Monday, 30 April 2012

 A Visit to Forrest J. Ackerman  

   At a recent table top sale I purchased a copy of 'Famous Monster' DVD (2007), a homage to Forrest J Ackerman  and as my wife and I watched it we recalled our own visit to the original 'Ackermansion' in 1999.

    Ackerman (1916-2008) was one of (if not the) earliest collector of Sci-fi (he invented the term) memorabilia as well as literary agent for the likes Ray Bradbury, A. E. Voigt, and Robert Heinlien. To many he will be best remembered as the editor of 'Famous Monsters of Filmland' which began in 1958 and after various incarnations still exists today.

    Over the years he accumulated a truly vast collection of Sc-fi/Horror items which he kept at home in an equally large house at in the Hollywood Hills of 'Karloffornia'.

    We found ourselves outside his house via the simple method of ringing him up, as his home phone number was listed as part of the small listing we had seen (I think)  in the guide section of the L. A. Times. Though we didn't know it, the house was normally only open on Saturdays, but his good nature prevailed and he agreed to let us visit anyway.

    Ackerman was a big man when we met him, later photos show him minus a lot of weight, and though slowing down (he had just returned from a convention) and rather deaf, was geniality itself with an aura of general good humour. This bonhomie was considerably enhanced by the sight of my compatriot, the beautiful Michelle,  and they became instant pals.

  Ackerman ("call me Forry") guided us around and related various anecdotes and lines that had been polished by years of telling. My favourite was given as he showed us a huge basement containing dozens of shelves filled with books (500 different editions of 'Dracula' in most languages amongst them). As we goggled at the vast collection he said-

    "People often ask me if I have read all these all books. I tell them that I have read every last word. I open the book, read the last word and place the book on the shelf". This became an instant policy (and anecdote) of my own. Many did seem unread and in thus in pristine condition. Boxes and framed works seemed scattered everywhere but as we went into the main living area of the house, the floor space became somewhat clearer, though what seemed like every inch of wall space was crammed with framed images from every era.

    Once again my eyes roamed over the collection without treally aking anything in until I spotted something that...could it be? a Clark Ashton Smith sculpture? Of course it was. And that model monkey arm? Oh yes, said Ackerman, that is a part of the original Kong and we were then shown some of the dinosaur models as well.

 We then went to the 'Metroplolis room' (the clue is in the name) with its black  and white painted floor and, though I am probably conflating rooms, I remember seeing a stand in the centre of it with one of Bela Lugosi's capes hanging on it. Strangely I don't remember being shown Lugosi's ring which Ackerman wore continually.

  As we went upstairs we passed a woman in her 20s sitting at a computer. "What is she doing?" I asked thinking, that she would be an archivist or librarian. "Oh she is just exercising her eyes" he replied. And that was it. Nothing more revealed about her and we moved onto the next room, and the next...

    We realised that he was visibly tiring and made our farewells after a few photos and the purchase of a few souvenirs which he kindly signed for us.

    It upsets me when I think of the sad end of Ackerman and his wonderful collection which he had accumulated with so much enthusiasm and love. Sadly much of it, and the mansion was sold to pay for a legal battle over intellectual copyright regarding 'Famous Monsters...' a case he won in the end but which crippled him financially. Ackerman was an 'old school' good chap, kind, gracious and generous, who put himself out for an hour or so for us. M. and I liked him a lot.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dr. Evermore's Forevertron
March 2012

        Leaving Joe Bandel (see my previous entry) I headed back into Wisconsin and headed towards the strange world of Dr. Evermore and the Forevertron.

    I had heard of this having been pointed towards it via the excellent website
'Roadside America' (thank you Sarah!) which is a site of odd things to places and places to go. It is a (sort of) guide to the follies/oddities of the U.S. Stateside they more often termed 'enviroments'.

    Of course its folly of a different sort not to visit a few bookshops en route and thus I ended in the back room of the excellent
Midway Books in St. Paul where I was shown wonderful stuff indeed. Original Harry Clarke illustration for Edgar Allan Poe? Oh yes. A large edition (in both senses) by Ferdinand Von Bayros book containing many of his (underrated) non-erotic works? Tick. Perhaps some original Alastair (Baron Hans Henning Voight) drawings? Absolutely. Or some original Hannes Bok erotica painted for Harry Dunniger's collection. A whole portfolio of it. Plus a wonderful array of John Austin books, some Austin Spare  edited 'Golden Hind's' and so much more.

    Most interesting were a collection of original paintings and drawings by Howard Wandrai (1909-1956)  brother of Donald (the co-founder of Arkham House) which they were selling on behalf of the Estate.

The Woman At The Window

    The two jpgs above are representative of the work (for legal reasons I could not take photos of those Midway were selling) but don't do it justice, as the originals are generally large scale (600 x 400mm for the paintings) and intricately drawn and inked. If you were at the New York book fair you could have viewed a selection. Much of what I saw is not listed on the website so its worth an e-mail or some sweet talking to see them at the shop.

   This digression meant it was the next day before I finally reached my goal.

A general view. L-R main elements are; Royal Gazebo, Farady cage (foreground), main thrusters, Tyro Telescope
    Forevertron lies a few miles of Burraboo  at North Freedom on US HWY 12.

    This (ongoing) project was begun by Tom Every in collaboration with his wife Lady Eleanor in 1982 and is an interpretation/realization/recreation of a machine that had previously 'existed' in England built during the last decade of Victoria's reign by Every's ancestor Dr. Evermore (R.A.). Here is the story.

    As a child Evermore Jnr. had been told that "lightening comes from God almighty" and rationalized that  "if lightning comes from God, maybe I can get to God by creating lightning on earth and riding it up to the celestial spheres".

    Over the years he became a successful scientist, ultimately inventing and building the original Forevertron, which he demonstrated in front of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1899. This is what occurred...

    "On a prearranged signal, Col. Chester Cjertsen, Dr Cjertsen of the Norwegian Academy, took his position in the Overload Master Control Tower. He switched on the Celestial Listening Ears, plotted the co-ordinates, and calibrated the Magnetic steering Gyro, locking in the trajectory. When all was ready he signalled and shouted, "Power on, Dr. Evermore." The Doctor approached the travel chamber, turned to the crowd, waved, and declared, "I'm ready to highball it to heaven!". He entered the glass ball inside the copper egg...The dynamos powered up and shook the ground, the thrusters glowed and rumbled, with an unearthly sound, the groan grew louder and louder, many ladies fainted from fright, children covered their ears and cried. The piecing sound rose in a shrieking crescendo, and then  shhhhhhhhhhh-ooooooo- it was over. He was gone, simply vanished."

    The 20th century Every was able to recreate the machine by the good fortune of being in the scrap (or just perhaps hoarding) business amassing a collection of historically important bits and pieces from the likes of the Apollo Space Program, Nasa's space research facilities, power stations, historic buildings and the like. as well as more general 'stuff'.

    I still remain unclear as to how Forevertron took over Every's life, but reading between the lines of a conversation I had with Lady Eleanor Every and  the book 'A Mythic Obsession' by friend Tom Kupash, it seems as if Every, always something of a maverick, and certainly not one for following rules that he deemed to make no sense, came into some conflict with the legal/tax system and/or had some sort of breakdown as a result and/or that he just decided to opt out of a 'system' that was becoming increasingly bureaucratic. One one hand he acknowledges that the 'myth' is a fabrication but on the other works very hard to maintain its 'truth'. Such is the way of the artist.

    The photos do not do it justice. Forevertron is vast (approximately 108 feet long, 72 feet wide and weighing 300 tons)  and appears at first glance to be  mix of a scaled up Baron Frankenstein laboratory/sci-fi fantasy with a large dose of steampunk aesthetic. It takes the eye some time to stop roaming over the vast structure begin to focus on specifics, so skillfully have they been melded together.

Travel chamber and thrusters
    The central 'travel chamber' sits above four 'thrusters' which are composites from transformers used in Wisconsin powerhouse dam. The stray voltage and static are rendered safe by four 'Faraday cages' on each corner and the two tall structures are 'The Royal Gazebo' and a giant 'Tyro Telescope' so that the launch could be observed accurately  "because we have those cotton pickin' non believers around". There are searchlights and of course a vast amount of cabling to link it all together.

    Over time various other elements have been added. 
The 'Juicer Bug' collects lightning and saves it as backup power in case there is a electrical failure in Foreverton itself  as does the 'Albert Mellentine' also known as the 'Cherry Picker'.

Juicer Bug

Albert Mellentine
   One of the most charming additions is the large 'Bird Band' with their musical instrument bodies. These represent the band that will be present when Foreverton is powered up. 

There are perhaps some fifty of these full size figues though some birds stand approximately 50 feet high. They are complemented by a conductor bird and security in the  form of 'cannon birds'.

    As Forevertron grew it attracted some intergalactic attention, and a small U.F.O. probe arrived, as did the friendly Komodo dragons who suck up sand and energy to then spit it out to make music.
U.F.O. probe
Komodo Dragons in the foreground (The Royal Gezebo can be seen rear left)

Both dragons and some of the birds can be played by visitors who can strike the various bells, tubes and bowls that partly constitute them.  There are dozens of other visitors to be discovered.

    Sadly, Every and his two main assistant's are all getting infirm (in Every's case quite ill) and it appears to have fallen on Lady Eleanor to see the project onto its next stage. There are the usual running repairs as well as planned works such as getting the spotlights that are already in position working. However a larger problem looms in that it is not certain that Forevertron will stay in its present location. My mind boggled when she informed me that the whole structure is actually modular and thus could be dismantled and re-assembled.

   In a perfect world Forevertron would be completed (though is such an undertaking ever 'complete') and once in working order would give light/sound shows to (paying) visitors. At present it is free and open most afternoons. There would be some sort of visitor reception space constructed, much of the latter is already in existence, but stored within three containers parked at the back of the site.

Myself and Lady Eleanor. The Tyro Telescope can be seen rear left and one of the four Faraday Cages on the right.
    Lady Eleanor is so spry that one feels it might just happen, as her cheerful charm and enthusiasm is infectious and I for one wished I could volunteer for a week or so to help out as it is such a great project. However she is very special, and I fear that without her and Tom Every himself to drive it forward, it could become a very different situation. One would hope that the community would support and protect it, in the way that Simon Rhodia's wonderful Watts Towers are now cared for; but for the meantime, in the words of Dr. Evermore himself, "Power On!"

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Visit To Joe Bandel
March 2012
    On a recent rip to the US for work I was able to add a few days holiday and travel from Milwaukee to the wilds of Minnesota to visit Joe.

    The name should ring a bell to Side Real lovers as he is he translator of Hanns Ewers' 'Alraune'. This is in addition to running his own publishing house 
Bandel Books  which publishes other texts by Ewers, Joes own writings and selections of artworks from the 19th century German art nouveau journals 'Simplicissimus' and 'Jugend'. He is a busy man.

    My journey began from the Milwaukee Art Gallery

which was currently showing selections from the Anthony Petullo collection of outsider art. This is a great collection and I had the pleasure of chatting to Mr.  Petullo who is a nice man and an authority on all things Scottie Wilson (1888 - 1972)

Scottie Wilson

     It seemed rude not to to take in a few bookshops en route, so first port of call was Madison - the state capitol.  It is a big student town and very laid back, with a number of bookshops all clustered around  State St.

    From there it was through Sauk City (Sauk town more like-its tiny) past the odd veterans memorial

to Au Claire and three good bookshops. One is part of an antique centre with a big taxidermy collection. 

    A few hours scarcely touches the vast piles of 'stuff' all heaped up. But I was a man with a mission and had to leave, though not  it must be said, without booty.

    Once one leaves Wisconsin and enters Minnesota things change- the landscape flattens with more forest and many small lakes the result of glaciation. Towns are small and odd ruins dot the landscape.

    The area mainly survives (barely) by tourism. There is poverty and homelessness which is partly ameliorated by the Churches. These are sadly pretty fundamentalist and there are plenty of 'Pro life' billboards ("Smile - your mother was pro-life") though to offset that, I did flash by one advertising a bar that said "Dancing. Booze. (Need we say more)".

    And thus to Joes. I am always wary when meeting someone in the flesh for the first time. E-mails are fine but when you are meeting (and staying) with them, will they be total fruitcakes?

    Thankfully, and unsuprisingly, this was not the case and in within ten minutes myself Joe, Annie (his wife) and their dog were all perfectly at home with each other. Talk quite rapidly turned to the spiritual; believers (Joe Annie), and non (myself). We also talked of the Masonic influences to be found within Ewers work, Joe having some 'inside knowledge' as it were of such things- an area I only know of through reading. This led us to the O.T.O. (both breeds), Crowley magick etc...Tea was drunk, Joe's large collection of Ewers perused (many German editions) and the hours seemed to dash by.

    Next day myself and Joe (who had kindly taken a day off work) and idled around the immediate environs with Lucy the dog. Joe was suitable amused that I thought it 'the countryside'. Our talk turned around the Ewers friends we knew and it was bought home to me how although the internet has enabled people to link up, personal meetings are infinitely better. Joe is not short of friends, but rural Minnesota means that finding 'like minds' locally can be very hard (impossible for Ewers). We both agreed that it is small circle we move in. We also spoke of Nietzsche and the 'will to power' and how Ewers work has plenty of it in a way which much fiction, particually in 'our field' doesn't- a very interesting thought. We then discussed how Nietczche's ideas began to fall out of favour after WW1 and of course how Hitler and the Nazis perverted his ideas further.

    We returned and watched 'Unnatural' (1952) directed by Arthur Maria Rabenalt and starring Hildegard Knef and Erich von Stroheim. 

DVD cover and poster

   It was the forth version of 'Alraune' for the big screen and I had not previously seen it. It is actually jolly good, cramming a lot of the book into its 92 minutes. It avoids the childhood section and concentrates on the latter part of the book. Apparently the Ewers estate has caused it to be withdrawn (though copies are still available) so if you want one, get one sharpish.

    Annie works in a used book store (nice!) and after she finished work we went to dinner, then returned to light the fire pit and drink hot chocolate in the open air; thoroughly satisfactory. It was only then that I realized I had taken no photos at all so I (poorly) remedied that.

Joe Bandel and I

    As Joe had to be up at 4.00am to go to work (and I was on holiday!) this was time to say our farewells.

    As you will have surmised, I had a great time with great people and we all agreed we should try and do it again somehow, somewhere.

    Next morning I began my journey south towards Baraboo and Dr. Evermores 'Forevertron'. That will be the subject of my next posting...