Sunday, January 17, 2010

FAMOUS MONSTERS and the Back-Issue Store

Wrote this for a ’zine called Scary Monsters, for a Forrest J Ackerman tribute, after he passed away in Dec. 2008. Ackerman founded Famous Monsters of Filmland, coined the phrase sci-fi, and was the world’s foremost collector and spreader of the faith. It’s not much of a tribute to Forry, just a remembrance.

In the 60s, when we were quite young, my brothers and I bought Famous Monsters at Vic’s, a candy stand in Glen Cove, Long Island. I didn’t know how they got there, but the arrival of each new issue, hot off the press, was one of the great thrills in life. Ol’ Vic threw sawdust on the wooden floorboards. The whole place smelled like a heady mix of candy, sawdust and fresh newsprint. Mad and Famous Monsters were soul-saving alternatives to the mandatory Highlights for Children and Jr. Scholastic, force fed at home, school and dentist.

I profoundly identified with Frankenstein and wished to know him personally. The pipeline into this fantasy was provided by Forrest J Ackerman (he never used a period after the “J”). Ackerman made timeless icons of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr., thrusting their films from the ’30s and ’40s into the present moment. I wondered whether Boris and Lon, still alive and working in the ’60s, appreciated the magnitude of this.

In 1964, my dad brought home a newsstand copy of Bestsellers, a publishing industry sales guide.

My two brothers and I contributed to this $30 MILLION jackpot mentioned on the cover above. FM’s intoxicating mail-order back-pages were known as Captain Company. We ordered our Don Post monster masks from there, Arch Oboler’s masterpiece LP, Drop Dead, 8mm films and creepshow paraphernalia. Captain Company was likely handled by some fat, cigar-chomping huckster stuffing envelopes in a Pennsylvania warehouse. The most shameless thing they advertised were spider monkeys, with “guaranteed live delivery,” which I also imagined the fat guy loading into boxes.

In 1968, our dad discovered another warehouse in an old office building on 32nd Street, across from Penn Station. The creaky elevator opened upon this Shangri-la, run by actual cigar-chomping fat guys. It became enshrined in our childhood as “The Back-Issue Store.” Unknown and hidden from the public (would anyone else have cared?), it was the greatest discovery of our lives. A million old magazines moldered in unkempt rows. (Hidden in the back was a stash of underground full-frontal nudist magazines, but that’s another story.)

A formidable shelf of FM’s dated back to the 1950s. I found numbers 4 and 5, as well as the Dwight Frye cover (#18), the Zacherley cover (#15) and “Lost His Face” cover (#16). These were long sold-out back issues that we’d coveted for years, each one a Holy Grail, filling gaps in our collections that once seemed inconceivable. (There were also 1950s mint condition Mad Monsters, Horror Monsters and Journal of Frankenstein, as well as 1950s Mad’s.) I still have—and treasure—all of them.

Thank you, Forry.

© 2008, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman


  1. This is one of the most touching things I've read in a long time! I hope I dream about The Back Issue Store tonight.

  2. Fantastic! Man, I'd love to read that article on page 17....