March, 1965 Paperback Library
I first discovered Famous Monsters Of Filmland when I was very young; it was probably around 1979 or 1980, and I would’ve been six or so. Coincidentally, the same age my son is now. My brother is seven years older than me and he had some recent or fairly recent issues of the magazine, somehow, and I remember looking through them. In particular I was really into the ads for the Don Post monster masks. I can’t recall which issues these were, but I’d love to know.
Anyway, this must’ve been the tail end of the Famous Monsters Of Filmland era, but just a decade or so before the magazine had been the go-to source for Monster Kids (bonus question – can anyone confirm that Glenn Danzig created this term, in his 1981 Misfits song “All Hell Breaks Loose?” Or was the term “monster kids” in use before that?). At the height of the magazine’s fame, three collections were published by Paperback Library, each of them overseen by editor Forrest J. Ackerman: Best From Famous Monsters Of Filmland (1964), Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland (1965), and Famous Monsters Of Filmland Strike Back (1965). All three are collectable today and thus go for exorbitant prices. But I wanted to read at least one of them, so for a lark I put in a request via Worldcat.org for an Interlibary Loan.
And folks, a library actually sent me a copy! Not only that, but it turns out the copy I was sent once belonged to famed comic artist/horror historian Stephen Bissette:
In one of those synchronicities only Jung could appreciate, with the same Interlibrary Loan delivery I also received the 2010 collection The Weird World Of Eerie Publications, which guess what, features an intro by none other than Stephen Bissette:
One thing that made me chuckle is that the cover of Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland is a typically-awesome Basil Gogos painting of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein Monster, from Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. And yet, the book itself is dedicated to the recently-departed Boris Karloff! I kind of imagine Bela got a chuckle from beyond the grave over that. And speaking of which, a similarly-mordant tone permeates the articles collected here. We’re often told of how Bela Lugosi died…maybe…because he might really be a vampire who thirsts for blood! This sort of churlish disregard for “proper respect for the dead” wouldn’t exist in a publication of today, but then I’d wager it was that very tone that made Famous Monsters Of Filmland so beloved by the readers of the day.
But anwyway, Ackerman delivers an intro in which he states unequivocably that in his opinion Boris Karloff was the greatest horror actor of all time. From then we are jettisoned into the wily-nilly collection of Famous Monsters articles, with no attribution of when they were published, nor any theme holding them together. It’s basically like a paperback-sized version of your standard issue, only without a letters page or any ads. The black and white photo and art is faithfully reproduced, though, to the extent that the majority of Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland comes off like a picture book:
Articles cover everything from histories on Karloff and Lugosi to the magazine’s well-known rundowns of movies; the latter must have been very important in the days before VCRs and DVDs and whatnot, as you get a thorough recounting of the plot along with pictures from the film. There’s also weird stuff, like a piece – again published long after Lugosi had died – that claims Bela Lugosi was haunted by some golden-eyed witch, who would pop up at memorable times in his life. This piece is just weird, mostly because it’s an apocryphal story about a guy who died in the ‘50s with nothing to substantiate it. But then that just goes with the unruly spirit of Famous Monsters Of Filmland, where nothing was sacred.
I especially dug the piece on the Flash Gordon serial, even though it’s just a high-level overview of the plot for the three Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. This one has always had a special place for me; I discovered the serial in early 1988 when I was 13. I was at a K-Mart or something and they had a VHS with the first two chapters of the original 1936 serial and I asked my mom to buy it for me. In hindsight I have to laugh because the jerks were so cheap, I mean it was a video tape that even on SP mode could’ve held two hours, but they only put like 40 minutes on the damn tape (I can’t recall exactly how long each serial chapter was). I watched that damn thing over and over and even then I knew I had to be the only 13-year-old in probably a few hundred miles who even knew who Buster friggin’ Crabbe was. But man I loved that and it wasn’t until decades later that I finally got to see the whole serial, when I purchased the now out-of-print Image Flash Gordon DVD set (which also contained the other two Buster Crabbe serials). Here are some shots of the piece on this one:
In addition we get some of the plot rundowns of various horror movies that Famous Monsters was known for, as well as a biographical pieces on Lugosi and Karloff. There’s also a long piece by Robert Bloch, originally published in another film magazine, which goes into Bloch’s definition of what a “true” science fiction movie is. The humorous thing about this one is the preface that the article is more “sophisticated” than what readers of the magazine might be use to…either Ackerman’s acknowledgement that his readership is mostly made up of kids or he’s just implying his readers are dimwitted. That said, Bloch’s piece is at odds with everything else here, totally lacking the fun spirit of the typical Famous Monsters article and coming off like dry pontificating instead.
Overall Son Of Famous Monsters Of Filmland offers a fun peek at a long-gone era, and I’m sure it was hotly collected by the Monster Kids of the day; no doubt the reason copies are so scarce today. So then, a big thanks to Stephen Bissette for giving his copy to the John Dewey Library, so that those of us out here who just want to read the book (and not collect it) can have the opportunity to do so.