A look back at the original FAMOUS MONSTERS MAGAZINE: REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS MONSTERS with L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
From L.L. SOARES:
I remember being maybe about 8-years old, going to a place called Giguere’s Pharmacy in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Even then, in the early 1970s, Mr. Giguere was old. A round French gent with a hearing aid and thick glasses. That drugstore is long gone now.
I remember the place had a big area where all the comic books were lined up (where I got some of my first comics, with titles like WHERE MONSTERS DWELL, CREATURES ON THE LOOSE, and of course, early issues of MAN-THING. This was before I got into superheroes, starting, not-surprisingly, with a hero who was also a monster, THE INCREDIBLE HULK).
Near the comics were the magazines, and the one that grabbed my attention more than any of them was FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND (affectionately referred to as “FM” by its legion of fans). I remember being very excited when a new issue came out. Back then, VCRs were a long way off, and the only way I’d see any of the movies mentioned in FM was late at night on television. And most of the movies weren’t available there, either, and I wouldn’t be able to catch them until the video boom of the early1980s.
I remember begging my mother to get me the new issue of FM, and Mr. Geiger, the pharmacist, shaking his head and saying “This will give you nightmares, my boy.” Of course, it never did. Horror movies were a pleasure for me, a comfort that wasn’t scary at all. Where other friends wouldn’t be allowed to watch certain movies because they’d wake up with nightmares, I watched all of the horror movies I could, and back then was the perfect time for it, with multiple“Creature Feature”-type TV shows airing horror movies seemingly non-stop throughout the weekend.
FM wasn’t a serious study of its subject matter (I’d have to wait for magazines like the great CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN before actual criticism came into the mix). Instead, it was more about pictures – lots of them – and brief descriptions of plots of movies I was dying to see.
Recently, when FM creator Forrest J. Ackerman (“Uncle Forry” to us readers) died, leaving behind one of the biggest collections of horror and science-fiction memorabilia ever compiled (he called it the Ackermansion, and supposedly gave regular tours of it), I figured the magazine was gone forever, without the chance of ever being revived.
However, I was wrong.
IDW Publishing has just announced that FAMOUS MONSTERS is coming back. I’m going to reserve judgment until I actually see an issue, but if it even comes close to recapturing the wonder of the original version, I’ll be pretty happy. Of course, what doomed the original mag was the changing times. It started out focusing on old movies like the Universal films of the 1930s and 40s, and the Hammer films of the 50s and 60s, among other great movies of the genre, but with the advent of films like STAR WARS by the mid-70s, FM suddenly changed direction and jumped on the bandwagon for the more current films. Instead of great Basil Gogos paintings of Karloff’s Frankenstein monster and Lugosi’s Dracula on the covers, we got slick photographs of R2D2 and C3PO. It was then that I stopped reading. The mag lasted a few more years before it disappeared from the stands.
When I was a kid, FM was a rite of passage, as much as Mad Magazine was back then (in the days when it featured Don Martin, Al Jaffe, Sergio Aragones and Spy vs. Spy.) I miss it. And I’m happy to hear it’s coming back.
If they can maintain a balance between new horror films and the old classics, it will be one helluva horror movie magazine again!
From MICHAEL ARRUDA:
My first memory of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was back in 1973, when I was just 9 years old. My uncle Ray, who also loved horror and was quick to encourage my love of the genre, bought me Issue #98 of FAMOUS MONSTERS, and from that moment on, I was hooked.
I was immediately awed by the incredibly colored cover art, and on Issue #98 the picture was of an alien from a movie whose title eludes me at the moment. (It was a variation on the creatures from “Invasion of the Saucermen” from 1957- LLS) The cover was just the beginning. Inside, there was page after page of information about the horror movies I knew and loved (yes, even at 9 I watched monster movies regularly) which back then were the Universal and Hammer monster movies.
I was also immediately drawn to the writing of Forry Ackerman. His puns, his humor, and his enthusiastic love of the genre were infectious. Here was an adult who shared my affection for horror movies. More than this, he had actually met the stars who were like heroes to me- Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Cushing, Lee, and Price.
Uncle Forry seemed to be talking to us kids directly, and we took to him and his writing as if he were a real uncle. A lot of the humor I use in CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT was influenced by the writing of Forrest Ackerman in the pages of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.
And L.L. mentioned the pictures, and that was so true. Picture after picture from my favorite movies, with some issues containing page after page containing nothing but movie stills, most from Ackerman’s personal collection. I remember looking forward excitedly to looking through the next issue, to see which movies’ stills would be inside the magazine. It was always thrilling to see a still that I hadn’t seen before. Years later, I started collecting them myself, and today I have a decent sized collection.
Getting back to Issue #98, the biggest reason I was excited about that particular issue was it contained information on my favorite actor, Peter Cushing. The Cushing movie being promoted at the time was the first of Hammer Films’” modern-day” Draculas, DRACULA A.D., 1972.
For the next 4 years, I bought the magazine faithfully. I used to buy it from a store called Dwyers (note: I used to go to Dwyers regularly as a kid to buy comics! It’s a small world – LLS), in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, the neighboring town to New Bedford, Mass. It’s time now, I guess, to reveal the strange truth that L.L. and I grew up in the same town, New Bedford, but we didn’t meet each other until years later when we had both moved away and were adults. How weird is that? True story!
Now, in 1977, while I continued to buy FAMOUS MONSTERS, something changed, and that something was a movie called STAR WARS (1977), and suddenly every media outlet in the world seemed to be covering science fiction. FAMOUS MONSTERS was no exception. While I loved STAR WARS, I wasn’t keen on seeing Darth Vader on the cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.
Then, with the advent of FANGORIA and its coverage of modern gory horror movies, FAMOUS MONSTERS found itself needing to compete, and they too started covering the newer movies, which meant less coverage of the older classics. While I started to enjoy FAMOUS MONSTERS less and less because of this shift in coverage, I continued to buy the magazine into the mid 1980s, and then, as L.L. mentioned, it eventually disappeared from the shelves.
I was fortunate enough to meet Forrest Ackerman at a horror convention back in 1998. It was an exciting moment for me, almost a gift.
Now, today, it sounds like fans of FAMOUS MONSTERS are about to receive another gift, the revival of the magazine. I sincerely hope it is as fun and as lively as the original, and I hope it lives up to the memory of Uncle Forry. And speaking of memories and uncles, my dear Uncle Ray, who bought me that first issue #98 in 1973, succumbed to lung cancer some years back at the youthful age of 49. If he were still with us today, he’d be one of the first in line to buy that new issue. To uncles and memories, here’s looking with great anticipation to the rebirth of a monsterous institution, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.