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Rest in Peace, Uncle Forry

December 9, 2008

One of my most cherished memories of childhood, and perhaps one of those golden threads in my life that connects my earliest memories and dreams to the man I am today, was a visit to this man’s home.

Forrest J. Ackerman inspired a lot of people who love movies, movie monsters and the Science Fiction genre.  The editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, he was friend and influence to many.  Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi (he’s wearing one of Bela’s Dracula rings in this picture, and will likely be buried with it, as I remember him saying) Rick Baker, Ray Bradbury, and Vincent Price.  He was also friend and advisor to Sci-Fi (Ackerman was widely credited with coining the term, Sci-Fi) writers such as Robert Heinlein, Charles Beaumont and Marion Zimmer Bradley.  A look at his wikipedia page will show the wide impact this man had on many generations of creators and dreamers.

When I was a fifth grader at Triunfo Elementary School, I had Alan Grossman for my teacher.  Mr. Grossman was definitely one of my favorite teachers.  One of the things our class did as a group was to do a large mural of E.T. The Extraterrestrial which we ended up sending to Steven Spielberg.  One lucky kid later that year got that mural back autographed and dedicated by Spielberg himself.  Grossman did a lot of things like that to capture our imagination.

Mr. Grossman himself was a friend of Ackerman’s.  In fact, both of them were in John Landis’s movie, Schlock (Ackerman had a cameo, Grossman was an extra in a movie theatre).  He also had an open invitation to the Ackermansion in the Griffith Park/Los Feliz area of Los Angeles for all of his students.  I remember hearing about the trips even in 3rd and 4th grade.  So when I was finally lucky enough to have Mr. Grossman as a teacher, I couldn’t have been more excited.

We went sometime in the fall, somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Mr. Grossman had mentioned that it was close to Forry’s birthday and that he loved pumpkin pie.  So my Mom helped me to purchase a fresh pumpkin pie that we took to him for his birthday.  In fact, my Mom was there with me and the rest of the class on that day as one of the field trip chaperones.

The “Ackermansion” was certainly a good-sized home, but this wasn’t some sprawling mansion you’d expect to find on some star tour.  When we arrived there, his Cadillac with the license plate “Sci-Fi” was parked out in the drive way.  We were greeted by Ackerman who told us we could call him “Uncle Forry”, and he led us inside to the foyer.

We were led inside to what I remember to be a sprawling, but cramped space filled with all sorts of things.  Memoribilia.  Latex masks, books and miniatures.  There was so much in that house, that much of it is just impressions remaining from a ten-year old’s wide eyes.

I remember handing Forry the pie, and the way his eyes lit up.  He was quite thankful, and surprised.  Forry really looked like the sort of person who belonged in a place surrounded by all of these magical items.  He had a sort of Vincent Price way about him, and often mugged for us as he walked the group of us around the house.

We spent a couple of hours there hearing stories and looking at artifacts from Hollywood Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror movies.  Pictures of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr, and Bela Lugosi.  He had a standee of Lugosi as Dracula which wore one of the actual Dracula capes.  I remember my thrill at seeing a pair of Leonard Nimoy’s “Spock” ears from the Star Trek television series (at this point, there had scarcely been TWO Star Trek movies).  We also saw a collection of life casts, among them Peter Lorre, Vincent Price and Lon Chaney, Jr.

The image that probably has stayed with me the longest, was being a little boy standing toe-to-toe with Maria, the robot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

One of the last stops on the tour was Forry’s basement which he called “Grizzlyland”.  The basement was laid out like a graveyard for movie monsters, and movie miniatures that had gone to their final resting place.  We ended up leaving out the back door where a model of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was sitting on the lawn.

When I went there, it seemed like a singular special event never to be repeated again.  For me, I suppose that was the truth, but Forry opened his house to lots of people over the years.  He was a warm and generous man who inspired many even after Famous Monsters Magazine had closed its doors.  Do an image search for the “Ackermansion” and you’ll see where I missed many, many photos by many people who toured the house over the years.

The beginning point in my love of film was at age 3 when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey with my parents in a drive-in theatre probably somewhere in Northridge, CA.  I often say that that was the event that “ruined” me for anything else.

My trip to the Ackermansion was probably the event that helped to form a concrete belief in what was possible in cinema.  His repository of the fantastic gave it all shape to me.  It’s probably a good reason why my heart tends to favor the people behind the camera, those that created the fodder of cinema.  People at typewriters, craftspeople creating items and artifacts to make dreams real.

About a month ago or so, we heard the news that Forry’s health was failing him now at age 92.  My Mom had the good notion of sending him a card expressing the love and gratitude she and I had for that tour some 26 years ago.  I think it likely that he would have read it, or had it read to him.  Forrest J. Ackerman was well-loved by many, and I am yet another filmmaker whom he touched and helped to inspire.  My thanks to him for the gift that he shared with us all.

And of course, thanks to teacher Alan Grossman, who helped fan the flames for one very memorable year in my life.  And to my Mom who has always inspired me.

–Stefan Rhys

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2008 12:20 pm

    Good bye Uncle Forry

  2. December 9, 2008 12:38 pm

    Uncle Forry was a great pioneer for the new global language, Esperanto.

    Dankon al vi Onklo Forry, pere de http://www.lernu.net

  3. Brenda permalink
    January 10, 2009 10:52 pm

    I am also a former student of Alan Grossman who visited Forray for the first time on a 5th grade field trip. Forray’s doors were always open to Mr. Grossman’s friends – I had the opportunity to visit several times over the years. What an incredible experience. One of many with Mr.Grossman. He is now in Oregon and he does like to hear from his former students. I don’t know about blogging or if you can contact me, but I have an address (a P.O. Box #) for Mr. Grossman, if you are interested. I will send him a print out of your blog.

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