Another person we missed at both ConuCopia and Aussiecon was Forry Ackerman who, as
we mentioned our Opening Comments, broke what was the all-time longest consecutive
worldcon attendance string. It turns out that Forry had another commitment that
took him almost as far from Los Angeles as Melbourne is, but in the opposite
direction. In his previous article, Forry gave us a window onto the "evil empire"
Soviet Union of the 1970s and China of the 1990s. This time we go back across the
ocean with him to a slightly more tourist-friendly place.
I wish it had been in Stockholm, it would have made such an ideal headline for this article, but it was instead the little town of Lund, Sweden, where I spent the week of September 22-26, 1999, at the 5th Fantastisk Film Festival. I was head of the Festival's Jury that week, and had expected to see half a dozen films a day from various countries, but it seemed like half the films scheduled never showed up. One was held by customs in Finland, and another never reached us in time because it was delayed (are you ready for this?) by a bomb scare!
The very first film on opening night was a bomb all by itself: Komodo, with giant digital dragon lizards on the loose. No one cared for it. But Night Time, Beowolf, and Fear/Faith/Revenge made up for it, as did the remarkable shorts Billy's Balloon, Devil Doll/Ring Pull (a U.S. entry that captivated festival fans in Cannes) and The Wedding Night, a 12-minute tour-de-farce of loveable Astaire/Rogers-like zombies with a vocal assist from Ol' Blue Eyes Sinatra singing "Fly Me to the Moon." Most eagerly anticipated by the Swedes was Rock 'n Roll Frankenstein, which a U.S. festival had earlier refused to show on the grounds of being too gross. I agree. If Reanimator was your cup of glee, you're welcome to gorge your gorge on this phallic Frankfurter that revives Elvis, Liberace, and various R&R personalities into one bawdy body. The film probably belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records for the greatest number of uses of the 'F' word in a motion picture.
The film festival sponsors threw me a curve by announcing in the souvenir book that I would be giving a two-hour seminar each evening from six to eight o'clock! Splrfsk! (That's a fan-language expletive coined by the late Phil Bronson meaning "Yoicks!") A 'seminar' to me promises a teaching session. I was not prepared to teach anyone how to write scripts, direct pictures, or anything of that sort, so I had to valiantly fill in with anecdotes about Karloff, Lugosi, Lorre, Price, Lang, Carradine, Metropolis, and some of my sixty-two movie cameos. Whew!
I went to Sweden thinking I would be drowned in blue-eyed blondes (what a way to die!). Tilt! Everywhere were brunettes and redheads! It seems 55% of the country is now populated by immigrants from Turkey, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, and Africa. A Swedish fan was driving me around one day when suddenly he pointed: "Look! A blonde!" One genuine blue-eyed blonde Svenska flicka I met while I was in Sweden was an avid fantafilm fan who spoke Swedish, English, French, Indonesian, and I think a couple of other languages, and who also understood when I spoke to her in Esperanto. She made an indelible impression on me when she said, "I am very impressed of you." Tak se mycket, Svenska flicka! (Thanks a million, Swedish girl!) Maybe I should start a fan club in Sweden!
Anyway, we stopped during our drive at about half a dozen second-hand book and magazine shops, where at one of them I found a copy of the Swedish science fiction magazine Hapna! with a photo of myself on the cover! (Talk about hitting the 'Ackpot'!) But a few days later, an even more extraordinary thing happened. I was out in the countryside being treated to a real Swedish smorgasbord by a Swedish fan, Kristina Hallind (with her husband) when Kristina's husband began telling me about the Swedish sci-fi mags of the past. He mentioned one I was unfamiliar with: DAS Magazine. If I'd been in Germany I would have assumed it simply meant 'The Magazine'. But he explained it stood for 'Detective Action Scientifiction', kind of a combination fiction periodical like Argosy in the days of Stanley Gardner, Murray Leinster, Ray Cummings, et. al. in the 1920s and `30s. He had just finished telling me he didn't know if it was still being published when a gentleman at a table next to us said, "Pardon me, I couldn't help overhearing you. Yes, it's still being published -- I am the publisher!" Well, he had me pose with him for a picture for his next issue and even volunteered to send me a number of back issues. What a lucky coincidence!
To conclude my Swedish saga, while I had a captive audience at one of my two-hour 'seminars', I told them a tale which I don't believe I've ever put into print before. Years ago, I picked up the phone and an accented mannish voice in a lilting singsong said, "My name is Karl Gustav Chindberg. I yoost flew in from Schvaiden. I vunder cood I meet chu?"
"Why, yes," I said, "where are you?"
"Well, I guess you aren't going to be here in the next ten minutes then!"
When he eventually arrived at the Los Angeles airport, my wife Wendy and I picked him up there and immediately warmed up to him. We kept him in our home for two or three days and on our last night together we were driving down what is known as Restaurant Row, a mile-long stretch with about a hundred different eating establishments on it, Karl said, "I vunder, vood chu like a midnight snake?"
"You know, a little something to eat -- a midnight snake."
Well, we didn't let on he was mispronouncing 'snack' and accepted his offer. The next day we were wrapping gifts of some duplicate books and magazines from my collection to mail home to him when he noticed my return address (at that time): 915 S. Sherbourne Dr. He looked puzzled. "Who vas Doktor Sherbourne?" he asked.
I realized he was confusing the abbreviation for 'Drive' with the medical profession, and so with a straight face, explained, "Oh, he was the man who drove all the midnight snakes out of this territory!"
Several years later, Wendy and I were in Sweden and visited Karl in his baronial manor. There was a lake and a forest on his land and a private cemetery where for 200 years servants had been buried. After a sumptuous dinner and a chat, I was waiting out in the auto when Wendy came running to me and cried, "Come! You have to see this!" Karl, with a quixotic sense of humor, had had a wall painted like a mural with a knight on a horse chasing midnight snakes!
This is not a shaggy dog story, it's absolutely true! But with that, I say Hej då, Adjö, or Farewell, to Sweden, with happy memories of Sci-Fi Forry Fans who are real Swedenhearts!
Title illustration by Teddy Harvia