Sunday, October 28, 2007
What better way to celebrate Halloween than by paying a visit (and respects) to the world’s greatest monster movie fan? Forrest J Ackerman – whose friends affectionately refer to him as “Forry” or “4E” – lives in a cozy bungalow in Los Feliz and, believe it or not, still welcomes sci-fi / horror fans into his house every Saturday morning.
For those who don’t know, Forry is a writer, actor, producer and literary agent whose passion for the sci-fi and horror genres has defined fandom for half a century. In 1958, he published the first issue of the now-legendary fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, filling it with publicity photos from his own private collection of more than 35,000 movie stills. The magazine inspired several generations of future writers and filmmakers – many of whom have become fast friends with the editor-in-chief – before ending its run in 1983. Famous Monsters has since been revived… but under troubling circumstances, resulting in a 1997 lawsuit that eventually forced Forry to part with much of the movie memorabilia that he’d spent a lifetime collecting.
Forry has, however, managed to hold onto a few prized possessions – like a first edition hardback of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (published in 1897), autographed by Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Vampira, John Carradine, Karl Freund, and others. He also has the top hat that Lon Chaney wore in Tod Browning’s legendary lost film London after Midnight (1927), the monstrous head from the conclusion of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), and an assortment of other strange items. The walls are of his house are filled with movie posters and fan artwork, plus a lineup of masks moulded from the faces of legendary actors like Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr., and Charles Laughton.
The best part of this collection is Forry himself, who vividly remembers all of those luminaries and doesn’t hesitate to share his memories. On Saturday morning, I was thrilled to find him sitting among his treasures, smiling and talking to visitors. There were a few other newcomers, as well as a couple who had been visiting him for twenty years. They knew just the right questions to ask to bring out his playful (sometimes even slightly bawdy) sense of humor. It wasn’t long before he was telling stories, singing and cracking jokes. At one point, he looked directly at me and casually asked, “Have you heard about the cross-eyed schoolteacher?” I said no. With wide eyes and an ultra-serious tone, he responded, “She couldn’t control her pupils.” Later, when I told him I was local, he instructed me to write down my address so that he could invite me to his 91st birthday next month. This is a guy - familiar to fans the world over – who had known me for all of ten minutes!
I suppose that’s one reason that Forry is so immensely popular… because he’s just as friendly and enthusiastic with other fans as he is with celebrities. Filmmakers, writers, publishers and casual moviegoers alike speak of him with reverence. I remember several times hearing his name invoked on the set of Virginia Beach’s late-night horror show, Dr. Madblood. Shows like Madblood, publications like Fangoria, Cinefantastique, and Video Watchdog, and countless fan conventions owe Forry a debt of gratitude for paving the way.
But I imagine that all this talk of gratitude is a bit too haughty for Forry. He’s just looking forward to Halloween night, when he will be able to gleefully tell a new generation of trick-or-treaters about his friends… the children of the night.
That same night, Dr. Madblood and friends will go live with their new website… the latest incarnation of a show celebrating its 32nd anniversary. Be sure to check it out.
If that isn’t enough viewing material for the un-hallowed holiday, let me refer you to John Kenneth Muir’s Top 15 Horror Films of the 1980s. The author recently justified his choices on Howard Margolin’s radio show Destinies, and Howard was kind enough to point out when and where you can catch those shows on TV in the upcoming week. You can listen to the interview here.
On the bottom shelf sits an autographed first edition of Dracula. I'm not sure what the thing above it is supposed to be.
A Cylon watches over Forry's collection
Forry meets Frankenstein
Zoom in on the names below the masks