Why is the passing of Forrest J. Ackerman of GLBT importance?|
by Andy Mangels
Forrest J. Ackerman (known to most as “Forry”), a legend in the science fiction, horror, and comic book communities, passed away on December 4th. As co-founder, editor and the creative force on Famous Monsters of Filmland, Ackerman inspired many imitators and successors, and was a significant figure in the “fandom” movement. His famed “Ackermansion” home, full of movie props ranging from King Kong armatures to the robotic woman from Metropolis was open to all visitors. Ackerman was a popular and often-seen guest at conventions, and his knowledge of the medium began with hearing H.G. Wells speak as a child, up through being influential in the careers of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, Ray Bradbury, and many others. He's also credited with coining the term “Sci-Fi,” among hundreds of other accomplishments.
On my sole visit to the Ackermansion in the mid-1990s, Forry and I discussed numerous things including Wonder Woman (years later I bought Forry's personal copy of the WW TV pilot script from him), super-hero films, horror and Sci-Fi films, Metropolis, and more. I asked him about gay history in the comic field, but he wasn't aware of any prior to the late 1980s when my articles in Amazing Heroes burst wide the comics closet doors.
However, with a sparkle in his eyes, he said, “I do have a secret for you though. Did you know I was one of the first published lesbian writers in the United States?” He told me about being friends with Edith Eyde, an LA secretary and science fiction fan. Forry had shared with Eyde The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, which featured some lesbianism, leading her to want to write herself. She wrote a review of Children of Loneliness, the film version of the book in the first issue of the free mimeographed fanzine called Vice Versa, which she self-published in June 1947. Forry was an invaluable resource for her, having been involved in fanzine self-publishing for years already. Edith used no names in the issues of Vice Versa, but later used the pen name “Lisa Ben” (an anagram of “Lesbian”), when she began writing for The Ladder, the formative magazine (debuting October 1956) of early lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis.
Forry contributed to several of the issues of Vice Versa (including its first “Letter to the Editor”), and for The Ladder, writing under the name "Laurajean Ermayne." He also wrote lesbian fiction as “Ermayne," and was involved with other underground gay and lesbian causes, in addition to just being a friend to many lesbians and gays. He was named an “honorary lesbian” by the Daughters of Bilitis, and in Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-century America, Laurajean Ermayne is quoted as a formative figure in the development of lesbian fiction. In my discussions with him, he couldn't understand how society could treat us any differently in the 1940s, and still couldn't in the 1990s. He is quoted on an American Literature webpage as saying that he does not believe in "discrimination against gays-blacks- browns-yellows- red-polka dots-Jews."
Unfortunately, very little about Forry's involvement with the early days of the gay community has been documented. Even Ermayne's credits are almost non-existent online, despite acknowledgements that she was credited for multiple lesbian pulp or romance novels. Ackerman reportedly spoke about it for the book Hollywood Babylon, and he was a guest at the 1994 Gaylaxicon convention. The Wikipedia entries for Edith Eyde and The Ladder make a minor mention of it, but the fact that a straight man helped establish the FIRST lesbian magazine - and that he was one of the first lesbian writers - is one of the elements of GLBT history that has remained mostly lost. Thankfully, some mention of this has been made in many of Forry's obituaries.
With the passing of Forrest Ackerman, not only is the history of science fiction, horror, and comics diminished; so too is our GLBT past.
Acknowledgement of Forrest Ackerman's involvement with Vice Versa and The Ladder
http://pamkeesey.com/2008/12/05/forrest-j-ackerman-favorite-uncle-to- monster-loving-kids-like-me-has-passed- away/
"Laurajean Ermayne's” published works
World of Loneliness (identified as likely the first lesbian science fiction story, collected in Expanded Science Fiction Worlds of Forrest J Ackerman & Friends Plus)
“Kiki” (from Vice Versa 1947, collected in the Womanthology and Ackermanthology books)
“My Friend The Night” (Vice Versa, October 1947)
“Radcliffe Hall” (Vice Versa, November 1947)
“The Sapphic Cinema,” (The Ladder v4no7 April 1960)
Various issues of Vice Versa and The Ladder
Listed in some issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland as “Managing Editor” (notably March 1962, issue #16)
The first issue of Vice Versa can be seen here, as well as interviews with “Lisa Ben”: www.queermusicheritage.us/jun2004lb.html
More about “Lisa Ben”
More about The Ladder
Member, International Association of Media Tie-In Writers
Andy Mangels is a longtime comics writer and LGBT comics activist.
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).