Nerds, punks, goths, gorehounds, freaks, fangorians, fantasists, and also futurists are all this week mourning the passing of Forrest J. Ackerman, the original sci-fi nerd and monster-movie journalist. Forry held an especially unique place in the Los Angeles landscape by dint of turning his house into a museum which he opened to the public once a week. Several years back me and a buddy of mine stopped by the Ackermansion to tour the grounds and pay our respects to the soon to be late Uncle Forry...
Forrest Ackerman is best known as the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, although this is only one facet of his enormous influence on the emergence of science fiction as a respectable literary, art, and film genre. He was friends with Ray Bradbury since they were kids, and has the dubious distinction of being the first person to publish the writings of wizardrous Scientology Founder and former sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard. Ackerman also started America's first sci-fi fan club and pretty much invented the idea of fandom as we know it today, spreading the gospel of horror and sci-fi through a series of self-published fanzines that eventually developed into Famous Monsters. Famous Monsters capitalized on the horror movie boom of the 50s and 60s and found its way into the clutches of young Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and countless other horror geeks who would grow up to lord over the pop culture we all grew up with. The Misfits copped their signature typeface from the title of Famous Monsters, and pretty much every punk who published a zine between the years 1977 and 199something copped its grimey B&W newsprint aesthetic.
A few years ago, on account of his being very, very old, Ackerman was forced to move from his sprawling Ackermansion in the Hollywood Hills to the smaller Son-Of-Ackermansion bungalow he occupies a few blocks off of Vermont Avenue in Hollywood. When we got there, we weren’t sure it was the right place, until Forry himself stepped out onto the porch and waved at us. We went inside, leaving coffee on the porch for fear of besmirching any of the priceless treasures inside. Once in the living room, Ackerman smiled at us wide-eyed for what seemed like several minutes. Was he going to tell us a story? Suck our blood? His teeth were fanglike and golden, and it seemed extremely likely that he might suck our blood. Finally I asked Ackerman how he was, but it was evidently too quiet to register. “That’s Dracula’s cape over there,” he said, pointing to a corner of the room that, sure enough, contained Dracula’s cape as well as a large coffin. “Whose coffin is that?” I asked him and he replied, “It was given to me by a gentleman named Oghr from a rock band called Skinny Puppy.”
In a display case, Forry had a small collection of the most ancient and precious articles of his magazine collection, guarded by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Centaur from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. “That’s the very first science fiction magazine ever published,” he said, indicating the one in the very center. “And that one over there is the first one I ever bought, when I was nine years old. The magazine spoke to me. You probably don’t know this, but magazines spoke then. It said: 'Take me home little boy. You will love me and I will make you happy.'”
Every room in the Ackermansion was decorated floor to ceiling with posters and paintings, some by famous masters of the pulp sci-fi and horror genre, some obviously by amateurs. Atop Forry’s refrigerator lay a scale model of the library in the old Ackermansion. Within the miniature walls I detected the famous stop-motion dinosaur armatures from King Kong, conspicuously absent from the current collection. Hidden among the monster postcards on the refrigerator was a picture of George Bush, placed among the pantheon in what was likely a gesture of genuine admiration: a Famous Monster surrounded by his relations.
From the kitchen, Forry led us into his bedroom for the saddest part of the tour. The bedroom is part of the museum, just like the kitchen, and probably the bathroom too although I forgot to check. Beside Forry's bed is a chair Abraham Lincoln once sat in, owned by his great grandfather, whose portrait in oil hangs above the famous chair. Over his bed hangs an enormous black-and-white photo of his late wife Wendy from the 1950s. “That’s my wonderful wife. We were mugged in Italy in fifteen years ago. She lost her life.” Nobody was really equipped to a piece of information like that, and it wasn’t really clear whether she’d died as a consequence of the mugging or what. “I’m sorry,” was all I could say. Forry didn’t have anything to say either, and walked back out to the hallway. I lingered a moment and noticed a small makeshift shrine to Marlene Dietrich on the opposite side of the room, the centerpiece of which was an eerily lifelike nude statue of the star complete with bush.
There is no way to dedicate adequate attention to every artifact in Forrest's house of treasures. There's the robot from Battlestar Galactica, a framed short story submitted to Famous Monsters by a 13-year-old Stephen King, a framed picture of Fritz Lang and “The Man Who Put The Rings Around The Robot,” a deed to a tract of land on the planet Mars. “I’m planning on starting a farm there and raising Mars-mallows,” said Forry.
Forry sat down in his recliner and gestured for us to sit down on the couch, where he began to tell us anecdotes. Had we ever seen a movie called Schlock: The Banana Monster? he asked? We had not. He was asked to go over to a studio and watch it, a low-budget $60,000 monster movie by some nobody named John Landis, funded by his uncle. The studio suits were laughing at it hysterically, but apparently they liked it enough to give Landis an extra $10,000 to shoot a few additional scenes. Later that week at the airport, Forry was approached by Landis. “There are only three people whose opinions matter to me,” said Landis, “Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and you.” Forry was flattered to be included in such a group, even as the bottom of the totem pole, and asked if he was really the man responsible for the Banana Monster, then gave him his opinion. Years later, Landis invited him to watch Schlock again with Michael Jackson and a girlfriend.
Forry has also been featured as President of the United States, President of the Earth, and as a judge in Nudist Colony on the Moon or possibly Nudist Colony of the Undead. Ackerman’s anecdotes suggested he'd seen action in numerous movies featuring unorthodox nudist colonies. “It was a terrible step down, being a judge after being President of the Earth,” he said. A Korean war orphan once mistook him for his hero, Boris Karloff, and a woman at a screening of “King Kong” he attended with Ray Harryhausen asked if he was the man in the gorilla suit. Forry was also Bela Lugosi’s guest at the premiere of his final film. Lugosi was nearly blind but too vain to wear glasses, so Forry had to tell him how many paces away the TV crew was before Lugosi lurched forward for one last time before a camera as the great Count Dracula. Two weeks later, Lugosi was dead, as many of Ackerman’s best friends surely must be.
There is something sad and neglected about the Ackermansion – it belongs in a real mansion, or a museum, or somewhere that isn't a tiny one-story bungalow - but there are too many wonderful things inside for it to not be fun. I hope whoever inherits it will make sure that there's always an Ackermansion somewhere in Los Angeles.