Friday, August 14, 2009

The Summer of Halloween

Here in Saint Paul, Minnesota, as the outside temperature climbs into the 90s, for possibly our hottest day of the summer, I'm longing for the cool briskness and colors of autumn. It seems fitting for me to reminisce about another summer of long ago, which found me excitedly anticipating a special quest for Halloween from "Captain Company", the mail order service offered in the back pages of every issue of Forrest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

In the many years since they permanently closed their doors, the truth is that I'’ve frequently heard disheartening, even downright disturbing tales regarding the mail order experiences from other readers of the Warren mags. Apparently, more than a few sadly experienced having their orders go unfilled, telling tales of the carefully mailed coins that would never return. One guy told me that he’d ordered a special back-issue only to have to wait almost a full year for it to be delivered. When it did finally arrive, he was utterly disappointed to discover that it wasn’t the magazine he had sent for, but was instead the current issue which he had already bought from the newsstands. His mom wrote an angry letter of complaint, detailing the error and tardiness to Captain Company. About three months later another envelope arrived containing a fresh copy of the exact same issue as before, no explanation enclosed!

But, surely, none of this confusion was the fault of Forry. You sent your money, and you took your chance.

Like most kids, I suppose I got as big a kick out of looking over all the cool monster items in those ads as I did from actually reading the magazine itself. I always sighed longingly as I imagined ordering dozens of back issues, stacks of horror paperbacks and scary record albums, and a battalion of monster model glow kits, all the while being very keenly aware that my pockets were quite uselessly empty.

Even so, there came a time when an idea sparked in my brain...a sinister scheme that could enable me at long last to purchase what was, at least in my ten-year-old mind, the Unholy Grail of all Captain Company items— namely, a "Super De-luxe heavy rubber Monster Mask from Don Post Studios"!!

It was another long hot summer, and I'd just picked up an issue of FM from the neighborhood drugstore before leaving on a family vacation. At that time I had been occupied in the weekly ritual of mowing various neighborhood lawns for a buck per yard. It occurred to me, quite suddenly, that if I saved my money throughout the entire summer, and if found enough grass to cut, then maybe, just maybe, I could earn enough cash to actually buy one of these really cool monster masks! And it would be just in time for Halloween! I'd be the scariest, coolest, most Hollywood-realistic movie monster in the entire neighborhood! Brilliant!

Okay now, these masks were listed as $34.00, way back when, (plus $1.50 postage...heck, a yard and a half to mow just for mailing me the darn thing!), which might as well have been thirty-four hundred dollars to me at that time. Still, if I was careful, and didn't buy too many comic books or monster mags over the summer, I figured that I might actually be able to pull this off.

In the meanwhile, I needed to plan carefully. Which mask would I chose?

My original choice would have been the Frankenstein Monster mask based on Glenn Strange (y'know, the one featured on the Monster World magazine Christmas issue cover, wearing the Santa Claus hat). Now that was a monster mask! The scars, skull clamps, and grayish green mummy-wrinkled skin were just too beautiful to behold!

But...the current sales ad in FM no longer featured that mask. Drats.

My second choice would've been the Dracula mask, a cool blue-green Lugosi likeness with gruesome blood-stained lips. However, I quickly noticed that it was no longer for sale either. Argh! Foiled again.

Well, that was okay. I had a lot of time, and there were still plenty of great masks to pick from. Right? Absolutely!

There was another Frankenstein Monster mask, a very different one clearly modeled in the likeness of Boris Karloff from Son of Frankenstein, which I'd newly appreciated by having watched the film for the very first time that summer (on Saturday's “Fright Night” in Louisville, Ky., hosted by The Fearmonger). That Karloff mask was very nicely spooky, even in its grainy b&w newsprint photo. There was a very scary Wolf Man, too, and a fierce-faced Phantom. The menacing Mummy was also still available. A creepy Creature, the monstrous Mr. Hyde, and a great Gorilla mask rounded out the cast. All of them were very ghoulishly stylish. Each mask devilishly wanting to be mine.

Ah, but which one would come to rest upon my shelves, displayed next to my luridly painted Aurora models? Well, I still had all summer to decide that, didn’'t I?

And I did mow lots of lawns that summer. And I did miraculously manage to save a full $40. I was ready to order, at last! Then...the “Curse of the Monster Collector” hit me for the very first time.

I couldn't decide which mask to buy.

I tried to decide, then tried again. I even sought the advice of a couple of friends who were also into this stuff. No real help there. Perhaps, like many of you, when I was ten years old, my "favorite monster" was usually whichever one I'd last watched on TV. Which would it be? The Frankenstein Monster? The Wolf Man? The Mummy? The Creature? I just couldn’t decide.

I worried myself almost sick, thinking that I would somehow betray all the other monsters over which ever mask I finally chose. I wanted them all…, but could only afford one! How could I ever possibly choose??

What a crazy kid.

Ultimately, somewhat sadly, I never did send for that Don Post Super Deluxe monster mask. I do remember using a bit of that summer's plunder to buy several of Aurora's Prehistoric Scenes plastic model kits, and found a very cool Caveman rubber mask from Johnson Smith Company for only $3.95. Fun stuff to be sure, but somehow not quite the same.

Sometimes, I think about that summer on days like this. And, I want to kick myself. I really should have bought a Don Post monster mask. Any monster mask! Who knew that they would become almost-impossible-to-find collector's items, nearly as rare as fossil dinosaur bones. But, I just couldn’'t decide.

I wonder...which one would you have chosen?


  1. Pity me, y'all. I made it through my childhood on Archie and Richie Rich comics my sisters would buy. I never was exposed to the wonderful world of Forrest J. Ackerman. I loved me my monster movies and creature features, but I missed out on so much.

    If there are any time travelers reading this in 3471, do me a favor and visit me in 1968 and bring me a load of Famous Monsters mags.

  2. Great story ;) I never followed Famous Monsters either, though I was a pretty big monster fan, and had a ton of nightmares to show for it when I was younger :0 I never was near a newstand, so if I did run into anything it would probably be comics, and that was fine as that got me started. I bought the monster kits also, along with the Weirdo kits, and some Big Daddy Roth kits, among others. I also remember that some trading card company came out with some monster cards like baseball cards, and I was heavily into them. I'd look at the monsters and scenes on them, and wondered what the movies were like. I'd never seen or knew of the Neanderthal model, but looks cool, and I love prehistoric period stuff too. If that's a picture of the mask you picked up, you did all right it looks like to me. Boy some of those old ads in the back of comics and magazines were just as exciting as the regular content ;) I remember ordering some of that prank stuff from the comic ads: itching powder, pepper gum, the shocker gizmo, and so forth... Golly, a dollar per yard, you were a very cheap lawn boy.

  3. That is one of the saddest things I've ever read.

    Poor Fred.

    (Oh, and it's Forrest J--without the period--Ackerman. He corrected me himself once, a long time ago.)

  4. El Vox,

    Tell me about it.

    Still, a buck per yard was the going rate for lawn mowing in Valley Station, Kentucky (now part of the metro Louisville area) at that time.

    I felt like I was quite the business man, in those days.

    Yup, that's the Cave Man mask I ordered, a bit better painted than the one I remember. It was a cool mask. I'd wear it in my backyard, hunting for Saber-tooths and mammoths, admiring my bizarrely distorted shadow.

    No telling what the neighbors thought of me.

  5. I actually owned a copy of that record album, back in the 70s. Those were the days...