By KIMBERLY COLE
Featured in Autograph April 2009
“If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going to go,” Forrest J Ackerman would tell guests touring his collection. But when the man known as Uncle Forry to legions of horror and science fiction fans died in December at 92, he left an amazing collection behind. Thousands of sci-fi and horror related items will be auctioned from April 30 to May 1 by Profiles in History. “This will be the most important sale of horror-related items ever assembled for auction,” said Joe Maddalena, the firm’s CEO.
Jerry Weist, an author, collector and science fiction consultant for Sotheby’s described Ackerman’s collection in 2003: “There was nothing like it anywhere in the world, and there never will be again. The heritage of modern collectors is based in the Ackerman collection. It’s as if one guy in Europe had most of Braque, Picasso, Matisse and Chagalle, as if one person had an overwhelming collection.”
No. 1 Fan
Ackerman won a special Hugo Award in 1953 for No. 1 Fan Personality. He published 50-plus stories, was literary agent to the likes of Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard and Marion Zimmer Bradley, appeared in more than 200 films, and served as editor and writer of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland for 25 years. But the word most often used to describe him? Fan.
The key to Ackerman’s tremendous influence on the genres of horror and science fiction films and literature was his life-long enthusiasm for the art form and its artists. As a fan, he amassed a collection that, at its peak in the mid-’60s would have been worth about $10 million in today’s market, Weist once speculated.
Unlike many collectors, Ackerman always shared his collection with the public, offering free tours of it at his home every Saturday. The “Ackermansion,” as his 18-room Los Feliz estate was called, became a mecca for science fiction fans and visitors from around the world. Even after the cost of legal troubles and illness forced him to downsize his collection and home, Ackerman continued to greet visitors and give personal tours of the house he dubbed the “Mini-Ackermansion.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Ackerman often recounted the birth of his fascination with science fiction when, in 1926, he bought a copy of Amazing Stories. “Among all the magazines, that one said, ‘Take me home, little boy. You will love me.’”
Three years later, he published his first story in Science Wonder Quarterly and founded The Boys Scientification Club. His dream of bringing together a community of science fiction writers and readers began. In 1938 he published a young Ray Bradbury’s first story and introduced him to science fiction greats Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett and others. They were members of his chapter of the Science Fiction Society, which met in L.A.’s Clifton Cafeteria. Years later he bankrolled Bradbury’s fanzine Future Fantasia with $90.
In 1939, Ackerman attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in Manhattan with his friend Myrtle R. Douglas. Both of them dressed in space costumes, setting the stage for the thousands of Trekkies who would follow suit.
Ackerman is credited with coining the term “sci-fi.” In a story told to the Los Angeles Times, he explained that he was driving with his wife in 1954, when the radio mentioned the term “hi-fi.” “I looked in the rear-view mirror, stuck out my tongue and there, tattooed on the end was ‘sci-fi.’ To her immortal embarrassment, my dear wife said, ‘Forget it, Forry—it’ll never catch on.’”
His connection to the film world grew naturally out of his career as a literary agent, and Ackerman became friends with horror stars such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price. But Ackerman also promoted the works of the behind-the-scenes artists who created the magic of the movies, inspiring film director Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Penn & Teller, and many others.
A life-long fan of science fiction B-movies, Ackerman had cameos in more than 200 films, including The Howling, Return of the Living Dead Part II and the campy Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. More important than his work onscreen was his role in shaping the industry’s understanding of the genre. It was Ackerman who brought attention in the United States to the 1927 German film Metropolis. He called himself Ed Wood’s ‘ill-literary’ agent, and provided feedback to Wood as he wrote and directed Plan 9 from Outer Space.
In 1958, Ackerman launched his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, each issue full of interviews with film monsters Lugosi and Karloff, articles on past and current genre films, comic strip adaptations of classic movies and a letter to the editor’s page called “Fang Mail.” In the Mimosa fanzine, Ackerman explained the Famous Monsters tone: “The publisher sent a sign saying ‘I am 11-and-a-half years old and I am your reader, Forrest Ackerman. Make me laugh.” Ackerman obliged until 1983 when the magazine stopped publication after a run of 191 issues.
Horror and science fiction may have lost their No. 1 fan, but Ackerman’s legend lives on. In the words of Stephen King, “Forry was the first; he was best and he is the best. He stood up for a generation of kids who realized that if it was junk, it was magic junk.”
Inside the Ackerman Estate Auction
After the Ackerman estate trustees decided to use Profiles in History to handle the auction, we spoke to Joe Maddalena, who was in the thick of preparing for the sale. In explaining the trustees’ decision, Maddalena said that his company had sold items from Ackerman’s collection over the years to help sustain him financially. “We specialize in the higher end of this field of collecting—science fiction and horror memorabilia. And we have the right market—not only have we got the memorabilia clients, but we have the autograph clients.”
When asked to give a peek into what’s involved in auctioning Ackerman’s collection, Maddalena described the effort of inventorying the contents of the house and storage. “Forry’s house is just full—I mean, thousands and thousands of items. There’s autographs, magazines, newspapers, costumes, toys, art work. We’re inventorying, and then we box it up and bring it to our offices.”
Maddalena will go through the entire collection, looking for the items that will stand alone in the auction. The rest will be sorted by genre, personality, or film and sold in lots. “We turn the collection into thematic lots that can be sold in a sensible way. There are a couple of people who were alive at the time Forry was building his collection and they’ve been helping us identify the history and who he got each item from.”
In addition to local resources, Maddalena said that he’s been receiving countless emails from fans who toured the Ackerman estate—more than 50,000 people visited during the many years that Forry opened his house to the public and people are eager to share stories about items in the collection. “It’s a tremendous help in assembling the catalog,” Maddalena said.
The catalog, available for download from the Profiles in History website in early April, should be a major resource for fans of horror and sci-fi who want one last chance to ogle Ackerman’s collection.
Maddalena provided interesting insights into the challenge of pricing the items. “I like to set starting bids based on what’s reasonable. I believe that these collectibles will find their value at market. For example, we have the Dracula ring listed at $20,000-$30,000. But it’s a unique item. It came from Lugosi to Forry. It’s uninterrupted provenance. Who knows what that’s worth? It could go as high as $100,000, but it’s hard to guess because there’s never been another. Or the costumes—there has never been any Lugosi wardrobe for sale before.”
While popular culturally, horror films were not considered historically significant years ago. “Horror material from the 1930s and ’40s just doesn’t exist,” Maddalena said. “People thought there was no reason to save a Dracula poster. No one thought about saving a costume from Dracula, so this type of material just doesn’t exist. No one has unearthed any Universal horror costumes or costume pieces of significance ever.”
No one except Forry Ackerman. Through his friendships with actors, directors, writers, costume and set designers, Ackerman saved what might have been lost.
“Also impacting value is that the items were given to Forry, and his association has an added value,” Maddalena explained. “You not only have an 11×14 beautiful photograph of Marlene Dietrich, but it’s inscribed to Forry Ackerman. Is there a premium associated with that? Is that premium 10 percent? 20 percent? Is someone willing to pay a premium of 100 percent because it’s associated with Forry’s life?”
Here are a few of the items that Maddalena has identified for single sale.
Dracula ring worn by Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula. In the original 1931 Dracula, Lugosi’s Count is wearing a ring with what appears to be a simple black onyx stone. Because there are no references to the ring, it is assumed to have been a personal possession of Lugosi’s, as was the medallion he wore in that film. Lugosi gave the Abbott and Costello ring with the crest on a carnelian stone to Forry Ackerman. Ackerman later loaned it to Christopher Lee for use in his portrayals of Count Dracula. It’s the single most important Lugosi / Dracula screen-worn piece to ever come to auction.
Bela Lugosi’s robe from The Raven (1935) is reportedly the most important 1930s horror costume to ever come to auction. There’s a classic photo of Lugosi, as the Poe-obsessed Dr. Vollin, wearing the velvet collared robe as he strokes the head of a stuffed raven.
Also available in the auction is the cape made for Bela Lugosi in 1932 and used by him in stage adaptations of Dracula. Lugosi also wore the costume in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Lugosi was buried in one of his three Dracula capes, and his son owns the second. This is the third and final cape worn by Lugosi.
The 1899 first American edition of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker and inscribed by Bela Lugosi to Ackerman (also signed by Christopher Lee, John Carradine and a host of other Dracula-related personalities). The book was originally published in the U.K. in 1897. When Douglas & McClure published the American edition in 1899, they used the original copyright year of 1897. There have been numerous publications of Dracula, but this is the first U.S. edition and should not be confused with the 1927 Grosset & Dunlap edition which was published to coincide with the theatrical opening of Dracula on Broadway.
Autograph asked Maddalena whether the book was of greater interest to autograph or book collectors. “Any real book collector is going to think the Dracula book has been defaced. First American edition signed by Bram Stoker, that in itself is worth $10,000. A book collector is going to get sick when he sees all those other signatures. But an autograph collector is going to be euphoric.”
Fritz Lang’s monocle, which he wore when he directed Metropolis. Ackerman was an ardent fan of the 1927 silent film, and Lang gave his monocle to Forry. Along with Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, Metropolis is considered one of the most important science fiction films ever made.
A copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Man Demon signed by the author.
Also available are hundreds of signed 11×14 photographs of stars like Marlene Deitrich, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Fritz Lang and John Carradine. “These are the most personal autographs,” Maddalena said. “The ones he didn’t want to sell.”
Over the years, a number of individuals suggested that Ackerman’s collection belonged in a museum—that it should become a museum. The failure to do so has enraged some fans. In a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, Ray Bradbury was quoted, “We live in a stupid world.” He had over the years begged executives at a number of companies to help preserve the collection. “I said, ‘A special room with all of that [Ackerman’s collection] will be more fascinating than all that junk you have.’ They didn’t believe in the future. I believe in the future. Forrest Ackerman believed in the future. No one else cared.”
But within hours after news of the auction hit the Internet, horror and sci-fi sites began buzzing with the idea that from the sale of Forry Ackerman’s collection, thousands of fans will find the core of their own collection; a basis from which to build their own celebration of horror and sci-fi films and writing.
And, as Maddalena explained: “Forry’s will divides the proceeds from the sale among his beneficiaries. It’s a chance to help Forry give something to the people who meant the most to him.
“This is a great time to celebrate this man’s career. If collectors have ever wanted something from this genre, Ackerman is probably the single most important person who influenced collecting.”
Autograph asked Maddalena for tips for auction novices. “Decide how much you want to spend,” he said. “And try to understand what you’ll be getting for that money. For example, Forry had the last Vincent Price index card—Price signed the date on it. That card will be in a lot with other Vincent Price-related things. But it’s not just Price, it’s the connection to Forry Ackerman that you’ll be buying, so you’re really getting a lot for your money.”
The auction is a treasure trove for Vincent Price fans. In addition to the last Vincent Price autograph, there’s a handwritten tribute Price wrote to Ackerman, which reads, “Eventually he and his collection will become monuments to a (but for him) much neglected cinema art form. We all owe him a great debt for keeping alive his favorite genre of movies and preserving its mementoes. His fans are legion.”
To download the Ackerman Estate auction catalog, go to www.ProfilesInHistory.com. The auction will be held April 30-May 1 at Profiles in History’s offices in Calabasas Hills, Calif.