They have transported us to worlds fantastic and frightening, realms filled with monsters, Martians and maidens in distress. Titans of the horror, fantasy and science-fiction set, they came here Saturday to regale the faithful with tales of their early days as pioneers of their genres.
And it all began in Los Angeles with three shy boys with bold imaginations, as they told about 400 fans at the Sheraton Universal Hotel.
"We were all lonely," author Ray Bradbury recalled of his years as a teen-ager in the 1930s, dreaming of space travel and far-off planets. "Nobody in high school believed in the future the way I believed in it."
For devotees of their work, it was a chance to meet the men behind the words and pictures that have entertained them for decades: Bradbury, who wrote the sci-fi classics "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451;" Ray Harryhausen, special-effects wizard behind such films as "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" and "Jason and the Argonauts;" and Forrest J. Ackerman, founding editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
The trio, now septuagenarians, appeared together on a panel as featured guests of the weekend-long Son of Famous Monsters of Filmland Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy World Convention.
Film director John Landis, the panel's moderator, explained that as members of the "Science Fiction League," the three young men would gather at a Downtown Los Angeles cafeteria every Thursday night to swap stories and share their visions of the future.
"They became my teachers and friends," Bradbury said of his league fellows.
Though mocked for their ideas in the 1940s and '50s, all three have enjoyed the last laugh as technological advances have made many of their predictions come true.
Ackerman, who was known as the "resident crazy" in high school, said everything changed when Neil Armstrong finally set foot on the moon in 1969.
"I said one word," he remembered. "Vindication."
Despite the eventual acclaim their work received, the men couldn't resist a gentle dig at the whiz-bang special effects of today's science-fiction and horror movies.
"There's nothing wrong with all the new technologies that a good story couldn't cure," Bradbury quipped.
Answering a question from Angelo Simeone, an aspiring Santa Monica filmmaker, Harryhausen explained that classic mythology provided the inspiration for such celebrated effects as the skeleton duel in the 1958 movie, "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad."
"I think of us today as part of the mythology of the year 3000," he added. "I think all of us will be considered mythological characters 3,000 years from now."
Today's convention events will include a mock wedding to salute the 60th anniversary of "The Bride of Frankenstein." Ackerman will serve as "sinister minister" to join the pair in the bonds of "unholy monstermony."
The magazine's first convention, held in Virginia in 1993, drew an estimated 7,000 fans, but organizers said they were expecting up to 10,000 for this year's three-day event.
"I'm very into the horror scene," said Catrina Coffin through a mouthful of fangs in one of the dealers rooms, where retailers offered every variety of macabre merchandise.
Coffin, president of the Los Angeles Hearse Society, said she sleeps in a casket and considers her life as a bloodsucker more than a hobby.
"I'm also a vampire--a real one," she explained.
Barbara Leigh, who once portrayed the buxom, pulp magazine character Vampirella, said monsters and creatures from outer space provide a healthy outlet for the imaginations of their fans.
"They're fantasy," she explained, "and fantasy is not harmful."
Asked to name her favorite monster, Brooke Mantia of Fremont picked Dracula.
"He's sort of a romantic figure," she said. "I've had a crush on Dracula since I was 7 years old."
A fellow fan of the Transylvanian count, 5-year-old Alex Asea, prowled the convention dressed as a miniature version of Bram Stoker's famous creation.
"He didn't want to wear blood today," his father, Bobby Asea, explained, "too sticky."
The 42-year-old San Jose resident said the event provided a unique opportunity to introduce his wife and three children to his hobby--monsters.
"Frankenstein, Dracula, they'll live forever," Asea said.
Brittany Asea, 8, had a different view.
"I hate monster movies," she said.