The Fall of the House of Ackerman

Apr 29, 2009

When science fiction guru Forrest J Ackerman died last December, he was remembered for many firsts. Born November 24, 1916, Ackerman (known as Forry by fans and friends) purchased his first science fiction magazine in 1926. He founded the first science fiction fan group (the Boys’ Scientifiction Club) in 1929, and wrote for the genre’s first fanzine (The Time Traveler) in 1932. That same year, he published the first known list of fantastic films (thirty-four titles). Forry printed Ray Bradbury’s first story in 1938, and in 1954 coined the term sci-fi. Working with publisher James Warren in 1969, Ackerman created the iconic comic book character Vampirella—a bloodsucking femme fatale from outer space.

But it was Forry’s editorship of Warren’s Famous Monsters of Filmland that knocked the earth from its axis and spun it into an entirely new dimension. Published from 1958 to 1983, “the world’s first filmonster magazine” inspired generations of young moviemakers and ushered horror fandom into the mainstream. Filled with behind-the-scenes articles, rare photos, and Ackerman’s trademark puns (“You Axed for It!” was the title of a regular feature), Famous Monsters was the Cahiers du cinéma for fright flicks. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro all count the magazine as an influence, and thousands of other “monster kids” spent their adolescence experimenting with stop-motion dinosaurs and ghoulish makeup effects under Ackerman’s tutelage.

For decades, Forry gave public tours of his Los Angeles “Ackermansion”—a Taj Mahal of terror containing the world’s largest collection of sci-fi/horror memorabilia and movie props. Among his estimated fifty thousand visitors was a teenage Dennis Muren, who conspired with a group of other Famous Monsters fans to make the cult DIY creature feature Equinox (1970). Muren would later help revolutionize modern visual effects with his Oscar-winning work on films like Star Wars (1977), The Abyss (1989), and Jurassic Park (1993).

Sadly, many of Forry’s prized possessions were sold or stolen over the years, and much of what’s left will be auctioned off on April 30 and May 1. Despite his steadfast efforts to do so, Ackerman never found a permanent home for his treasure (a portion of it can be viewed at Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame). The myriad of marvels to be sold this week include a monocle worn by Fritz Lang during the making of Metropolis (1926), prosthetic teeth from Lon Chaney Sr.’s makeup kit, and a first American edition of Dracula, signed by Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee.

Some of these relics will find their way to fans eager to share them as Forry did. Others may vanish forever. But even as the Ackermansion slips into memory, monster kids of all ages know that Forrest J Ackerman will never die. The wonder-packed pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland—collected, studied, and adored to this day—endure as his living museum.

For more information on the Ackerman estate auction, click here. And watch a clip of Ackerman talking about Equinox, a film he championed in the pages of Famous Monsters (“because it showed the talents of young readers like Dennis Muren and Mark McGee” and “gave hope and inspiration to others to follow in their footsteps”), from an interview on Criterion’s 2006 release.

The Fall of the House of Ackerman