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Sunday, December 7, 2008

A few farewells ...

This post has been a long time coming, but has been tremendously difficult to write. 2008 has seen some great losses, from Paul Newman to Heath Ledger, but some of the most far-reaching and inspirational names are ones you may not be familiar with.

Forrest Ackerman in April, 1951.

The first of these is Mr. Forrest J Ackerman, who passed away on December 4th at the age of 92. Forry (4SJ, FJA, Mr. Science Fiction), was the favorite uncle of a league of sky-gazers and monster kids, nerds and dreamers like John Landis and Stephen Spielberg whose appetite for fantastic tales was sated only by a weekly copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland from the local dime store.

Reprint of Issue #1, Famous Monsters of Filmland

Famous Monsters, first published in 1957, was only one of Forry's huge number of contributions to the world of the weird. The man who coined the term 'sci-fi' also contributed prose and fiction to dozens of magazines and journals, represented a generation of genre writers (including Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard, and Isaac Asimov to name a few) via his Hollywood literary agency, owned an 18-room collection of horror and science fiction memorabilia, and was a respected participant in every aspect of the entertainment industry.

Advertisement for Ackerman's "Out of This World" Science Fiction Agency

Forry was the man who made space ships cool and used Dracula's coffin as a coffee table. He created Vampirella, and wrote lesbian fiction in the 50's, allied with Los Angeles gay rights group Daughters of Bilitis. A lover of puns and schoolboy jokes, Forry adored Al Jolson and all the men, women, and children -- those honorary nieces and nephews -- who visited his homemade palace of cinematic treasures, from Ed Wood props to a replica of Metropolis' golden robotrix.

Forry with friends Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury, 2005.

Though Forry never had any biological children, generations of his disciples became both friends and family, and he left this earth as he lived, surrounded by love, affection, and youthful wonder.

Beverly Garland in Roger Corman's Not of This Earth (1956).

Actress Beverly Garland, who starred in a half dozen Roger Corman films including Not of This Earth, also passed away this week, aged 82. Most well-known for her role in the television series My Three Sons, Ms. Garland started her acting career in the 1940's playing bit parts in film noir before moving up to star in low-budget sci-fi flicks in the 50's and 60's. Not a typical scream queen, Beverly was described as a kind, down-to-earth girl, and fun to work with. She had a killer screen presence and played strong heroines, whether chasing aliens or alligators.

Later in her career Beverly was a regular on dozens of television shows, and she operated the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood through her death. Always friendly to fans and filmmakers, Beverly will be remembered as a gracious dynamo who lit up the screen with her charm and charisma.

Dr. Norman Watson circa 2006.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is Dr. Norman Watson, onetime chancellor of Orange Coast College and founder of KOCE, Orange County's long-running public television station. Watson began his career as a professor at OCC, where he was the faculty advisor for Tom Graeff's second film, The Orange Coast College Story. Watson enlisted his friend of Vincent Price to narrate the film.

In 1972, while still chancellor of OCC (as well as the Coast Community College District), Watson helped to found KOCE in order to broadcast educational content to local students. 35 years later KOCE has become the 6th most-watched PBS station in the country, broadcasting 24 hours a day on TV and the Internet. Dr. Watson died on February 29th at the age of 92.

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