SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY COLLECTIBLES
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A Reminiscence of a weekend with Forest J Ackerman in 1988
For those of you who did not know Forest J Ackerman, you missed meeting one of the most important people in the Science Fiction community of the 20th century. He died in December 2008, and I would recommend reading his bio on Wikipedia, although it is far from a complete summation of his life. He was, for example, a literary agent to over 200 early SF authors, a list that reads like a who's who of SF. Also missing is his relationship with Bela Lugosi, an important influence on his early career.
My first exposure to the man was reading the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine as a kid. He created and edited this magazine for over 20 years until he had a dispute with the Warren people who came to own the magazine. I did not have direct contact with him until much later when I started to operate a mail order science fiction magazine business from my home- then on the fruited plains in Toledo, Ohio. Forry came to depend on me to supply him with more recent material that had items of interest to him. These were magazines from the 60's and 70's. Older stuff he had in ample supply.
Those of you who did know Ackerman are probably saying to yourself- this guy is not on the level- Forry sold his collection at auction in New York City. He did have a major auction some years later,but the collection I bought from him was actually much larger, at least in volume. If you take the time to read this account, you will learn about a part of his life unknown to most everyone- as this is the first time I have ever told this to anyone outside my family.
The story starts in early Spring of 1988. I was contacted by letter by Mr Ackerman who wanted to know if I would be interested in acquiring his "extras". He was not clear exactly what that meant. However, I had always wanted to meet the man, and this seemed like a golden opportunity to do so, even if his extras turned out to be not that exciting.
Forry always held court on Saturday mornings. His home and garage were pretty much open to anyone who wandered by, and I was determined to be part of the group that weekend. It was Easter weekend, and for some reason, my employer always gave us Good Friday and Easter Monday off. So, taking my teenaged son along to do the heavy lifting should it come to that, we flew out to Hollywood, not knowing exactly what to expect.
What we found right away was the Ackermansion. Forry had a beautiful place at 2495 Glendower Drive in the eastern section of the Hollywood Hills. It overlooked the LA basin, and was quite a marvel to someone used to the flat plains of the midwest. The house was at least five stories high, built against the face of a near cliff, with a detached 3 car garage that can be seen in the old photo. If you entered the house from the street level (which no one did), you entered a formal living area. But everyone entered by way of stairs beside the three car garage. These stairs led to a courtyard one story below the street. The garage was on stilts over a portion of the courtyard, and the working entrance to the house was on this level. Here you encountered Forry's museum, which contained props from the SF and Horror movies of the early 20th century, and the informal living quarters. The most impressive part of the museum to me was the robot from the 1924 movie Metropolis, but his collection is well documented elsewhere, so I will leave it at that. His book and magazine collection completely filled the three car garage, and various other parts of the house which went on for at least three more stories below the courtyard level.
What I did not know at the time, but was able to piece together from conversations with him and others, was that he was in a very depressed state of mind. He wanted to rid himself of this part of his life, which had always been a source of great joy, but had become burdensome. I met Hank Stine that Saturday and several other people who knew of his plight. Forry had some unrevealed health issue that was weighing on his mind, although it must have not been that serious, as he lived on for another 20 years. He had also suffered a theft of his only copy of the first issue of Weird Tales, presumably by someone trusted to wander around his home on a Saturday morning. But the major source of anguish was the health of his beloved wife Wendayne. Wendayne, who we met and went to dinner with, was in a wheel chair and was doing poorly. The Ackermans had been on a vacation in Italy when she she received a head injury that progressed to a stroke. She passed away several months after we visited that spring.
Wendayne was a German national who had her own impact on the SF community. She translated many of the Perry Rhodan books from German to English- over 100 at that time. She made it clear she was not a personal fan of the series, but that may just have been her state of mind at the time. I have never been overly fond of the series myself.
But what of the extras? They turned out to be an amazing pile of pulp magazines, the like of which I have never seen anywhere. It was not just the sheer quantity, but he depth as well. The newest pulp was dated 1942. The oldest was the second issue of Amazing from 1926, but there were several hundred Science and Invention magazines that predated Amazing. There were multiples of many- at least 12 of a single month of Amazing from 1928, with six or eight from the other months. There were boxes and boxes of Clayton Astoundings, more than I had ever had or even seen. All told, there were 64 boxes, each either 1.5 cu ft standard moving boxes, or a larger size that was almost too heavy to move. All in all, it was more than a ton of pulp magazines.
My son and I spent all day Saturday and Sunday assembling these into a mountain of boxes that nearly filled his courtyard. Being from the midwest, I was concerned that it might rain overnight, but Forry assured me that would not happen until at least November. Getting the boxes home proved difficult. Had I been thinking, I would have had a trucking company pick up the entire pile. But my son and I attempted to send them through the post office on Monday, which turned out to be a comedy of errors.
Ordinarily, the Post Office would have not been a problem. However, we did not have a large car, so it took 4 trips to deliver all the boxes. Unfortunately, the postage rates had just changed on Sunday, so there were long lines of people who were buying stamps. Then I ran out of cash, and in those days, the Post Office did not accept credit cards. So I was forced to go to a bank for an advance on my credit cards. Turns out it was the day both welfare and social security checks come out, so I was stuck in a long line with people cashing their checks. What a difference direct deposit makes today. In the end, we managed to ship all the packages, but ended up missing our plane.
We cleared out several hundred feet of shelf space in Forry's three car garage, and I joked with him that he could finally put his Cadillac, the one with the "Sci-Fi" license plate, inside out of the weather. But at some point, he started bringing hardcover books up from one of the lower levels of his home. By the time we had finished, he had completely refilled the shelves and there was not a single bare spot in the garage. He had his real pulp collection out of sight elsewhere, since the theft of his Weird Tales. He offered many scarce items from this collection for sale at auction in New York City several years later. I remember wanting to go, but then deciding it was not worth taking time off from work, as prices would likely be high for such an auction. I heard later that Forry was very disappointed, as many rarities brought very little.
I drove past the Ackermansion once more a few years ago. Our destination was on the same street but further up the hill to one of Frank Lloyd Wright's homes. We were fortunate enough to see this historic home before an earthquake made a shambles of the place. Wright was a master at aesthetic design, but lacked basic building skills. Forry's old place was undergoing renovation by the new owners- who they might be I do not know.
I understand he continued to hold his Saturday morning get togethers in his Ackerman-mini-mansion in another part of town, but my travels have not taken me to Hollywood in several years. I contacted him several months before he died to secure a place at his 100th birthday party in 2016, which he was planning. I won't make that now, but if anyone decides to host the occasion, be sure to say a toast on his behalf for me.
Read about other trips Here
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