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.