Forrest J Ackerman interjú (by Mark Berry, Bizarre Magazine)

Back in the age of chrome, goggle-eyed lovers of werewolves, mummies and monsters were a disparate, lonely and voiceless community of movie geeks. Without videotapes, computers or easy access to any film archive, resources about their favourite creature-features or Boris Karloff frighteners were extremely limited. Lovers of fantastic film were forced to make scrapbooks and write lists, treasuring every frame of each movie release at their local picture palace or fuzzy midnight television screening introduced by Vampira.

But everything changed in 1958 when a magazine called Famous Monsters Of Filmland was launched as a one-off special. Like an angry mob of villagers from a Universal horror, kids across America attacked newsstands for the first ever chance read about their favourite subject matter, uniting together a group of monster-loving misfits and inspiring a generation of future filmmakers and writers. A second printing followed to fulfill eager chubby children’s demands for more thrilling chills and the magazine quickly flourished into a monthly form.

Deep in the bloody heart of Horrorwood, Karloffornia we find its creator Forrest J. Ackerman, also known as Dr. Acula, Mr. Science Fiction or just plain Uncle Forry to his many famous friends and devotees, a man regarded as the world’s number one fan of fantastic film. So successful was his landmark release, he wrote and edited Famous Monsters for over two decades, its influence spawning spin-offs at Warren Publishing such as Monster World, Famous Westerns Of Filmland, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella (the sexy vampire from outer space, also created by Ackerman). A whole new wave of writing for monster movie fans had been unleashed.

“I sat with an old mechanical typewriter for twenty-hours a day working on the first issue,” explains Forry, celebrating his ninetieth birthday this year. “The publisher sent across an imaginary sign saying, ‘I am eleven and a half years old and I am your reader. Forrest Ackerman make me laugh.’”

As a consequence, every single edition was filled with delightfully goofy puns that made gory guys and ghouls laugh all the way to the morgue. The magazine was dripping with salivating monster interviews, terror-ific articles on retrospective and contemporary genre flicks, creepy comic strip adaptations of classic movies, petrifying picture galleries, a popular letters page called ‘Fang Mail’ and regulars like ‘You Axed For It’ where readers could request certain photos to appear and ask all sorts of questions to Forry.

Ackerman was the ideal choice for New York publisher James Warren to helm the monster mag. Forry had literally lived in the vicinity of the Hollywood ‘nightmare’ factory all of his life, not only amassing a huge knowledge of these films but also his fanatic enthusiasm saw sympathetic studio workers donating film stills previously destined for the dustbin, while establishing good relationships with many of the stars of the day.

Forget Harry Knowles or his entourage of techno nerds, Forrest J. Ackerman was the original super-fan. In 1954, Forry even coined the phrase “sci-fi”, now found in every modern dictionary. The flash of inspiration came one day while driving with his wife, when he heard some mention of ‘hi-fi’ on the radio.

“Since science fiction had been on the tip of my tongue ever since 1929, I looked in the rear view mirror, stuck out my tongue and there tattooed on the end was sci-fi,” he recalls excitedly, his eyes squinting with delight as he begins a trip down memory lane. “To her immortal embarrassment my dear wife said, ‘forget it Forry, it will never catch on.’”

The kindly Mr. Ackerman has managed to acquire an astounding 300,000 science-fiction items, including those rare photographs (he had over 35,000 tempting terrors to offer the publisher when Famous Monsters was first published), props, books, artwork and memorabilia, a collection the Smithsonian once described as “one of the ten best private collections in the country.” Originally, it was all housed in the ‘Ackermansion’, an astounding 18-room giant cavern, cram-packed with all things fantastic including stop-motion models from King Kong, a signed first edition of Dracula and even a Martian spacecraft from War Of The Worlds.

But fangs aint what they used to be though for Forry. After an extensive legal battle in the US courts and a serious life-threatening illness, he very sadly had to strip down his collection to pay for all the expensive medical and legal costs. But with such marvelous items still surviving, Forry still gives tours around his downsized bungalow, which has been dubbed the ‘mini-Ackermansion’. There are still plenty of horrific delights to behold in the bastard offspring and a treasure trove of golden tales to entrance you, from a man who befriended all the great horror film icons of the sound era.

Among the display rests one of the actual capes Lugosi wore as Dracula. Though frail, the cantankerous old man can’t resist tossing it over his shoulder. He pulls out a pair of joke shop fangs and I start to grab some photographs. He is still as bright as a spark in Frankenstein’s laboratory. The years fall away as he acts the fool for the camera. I ask whether his friendship with Lugosi means he knew Ed Wood during their famous association, the director with a penchant for pink angora, so wonderfully portrayed in the eponymously titled Tim Burton movie.

“I was Ed Wood’s ill-literary agent,” he giggles, though terribly annoyed that he binned one of the director of Plan 9 From Outer Space’s ultra-schlocky manuscripts because it was so unbelievably awful. “He was talking about making a Bela Lugosi film, and I suggested that he call him ‘Dr. Acula’, and so he began giving me his short stories. I never saw him in drag, or he might have played ‘Dragula!’ To me he was mainly a drunken voice at two o’clock in the morning, babbling incomprehensible things.”

More highbrow clients included such illustrious SF names as Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard and Hugo Gernsback. In Forry represented over two hundred authors. Overtime, he was able to make strong connections with the great horror glitterati such as Boris Karloff Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and the aforementioned Lugosi. In Forry’s home, one group of items on display is dedicated to the famous onscreen Count. Excitedly, he grabs my arm and pulls me towards a display cabinet. Inside is a purple monotone photograph of the Hungarian actor, an ornately carved ring marked with ‘D’ and an aged signature in black ink.

“You are now looking at the only autograph by Lugosi in the world where he writes ‘Count Dracula’,” exclaims Forry with youthful delight. “One day a fan who knew Bela took me and my wife to meet him. Sound at the beginning of talking movies was on huge discs and I took one from The Murders In The Rue Morgue and played it. Lugosi was rather deaf and cupped his ears. Across the years I heard him say, ‘My name is Dr. Morocco and I am not a sideshow charlatan. So if you are looking for the usual hocus pocus just go to the box office and get your money back.” Well he laughed and he came back with the Dracula cape that is now on display here. His fifth and final wife turned out to be a witch with a capital ‘B’ and once they were at a party of mine. Bela was in the dining room and she was in the living room. Because he was deaf, he didn’t realise how loud he was speaking and was singing the Hungarian blues to me about his wife. I thought, ‘Oh God, she’s hearing every word. Wait till he gets home.’ After he died she once bragged to me, ‘I married Dracula, and I frightened him!” Bela was very superstitious and believed that you should sleep at night with a glass of water by your nightstand to keep away the evil spirits. But she would terrify him by threatening daily, ‘if you don’t obey I’ll take the glass away.’”

Forry leads me past a full-sized Cylon from the 70’s Battlestar Galactica series and a series of Vampirella comic spreads to one of his most prized items, the beaver hat and false teeth belonging to Lon Chaney, Snr in London After Midnight (1926), the long lost film. Though he never met the silent film star, he did meet his son, most renowned for playing the lead role in Universal’s The Wolfman (1940) and another who hit the bottle in his later career.

“It was disappointing,” sighs Ackerman. “One time the Count Dracula society gave a banquet for him and I sat opposite on the table. I ate my banquet and he drank his.”

Forry’s favourite movie of all time is still well-represented in his Hollywood home, where tours and talks are still conducted every Saturday. Standing proudly in one corner is a full-size replica of the false Maria robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), decked from top to bottom in fairy lights and wearing a bobble hat. There is in fact an entire room dedicated to the movie with busts of the seven deadly sins that appeared in the futuristic silent classic, numerous film posters and rare stills. Forry’s sat through more screenings of Metropolis than years in which he has lived. With wrinkly eyes wide open, he joyfully remembers some of his memorable screenings of the film.

“I was in Berlin and it occurred to me that some of the hundreds of children in the film could still be alive. On a radio interview, I asked if any would come to my hotel and meet me. As a consequence, a man and a lady came and introduced themselves. We watched the Georgio Moroder version and I had the pleasure of sitting with two of the children of Metropolis. They had been too young to see it at the time. The man now saw his long dead little sister because there was a close up of her in the arms of Brigitte Helm. Another time, I was at a film festival in Rio de Janeiro with Fritz Lang. He was nearly blind. After the screening, the applauding audience wanted him to answer questions. It was very flattering, for he rose and said, ‘anything you want to know about Metropolis, ask my friend Forry Ackerman. He knows more about it than I do.’”

It’s a pleasant surprise to find Forry’s fascination with robots is equaled by his admiration of the real female form. Mr. Ackerman takes delight in displaying a fully nude (and highly detailed) statuette of Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich in his bedroom as well as housing a large collection of bondage erotica. He’s also an annual attendee of Hugh Heffner’s (the other editor who changed the publishing world in the fifties) wild New Years Eve parties, which he points out is, “very embarrassing. There are inevitably six young ladies so poor they can’t afford to wear a single thing!”

Other famous fans include Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Joe Dante, John Landis and Peter Jackson. A testament to Forry’s influence and importance is his appearance in over one hundred films – a record for a non-actor, though as the octogenarian wryly notes, “My film career has lasted over 50 years and my total time on film is probably less than an hour.” Still, he’s managed to appear in everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video to the recent remake of King Kong, even getting cast as the President of the America in the spoof Amazon Women On The Moon (1987).

In the early eighties, Famous Monsters finally closed the lid on its publishing coffin after James Warren became ill, while Ackerman resigned in the face of the increasing disorganization and poor pay. Though it was revived in the nineties and still carries on today, Forry has no current involvement with the new incarnation. Certainly, the legacy of Forrest J Ackerman and Famous Monsters Of Filmland stretches well into the twenty-first century. As Stephen King once said about his huge contribution to fandom, “Forry was the first; he was best and he is the best. He stood up for a generation of kids who realised that if it was junk, it was magic junk.”