The 'Ackermonster' has|
tales to tell his listeners
May 25, 2000
By Franklin Harris
Before they learned to write, our tribal ancestors revered their elders, for the old were repositories of knowledge -- living history books in a time before there was any history as we know it.
In our increasingly post-literate age, it pays for us to heed our elders as well.
At 83, Forrest J. Ackerman -- you can call him "Uncle Forry" -- is a walking textbook of the history of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He is the rare individual who truly has "seen it all."
Yet, with the weight of the ages upon him, he is still youthful, and he is more than happy to share his stories with anyone who will listen.
Forrest J. Ackerman
He strode onto the stage Saturday at Sheffield, Alabama's Ritz Theater clad in history. He wore the cape Bela Lugosi wore in the stage version of "Dracula" and again in "Plan 9 From Outer Space," and on his fingers were rings worn by Lugosi (in the film version of "Dracula") and Boris Karloff (in "The Mummy").
On a third finger he wore a ring containing the face paint of the Man of 1000 Faces, Lon Chaney Sr., who immortalized the Phantom of the Opera in the silent film classic.
All are pieces of Uncle Forry's vast collection, the rest of which fills his 18-room "Ackermansion" in Los Angeles.
Whenever he is in town, Uncle Forry opens his home to weekend visitors for free tours. There you can see everything from original models from "King Kong" to a life-size re-creation of the robot from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," Ackerman's favorite film.
Ackerman met the squeaky-voiced H.G. Wells, was friends with the likes of Lugosi, Karloff and Vincent Price and, through his magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-1983), inspired an entire generation of fantastic filmmakers: Joe Dante, John Landis and a precocious pair who go by the names George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
For better or worse, Ackerman is the man who coined the now-popular but often-maligned term, "sci-fi," a fact that has earned Ackerman the undying scorn of writer Harlan Ellison.
He has been an author, a publisher, an archivist and a literary agent whose clients included Ray Bradbury and a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard. A young Stephen King sent his first story to Ackerman.
Ackerman was even an "illiterary agent," has he likes to put it, for Edward D. Wood Jr., the frustrated and hapless filmmaker many deem the worst director in history.
(Wood was responsible for "Plan 9 From Outer Space," as well as the films "Glen or Glenda" and "Bride of the Monster.")
Wood's case points to why it's good Ackerman is still around. Tim Burton's film, "Ed Wood," which depicts the angora-obsessed director's bizarre life and Lugosi's final days, is a wonderful piece of cinema but a rotten example of history.
Lugosi and Karloff, who made six films together, were never rivals, Ackerman said. That they were was just hype from Universal Studios. Also, Lugosi never used profanity, "and he certainly never said the scatological things he's depicted as saying in the movie," Ackerman added.
"Uncle Forry" has a good time with one of his creations, Vampirella (Leslie Culton), at the 1998 Dragon*Con in Atlanta.
Uncle Forry created the comic-book character Vampirella and her sister Draculina, although he has no connection to the current "Vampirella" series published by Harris Comics.
Ackerman is even an actor of sorts. He has made cameo appearances in numerous films, all made by filmmakers he "led astray" years ago through Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
In the fall, Ackerman will become an editor again, as his new magazine, "It's Alive!" hits the stands, giving the "Ackermonster" another chance to "corrupt" the youth of America.
In the meantime, you might want to find Ackerman's recent books: "Forrest J. Ackerman's World of Science Fiction," "Ackermanthology: 65 Astonishing, Rediscovered Sci-Fi Shorts" and "Science-Fiction Classics: The Stories That Morphed Into Movies."
After all, Uncle Forry has lots of stories to tell, if you want to listen.