Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
THE TRUE BELIEVER:
“I felt that the primary authors of science fiction were opening my eyes … to a better and more fascinating world,” says Forrest J Ackerman of the genre he has championed. Ackerman once was literary agent for Ray Bradbury and L. Ron Hubbard.
| Read Dennis McLellan’s obituary on Forrest J. Ackerman here >>>
Welcome to his planet
Forrest J. Ackerman, perhaps science fiction’s greatest collector, keeps a dwindling trove open to the public.
January 06, 2003
By Hilary E. MacGregor,
Forrest J. Ackerman, a.k.a. Mr. Science Fiction, answers the door to his bungalow. Dressed all in black, except for a red shirt, he is the gracious host of his own haunted house. On his left hand is the ring worn by Bela Lugosi when he played Dracula in the 1948 film “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
Ackerman’s little home is crammed floor to ceiling with Hollywood horror memorabilia. There is a life-size replica of the robot from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis.” The real robot was destroyed in the film, but 15 years ago Ackerman hired two guys, who spent 600 hours reconstructing her. There is the single remaining Martian machine from the 1953 film “The War of the Worlds.” In front of the fireplace stands the very first Hugo trophy — the equivalent of the first Oscar in the science fiction world — which Ackerman received in 1953 at the World Science Fiction Convention. In a glass box nearby, Ackerman has the beaver hat and the ghoulish teeth that Lon Chaney wore in the lost film “London After Midnight.” Ackerman saw the film on opening day, in 1929.
“These are the things that have been most important to me over the last 75 years,” Ackerman says. He’s selling the rest.
Fame and obscurity
Ackerman is perhaps the greatest science fiction collector of all time, but outside of fandom, his name is virtually unknown.
He is the founder of the cult magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He was Ray Bradbury’s literary agent, and L. Ron Hubbard’s, too, long before Dianetics and Scientology. He has inspired Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and was sought out by Michael Jackson for advice on his “Thriller” video. He started reading science fiction as a child before the genre had a name and claims to have invented the abbreviated term “sci-fi.”
Unlike a lot of collectors, who hoard their troves, Ackerman has always shared his private collection with the public, gratis, every Saturday. An estimated 50,000 visitors traipsed through his hillside home — a 5,800-square-foot, 18-room home on Glendower Avenue in Los Feliz. The “Ackermansion,” as it was called, became a mecca for local science fiction fans and a pilgrimage spot for visitors from around the globe.
“There was nothing like it anywhere in the world, and there never will be again,” says Jerry Weist, an author, collector, and comic book and science fiction consultant for Sotheby’s who is selling part of Ackerman’s collection. “The heritage of modern collectors is based on the Ackerman collection. It’s as if one guy in Europe had most of Braque, Picasso, Matisse and Chagall, as if one person had an overwhelming collection.”
Part of what distinguished Ackerman from other science fiction collectors was his interest in film. Ackerman embraced Hollywood. Over time, he has collected hundreds of thousands of movie stills, press books and rare movie posters.
“If you include science fiction memorabilia as well as literature, no one could touch him,” says David Kyle, 84, a pioneering science fiction book publisher, novelist and fellow “survivor” (as they joke) of the first World’s Science Fiction Convention in 1939. “All because fortunately he was in an area, Hollywood, where the fantastic filmmaking which he was so interested in gave him the opportunity to collect these things.”
Over the decades, Ackerman has had offers to buy his collection and convert it into a museum. The failure to preserve it has made some fans weep. It makes Ray Bradbury’s blood boil.
“We live in a stupid world,” said Bradbury, who at one time or another has begged executives at a variety of companies, including Rocketdyne, to help preserve the collection. “I said, ‘A special room with all of that will be more fascinating than all that junk you have.’ They didn’t believe in the future. I believe in the future. Forrest Ackerman believes in the future. No one else cared.”
Weist estimates that at its peak, in the mid-1960s, Ackerman’s collection would have been worth about $10 million in today’s market. Instead, over the last 30 years, Ackerman, now 86, has slowly had to sell piece after piece to survive. Then, this past summer, as a result of health problems and an expensive and still unresolved legal fight against his onetime business associate, he was forced to dissolve what remained of his collection.
Last summer, he moved out of his beloved Ackermansion. He is selling all but about 100 of his favorite objects, including more than 50,000 books. But though he now requires round-the-clock nursing at his small bungalow in the flats of Los Feliz, Ackerman still shares what’s left with anyone who comes to his door. Once again, his doors are open to fans on Saturday mornings.
“I call it the Acker Mini-Mansion,” he says.
Even here amid his diminished collection, it becomes apparent that the greatest part of Ackerman’s collection is the man himself. He is full of tales of the birth of horror in Hollywood. He saw movies that have been lost forever. He attended Bela Lugosi’s funeral. He attended not just the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in 1939, but nearly every convention since. As a teenager, he corresponded with the president of Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle, 62 times, until Laemmle wrote on his president’s stationery, “Give this kid anything he wants.” Fifteen-year-old Forrie Ackerman chose the sound discs to some of the greats of early cinema like “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Frankenstein.”
Born and raised in Hollywood, Forrie is the ultimate fan. He is still an eager 12-year-old boy trapped in a gangly, 86-year-old man’s body. He delights in bad puns and very silly jokes. He points to a casket covered in embroidered pillows in the front of his living room. “That’s my coffin table,” he says with a wink. “Room for one more…. ”
He is well-spoken and a master storyteller. He has an encyclopedic mind that holds data like a computer. He can rattle off obscure movie titles, forgotten movie stars, esoteric movie lore. His stories are what make his objects, much of which look like junk in an adolescent’s bedroom, come alive.
There is Bela Lugosi’s cape in the corner, from the 1932 stage performance of “Dracula” in San Francisco. And there, over the dining room doorway, are the seven great faces of horror cinema in life-size 3-D molds: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Tor Johnson, Glenn Strange, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre.
Where others display china, Forrie displays models of dinosaurs, monster heads and a skull holding a serving bowl. Where others might hang paintings, Ackerman hangs a wall-size comic strip of Vampirella, which he created in 1958.
He walks back toward the bedroom with a mischievous look.
“You are over 21,” he flirts, arching an eyebrow. “You can come into my ‘badroom.’ ”
In a story that any visitor to the Ackermansion has probably heard, he likes to recount how he fell in love with science fiction, in October 1926. “I wasted the first nine years of my life,” he says in his singsong storytelling voice. He was at a Santa Monica Boulevard newsstand. “Among all the magazines, one popped off the newsstand and spoke to me.” It was Amazing Stories. “That one said, ‘Take me home, little boy. You will love me.’ Three years after I discovered that magazine, my mother said, ‘Son, do you realize how many magazines you have? You have 27. Do you realize how many you will have by the time you are a grown man? You might have 100…. ” Ackerman’s claim of having coined the term “sci-fi” is accepted by the genre’s experts; the “Encyclopedia of Science Fiction” even no
Ackerman is not the least bit defensive about that. “Before about 1958 you can look in vain, nowhere in the world will you find that term,” he says. One day, he was driving around and he heard someone on the radio say “hi-fi.”
He said to his wife, “Why not sci-fi?”
And, to her “immortal embarrassment,” he reports, “My wife said, ‘Forget it Forrie. It will never catch on.’ ”
Risk of theft
Over the years Ackerman was so eager to share his collection that he kept his doors open even when visitors stole some of his most prized possessions. Once a man had the audacity to call him and try to sell him the sound disc to “Frankenstein” that had been stolen from his collection.
“Every once in awhile my heart would be broken when something would disappear,” Ackerman admits. But he never thought of closing the doors.
“My wife used to say, ‘What have they stolen now? Why do you let all these strangers come?’ But what’s the use of having 300,000 interesting things if I just sit up here, a crotchety old codger in his house on the hill.”
Kyle says many of the earliest science fiction enthusiasts believed so strongly in the genre they would share their knowledge freely, to the frustration of some of their competitors. “We are the last of a breed — of the original science fiction enthusiasts,” says Kyle. “When science fiction was known by only a handful of people, we thought we had discovered something the world didn’t know about.
“Mr. Ackerman frequently was doing things to promote the field when other people were just trying to keep it a moneymaking field,” said Kyle. Ackerman, for instance, would help science fiction fans in Mexico start up magazines, and assist Hollywood producers who came to his door asking for stories and suggestions. They would go off full of information, Kyle says, but Ackerman never got any recognition or compensation.
“He was taken advantage of,” says Kyle, “time and time again.”
During a chat with a visitor Ackerman suddenly leans forward. In a mishmash of what sounds like French, Spanish and Italian that is somehow comprehensible to any liberal arts graduate, he tells a visitor her eyes are beautiful, her height striking. He is speaking Esperanto. “In the 20s and 30s, some science fiction stories of the future mentioned that everyone would one day speak Esperanto,” he says. “For me it was like time travel. It was like going 100 years into the future. And if I could bring back a bottle of something, I would be thrilled. At least I could bring back the language everyone would be speaking.”
Something about Ackerman’s snippet of Esperanto seems to capture the soul of science fiction, and of Ackerman himself. It speaks to a utopian vision cherished by people who fantasize about a world where Martians and Klingons and humans can all speak the same language and get along. It is the view of an optimist, the view of a man whose slogan is “Save humanity with science and sanity.”
“A lot of us really believed that educating the public with sugar-coated science would make the world a better place,” Ackerman says. “Pure everyday science might not attract a reader, but to surround it with adventure and a spirit of optimism would make it acceptable. I felt that the primary authors of science fiction were opening my eyes … to a better and more fascinating world.”
Ackerman does not dwell on his health, the loss of his collection, the lawsuit that continues to drain his finances.
As he has his whole life, he looks to the future. To the next time he sees “Metropolis” (his 101st). To his next film cameo (his 106th, in the upcoming movie, “Vampirella”). To the latest visitors to his scaled-down world. ( A Swedish family with an 8-year-old boy named Winter Wolf visited last week.)
Although he says thousands of children around the world call him “Uncle Forrie,” his wife, Wendy, died in 1990, and he has no heirs. He has not willed the remains of his beloved collection to anyone.
“If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going to go,” he says, laughing.
Then he hints at what he really hopes will happen, despite 30 years of failed efforts: “Twenty years down the road, when I pass away, I hope this little bungalow will be maintained just as it is….”
Goodbye you gentle giant, and perpetual kid contemplating the wonder of it all. You made millions laugh at our fears.
I can envision Forey now hanging out with many of his undead favorite friends, having the time of their … uh, deaths.
HAPPY TO HAVE MET UNCLE FORRY IN 2006…HE GRACIOUSLY TAPED A BRIEF INTERVIEW W/ ME FOR “MONSTER MADHOUSE”…WHAT A GREAT MAN.
WILL ALWAYS BE MY HERO.
Los Angeles legend, incredible person. He and Ackermansion will be greatly missed. Never be another like him.
A True Hero.
What is really sad and tragic is the fact he had to sell his magical collection in order to survive.
Where were all of the of his well-to-do
Hollyweird fans to help him out?
I thought for sure the Ackermansion would become a museum that could be enjoyed forever.
You made my life a more fun.
Honored to have met you.
The Ackermonster gone? What will the world do without Forry? I never met him but, I’ve been a reader of his magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland for years and he seemed like an old friend to me. Forry was someone that I grew up with. Horror and sci-fi won’t be the same. We will miss you Forrest. R.I.P.
Truly a Class Act…
Goodbye, My Friend
Uncle Forrey was a great pioneer for Esperanto.
Dankon al li!
I had the pleasure of sitting informally with the great man at a convention in Boston in the early 70’s in Boston.
He permitted me to wear the Lugosi/Dracula ring for a time as we watched “The Giant Gila Monster” on late nite local TV. His description of the movie was that it was so bad that “it was not released, it ESCAPED”.
Thank you for the memory, Sir. Gonna miss you.
Forry was a treasure to all of us kids who grew up with his wonderful and wonder-filled magazine. He was a kindred spirit to so many of us youngsters who loved the world of science fiction, monsters, & fantasy that he shared with us through Famous Monsters magazine. Forry told me once that he did not believe in life after death. I hope that this very dear man has discovered that he was wrong, and is now having the time of his life (err – death) visiting all his dear friends that left this earth before him. One thing I do know: so long as we fans keep him alive in our hearts and our memories, Forry Ackerman shall not die.
Forrest J. Ackerman, 1916 – 2008
you have the great horror movie magazine of all time
I love the magazine
JIM THE COLONEL KLINK
May FJA rest in peace! He opened his home and collection to my son, some friends and myself last January when we were in LA over the New Year holiday. What a wonderful person and a treasure.
FRIENDS,WE WILL ALL MISS FORRY.I CAN TELL YOU OF WHEN I SAW HIM LAST MONTH.I CAME IN AND DUMPED SEVERAL INFAMOUS HEADS FROM MY COLLECTION ON THE FLOOR.FROM JASON AND HIS MOTHER,TO CHUCKY & TIFFANY,TO TASO,TO UNCLE GRIEGE.
WITH HIS EYES WIDE OPEN,AND HIS MOUTH AGAPE HE SMILED AT SUCH A TREASURE TROVE OF GORE.
I BROUGHT THEM TO ASK HIM ABOUT ADDING DORIAN GRAY TO MY WORLD FAMOUS “HEAD CASE” EXHIBIT ON GOTHICATROCITY.COM.
WE HAD DISCUSSED OFFICIALLY PASSING ME THE TORCH AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE MODERN HORROR PROP COLLECTOR AND FAN.HIS RESPONSE WAS “HOW DO YOU WANT TO DO IT”?FANGORIA NEVER RESPONDED.
THOUGH FORRESTS SHOES ARE VERY LARGE INDEED,I WILL WEAR THEM WITH PRIDE AND CARRY ON TRADITIONS MY MENTOR HAS SET.
I CAN’T EVERY SATURDAY,BUT ANYONE IS WELCOME TO VIEW MY VAST COLLECTION ON GOTHICATROCITY.COM AT ANY TIME.YOU CAN ALSO CONTACT ME THRU THERE FOR PRIVATE IN PERSON TOUR APOINTMENTS.
GOOD BYE MY GOOD FRIEND.I MISS YOU SO!
55 years ago Forey and I went to Hell together in Germany. He was the king of puns and always had a new one for me like “Giraffles are long neckers”
He loved “Denney’s” I think that is one thing I will miss most, not having lunch with him. He was a wonderful friend and I shall miss him
I hated to see that FJA had died. I knew that in recent years his health had been increasingly bad, and there was the heartbreaking failure of the ’90s reincarnation of “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” and the subsequent liquidation of the Ackermansion. As a child of the ’70s, I remember the neat “Famous Monsters” magazine covers on drugstore magazine racks that caught my eye, and what kid couldn’t love the bad puns? It was idyllic, with my childhood spent scrawling pictures of Frankenstein and pestering my parents to help me put together another Universal movie monster model kit.
In hindsight, FJA wasn’t perfect; his business savvy seemed to lead to scattershot projects and sour business deals in later years, as he’d confide to readers with bitterness. (I’d last seen his column in “Scarlet Street” magazine off and on within the last few years–writing in exile, trying to stay visible for his fanbase.) And I can remember the personal disappointment more than once of sending off money orders for “Famous Monsters” merchandise advertised that never was delivered–lost in the shuffle amid a mountain of fan mail I suppose, maybe it had simply been beyond FJA’s organizational skills to keep up with.
But FJA is especially noteworthy in one regard: he didn’t write down to or patronize his young readership. Instead, he fostered imagination and inspired creativity among a legion of fans. He also seemed to give tireless reverance and promotion to stars of horror movies & writers, both contemporary and in years past, many of whom were often down on their luck, obscure, or deceased–thereby ensuring that those individuals’ works could remain ageless with new generations being introduced.
We don’t have people like Orson Welles, Jack Palance, or Vincent Price anymore, sophisticated actors who celebrated the macabre with a good-humored wink to fans young and old. And now we’ve lost Ackeerman. I still have a prized, autographed photo of FJA I got for my subscription to “Famous Monsters” with him in his Dracula cape & ring, signed “Beast Witches, Forrest J Ackerman.” Priceless stuff, in more ways than one. An era has ended.
I feel honored to have met Uncle Forry in Kansas City in 2001, and happy and thankful my daughter (10 years old at the time) was also able met him.
How was Mr.Ackerman connected with the series about Perry Rhodan. Doers anyone remember this Geraman series? Please reply Keith
Perry Rodan ,Rhodan???
Dearest Uncle Forry…Goodbye.
You came to my high school graduation back in 1958 and the next day took me to see “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. Not exactly the type of film one would expect to see with you. But then you were always filled with surprises.
You published my very first short story in “Perry Rhodan” and that story has been reprinted, thanks to you, 3 or 4 more times.
You introduced me to the greats…Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt among them. Your birthday parties were amazing and I was privileged to attend them.
Forry, without you Sci-Fi would never have come so far. Without you this would would have been a lot less interesting.
So, dear Forry, goodbye for now. I hope your trip to the other side is as fascinating as you always expected it to be.
YOU MADE MY LIFE SO MUCH RICHER AND INTERSTING. GOD BLESS YOU.
I wished his vast collection stayed in America. At one point, there was a story about a Las Vegas casino wanting to have it.
There was an intrusion on his collection and for that I feel very sad.
Peter Jackson of KING KONG owns some pieces of his collection, he is will to share it with the world.
I had heard there is some of it in Germany. I just heard about it. This should never of happened.
The last time I saw Forry was at a showing of Cecil B. Demille’s film, “The Godless Girl” at UCLA, when I do not precisely rembember. It was inspired by an incident involving a friend of mine, since deceased, one Queen Silver whose lifetime was involved in freethought and atheism. A silent film with a sound ending, it had a highschool girl who distributed atheist leaflets at her school, who finally realizes the “error of her ways” and ends up converting to Christianity.
I had known Forry since about 1945 when I was introduced to the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, which met in the basement of a hotel on Bixel Street (#628?) just north of Wilshire Boulevard. I befriended Arther J. Cox, and we came to share a room in a house across the street for a few months.
I was always hoping to visit Forry and the Ackermansion, but never got around to it. I do not plan ahead very well.
I am sitting here looking at a get well card I had intended to send after reading about his recent heart attack. I only read about his illlness a few days ago . I guess I was already to late. At least I had the chance to meet him a couple of times, at the San Diego ComicCon.
Thank you Mr. Ackerman for introducing a ten year old kid to the Mummy , Frankenstein , and the Wolfman. Thank you for taking me to places like Transylvania , a tomb in Egypt , and the Black Lagoon. Thank you for sending me on incredible adventures in outer space with Perry Rhodan.
Thank you for promoting the two genres I love the most, thanks to you.
Forey. Thank you for your ability to bring out of us the musings as to what was, and what is, and what is to be. You and a great host of curious human beings are the representatives of what is the humanity in us. Our curiosity, our hopes, even our attempts to find morality and a perfect theology. One God (one entity), ONE CYBORG. All of the of these musings lead us to where we are now, and in to the future. Also if there is any possablility that WE ourselves invented GOD as part of our collosal imagionation, Then GOD BLESS us all. We strive for perfection in a flawed, chaotic state of existance. Yet here we are. I think it is because of those great thinkers of the SCI-Fi Genre. You are acceptably with that great unknown we Call God. Help God to understand mankind even more. Adios our friend,
Goodnight & God bless Forry, from all your fans here in England.
SO Long 4E..You were the King of “Sci-Fi” maybe someday they will give you that STar on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that you deserve so well…..RIP…
I was very honerd to have visited Forrys in arond 2003, It was great being able to listen to all his stories, and lookin at his mass collections that he had all through his house.
If I remember right his address was 2495 Glendower Ave Hollyweird Karloffornia.
RIP Forry we will all miss you very much.
I do have his atograph and i will always tresure it!!!