Famous Monsters of Filmland was originally conceived as a one-shot publication by Warren and Ackerman, published in the wake of the widespread success of the package of old horror movies syndicated to American television in 1957. But the first issue, published in February 1958, was so successful that it required a second printing to fulfil public demand. The success prompted spinoff Warren magazines such as Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella.
Famous Monsters offered brief articles, well-illustrated with publicity stills and graphic artwork, on horror movies from the silent era to the current date of publication, their stars and filmmakers. Warren and Ackerman decided to aim the text at late pre-adolescents and young teenagers. Unfortunately, in doing so, he also elected to add supposedly amusing juvenile captions to the images and thereby denigrated the horror genre for fans and its detractors.
Forrest J Ackerman promoted the memory of Lon Chaney, Sr., whose silent works were mostly beyond the accessibility of fans for most of the magazine’s life, but were a great influence on his own childhood. He also introduced film fans to science fiction fandom through direct references, first-person experiences, and adoption of fandom terms and customs. The magazine regularly published photos from King Kong (1933), including one from the film’s infamous “spider pit sequence”, featured in Issue #108 (1974) that, until Ackerman discovered a photo of a spider in the cavern setting, had never been proven definitively to have actually been filmed.
FM‘s peak years were from its first issues through the late 1960s, when the disappearance of the older films from television and the decline of talent in the imaginative film industry left it with a dearth of subject matter acceptable to both editor and fan.
Bizarrely, Warren and Ackerman created a jump in issue numbering from issue 69, which was printed in September 1970, to issue 80 in October 1970. They did this (according to their editorial in issue 80) because it brought them closer to issue 100, justifying the numerical jump because of the publishing of ten issues of the short-lived companion magazine Monster World as issues that “would have been” Famous Monsters issues. Lazily, during the 1970s, the magazine came to rely heavily on reprints of articles from the 1960s.
In November 1974 and November 1975, New York City was host to the “Famous Monsters Convention,” a fan convention centered on FM, which featured such guests as Forrest J Ackerman, Verne Langdon, James Warren, Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Barbara Leigh, Catherine Lorre, Cal Floyd, and Sam Sherman.
In the early 1980s, the magazine folded after Warren became ill and unable to carry on as publisher, and Ackerman resigned as editor in the face of the increasing disorganisation within the Warren Publishing Company. The magazine stopped publication in 1983 after a run of 191 issues.
Famous Monsters of Filmland was resurrected in 1993 by New Jersey portrait photographer and monster movie fan Ray Ferry. After finding that the Famous Monsters of Filmland title had not been “maintained” under law, Ferry filed for “intent to use” for the magazine’s trademark, unbeknownst to Ackerman or the trademark’s owner and creator, Jim Warren. Ferry, poised to restart publication of FM on a quarterly basis, offered Ackerman the position of editor-in-chief for a fee of $2,500 per issue, which he accepted. Starting at issue #200, the new Famous Monsters acquired subscribers and over-the-counter buyers who believed they would be reunited with Ackerman in print. While Ferry tried to maintain Ackerman’s style in his own writings, he apparently heavily edited and rejected contributions from the man himself.
In an effort to help Ferry finance his full-time efforts, Ackerman agreed to a reduced editor’s fee of $1,500 per issue. With four consecutive unpaid issues and a continued rejection of his work, Ackerman resigned from his position. Aside from removing Ackerman’s name from the masthead, Ferry did not inform FM readers that they were no longer reading material by, or authorised by, Ackerman. Instead, Ferry infused his writing with Ackerman’s trademark puns, and mimicked his writing style, which led to legal action brought forth by Ackerman.
In 1997, Ackerman filed a civil lawsuit against Ferry for libel, breach of contract, and misrepresentation; Ferry had publicly claimed that Ackerman’s only connection with the new FM was as a hired hand and that Ferry “had to let Forry go” because he was no longer writing or editing for the magazine. Ferry also claimed rights to pen names and other personal properties of Ackerman. On May 11, 2000, the Los Angeles Superior Court jury decided in Ackerman’s favour and awarded him $382,500 in compensatory damages and $342,000 in punitive damages.
As of mid-2007, Ferry had been allowed to continue to publish issues of FM due to lack of efforts on the part of bankruptcy trustees and Ackerman’s lawyers to force the sale of the trademark or personal assets attached to his income. Ferry had also failed to pay any of the $720,000-plus cash judgment against him.
In late 2007, Philip Kim, an entrepreneur and a private equity investor, purchased the rights to the logo and title, entering into an agreement with Ackerman to use his trademarks to retain the magazine’s original look and feel. The new Famous Monsters of Filmland website was launched in May 2008 and on December 7, 2009, Kim announced the magazine’s return to print.
Ackerman died just before midnight on Thursday, December 4, 2008.
The revival of the classic horror magazine came in July 2010, with the publication of Famous Monsters of Filmland #251 at the Famous Monster Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. The success of the print magazine at the Famous Monster Convention and Comic-Con International in San Diego yielded the announcement of the magazine’s expansion in distribution and circulation into major bookstore chains and independent retailers throughout North America and select markets in the US, Canada, and UK. Publisher Movieland Classics, LLC announced concurrently that the magazine would be entering into a bi-monthly publication schedule to meet the significant increase in requests from captivated readers beginning with Issue 253.
Writer and filmmaker Jason V Brock created The Ackermonster Chronicles!, a 2012 documentary about Ackerman. The movie is billed as the definitive film about Ackerman’s life and cultural influence, and features in-depth interviews with Ackerman, Ray Bradbury, John Landis, Greg Bear, Richard Matheson, Dan O’Bannon, Ray Harryhausen, David J. Skal, and others…