SPACEMEN, Precursor to Starlog?

Spacemen 1 Cover by Basil Gogos
Spacemen 1 Cover by Basil Gogos

Well, I hope your Holiday Season, whatever you are celebrating—whether Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Solstice, Saturnalia, Hanukkah, or Pasta Day—is going well, and that Santa or whomever was generous to you on whatever day you give and/or receive presents. New Year’s Day, for most of us, is nearly here, and so it’s still time for nostalgia. What? Look back at the year gone by? That might not be the most enjoyable look-back for some, so I propose lookinig back some 50+ years to the debut of an offshoot of Warren Publications’ well-known magazine of the period (Famous Monsters of Filmland); this one called Spacemen. Edited, like its sister ‘zine, by the late Forrest J Ackerman. (Like Harry S Truman, FJA [also called “4SJ”] didn’t use a period after his middle initial.)

Forry had begun Famous Monsters, with publisher James Warren, as a one-shot in 1958, but response was so great that they decided to continue publication of photos from old “monster” and horror movies, interspersed with bad puns in Forry’s inimitable style. By 1961, Forry had apparently decided that the time was ripe for a companion ‘zine about space movies. (If you had ever visited the Ackermansion, as his house on South Glendower Street in Los Angeles was called in the ‘60s, you would have found a house and a garage filled to the brim with memorabilia of all sorts of genre books, movies and magazines. Forry used to joke that he went to a lot of garage sales, as his garage was already full and he needed another one. I can attest to that, because during my one visit in ’68 he took me to his garage and it was chock-full of bookshelves and other storage for the thousands of books and magazines that filled it to overflowing. He knew exactly where to find everything, however.) Forry had been a movie buff all his life, and had collected all sorts of movie-related stuff, including rare stills and props.

You must remember that at this time there was no internet. There was no easy way for a genre fan, whether of SF or fantasy, filmed or in books or magazines—especially if you lived in a smaller or isolated community—to see a lot of the older movies or read the older books, so Forry’s magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland served a useful purpose—that of bringing together fans of the genre, not only through reading it, but also through its lettercolumn; the ads from “Captain Company” also provided a source for genre collectibles for fans from out-of-the-way places. (In fact, both Steven Spielberg and I had letters published in the same issue of FM in about 1963.) Forry also did stunts like a promotional trip around the country to personally contact fans who were selected through a write-in campaign in the magazine (I wasn’t one of them, but I made up for it later when I went to his house!)

Spacemen 2 Cover by Bruce Minney
Spacemen 2 Cover by Bruce Minney

So Forry figured that the time was right for a sister magazine for fans of space movies, of which there weren’t a giant number, and most of which were decidedly “B-movie” fodder. (Back in The Day, when you went to a movie theatre you were usually treated to a feature film and a secondary movie—the “B” movie—along with previews, short subjects and a cartoon and/or a serial. [If you’re a Stephen King fan, you’ll recognize these—serials—as the so-called “chapter plays” cited by Misery’s Annie Wilkes.] And this was back before movies cost $10 at the theatre, too! I can recall going to Saturday matinees in the ‘50s and ‘60s where I paid a dime—later a quarter or fifty cents—to see that whole slate cited above.) Like Forry, I was a fan of anything genre, so I went to Japanese “kaiju” movies (Mothra) as well as “epics” like Journey to the Seventh Planet, a pot-boiler of the worst kind—when my parents would let me!

Spacemen might have been a hit, but it was not as big a hit as its parent magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, even though it usually featured cover art by FM’s favourite artist, Basil Gogos, and covered only space films, although FM would show photos from practically any genre film. In addition, another clue is that its publication schedule was very erratic: issue 1 was in July of 1961, but its next issue wasn’t until September of that year; issue 3 didn’t come out until April of 1962. (To be fair, they originally announced as a quarterly, but said if they got enough subscriptions they could move to bi-monthly.) Spacemen was to struggle along through 8 issues and a yearbook, but never achieved the primacy for SF that FM had brought to monster/horror movies. Too bad, really, because it did have an effect on space movie fans similar to what FM had wrought on the horror/monster fan. In fact, although he’s now known as a horror writer, a 14-year-old Stephen King submitted a story to Forry for a feature called “O’Henry’s Comet,” publishing short-shorts à la O. Henry in the SF vein.

Lettercol heading by Jack Davis
Lettercol heading by Jack Davis

Too bad for young King; Forry didn’t buy the story for Spacemen, though he did hang on to the manuscript and used the story years later when King had become famous. Meanwhile, Forry published stories by the likes of Robert Silverberg and Donald A. Wollheim in O’Henry’s Comet. One story, published as a two-parter, was probably a very early Bradbury; the story was “The Monster Maker,” by “Leonard Spaulding.” (Leonard Spaulding Bradbury was Ray’s father’s name.) There was a letter column with a heading by Mad magazine’s great Jack Davis; the first letter column featured a letter from Fritz Lang, director of Metropolis and Frau im Mond, as well as from Walter Ernsting (German author; Ackerman’s wife, Wendayne, later translated dozens, if not hundreds, of his Perry Rhodan books—written under the pseudonym of Clark Dalton—into English) and also from James V. Taurasi, who was the editor of Science Fiction Times, an SF newsletter of the day. There were other well-known letter writers, like Bill Bowers (Outworld, a Hugo-winning fanzine) and Rick Sneary, a con organizer and prolific letter writer. In the first issue, readers were promised covers by Gogos and Nuetzel (Albert Nuetzel, a popular cover artist of the day) and interior black-and-whites by “George Barr, a recent discovery by our sister magazine, Famous Monsters….” Sadly, there was never a Nuetzel cover, and after going through all eight regular issues several times, I have not found a single illustration that looks like George Barr’s work.

The main attraction in Spacemen, however, was the photos: although reproduced (à la Famous Monsters) in fuzzy black-and-white on reasonably cheap pulp paper, for many readers these photos were the closest they came to seeing certain films and serials, or even TV shows, like Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (touted as being written for TV at the time Spacemen No. 1 was published, but actually not produced and shown until 1980; the series starred Rock Hudson, and actually—unusual for TV of the time—bore some resemblance to the book as written.).

Spacemen 3 Cover by Basil Gogos
Spacemen 3 Cover by Basil Gogos

There were photos (all taken from Forry’s collection, I’m sure) from movies and serials going back to the ‘thirties—the Flash Gordon serials,  the Commando Cody serials, Undersea Kingdom and a host of others. When you consider that there were only eight issues and a “special,” Spacemen managed to put a lot of photos out for space movie fans. (Of course, what was considered a “space movie” probably depended on what kind of spot Forry had to fill; in one issue, there was a full-page photo of the genie from the 1940 Thief of Bagdad, supposedly to illustrate that life on other planets might be giant from our point of view.)

One of (for me) the most fun sort of photos that Spacemen published was the “behind the scenes” type of picture, showing everything from the model rocket and set being built for When Worlds Collide to some extremely coarse-screened photos from George Pal’s War of the Worlds; even set- and model-dressing photos from some Japanese films. I’ve always been fascinated by movie making, most especially with behind-the-scenes work; and these sorts of photos—remember, there was no other way for me to see this stuff in the early ‘60s—really made my day when I encountered them. Of course, all the photographic material is tied together with Forry’s rather juvenile punnish commentary—but remember that his audience, judging from myself and equally-aged Spielberg and King, was kind of juvenile too. (Example from the “Orbituary Department,” a photo request section in each issue: “If 4 pages of pix are not enuf for you Space Buffs we might have to make this section a little meteor.”)

Along with the film clip photos there were any number of staged publicity photos, with the majority of those, I think, coming from the serials, like Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe or King of the Rocket-Men (Commando Cody). There were also descriptions of the films themselves as well as information about the stars. (Clarence “Buster” Crabbe was 6’1” and weighed 188 lb., for example.) There were also shots of film posters and magazine covers—in an example of “turnabout is fair play,” there’s a shot of an Amazing Stories book cover from 20 Million Miles to Earth, a novelization by Henry Slesar of the 1958 Ray Harryhausen/Charles H. Schneer film, as well as an earlier Amazing Stories cover by Frank R. Paul illustrating the tripods from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Pity some of these photos weren’t in colour!

Spacemen 4 Cover by Basil Gogos
Spacemen 4 Cover by Basil Gogos

For me as a teenager, some of the best fun in this and Famous Monsters was the ads, as mentioned before, by “Captain Company.” Looking on the items offered from 50 years later, I’m amazed by the prices. Original Aurora monster model kits—Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, and so on—were sold for a dollar each plus 35 cents postage/handling; if you can find these unbuilt today on eBay, you’ll pay anywhere from $50 and up for them. (Mostly what you’ll find are the Polar Lights versions; when Aurora stopped making models, Polar Lights bought up the rights, the moulds and the box materials/artwork. Even the Polar Lights versions can be pricy.) I bought some of the Aurora models for a model-building competition held by FM, but I didn’t send my entry in. Other things you could buy included surplus Air Force stuff, like a “30 foot” weather balloon for a couple of bucks, and a full high-altitude pressure suit for $7.95! (not including shipping), and the matching ex-Air Force helmet (complete with AF decal) for only $14.95! And an orange/white surplus parachute for $2.95 complete with shroud lines. Boy, do I wish I’d bought them back then!

You could also buy “full movies” in 8mm and 16mm… judging from the ads, these were silent excerpts from the movies, including everything from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to This Island Earth, rebranded (and excerpted) as War of the Planets. Only $8.95 (plus postage) for 8mm. I actually bought the latter one, though not from Captain Co. You could get SF and horror paperbacks, brand new at 3/$1; movie soundtrack records at $3.95—which was a retail price for a record back then—but some of you might not be that familiar with vinyl records. (Just kidding; I know they still make vinyl records for the collectors’ market at quite high prices.) And then my personal favourite—the 3D comics!

Spacemen 5 Cover by Basil Gogos
Spacemen 5 Cover by Basil Gogos

Yes, 3D is a big deal again, and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve loved 3D ever since I saw my first 3D movie, which was The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Many of you don’t know that film, which is a black-and-white picture, was a 3D movie; for those of you who are interested, 3D was a big thing in the 1950s, with movies like It Came From Outer Space (written by Ray Bradbury), Sahara with John Wayne, Robot Monster (featuring a gorilla wearing a space helmet), Bwana Devil and other such movies hitting the theatre. Only a few really high-class movies were made with the Polaroid® process, akin to today’s Real3D®, where you wear polarized lenses (as opposed to the cheaper and less effective anaglyph method, where you wore red and green glasses). Among the latter are the Vincent Price’s House of Wax, a full-colour production with a younger Charles Bronson, by the way. But I digress.

I *ahem* borrowed a few bucks from my mother’s purse and, being innocent in such matters as “mail theft” sent off to Captain Company for a few 3D comics, enclosing these purloined… er, borrowed bills—and sat back to wait for my 3D comics. And waited. Heck, I’m still waiting. That was my big disappointment with Captain Co., and I never sent them money again.

If you got an attack of nostalgia from this column and you want to buy all 8 issues of Spacemen on eBay, you should be prepared to spend about $900 for a set in good condition. Because it was a limited-edition (not that it was Forry’s intention) magazine, issues in good condition can bring a premium. Because I’m a collector, I have my issues still. All are in reasonable condition for 50-year-old magazines printed on pulp paper. (I used to have a full set of Famous Monsters, too, but I sold the earliest ones to a collector from New York—who still owes me $20! “Get the cash in advance” is my advice now.)

As I say every week, my opinion is mine and mine alone—unless something is a matter of fact and record. I’ll be happy to argue opinions in person, however, if we meet at a convention or whatever. And, of course, you can either comment here on the Amazing Stories website—although you’ll have to register—or on Facebook, where I also post a link in several fan-related groups. Next week, maybe something entirely different!

Please take a moment to support Amazing Stories with a one-time or recurring donation via Patreon. We rely on donations to keep the site going, and we need your financial support to continue quality coverage of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as well as supply free stories weekly for your reading pleasure.

1 Comment

  1. Arrgh! You beat me to it! I was planning an article on SPACEMEN…. oh well.

    As a kid, all I was ever able to find was issue #1. Loved it. I, too, shared Forry’s dream of a Famous Monsters style zine devoted entirely to science fiction movies.

    Unfortunately, whereas FM started up during the ‘Monster Craze’ fad, and helped create it, SPACEMEN came out at a time when the initial burst of SF films were over (having been replaced by ‘horror’ films), and SF genre movies were few and very low budget. There just wasn’t enough public interest to generate profit sufficient to keep the zine going. This was a great disappointment to Ackerman who had his heart set on making SPACEMEN equally as successful as FM. After all, SF had been his first love, and he the most famous SF fan in the forties, so it would have been a dream come true if it had taken off.

    To this day I haven’t seen all of the films described in issue #1. At the time, I had seen NONE of them. They weren’t available on TV as yet, and were rarely shown in Ottawa theatres. SPACEMEN (& FM) were my only link to unseen wonders.

    In time I acquired a complete set of SPACEMEN, generally in very poor condition, as these were the cheapest available. But then I wasn’t functioning as a ‘collector’ but as a second-childhood ‘kid’ looking to recover one of the joys of my youth. The set looks about as crummy as they would were they preserved from my first childhood, well manhandled, with rips and pencilled notations and cut-out ads. Makes the set all the more ‘authentic’ in my eyes. Their condition is so poor that to collectors they are worth virtually nothing. To me they are worth their weight in gold, lunar gold, or maybe even Martian gold.

    To sum up, an excellent article on an obscure topic, but a most wonderful topic to those who remember what it was like to be a young kid in the early sixties. Thank you!

    Heck, I even remember what issue one SMELLED like when I bought it off the stand. The ink was fresh and intoxicating…

    Issue #1 still has a smell to it, but of age and must and decay. Still evocative though.

    I figure my copy will last about as long as I do.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Article

Anime roundup 12/26/2013: Home for the Holidays

Next Article

The Apollo Program, A Personal Journal: Reality Votes Last

You might be interested in …