When I was a child my favorite publication on the magazine racks besides MAD was Forrest J. Ackermans “Famous Monsters of Filmland”
We probably in all likelihood wouldn’t have had FILM THREAT, PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO or FANGORIA without it. “Forry” published Ray Bradburys first short story and was also Ed Wood Jr.s literary agent. He was personal friends with almost everyone who ever made a horror or science-fiction film from either side of the camera.
A childhood dream of mine came true in 1997 when I got an opportunity to tour his 18-room “Ackermansion” (as he named it) on an LA vacation. When I was a lad I would read in Famous Monsters how Forry would conduct weekly tours of his home, which was overflowing with movie memorabilia. By the late 90’s Forrys health had deteriorated to a point where he was only conducting the tours once a month.
I had friends living in LA during the 90’s and would visit them at least once a year. In between 1992 and 1996 I had been unable to book a flight on the same Saturday he did tours but I finally lucked out in 1997 and we got to go.
As we cruised the narrow winding road overlooking Griffith Park, my excitement level rose as we rounded one curve and saw the Hollywood sign from about as close as I ever got to it. Over the rails lining the road was a gorgeous panoramic view of Los Angeles. Finally we pulled up to a home with several cars parked in front; this must be the place.
I had brought along three issues of Famous Monsters and a recently purchased used Canon SLR I didn’t really know how to operate properly.
Once in the house, the line moved slowly from room to room. Every wall that didn’t have a bookcase was covered with movie posters, lobby cards, still photos, 8 X 10 head shots of numerous film stars ( almost all of which were autographed) Movie props were everywhere: the spaceships from the original WAR OF THE WORLDS, the “Gill Man” mask from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, a shelf full of props from the original OUTER LIMITS and just countless other such items.
He had separate rooms for Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi memorabilia. The original oil paintings for the covers of Famous Monsters lined the walls. As the line slowly moved along I realized we were getting closer to The Man himself; I started to hear his voice ( just louder than a whisper by that point) in the next room.
Finally we arrived in the same room as Forry, who was sitting in a comfortable chair flirting with a sizeable crowd of young female admirers and signing numerous autographs.
We scooted along slowly and finally made it up to where he was sitting. We got him to sign our copies of Famous Monsters and then I asked him if he minded posing for a photograph. Ever the gentleman, Forry struggled to get out of the chair and he posed with me in front of a case of Willis O’Brien SON OF KONG stop-motion animation figures. Sadly the picture didn’t come out when I got the roll developed ( Gee just exactly HOW did 35mm film become a dead medium again?) We shook hands and spoke only briefly; there were many other guests.
As we exited I stopped to sign the massive guest book and was awestruck at some of the names in the book: Rob Zombie and Lux Interior of the CRAMPS for example.
Forrys health took a turn for the worse in recent years and a combination of medical expenses and an expensive lawsuit against a major asshole whose name I won’t repeat here took it’s toll on his finances. By 2000 Forry was selling off his collection on Ebay and even selling his stuff at garage sale prices on weekends out of his home. Eventually he was forced to rent a much smaller home nearby and wasn’t really doing tours but sitting in an easy chair while people walked freely around the three or four rooms of stuff he hadn’t sold.
Forrest J Ackerman left this mortal coil Thursday December 4th 2008. I won’t say “God bless you Forry” because I know you were an atheist, but you will be missed nonetheless.
relevant links: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-ackerman6-2008dec06,0,7179199.story and click here for some excellent photos from inside the “Ackermansion”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60887663@N00/sets/72157606261907388/