In the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror fandom, one man's enthusiasm for genre film was arguably stronger than anyone else's. With the founding of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Forrest J. Ackerman created a must-read genre guide that inspired generations of fans. The magazine, and the enormous collection of memorabilia Ackerman accumulated throughout the years, proved to be a true testament to his love of fantastic film and literature.
In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King sang the praises of Famous Monsters: “I didn’t just read my first issue of Famous Monsters,” King wrote. “I inhaled it…I poured over it…I damn near memorized that magazine and it seemed eons until the next one...Ask anyone who has been associated with the fantasy- horror –science fiction genres in the last thirty years about this magazine and you’ll get a laugh, a flash of the eyes, and a stream of bright memories – I practically guarantee it.”
King wasn’t kidding. Just a few of the fans who grew up loving Famous Monsters include Rick Baker, Frank Darabont, John Landis, Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Peter Jackson, Joe Dante, and countless others. In Ackerman's massive movie poster collection, there was a one sheet for Close Encounters autographed in silver marker by Steven Spielberg: “A generation of fantasy lovers thank you for raising us so well.” Guillermo Del Toro also recently told the New Yorker that he discovered Famous Monsters in the magazine section of the Supermarket, and he was determined to learn English so he could read it.
Ackerman (or Forry, as he was known) had been a collector of movie memorabilia since 1926. When he was in his twenties, he would write to Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal, for movie stills from their classic horror films, and would travel by streetcar to pick up them up. (He eventually accumulated 125,000 stills). His collection included every issue of the old sci-fi pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, which he bought when they were new. He owned a copy of Frankenstein that was autographed by Mary Shelley when she was 19. He also had the creature from the black lagoon costume a janitor at Universal took home for his kid to wear on Halloween. Not to mention Bela Lugosi’s cape, the model pterodactyl the original King Kong battled, one of the model Martian ships from the original War of the Worlds, and much, much more.
Forry’s collection never stopped growing, and like a malevolent 50’s science fiction monster, it ended up consuming his house, a four story, eighteen-room mansion in the hills of Los Feliz, which he dubbed the “Ackermansion.” According to one report, the house became so overcrowded with memorabilia that Ackerman and his wife had to park on the streets because their garage was too full.
The Ackermansion was open for tours every weekend, and making the pilgrimage to Forry’s home was a badge of honor for any true monster fan. Its been estimated that over 50,000 people came to visit when he lived there, and when you arrived, he would greet you through the intercom: “Who dares disturb the tomb of the vampire?” And yes, Ackerman was also the co-creator of Vampirella.
Ackerman also coined the term “sci-fi” and he told GQ Magazine that he would say “science fiction” every night before he goes to sleep because if he died before he awoke, he wanted “science fiction” to be his last words. Who better to write the definitive magazine on monsters?