Each fall the University of Wyoming Art Museum generously provides one of its exhibit galleries to the American Heritage Center for a display focused on AHC collections and collection materials. This fall, to more than usual local acclaim, co-curators Rick Ewig and Keith Reynolds created Terror in the Theater: Fifties Fears. Funding for the exhibit was provided, in part, by an endowment from First National Bank.
As a fancier of “old” movies myself, I was delighted by the subject and pleased by the attention it has received. And I’d like to take this opportunity to add some additional context to the exhibit, and to provide a few “did you know” questions that might contribute to your appreciation of it. All but one of the items in the exhibit come from the papers of Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008) at the AHC, a large collection of 93 cubic feet.
Ackerman was an editor and writer of works on science fiction, fantasy and horror. He published several articles and books, and published the first science fiction fan magazine (fanzine) in 1932. From 1958 to 1982 he edited Famous Monsters of Filmland fanzine, and in the 1960s organized the publication of an English translation in the U.S. of the German science fiction series Perry Rhodan, the longest such series in history. In 1947 Ackerman created a science fiction literary agency. A life-long fan of science fiction “B-movies”, Ackerman had cameos in over 210 films, including bit parts in many monster movies and science fiction films.
Ackerman was well known for amassing the largest collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror memorabilia including books, magazines, movie props and posters. He attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939 and continued to attend fan conventions annually. Ackerman helped create the “fandom” subculture by starting the first science fiction fan club in 1930. In 1953, he was voted “#1 Fan Personality” by the members of the World Science Fiction Society, a unique Hugo Award never granted to anyone else, and is credited with coining the term “sci-fi.”
In the AHC exhibit, Terror in the Theater: Fifties Fears, the only original artifact not from the Forrest Ackerman collection is the animatronic triceratops created for the original King Kong. All the other items he collected. And did you know that one of the movie posters featured in the exhibit lists Conrad Veidt as a supporting actor? Veidt, perhaps best known as Major Strasser” in Casablanca, was a German expatriate who, though intensely active in anti-Nazi causes, often made his living in Hollywood playing evil and sadistic Gestapo and SS officers.
Did you know that on another of the exhibit’s movie posters, Ray Harryhausen is credited, and that Harryhausen was the creator of a brand of stop-motion model animation known as “Dynamation.” His first film was 1949’s Mighty Joe Young (B&W); dynamation was a color process used with stop motion, used first in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and to its best-known effect in Clash of the Titans (1981). Forrest Ackerman was a great friend of Harryhausen’s; in fact, Ackerman was credited with nurturing and even inspiring the careers of several early contemporaries like Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, and L. Ron Hubbard.
Finally, did you know that a third poster in the exhibit includes the name of Roger Corman, world-renowned “B-Movie” producer and director who in his early years made up to nine movies a year, some for as little as $80,000. Corman’s greatest acclaim as a director came with his Edgar Allan Poe Series of the 1960s. The late 1960s saw Corman and his films give a voice to the counter-culture of the time. Despite often being derided for his low budgets and penchant for gore, Corman has been a mentor to young film directors including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron, John Sayles, and many others. He has also helped launch the careers of actors including Jack Nicholson, William Shatner, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire and Robert De Niro.
Terror in the Theater is open to the public, with free admission and free parking. It will be on display through the end of UW’s fall term.
–Mark Greene, Director