PCR past banners Now in our fifth calendar year
PCR #211  (Vol. 5, No. 15)  This edition is for the week of April 5--11, 2004.

THIS WEEK'S MOVIE REVIEW
"The Whole Ten Yards"
 by Mike Smith
ODDSERVATIONS
My Afternoon With Forry Ackerman
 by Andy Lalino
SPLASH PAGE
Tampa Toy and Comic Con
 by Brandon Jones
VINNIE VIDI VICI
Introductory Column
 by Vin Blesi
MIKE'S RANT
Play Ball!...A Part of History?....No Lawyers Allowed....Yikes....Passing On....Looney Lucas....They Write The Songs....Ice Cube Can Play The Thing....Meet The Beatkles, Part 12
 by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR
Home
Andy Lalino
Oddservations by Andy Lalino

My Afternoon with Forrest J Ackerman

Most Crazed Fanboys would laugh at the notion that somewhere out there in the vastness of outer space exists the proverbial Center of the Universe; the truth is, it exists right here on planet earth in the form of two titans: Dr. Paul Bearer and Forrest J. Ackerman. In the '70s and early '80s, I had the honor of meeting the esteemed Dr. Paul at various Tampa Bay events, including Halloween Haunted Houses, "Captain Ego" stunt shows, and Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethons; however the Ackermonster remained elusive, residing on the far side of the country in Horrorwood, Karloffornia. Someday, I dreamt, I wish to meet the man who was so pivotal in shaping my lifelong interest in things fantastic.

Flashback to the early 1970s:
Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Dr. Paul Bearer's "Creature Feature"; they went hand-in-hand. Sometimes on Saturday afternoon after watching Creature Feature, I'd walk or ride my bike to the local Publix supermarket to buy the latest issue of FM hot off the presses (yes, young ones, back then you could actually buy a horror magazine at Publix). Thumbing through Famous Monsters beamed me down to worlds, often scary ones, where vampires and werewolves haunted the Transylvanian countryside and aliens from Planet X terrorized hapless females. It was an escape from the ordinary; the humdrum. It was what being a kid was all about, so intoxicating that the spirit of being a Crazed Fanboy stood by me my whole life.

Readers of FM quickly got to know the figure that made the 'zine so incredibly special; the Prince of Puns, the Warden of Wit, the Baron of Bad Jokes: Forrest J. Ackerman, FM's Editor-in-Chief. Forry's photos, essays, editorials, and commentaries graced every issue of the magazine. He was a friendly-looking fellow that was the greatest living Fanboy of his time (and still is, sorry Bob Burns!).

Forry, being a child at heart, knew first hand what it was like being a fan of the fantastic, and always made time to give personally guided tours of his famous Hollywood "Ackermansion" (a priceless collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy memorabilia), even though people would sometimes steal things off the shelves. Forry also sympathized with those kids whose parents would throw their FM collection in the trash (bet now they wish they hadn't some of the back issues are extremely valuable) because they featured monsters and vampires - kid's stuff - they'd be better off reading about more important things, like world politics. I recall in one issue, Forry wrote a letter for those kids to give their parents, explaining why kids have an appreciation for such an unusual type of entertainment. Forry was a big kid himself, and was someone we all looked to as a leader figure to deal with those who simply weren't enlightened.

Forry was FM. Despite the corny puns and the poorly-written articles, kids loved the magazine, and was to re-shape the lives of many great fans/artists that have become some of the biggest names in genre cinema: Lucas, Spielberg, Landis, Carpenter, just to name a few. FM became the center of the monster fan's life, and the one thing we base our love of movies on. Few fans can ever forget FM's staple features: "Mystery Photo", "Graveyard Examiner", "Prince Sirki" (now taken over by Mike Smith), and the classic "Captain Company" monster merchandise ads in the back of the magazine.

Andy with Basil Gogos
FM cover artist Basil Gogos, right, with Andy at Screamfest 2003
The one thing I credit FM most for is shaping my appreciation of classic fantasy films. Despite it being a year like 1976 for example, Forry would typically highlight long-dead stars such as Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. with regularity, rather than simply report on the latest release of the month ("Food of the Gods"). In fact, Forry's reverence for the classics was reflected in nearly every FM cover, frequently painted by master illustrator Basil Gogos. Rarely did an issue go by where Forry wasn't exalting his favorites: "Metropolis", "King Kong" (1933), and "London After Midnight". He even proudly displayed photographs of the pulp magazine that caused him to be bitten by the sci-fi/horror bug when he was a kid: "Amazing Stories" (later he would parody it as "Amazing Forries"). He taught a generation the importance of remembering and revering the past, which is still evident today, as so many young horror fans still talk with regularity about bygone stars such as Karloff, Carradine, and Price. You can't say that about many other cinematic genres. Forry's legacy lives on.

Flashback to the early '80s:
FM stopped publication (in its classic incarnation) in 1982. Horror films had now become increasingly gory and violent. The fans, intoxicated by the new generation of horror heroes, such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface, pulled a crucifix on the classic monsters, causing them to retreat back to their tombs, sleeping comfortably until the day they would again crawl back from the grave. Magazines such as Fangoria eclipsed the innocence of FM, and the magazine faded away, like the Invisible Man; transparent, but always there. It was not until the mid-'90s when Sideshow Toys released a stunning line of action figures that fans became interested again in the classic monsters. By this time, FM was more popular than ever, with '30 and '40-somethings (and young readers as well) Crazed Fanboys falling over themselves to complete their collection of FM to help keep alive the child inside them.

These years were difficult for Forry. His wife Wendayne passed away, and he was involved in legal scuffles with publisher Ray Ferry, who attempted to resurrect Famous Monsters magazine. These tragedies took a toll on Forry's health, which led to hospitalization.

NOW
My wife Sandy and I planned a trip to Los Angeles in October of 2003; we'd be attending "Screamfest LA", a horror-themed film festival with a great line-up of celebrities, including Rick Baker and Wes Craven. A thought occurred to me during the planning stages of the trip: What if I were to attempt to contact Forrest J. Ackerman?

Not being much of celebrity bloodhound, my wife and I attempted to find some kind of address for Forry at the Beverly Hills main library. We came up with a Hollywood post office box. We knew it wasn't a physical address, but it was the logical place to start. We pulled up to a small building, which was a tiny print shop, and addressed the owner.

"Is this where Forrest Ackerman picks up his mail?" I asked.

"Yes, it is. Can I help you?"

I explained I was a lifelong fan, and wished to contact him while I was in LA for the week. The lady, who was very nice, replied that she couldn't give out personal information, however she agreed to pass on a note to Forry in case he came by. I wrote up a little ditty and gave it to her, crossing my fingers in the process. This was a Thursday, and we planned on flying back to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The woman also suggested we try looking at his favorite restaurant - "The House of Pies"; he's rumored to eat there every morning. Obediently, Sandy and I made haste, and dropped by the HOP to inquire about Forry. Sandy was told that he hasn't frequented the establishment in months due to health issues. We thanked them for the info, but were saddened that we really weren't getting anywhere. I even enlisted the help of fellow FJA fan Matt Drinnenberg via e-mail who potentially may have known his address.

A day had passed, but no communication yet from Forry. Sandy came up with the idea - duh! - of seeing if Forry was listed in the phone book. To our shock, he was! I immediately phoned, in hopes of talking to the Great One himself. I dialed, and was greeted by a friendly, theatrical voice: "This is Forrest Ackerman, I'm out now, but leave your name & number...". Wow! I had actually reached the voice mail of FJA. I was admittedly disappointed by not being able to talk to him in person, but I left a message in hopes that he would call me back.

The days progressed toward the end of our vacation, and still no word. It was now Saturday, and I had one last day to attempt to see him. I picked up the phone and began dialing, fully expecting to once again get his answering machine. "Probably in Cleveland", I said to myself, thinking he was out of town. Then I heard it.

"Hello?"

"Uh-hello-uh, Forrest?"

"Yes, this is Forrest J. Ackerman!"

I was aghast that I was now talking to him in the flesh!

I explained who I was, and that I had been a fan of FM since the early '70s (a late bloomer compared to Spielberg, Dante & Landis) and wished to drop by if possible to meet him.

He was all too happy, and agreed. He told me personally how much he enjoyed meeting "fans".

The next day, Sunday, I was to meet the one and only legend.

The Greatest of Days
We had an appointment to meet Forry at his house at 1pm. I knew the famous Ackermansion was no more. Older and in ill health, Forry was forced to sell his famous domicile (to an Iraqi!) in favor of a smaller, more practical dwelling. In addition, Forry downsized his famous memorabilia collection (on eBay!), but kept the priceless artifacts which meant the most to him (described soon).

Front of AckermansionFront of Ackermansion
Andy posed in front of the new Ackermansion in Horrorwood

Andy at front door of Ackermansion
Andy at the portal to the Ackermansion
Sandy and I pulled our rental car up to what seemed to be an ordinary LA street. It was not the fog-shrouded, haunted castle surrounded by dead trees I envisioned. We spotted the address and took note of the house, which seemed smaller than the one we lived in back in Clearwater. The house was surrounded by a tall metal fence, which helped to protect his collection. For a second, we didn't think it was the right house, due to its featureless facade. It was only when we approached the door that it became clear we had entered Forry's world. Beside the door was the famous "4SJ Karloffornia" sign that once stood as a sentinel at the old Ackermansion. I took it in as long as I could, knowing that I was about to be teleported back to my childhood to a world where monsters and space ships were real.

We rapped on the door, and realized no one was home. I was worried slightly, but we were early, and my wife suggested we sit and wait. I couldn't resist peeking in the window, and caught a glimpse of the world of wonder that awaits. Giddy as a kid, I took a seat on the porch and waited for the Great One to return to his castle.

Finally, after only 20 minutes, we caught a glimpse of the great one walking up the driveway, escorted by two young fans who were helping him walk. Forry, in his '80s, was evidently frail. He approached the porch and took a look at us.

"Oh, fans!!!" he exclaimed, still thrilled after all these years that Crazed Fanboys visited his new Ackermansion. He showed us in.

I oddserved that Forry was much thinner than I remembered him to be from his photos in FM, no doubt due to his recent illness.


He was warm, inviting, and a gracious host. He sat the two of us down on his couch, and he took a seat next to us in a recliner. The overwhelming thrill of meeting Forry was complemented by the stunning array of movie memorabilia that was on display in his living area. There was so much stuff that I could barely tell what color the walls were painted! Everywhere I looked I saw something so fascinating that it took my breath away.

I introduced myself and my wife to him, explaining that I had been an FM fan since the early 1970s; he seemed pleased. I also told him we were in Los Angeles promoting my horror film "Filthy" at Screamfest LA, and presented him with a movie poster. I took along a back issue of FM for him to sign (which had Harryhausen's Cyclops on the cover), which he did willingly.

After the formalities, Forry rose from his chair, and gave us a tour of his scaled-down Ackermansion. In one corner was the hat, cape and teeth from Lon Chaney's classic lost film "London After Midnight". There I was standing next to it!!! There were countless other treasures: A Martian ship from "War of the Worlds", a stop-motion armature of a brontosaurus from the original "King Kong" designed by Willis O' Brien, the famous "Dorian Gray" head seen in FM (a favorite of mine!), statues of "Maria" from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (which are literally everywhere; it's Forry's favorite film; equivalent to our generation seeing "Star Wars" for the first time), pulp magazines, classic horror busts designed by Savini, a sculpture of '40s horror star Rondo Hatton, wonderful sci-fi art by various painters, the original cape worn by Bela Lugosi in "Dracula", and so many other pieces it overwhelmed.

Forry was very animated in his descriptions; when I neared a prop from a "Frankenstein" film, specifically a metal switch, he shouted: "Don't touch that or you'll blow us all to smithereens!".

Andy posing with the famous "Dorian Gray" head (L) and bust of Chaney's "Phantom of the Opera". Note a small sculpture of "Maria", the robot from "Metropolis" to the right. Andy by Forry's fireplace: sci-fi art, trophies, another statue of "Maria"

Andy next to the original cape Bela Lugosi wore in "Dracula" (1931). Note the bust of Rondo Hatton on the mantelpiece (Rondo is actually buried in a Tampa graveyard).
(Right) Another view of Andy with Dracula's cape. Note the Lugosi artwork on the wall and the photo poster of Forry behind the wheel of "The Time Machine"

One particular room in the new Ackermansion was completely devoted to "Metropolis", and it was a wonder to behold. In it was a life-size reproduction of the famous robot from the film, "Maria". Smaller sculptures of Maria decorated the place, as did countless numbers of movie posters and stills. It was a shrine to the classic film that Forry was inspired by when he was a boy.

Andy & Forry shaking hands, surrounded by unique fantasy memorabilia.
Being so close to these cherished artifacts was an honor. To gaze upon the intricate work of filmmakers and artisans that brought such fantastic films to the silver screen, which in turn shaped my interest in genre films was indescribable. I wished my brain was part digital camera so I can keep these wonderful images in my head forever. I regular snapshot version would have to suffice, and my wife Sandy took a generous amount of photos.

Toward the end of the thrilling tour, I asked Forry about the famous rings he possessed.

"Wait here" he replied.

After a minute, he returned holding two ring cases. With baited breath, I watched as he opened the first one.

"This is the ring worn by Boris Karloff in The Mummy. I, of course, was speechless.

Then, he opened the other ring case.

Lord of the Rings
Forrest J Ackerman and Andy, holding the original rings from "The Mummy" and "Dracula"
"And this is the original ring worn by Bela Lugosi in Dracula. I was even more speechless, if that's possible. I had read so much about these rings, and knew they were in Forry's safe keeping, and it was such a thrill to finally look upon them with my own eyes. Here were pieces from the greatest of the great horror films - ones that the great ones themselves wore. I would not forget this moment.

The tour eventually came to an end, and Sandy, Forry, and I chatted a bit more on the couch. Forry was telling us he planned on being a Guest of Honor at a horror convention in the northeast U.S. Despite his age (late '80s), Forry is very sharp & active, and enjoys the various honors he's been bestowed over the years as the Father of Classic Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy.

The time had come to say goodbye to the Ambassador of the Fantastic. Sadly, Sandy and I shook his hand one last time and headed back to the hotel room with a heart full of unforgettable memories.

I thought to myself: All fans of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy can credit Forrest J Ackerman for creating and forming the innate love for the genres we are interested in. Without Forry and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, our childhoods would have been significantly less special. Thinking back, can you have pictured yourself growing up without it? I certainly can't.

Andy Lalino and Brinke StevensAndy with horror queen Brinke Stevens

A day later, Sandy and I continued our film festival excursions, culminating in a honorary dinner for Wes Craven. To my surprise, I discovered that actress Brinke Stevens was seated right next to me. We got to talking about horror films and Screamfest LA in general, and I had told her about my afternoon with Ackerman. It turns out she knew him personally, and summed up our feelings as collective, lifelong fans of horror films and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine:

We are all Forry's children.


"Oddservations" is ©2004 by Andy Lalino.  The Oddservations banner is a creation of Andy Lalino. All other graphics (unless otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.