For the first time in over half a century there is no Ackermuseum of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008), genre-giant and the heart and soul of the largest collection of memorabilia ever assembled, has left the building. Now the building is leaving us. Without question, the end of an era. But not necessarily the end of Forry’s dream. Even as we face the depressing barren walls left by Uncle Forry’s absence, we’ll also consider how the recent auction of his memorabilia may offer a glimmer of hope for classic genre fandom and a new generation of Monster Kids.
Part 1: The Dark Before the Dawn
Forry’s collection began at his boyhood home on Sherborne Avenue, grew to mythical proportions at the 18-room Glendower Ave. Ackermansion and was ultimately downsized to fit in the 5-room “Horrorwood, Karloffornia” house pictured above. This was the final stop for the Ackermonster and his AckerMINImansion. This sunny Craftsman-style bungalow stood at the foot of the Los Feliz hills within walking distance of Forry’s favorite eatery: The House of Pies. Just enter: 4511 Russell Ave. Los Angeles, California 90027 into Google Earth or your iPhone map to see where Uncle Forry and his astounding collection of props, art, books and other objects lived … and died.
The living, er, ”dying room” at the Ackermuseum – Mecca for Monster fans! Forry’s brown recliner faced the door in perpetual, “C’mon in and exercise your eyeballs” mode. At his feet lay a swatch of 60’s green shag-carpet I cut from the floor of the Glendower Ackermansion when we moved. Over time, the tweedy couch at left hosted many a star and fan-fanny alike. Artwork crammed every available surface in the house. A Cylon stood sentry at the doorway to the kitchen. Today, bare floorboards creak in emptiness and the once vibrant walls are blank.
To the left of the parlor was a Metropolis room. Here Forry’s favorite gal Maria the “Robotrix” was featured amidst all-things Fritz Lang. In this pic she was decorated for the holidays. Looking back into the living, er, dy … (OK, you know the drill), Bela Lugosi’s cape was displayed on a mannequin near a “coffin table” gifted by our dear pal Ogre of Skinny Puppy. If you look closely, you’ll notice a portrait of Forry driving George Pal’s Time Machine (courtesy Bob Burns). Below that, hung the original acrylic cover painting of Verne Langdon’s LP: Vampyre of the Harpsichord! All gone now.
Back in the, ahem, room – Forry and I were dressed up to go to a 2007 Golden Globes party and dinner with Basil Gogos, Peter Jackson, Rick Baker and Paul Davids (Producer/Director of The Sci-Fi Boys). What a night! Forry’s golden Saturn Award was on the mantle, his Rondo Award at his left elbow along with many other trophies and citations. Uh-oh … the Grim Reaper lurked! Over my right shoulder, above the Tom Savini Phantom bust, was Stephen King’s first story (The Killers), which he sent to Forry when Stephen was only 14-years-old in 1962. Today, nothing remains but a shadow where the Metropolis Poster hung.
It was at this dinner table that Forry wrote his last works including a tribute in the biography “John Landis” by Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and an intro for the soon-to-be-released Dark Horse coffee table book on Warren’s Eerie magazine. Is there a piece of correspondence to YOU amidst the clutter? The big brain of the Metaluna Mutant attempted to “think you under the table.” Boris Karloff’s plaster life mask was nearby. At left of the frame stood a bookrack always overflowing with Forry-mags and other treasures for visiting fans to purchase. Nowadays, the room is bare, save for a hammer that will no doubt be pulling hundreds of picture-hanging nails from the walls.
I met Earl Roesel on Scarlet Street magazine’s posting boards hosted by late publisher and friend Richard Valley. We met in person at the Monster Bash in PA where I introduced him to Forry. The two hit it off immediately. Like many of us, Earl had dreams and ambitions bigger than his environment in Kentucky. Forry decided to import Earl to Hollywood where he became a helper and fellow caregiver in Forry’s last months. One more testament to Forry’s endless sponsorship and support of deserving friends and fans. Earl is helping tie-up loose ends with the FJA estate and is excited to start his new life. Thanks, Earl the Pearl! It’s hard to make a new home only to have to dismantle it.
The Vampirella wall. Here were the actual pencil and ink panels from the Vampirella “origin story” which Forry wrote and which was published in 1969. Forry was extremely proud of the femme fatale’ he’d created after publisher James Warren challenged him to come up with a “mod witch” comic book character. Along the molding of the wall are perched dozens of Frankenstein Monster toys. Below, the bookrack held a large selection of Forry-publications. In the far corner sat Dick Smith’s iconic Dorian Gray head from the 1961 TV production of the Oscar Wilde story. There were a number of Forry Lifemasks and Frankenforry busts in the cabinet and on top of it. Today you’d never imagine the walls were ever anything but white.
FLASHBACK: Above, Ogre (Skinny Puppy, Ohgr, Repo: The Genetic Opera) and I take apart the “Garage Mahal” in the old Glendower Ackermansion. We became close through the rebuilding and tearing down (with many other friends) of the Ackermansion and installing Forry and his remaining collection in the AckerMINImansion. Forry coined the nick-name, “Oh-Grrrrrr!” Here’s what he had to say about the demise of the Ackermuseum:
“the horror … what a sci-fi ‘n’ feeelin’!!! some of my most cherished times were spent in the hollows of FM’s creaking mansion. one would think the basement, assortment or rooms, house, yard, would scare one to bits, yet a sense of calm always pervaded. not unlike the turquoise-inlaid shell of a ruby gilded tortoise crawling across the eyelids ala “huysmans ‘au rebours’; this ackRr sanctuary gave many weekends of relief for whatever seasonal malaise of the day this ohGr was hiding from. the Glendower experiment became an obsession bordering on escape from Uranus. the collection made up the least of what was there to treasure. FoRRy. now …. not that i didn’t tweak the O’brien brontosaurus imagining being transported in time to that miniature set working towards an Ymir in years, or hover over Washington and Harryhausen’s set playing saucer on yo ass! on the contrary, i swam in it. but the most important of gifts was the weekly ‘cleanup and tidy’ before the visitors/you arrived and made a certain aCk a happy, vibrant living example of unselfishness. the tickles between the screams were more cherished…from the darkest fetish Russian doll with real-feel hair to the obscure and wonderful ephemera fragments aplenty – all within reach to discover. there will never be a place like it in this prophylactic-display-cased stash and dash world. or that mythical forry, who even now makes me question the understated depth-of-field he’s left behind. i miss him … one more check off this ghoul ogre’s list.”
I lived with Forry Ackerman for the last 15 years of his life. My fondest memories are of times spent talking with him about mundane things. Forry’s take on politics, technology and love were just as quirky, brilliant, baffling and entertaining as his well-known anecdotes about Sci-Fi, movies and monsters. I realize that I took his wall-to-wall treasures for granted. While I’d known that even the great Forrest J Ackerman had a shelf life, I always believed that the Ackermuseum was forever. Watching lives change when they crossed the threshold of that bastion made me so sure it would always be there to do its magic. But it was not to be. Memories are the only ghosts there now. The sense of wonder has evaporated into drywall. A hub of fandom has reverted to just a cozy little yellow house on a street corner. I feel sad for all of us that will miss Forry and the Ackermansion. I feel much worse for those who will never know them.
NOTE: As I write this, it’s Thursday, April 30th 2009. I’ve just visited the empty Ackerminimansion for the very last time. In a matter of hours it’ll be the 1st of May and the little yellow bungalow on Russell will start its new life as a typical dwelling. It was a sad day, but not overwhelming until I stepped into the backyard. There I saw a remnant from the last firework Forry lit at our traditional 4th of July barbeque (we’d re label all of the firecrackers with names like, “King Kong’s Fire Balls”, “Gypsy’s Labia”, etc). I visited the patio where friends would gather under an awning and trade chilling horror stories around a citronella candle into the night. Then my eye was drawn to the spot where our beloved cat Orangey Robot was buried. I stood and stared at that spot. A balding grass mound. Meaningless to anyone who’d never met that affectionate Tabby or watched him sleep curled up on Forrest J Ackerman’s feet. I realize I won’t be here to see the Gardenia blooming over Orangey’s grave. But I’ll walk away with the satisfaction of knowing that I watered em’ real good with my tears.
Part 2: That Being Said … Coming Soon
– Joe Moe
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Discuss the legacy of the great Forrest J Ackerman in the Dread Central forums!