Camp David

CAMP DAVID NOVEMBER 2008: THE FORRY IDENTITY

By • Nov 23rd, 2008 • Pages: 1 2

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When I finally relocated to Los Angeles in 1976 and subsequently opened a talent Agency, this would be the period where our paths would intertwine the most. By this time Forry Ackerman was living above Griffith Park near the Frank Lloyd Wright house that appeared in William Castle’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL in 1959. This home on Glendower was nicknamed the “ACKERMANSION,” even though it was anything but a mansion; it was a large home that once belonged to Jon Hall, a Universal contract player known for starring opposite Maria Montez.

Forry lived at this address with his then wife Wendayne and a South American housekeeper named Suzy, who lived in the quarters downstairs where Ackerman maintained his office and housed the majority of his collection. Wendayne, a lady of German heritage, met Forry in 1950 and they stayed connected. She translated a science fiction series Forry edited called PERRY RHODAN into German, and this series is still running today.

At this point I was part of Forry’s inner circle as I passed muster with then “assistant to the Ackermonster” Dennis Billows, who took care of Forry like a mother hen, and lived to regret it as did all those who followed who tried to bring order and keep the thieves away from his collection of increasingly valuable movie stills, props and posters. The reason these assistants never lasted too long was the tension that developed when outsiders would try and trade things away from Forry or make demands Dennis felt were unfair. Sometimes Forry would place Dennis in the middle and then side with the other person against him. Dennis left after a fashion, and this would go on until the magazine was no more.

As I write this I keeping checking on Forry’s condition which is still grave, and I can’t help but read with amusement the evaluations of others who have only known him for the last ten years or so as a fragile elder with a legendary past, a Santa Clause from an alternative universe who gave of himself freely so fandom could flourish in his wake. Death is without a doubt the ultimate equalizer and I now fully acknowledge and appreciate that his intense devotion to the genre of Science fiction and fantasy far outweighs his shameless self-promotion and ego-mania that alienated many in his lifetime.

Let it be noted that Forry is and was a fascinating character, even by Hollywood standards, not without his faults mind you, but a decent man who did much for the genre he in many ways helped create. He could have been so much more, as I discovered the day George Pal died. Let me explain: for years as a reader of FM, I was accustomed to Forry’s writing being juvenile and filled with puns, and it never bothered me because the photos were more than enough to make me happy at the time; in other words I never thought of Ackerman as much of a “writer” in the sense of, say, Ray Bradbury, although I knew Forry had once long ago tried his hand at fiction. The weekend of George Pal’s passing both Chris Deitrich – my life partner, and I were on duty at the Ackermansion to give Forry an open window to draw up what he was going to say at the funeral as the widow had asked for Forry to deliver the eulogy. Forry put it together in one evening and no one saw it until he delivered the eulogy at the service. The day of the funeral arrived and as we all took our seats I was next to actor Ron Ely who had played the title role in Pal’s last film DOC SAVAGE. Forry went to the podium and knocked the text right out of the park; it was fantastic. At the reception later in the day I went up to him and said, “You know, I just don’t believe you, Ackerman. You can WRITE! Why in the hell don’t you do this more often?” His reply was typical Ackerman: “Well for one thing we don’t lose a George Pal every day, now do we?”

Chris had replaced Dennis Billows as Forry’s assistant and because of that I was at the Ackermansion on Glendower almost every day for over a year. This gave me an unprecedented view into Forry and Wendy’s daily routine, which revealed for starters a marriage that was all but in name only. When I say this I should explain that when a man is so in touch with his inner child as Ackerman was, there could never be children in such a marriage. He was always to play that role himself. Wendy had a son already from her first marriage named Michael, and Forry grew to hate this man, and with good reason. Michael was a spoiled and willful guy who tormented Forry. The relationship was like Dwight Frye and the Frankenstein monster for real. I recall seeing Michael come down the stairs with lit books of matches hellbent on setting fire to Forry’s collection of a lifetime. He finally moved to Hawaii leaving the Ackermans somewhat alone, although Wendy would dote on her son throughout her lifetime.

Wendy was, in spite of her temperament, good for Forry because she prevented certain people from taking advantage of him, as she was more practical and refused to let his collecting excesses’ climb the stairs into the main house. None of it was allowed to be displayed upstairs except for some very rare and valuable fantasy art and one bookcase with his first editions and rare Arkham house books. All of Forry’s books and movie material was housed downstairs and out in a make shift garage he dubbed the “Garage-Mahal,” which was filled to the rafters with posters and billboards and the original paintings for some of the covers of FAMOUS MONSTERS. When Mayor Bradley came to the house and gave Forry an award in the form of a beautifully designed document complete with a seal from the mayor’s office from the City of Los Angeles, this was to cement an agreement allowing Forry to donate his collection, especially his books, to the city. This of course never happened because Forry wanted them to build something to house the collection and then allow him to curate the result. I had the award beautifully framed, and Wendy reluctantly allowed it to be hung in the hall.

If only Mayor Bradley had pulled it off and Forry had not made so many demands we would have an amazing library today to honor his name and accomplishments. These failures were not lost on Forry and he became sad as the realization that the powers that be both in fandom as well as the city of Los Angeles were willing to bestow titles and nicknames on him without any real respect in a solid way he could take to the bank. What is tragic to think about is that all of it was finally lost in lawsuits and attorney’s fees in a situation beyond repeating here, which led Forry to attempt to resurrect the magazine, and he spent the next ten years in courtrooms, casting a shadow over a lifetime of service. My friend Alan White, a longtime fan and supporter of both Forry and the Academy of Science Fiction, interviewed Forry on the subject of the frustration of being the first to carry the flag of fandom and the lack of appreciation for what for him was always a labor of love. Let Ackerman speak for himself on the subject:

“I’ve no hope whatsoever in fandom, none whatsoever. I’m a member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. I was at the first meeting; I have been the director, the secretary, the treasurer, the publisher, the editor, the garbage man, everything you can think of. I’ve poured thousands of dollars into that club. I’ve been to over 1500 meetings of it. I have never once heard any suggestion that they pay a dime to help me out. I understand that over a hundred fans a week go to the club and I’ve put on the bulletin board that I have open house here. I’d be hoping for members of LASFS to come and see the place, but you know I just don’t seem to exist and the unkindest cut of all…finally 50 years rolled around and I went to the 50th anniversary meeting–there I was the sole survivor of the very first meeting and I thought they’d like me to get up and tell how it began, the highlights the lowlights and so on. Well, the speaker of the evening was Harlan Ellison who continually claims he doesn’t write Science Fiction and he began by saying something like, ‘I don’t know why you invited me because in 26 years I’ve only been to three meetings.’ I sat there through the entire meeting as though I was the Invisible Man, nobody ever said, ‘Oh Forry Ackerman…he was our first member.’ So I drove back with my wife and I said, ‘You know, have I lived too long or what?’ She says, ‘Well, young people, they don’t care about history, the world began when they were born and that is all they are interested in – themselves.'”

I think this was a difficult time for him as he wanted too much to see a museum or a library come forth or the funds to build one. For a time he had interest from Japanese fans to raise money to create just that but something always got in the way, Ultimately Forrest Ackerman would become a victim of his own bad judgment.

During this period I would bring genre celebrities I thought Forry would enjoy meeting up to the Ackermasion and it was always an experience to see how each one would react to the situation. Beverly Garland drove me up there one afternoon and proved herself to be not only a great lady but a good sport as well. Once she got a load of Forry’s collection she took us aside and told him this: “Are you nuts? …You mean to tell me you have people come in this office space and do whatever without a watcher? You are going to be robbed blind!” Forry changed the subject and gave her two posters from her cult films and the conversation went south after that. Of course she was right but Forry would just disregard such advice and was robbed blind right up until he moved out of the home altogether. However, not all were so candid as Beverly; most of the guests I brought up to see him were always amazed at his childlike sense of joy at having this collection and being able to share it with anyone who cared to make the journey.

There are so many memories I could relate regarding life with Forry, having experienced the best of times and the worst of times. However, as we baby boomers approach 60, looking back can be enlightening yet we can do nothing to change the past, and the future is what we make it. Forry has had a great run and for a man who lived on his own terms I can’t think of a more glorious final curtain than to be surrounded by caring fans and know that somehow you made a difference.

I will always keep this image of Forrest Ackerman in my heart: When I was going to Europe back in the 70’s Forry asked me to drop by on my way to the airport. I came up to the door and he walked outside wearing his favorite Hawaiian shirt loaded with buttons. He was smiling ear to ear and he handed me an envelope with a letter inside. He told me to read it on the plane and make as much use of it as I saw fit. I thanked him in advance for whatever it was and went on my merry way. At the bar at LAX I ordered a preflight Bloody Mary and decided to see what the Ackermonster had to say; the letter read as follows:

“For whom it may concern: this is my pal David Del Valle who has proven to me over time that he knows and loves all the same films and books that I do…Please treat him as you would my own son if I had one and let him purchase or trade for material that will ultimately serve us both.” (This note was followed by Forry’s unmistakable red ink signature on his one-of-a-kind stationary)

Forry and I often talked of time machines and how wonderful it would be to have one…Tonight I wish they really did exist because I would climb in one and go back to the day before we had our falling out and make it right. Having him out of my life all these years has truly been my loss. Goodbye, Forry.

How can you ever thank a man for giving you the key to unlock a world of Gods and monsters?

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13 Responses »

  1. […] old friend David Del Valle writes a very moving tribute to Forrest J Ackerman in his “Camp David” column for FIlms in […]

  2. FJA will always be an icon to many of us collectors and fans and certainly will be a person many of us will not forget. Despite his faults (and there were some that were a real turn off that I will not go into) I think that his boyish, wide-eyed sense of wonder kept many of us Baby-Boomers interested in the joy of the past in a way William K. Everson couldn’t. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND was a stepping stone, along with Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN and Frederick S. Clarke’s CINEFANTASTIQUE, pointing a way that we can look BEYOND the monster and learn about the person behind the printed word and the figures behind the camera.
    Forrest J. Ackerman has indeed earned his place in the history of Hollywood and has kept the past alive so now others can carry on to save the past for future generations.

  3. […] can read more details about Ackerman’s life in the AP obituary. Also, check out this tribute by David Del Valle (written shortly before Ackerman’s not unexpected […]

  4. >> I think that his boyish, wide-eyed sense of wonder kept many of us Baby-Boomers interested in the joy of the past in a way William K. Everson couldn’t.<<

    Well, as a fervently devoted acolyte of FJA, and seeing as how I’m married to Professor Everson’s daughter, I can’t resist replying.

    I think I know what you’re getting at, but purely from my own point of view, I must respectfully disagree. Both men influenced and inspired leagues of film fans, and their work will continue to ripple probably for as long as there is audiovisual entertainment, be it on film, tape, byte or centuries-hence cranial implants.

    I knew them both in my youth, and found them equally inspiring. Everson covered the entire history of film, and was of course “inarguably the foremost film historian of the last 100 years” as Richard Gordon once put it in the pages of Psychotronic. But he could be just as kid-like as Forry in his appreciation for bargain-basement productions such as Voodoo Man. Forry, while creating a more kid-friendly front door to all this stuff with Famous Monsters, nonetheless clearly pointed the way to serious literature once we were all gathered around the campfire. He clearly educated as well as informed.

    I miss them both so dearly, and we’d do our best to honor them by trying to pass on their enthusiasm for the fantastic to future generations in our own way.

    I’m giving a copy of THE BAD GUYS to my kid brother for his birthday this weekend, with instructions to share it with his newborn son when he is of appropriate age.

  5. Gentleman

    I just received an email from Joe Moe who was with Forry until the end…FJA was able to read my Camp David and was touched by it. I would like to see more feedback ABOUT the article itself

    We in fandom all know what FJA meant to the world of Fandom but a lot of people are just finding out about who this man was from this website please remember that. This is not the Classic Horror film board forum.

  6. When I was in the fifth grade in about 1959 my dad brought home an issue of FM from Gilmore’s Newstand in Shreveport, Louisiana. It featured King Kong on the cover — and I had no idea at that time in my young life who or what a King Kong was. But inside there was an article which taught me all about Kong, and there were lots of other photos of amazing movie monsters which thrilled my developing theatrical and artistic sensibilities.

    I took the mag to school and showed off the photos inside — and scared a girl classmate with the full page pic of “The Astounding She Monster”. Later that day, in class, I got caught by Mrs. O’Brien as I read the mag behind my math book, and she confiscated it. I went home sublimely dejected. My dad asked about the mag and I told him what happened. He then called Mrs. O’Brien at home, and told her, “I bought it, and if it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for my son. Return it to him tomorrow.” She did. (I must have the greatest dad of all time! And yes, he’s still with us…!)

    I was hooked. For years thereafter my dad brought home FM for me, and then I began buying my own. A lifelong devotion to cinema fright and monsters continues to this day. Along the way I’ve had the grand pleasure to have met and visited with Lon Chaney, Jr. in the 60s and Vincent Price in the 70s. But I only chatted with Forry twice on the phone during the mid 90s. I never visited his home and collection or met him in person. And yet his incredible influence in my life has been profound, from that very first issue my dad brought home.

    My life partner of 25 years died almost two years ago, but from the time we met he was always fascinated with my love of macabre movies and maniacal monsters. I shared with him my childhood remembrances of trying to create make-ups like I saw in FM, and I constantly amused him with my movie knowledge — thanks to FM — of classic creature features. He was an expert on all-things Hollywood, especially musicals — his iconic patron saint was Greta Garbo. So, together, we made quite a pair. I’d been to L.A. many times but he hadn’t. I promised him we’d go someday, but that never happened. He always said he wanted me to get to go to the Ackermansion on a Saturday and visit Forry and see his collection.

    Forry’s influence continued, and I eventually formed a company specifically to design haunted houses, characters and monsters. And now, as a profession, I design dark rides, many featuring animatronic horrors and monsters. Without Forry’s magic and enthusiasm, I doubt I’d now find myself in the wonderful job I am in.

    Well, all the fans of Forry and his monsters WILL be together again, someday. We’ll all hear Kong’s roars and Fay’s screams, and we’ll know we’ve had a great time. And somewhere, in monster movie heaven, Forry will still be giving tours and being the biggest kid of us all! May we never loose his inspiration and excitement!

    Drew Edward Hunter

  7. On a sad somber note Forest I.Ackerman has passed away .I have many fond memories from early and latter life ,looking thru the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine .Even today when I open the pages of my old copies and get that smell …………..that wonderful smell of old news print (its just magical) it takes me back to the very first time I saw and immediately fell in love with the magazine and the man,the man who taught me to stay in touch with my inner child .I was lucky to have met Mr. Ackerman at a Fangoria convention in 1991 he was of very good health then and I am very glad to be able to say that I had a brief conversation with him at that time .I thanked him and made it a point to let him know that I felt that his magazine had secret powers .He looked at me and asked “how so ?” I explained that the magazine and his words are a Fountain of Youth of sorts and if people read these words they will stay young .He laughed stood up and gave me a hug .I had a picture taken with him to commemorate this event and I will cherish it always .So as the crowd now takes their seat from the standing ovation ,and the curtain closes for the final time and a hush falls over the theatre ………………………………………………I bid you BEAST WITCHES you jolly old soul. R.I.P. Forry and “Fangs for the Memories.
    [IMG]http://i109.photobucket.com/albums/n57/decompositions/IMG.jpg[/IMG]

  8. Forry’s passing is indeed going to leave a big hole in for us Baby Boomers and I would like to think that “The Sense Of Wonder’ will not be diminished by a passing of someone who was part of our lives growing up (for those who loved FAMOUS MONSTERS). My remark about William Everson was not meant as a slight as I had to chance to meet him a few times over the years (his books CLASSICS OF THE HORROR FILM/MORE CLASSICS..) grace my book shelves as do several wonderful pieces he has done over the years for FIR. No, my meaning was Forry was that cheerful prankster at the back of the class, loaded with bad puns, while Mr. Everson was the tolerant School Master, who would roll his eyes in turn. No-both men are to be praised and never buried!
    I would like to share a little story with everybody about Forry and my Dad. Now I used to call Forry a lot in the late 80’s and 90’s, send him videos, posters (he used to refer to me as ‘Rick Beal’, after my favorite supernatural thriller ‘ALIA’S NICK BEAL’, especially after sending him a vhs of the film and an original 1 sheet) and my Dad, who is not a film fan, claimed to have seen the cut spider-pit scene from the original King Kong in 33. I never knew this about Dad until the late 80’s when Pop and I saw it on revival, restored, when he mentioned, over coffee at the Middletown Diner ‘Where was the big spider?’. I was talking to Forry when my Dad entered the room and told Forry what Pop told me. Dad got on with Forry. I could hear Forry yelling with glee, getting excited as Dad looked at me wondering what all this crazy fuss was about (keep in mind, my Dad was your typical Blue Collar worker-no interest in old films except when on tv) and what kind of crazy his son had him talking to? Dad just took for granted everyone saw this. For me, that was one of the few highlights that will stand out as my relationship-slight as it was-to Forrest J. Ackerman. And I really hope right now he is sitting with Lon Chaney in that big theatre in the sky watching “METROPOLIS” and “LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT”!

  9. IT is interesting to read these threads that all wind up with which issue they saw that became a defining moment in what has become for all of us a lifelong attachment to these films and the actors who made them famous. Forry will always be remembered for that as long as our generation exists.

    On another note William K. Everson also happened to be a great friend of mine and it is another interesting comparison with FJA. Bill Everson loved film as much as Forry and paid a price for it as well. I was sitting in his living room which was also a make shift screening room for his friends and students who sat there night after night watching rare films you would see nowhere else. One night I was there with just one other guest watching CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT when Bill got a call from the then Mrs. Everson and it seemed that she was no longer able to cope with Bill using the apt for screenings and asked him to make a choice it was her or the films and soon after that they divorced. Forry’s wife Wendy was much like that and they divorced later on but still lived in the same house. Film meant so much to both men that nothing was going to change that not even a wife.

    we will not see men that Bill Everson or Forry Ackerman in the future of that you can depend.

  10. First off, I just got the sad news from Roy Frumkes that Nina Foch and Beverly Garland are no longer with us and Betty Page is seriously ill-let us al pray for a speedy recovery for her. I had heard about Ms Garland’s passing but was caught off guard about Nina Foch. Besides her film roles I’ll always think of her in the excellent “OUTER LIMITS” episode “The Borderland”.
    Being a bit of a collector myself I know how obsessive the hobby can be (another reason I took horseback riding up years ago-to remind myself that there is life outside of a screening room) and what David wrote about relationships with this interest brings to mind that some wives, rather than be ‘film widows’, have joined the club (track down a copy of
    AMERICAN FILM May 1984-“State of Siege” by Stephen Rebello) and have become collectors themselves. For my marriage, I keep the film world in my office but Roberta (wife) has shown her love many times by sitting through several screenings of Paul Wendkos’s excellent “FEAR NO EVIL” and the British “THE HAND OF NIGHT” (“BEAST OF MOROCCO”). Now that’s what I call a woman!!
    And you are right on about Forry and Bill, they are part of a dying breed and they will be missed!!

  11. A great tribute and a very interesting history of the man. I’m sorry for your loss.

  12. I was more than happy to read these little stories about the man I admired for decades.

    I am interested in learning more of his faults, and how this stopped him from storing his collection in a museum in America. This should of happened years ago.

    I too had met him twice, but now I wish I had made more of an effort to see his massive collection. Scattered about now, a real shame has happened to Forry.

  13. I only met Forry once when he visited Australia in 1975, but he was thoroughly charming.

    Having lunch with him in Melbourne, I watched him give a lot of his time to star-struck admirers who had waited hours to meet him. He seemed to genuinely enjoy meeting people and happily spent a lot of time signing autographs, posing for photographs and telling stories.

    I always fancied that one day our paths would cross again, but it wasn’t to be.

    Farewell 4SJ.

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