The most famous monster of filmland
Ackermonster rises again in TV special on the founder of sci-fi
May 13, 2007 04:30 AM

Rob Salem

He is the Founding Father of Fandom, the King of Collectors, the Guru of Geek, the Duke of Dork . . . the man who turned “speculative fiction” into “sci-fi” . . .

Uncle Forry. The Ackermonster. Dr. Acula . . . Forrest J Ackerman – the most famous monster of filmland.

Cable channel Space pays tribute to fantasy’s first and foremost fan with an affectionate hour-long homegrown homage, Famous Monster, one of several being shot in the 90-year-old Ackerman’s declining years, debuting Wednesday night at 9.

“We figured it was now or never,” says after-the-fact Forry fan Ian Johnston, who co-created the documentary with Halifax-based writer/director Michael MacDonald.

Johnston, at 42, is just a little too young to appreciate the initial impact of Ackerman’s most substantial contribution, the original run (1958 to 1982) of his legendary fan magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, which, with its lurid painted covers, gushy, pun-packed prose and over-hyped offers for mail-order monster merchandise, inspired a generation of future filmmakers, from Spielberg and Lucas to John Landis and Joe Dante, who are both effusively interviewed, as are his famous friends Ray Bradbury, Roger Corman and Ray Harryhausen.

There is Canadian content too, with a clip of Ackerman bonding with his spiritual brother in unbridled fannish glee, former TVO host Elwy Yost, and interviews with local film archivist Reg Hartt, who brought Ackerman to town for a personal appearance in 1991, and with Jovanka Vuckovic, the editor of Rue Morgue, the Canadian-published contemporary inheritor of Forry’s Famous Monsters legacy.

“I was more of a Fangoria guy,” Johnston admits, in reference to yet another popular fan publication, which essentially bridged the gap between Famous Monsters and Rue Morgue. “I think I’ve collected every issue.”

If Ackerman had only published Famous Monsters, that alone would have been enough to immortalize him forever in the hearts of fans. But not only did he coin the catchphrase “sci-fi” – much to the chagrin of serious authors like Harlan Ellison, who called it “a hideous neologism” that “sounds like crickets f—king” – he pretty much popularized the entire genre as literary agent to such (then) young aspiring authors as Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, A.E. van Vogt, Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and noted schlock film auteur Edward D. Wood Jr.

In the special, Ackerman recalls Hubbard as a frazzled young man behind in his alimony payments mooching 35 bucks to get out of town, and Wood as “a drunken voice on the phone at 2 in the morning, babbling incoherently.”

Ackerman embraced fantasy fandom early in life, thanks to his forward-thinking maternal grandfather, George Wyman, who designed the Bradbury, L.A.’s oldest office building, based on a science-fiction novel set in the year 2010. It still stands and can be recognized today as the setting of several genre films, notably Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. (Ackerman himself would grow up to make cameo appearances in over 200 genre films.)

His grandparents, he says, took him out to see 356 movies in the space of one year – seven of them in a single day. But the ones he loved best, even then, were the monster movies.

So much so, he wanted a piece of them. Many pieces. And thus was born the “Ackermuseum.” At one time engulfing his entire 18-room Los Feliz mansion – which he happily kept open to the public – the unprecedented 300,000-piece collection of books, magazines, movie memorablia, stills and props has included such priceless items as Lon Chaney’s false teeth and top hat from the lost 1927 classic London After Midnight, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula ring and cape (one of several, apparently, since Lugosi was supposedly buried in one), equipment from the original Frankenstein lab …

Sadly, Ackerman was forced to liquidate all but his most cherished items in 2002, when he virtually bankrupted himself in a successful (on paper, anyway) lawsuit claim against a failed attempt to revive Famous Monsters in the 1990s. It was a decade in which he would also suffer, and somehow survive, a debilitating stroke and the death of his beloved wife in a carjacking incident in Italy.

But the Ackermonster would rise again. Though he’s now under constant care, has some difficulty walking and hearing, and lives in considerably less obvious splendour in his new Hollywood “Acker-mini-mansion,” he still keeps his home open to his fannish public, who come to see what’s left of the collection.

“He’s still Forry,” confirms Johnston. “You go in, and there he is, snoozing in his chair. He wakes up, he tells a few stories, and then he nods off again. The people walk around and look at the stuff and leave. It’s kinda sad, really.

“But also really sweet.”