Thursday, October 15, 2009

Forrest J. Ackerman Pulp Fiction and Science Fiction Writer, and My Aunt

Every so often, as I grew up, Mom would tell me about my Aunt and her correspondence for many years with Forrest J. Ackerman also now known as Mr. Science Fiction, or “Forry” to his friends.

My Aunt was an aspiring writer herself, and loved science fiction among other genres, but somewhere in my Aunt’s early years, she started writing Forrest and they corresponded for years. How few or many I do not know at this time. Perhaps my Mom wrote about it in her Life Story, but it was for quite a few.

At any rate, Mom used to tell me how after Aunt and Forrest became friends, Forrest wrote a story that incorporated her families’ names into the story. And somewhere down the years my Aunt did send a copy of the pulp called The Spider, as seen at the top.

The episode in question was published November of 1941.


However, the printed author name is a shared pen name called “Grant Stockbridge”.

I did some online research about this and came up with this information from The Horror Timeline:


Followed immediately by The Great Depression. In the economic down-turn of the next decade radio plays and pulps took people's mind off their problems and saw the creation of such as the hugely popular The Shadow (1930) and The Spider (1933), both dark vigilantes, wreaking havoc on the underworld. The former started as a radio narrator of the 'Detective Story Hour', leading into success in magazine (edited by Frank Blackwell) and novel (the first written by stage magician Walter B. Gibson) formats, with over 280 novellas detailing his exploits. In early 1932 the Shadow appeared in his own radio show, and was portrayed by Orson Welles in 1937-8, and Lynn Shores directed the first movie in '37, followed by two serials. The Spider first appeared in The Spider Strikes, written by R. T. M. Scott, but was soon the work of

'Grant Stockbridge', a pseudonym for several writers,

most frequently Norvell Page, totalling 118 novellas (and yes, the first movie serial appeared in 1938, the sequel in 1941). Both of these characters can still be found today, mostly in reprints and comics (and the lacklustre 1994 version of The Shadow), but the best preserved of the group appeared in 1939 and is just as well-known as ever.

And a reference here: Grant Stockbridge: pseudonym of Norvell W. Page

But I see no mention of Forrest using that pen name except that it was a shared one as I mentioned. Interesting. I may have to email some Ackerman fans who might know.

I double checked, and indeed, the unmistakable names of my Mom’s family are in that issue. Each name changed by one letter, I suppose for anonymity, but still obviously my family names.

I went to visit this Aunt years ago, and she also told me how she wrote to Ackerman for many years, so I don’t doubt that it was he that wrote this story, as far as I can tell from family history, but we all know family history can sometimes be wrong.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see if I can find out more about this.


  1. Fantastic story! Immortalized in the "Spider!" I'm a big fan of 4SJ (another of his nicknames), both for his role as a leader in science fiction fandom, and for his talent as a collector (he was one of the greats). If I had a pantheon of saints, he'd be one of 'em!

    I actually own a small painting -- a rough "sketch" -- believed to be by a pulp artist named Malcome Smith that was originally owned by Ackerman. It's one of my prized possessions not just because it's a neat work of art by a somewhat important illustrator of the time, but because it was originally hanging, somewhere, in Ackerman's "Ackermansion."

    Thanks for telling us about this, and if you discover anything new, I'd love to hear about it!

  2. Doc, I figured you would appreciate this story.

    I wish I could recall more details, but I'm not sure that makes much of a difference. Further investigation credits this issue of The Spider again to Norvell Page, but I am 99% sure Ackerman wrote this.

    I was sure, that when I had read this, back when my Aunt sent it, that it included my Uncle's names as well. Funny how memory can play tricks on you.

    I see my Aunt's name, and another, a character known as her Mother (different first name altogether than my Grandmother) is used extensively throughout the last 25 pages of the story.

    I wish I had the letters he wrote to her. And the sad thing is, I suspect my cousins threw everything out at the time of her death, but that's only conjecture on my part.

    I do remember on the one visit with her, that she told me this story herself.

    At any rate, I am rambling on a bit here, and will try to find out more.

    Very unfortunate that he passed away last year or I might have been able to ask him myself. =( From what I gather about him, seeing him on TV and his wonderful museum, I imagine he would have been happy to talk to me.

  3. The story of Virginia Combs Anderson is well known in pulp fandom. An old fanzine, Xenophile, dedicated issue 40 (July 1978) to her and it will interest you to know that it includes an interview with her, along with reproductions of much of her correspondence. For my Spider website I myself retyped one very significant letter that she got from Norvell Page, author of Volunteer Corpse Brigade, which you can read at this address:

  4. I have long been fascinated by your aunt. Would you happen to know where I would be able to find any of her relatively legendary poetry, letters, or other writings?

  5. Wow Chris, I missed your post to this! Yes, that was my Aunt Virginia, clearly you know.

    Spider Fan, I am not sure, would have to check. But it seems Chris knows more than I do! =D

  6. I knew a different side of my Aunt.

    Did she know her letters had been reprinted or that her relationship with these writers was known? She would have been so very flattered.

  7. I can not say in regard to her knowledge about her letters being published (though I think that she got some of her letters published in various Spider magazines). I also understand that she got some of her poems published in the magazine as well.

    I admit that I only have some peripheral information on her, but I have always been fascinated by her. What I understand to be her despair at the lack of idealism around her in her youth is something that I very much sympathize with from my own not-too-distant youth.

    And anyone of any age with such a thirst and love of ideals is someone that I have tons of respect for (her love of and influence on my favorite pulp character does not hurt either!)

  8. Spider Fan, thank you for the info.

    Yes, you hit the nail on the head when you said: "What I understand to be her despair at the lack of idealism around her in her youth is something that I very much sympathize with from my own not-too-distant youth."

    When I commented on my most recent post of this ongoing story on my blog, that I knew a different side to her, this is what I alluded to.

    I knew her quite well, through her sister, my Mom, and having stayed with her a while.

    Mom wrote the story of her own life, some 1,500 pages of it, from their childhood onward. So of course she wrote about Virginia too. This is an unpublished, not posted on the internet story, I have the only 4 copies. I intend to scan it and post it on a website one day, but... Mom was a gifted writer as well.

    So, if interested, I have information about her and her family, if you care to know.

    Feel free to email me at: