patsy Ruth Miller, Mary Philbin, Lana Turner, Rock Hudson, Gloria Swanson, Billie Dove, Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Merian C. Cooper, Gustav von Seyffertitz, John Boles, Fritz Lang, Brigitte Helm, Johnny Eck, Maurice Chevalier, Ray Bradbury and wife and 4 daughters, Erich von Stroheim and son, Hugh Hefner, John Carradine, Candy Clark, Anton LaVey, Marjoe Gortner, Gloria Stuart--and on and on, including 'the marble hand of Jules Verne on the hand of his marble statue rising from his tomb.'

"Over the course of the following year, Forry continued to send more and more lists of names--everyone he could think of. At the same time, Forry began to list for me 'favorite things', from books, candies, fond memories, 'firsts' and 'lasts'--including the first thing [wife] Wendayne ever said to him (she was a clerk in a store), "Can I help you, sir?" and the last thing she ever said to him (on her death bed), "Help me, Forry." Joe Moe told me that the 'hand' project fired Forry's imagination more than anything had in a long while--Forry continued to send names until early 2008, when his health began to fail noticeably."

Robert sent me several e-mails about this project, including more excerpts of letters from Forry. The names of famous people that piled up make up a fun challenge of one's knowledge of the names of 20th century science-fiction and horror. Later, Forry wrote about the things his hands had done-- and made almost a prose poem of the mundane, reveling in everyday detail for(ry) effect, not unlike the prose style of authors such as Stephen King, or Forry's lifelong friend, Ray Bradbury:

"More of the additional stuff Forry wrote me. There are some quirky spellings and words--I was faithful to Forry's choices:

SEEMS LIKE A NEVER ENDING STORY, MORE HANDSHAKING MEMORIES SURFACING FROM FORRY: Sammy Davis Jr., Phyllis Diller, Billy Barty, Samson Debrier, Bert Schonberg, actor Dick Miller, eccentric genius artist of San Francisco, Virgil I. Partch (cartoonist VIP), Wendayne's youthhood friend in Paris and two of her youthhood friends in Germany and two in Austria, curator of the Esperanto Museum in Austria, [artist] Frank Dietz, Irving Klaw, Del Henderson, Paula Raymond,...I have spoken on the phone to Aldous Huxley; Una Merkel, Marlene Dietrich's secretary Eleanor McGerry, Geo. Pal's sec'y Gae Griffith, Argosy sf author Fred Macisaac (before he committed suicide, not after), Weird Tales authors Mindret Lord, Dorothy Quick." (Dorothy Quick was a friend of Mark Twain's when she was a little girl.)

"The handshake morphed into other contacts--

I have kist or been kist by fans Ruth Landis, Carrie Kyle, Margaret Borst, Thai waitress May, Morojo, Pogo, Wendayne, Darlynne O'Brien, Elly Bloch, Bjo Trimble, French girl with five first names, Una Merkel, Veronica Carlson, Ingrid Pitt, Gloria Stuart, ballerina-actress Svetlana Makarovitch, actress Carla Laemmle, silent film star Billie Dove...Ray Bradbury & Isaac Asimov & Horace L. Gold have kist me on the forehead. (As a heterosexual I have taken no pleasure from it but appreciated their expression of affection) By word, deed, or in writing I have been told they love me by Carmilla Plant & Stephanie Burnell (two transgenderites: ie, men who morphed into women via operation), one hermaphrodite, 2 crossdressers, 5 lesbians, 2 bisexuals built for two, 7 homosexuals, 10 straight men, 36 women (14 married, 22 single).

"And he returned to hands, talking about other things his hands had done/held. This is representative of what he wrote--the actual lists are longer by far:

I have used both hands to swim, to help me climb 451 feet (in honor of Ray Bradbury) up & down the Great Wall of China. I have held punk, lit firecrackers & fireworks (House on Fire, Roman candles, Mt Vesuvius, sparklers, King Kong, Eiffel Tower, many others whose names I don't remember).

In my time I have petted 10 dogs & 10 cats. Among the dogs my dear little Chihuahua Bonnie Barker, found abandoned in a graveyard (she could wriggle out of a coat faster than you could say abracadabra so I nicknamed her Houndini) and A.E. van Vogt's huge white furry Siberian wolfhound, Stava. Among cats there was Mr. Orangy Robot, specifically acquired to catch a rat that was running wild in my bedroom and chewing on my wardrobe; he earned his keep the first day, proudly presenting me with a dead rat in his jaws. During my long life I have petted a rabbit, a chinchilla, a skunk, a turtle, a frog, a parrot, a pet pig, and Australian house pet resembling a hamster, a squirrel, a koala bear, a kangaroo and Togare, the housepet of Satanist Anton LaVey--a fullgrown female lion. Anton invited me and I once stroked Togare's belly (to the horror of my wife).

I have played piano keys, gripped the steering wheel of an automobile, held checkers, chess figures, dominoes, playing cards, a pogo stick, fastened a safety belt in an auto & a plane, held a garden hose, held a lawnmower, held onto the pole of a wooden horse on a merrygoround. I have held matches, a thimble, pin, needle, catheters (2 types) soda straw, fashioned things from an Erector set, flown a kite, fired an Army rifle, held a brontosaurus from THE LOST WORLD, 3 dinosaurs, a pteranodon & the bomb that brought down King Kong from the original film, held theater tickets, lottery tickets, ran a flag up a flagpole, held one end of a jumprope, played marbles, held phonograph records, soundiscs, picked type for printing, operated an arclight movie projector, cranked a mimeograph, put on rollerskates, glasses, gloves, boxing gloves, held a stick to roast marshmallows... I have held in the palms of my hands 3 types of popcorn, candy bars such as Snickers, Baby Ruths, chewing gum, bubblegum, bitter alum, celery stalk, fig, guava, artichoke, apple, orange, pomegranate, cake (layer, Angelfood, lemon), drinks (Green River, Delaware Punch, Hawaiian Punch, lemonade, orangeade, V8 Splash, Ensure--every flavor but vanilla--and NEVER anything carbonated)... I have held 1000s of US postage stamps in my hand and even more worldwide stamps for a stamp album. I have held in both hands and turned pages on 50,000 books (I read every last word in them, turned to the last page and read the last word), 200 complete sets of science fiction & fantasy magazines... I have held in my hands a fly, butterfly, ant, termite, mosquito, flea, injured bird, bottle of fireflies.

How many of the foregoing ordinary things have you shared with me?

Atypically, Robert did not write an ending to the e-mail with the above excerpt. I think the poignancy of the final line left nothing else to write about.


Todd Franklin said...


L. F. Chaney said...

If there was ever any doubt as to how many lives one person touches, this story's evidence is merely a scratching of the surface.

We are all small but significant parts of a greater whole.

Thank you for sharing this -- one of the most amazing blog entries I've ever read.

Feel wonderful,

L. C.

Max the drunken severed head said...

Thanks Todd and Lon!


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