- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Just like the vampires in the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine he edited for 25 years, Forrest J. Ackerman isn’t planning on leaving this world until somebody drives a stake through his heart.

“Oh, I’m not going if I can’t take it with me,” Mr. Ackerman jokes as he gestures toward the thousands of pieces of science-fiction and horror movie memorabilia that fill his Los Angeles home.

“That’s one of my favorites,” he says, pointing to a black vampire cape worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film “Dracula.” It hangs on a mannequin in Mr. Ackerman’s living room, just above a coffin that he jokes doubles as a daybed.

After leading a tour of the “Acker Mini-Mansion,” a bright yellow bungalow nestled at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, the genial grandfather of science fiction settles into an overstuffed easy chair. Standing guard nearby is one of the life-size “Cylon” robots from the old “Battlestar Gallactica” TV series. Guarding the kitchen is a replica of the Robotrix from Fritz Lang’s classic 1926 futuristic film, “Metropolis.”

Mr. Ackerman, who turned 89 on Thanksgiving Day, moves somewhat slowly these days and strains to hear. However, the years have dimmed neither his memory nor his affection for monster movies and science fiction. Although he is widely credited with coining the term sci-fi, Mr. Ackerman’s greatest contribution to the genre may have been discovering Ray Bradbury when the now 85-year-old “Martian Chronicles” author was just 17.

“He saw that I was a lousy writer and had no future — that’s what he saw in me,” Mr. Bradbury, laughing loudly, recalled recently, “but he encouraged me anyway. He lent me the money when I was 19 so I could go to New York and meet all the famous authors. I hadn’t published yet, and I met a lot of these people there who encouraged me and helped me get my career started. And all that was because of Forry Ackerman.”

Although he made his living most of his life as a literary agent, representing at various times Mr. Bradbury, Isaac Asimov and almost every other major name of the mid-20th century’s golden age of science fiction, Mr. Ackerman likely is best remembered by baby boomers as “Dr. Acula,” the pen name he used as the founding editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Never known for great writing, it contained photos of almost every famous monster that ever terrorized a Saturday matinee movie audience.

“I started reading his magazine from Issue No. 2, and I just had to meet him,” recalls Dennis Billows, who showed up at Mr. Ackerman’s door one day in the 1970s, worked for him as his secretary for a few years and remained a lifelong friend.

Mr. Ackerman won the job in 1958 when he told the publisher he had collected 30,000 still photos from horror and science-fiction films dating to the silent era. He also had many of the most-coveted science-fiction props of all time, including the tyranadon that tried to fly away with Fay Wray in 1933’s “King Kong.”

Collecting them was easy in the early days, Mr. Ackerman recalled. After a film was completed, he simply would write to a studio executive and ask for them. Sometimes he would have to track down a janitor if the item already had been consigned to a trash bin.

He went on to become friends with so many people from the industry that he began appearing in cameos in practically all of their horror films. Among the better-known movies were “Queen of Blood,” “Dracula vs. Frankenstein,” “Amazon Women on the Moon,” “Vampirella,” “Transylvania Twist,” “The Howling” — and “The Naked Monster,” released earlier this year.

“I was in one of Peter Jackson’s first films, ‘Dead Alive,’ ” he says of the “Lord of the Rings” director’s 1992 cult favorite. John Landis also put him in his famous 1983 Michael Jackson “Thriller” video.

“When Michael leaves the theater, I’m the man you see sitting behind him, eating popcorn.”

Mr. Ackerman once lived with his late wife, Wendayne, in an 18-room mansion above the hills of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. There he kept as many as 300,000 pieces of science-fiction film memorabilia as well as 50,000 books and the complete sets of 200 science-fiction magazines from all around the world.

He sold the house in 2002, in part to finance a legal battle with Ray Ferry, current publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Mr. Ackerman had briefly come out of retirement to write for the magazine when Mr. Ferry revived it in the 1990s, but the two quickly split over creative differences. Mr. Ackerman was awarded more than $375,000 in 2000.

Connie Bean, the magazine’s general manager, says the publication has put the matter behind it.

“Ray Ferry owns the rights to the Famous Monsters trademark, and that’s as far as we want to comment. As far as Forrest Ackerman, we have no comment,” she says, adding that Mr. Ackerman is no longer associated with the publication.

Mr. Ackerman also sold some of his collection to pay legal fees and turned over other pieces to museums. More than 100 items are housed at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, for which he is an adviser.

After his death, he says, he hopes the remainder also might go to a museum. Yet he emphasizes that he doesn’t expect to die anytime soon.

“I take a tablet each morning, and the manufacturer guarantees that it’s going to let me live to be 125,” Mr. Ackerman quips. “And if I don’t make it to 125, I’m going to demand my money back.”

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