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Collector Sells Off Part of His Renowned Sci-Fi Cache

December 16, 1987|JOHN VOLAND

At 71, the nation's premier collector and fan of science fiction and fantasy memorabilia says he can't wait another eight years for the City of Los Angeles to make up its mind.

So Forrest (Forry) Ackerman sold a small part of his legendary 300,000-item cache at auction in New York, even as officials from Mayor Tom Bradley's office, yet again, were saying that they hope to house the rest of his collection in a city museum.

"It's ironic that just a couple of days before (the auction), the mayor's office sent someone over to talk to me about (establishing the museum) again, in the new library they're building downtown," Ackerman said from New York.

Two thousand of Ackerman's items--including a manuscript of writer Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" novel, some paintings by the noted fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta, a shooting script of "The Wizard of Oz" and autographed photos of monster meister Boris Karloff--went for a total of more than $550,000 at a sale that ended late Sunday at Guernsey's auction house in New York. An official for the auctioneers said the Ackerman sale generated more catalogue orders than he had ever seen.

But despite the widespread national interest in Ackerman's collection, he remains a science-fiction and fantasy prophet unhonored in his hometown.

Possibly Largest Collection

A retired literary agent who represented 150 science-fiction authors, Ackerman was also the founding editor of Famous Monsters in Filmland, a fantasy fan magazine. He began his collection at 9, when he bought the October, 1926, issue of the seminal science-fiction magazine Amazing Tales. Today, his collection--currently housed in his Los Feliz home--is thought to be the largest science-fiction and fantasy collection in the country.

Mayor Bradley went over Ackerman's collection in 1979 and promised to accept Ackerman's offer to donate it to the city. According to a formal 1982 agreement, the city was to house the collection in an appropriate fashion. But a 30-month deadline for architectural plans and site designation for the science fiction-fantasy museum passed without action in 1985.

Ackerman, nonetheless, still hopes for city action on the plan.

"I'm always glad to talk to them," Ackerman said, "and I still want to donate my collection . . . but I also had some other things to worry about."

"We have talked to Mr. Ackerman about housing the collection in the library, and the mayor is still keenly interested in establishing a wing in the new library for handling the collection," said City Hall spokesman Fred McFarlane. "I really can't explain the earlier delay, but what is certain is that the library fire (in 1986) caused the project to be shelved until this month."

Some Real Surprises

Ackerman's other worries were at least temporarily allayed by the auction's big sales, which included some real surprises for the collector.

"The (Ray) Bradbury manuscript of 'Fahrenheit 451' really amazed me--it went for $17,000," said Ackerman. "I never expected that. But half of that goes to Ray, 'cause I promised him he'd get half if he ever got famous and the manuscript went out of my hands.

"I figured I didn't need to be greedy," Ackerman said. "Why have six signed photos of Karloff when one was really all I needed?" Besides, he added, he wanted to keep "a mint set" of memorabilia for the hoped-for Los Angeles museum.

But Arlan Ettinger, who organized the event for Guernsey's, said he was more than pleased with Ackerman's offerings and glad to offer a vehicle to help the collector out.

"Our auction house specializes in the offbeat auction, so when I heard Forry was having trouble getting the museum off the ground, I called him," Ettinger said. "He was a bit weary of waiting for L.A. to decide what to do, so we agreed to get a bit of his stuff together for auction. This event generated more catalogue orders than I've ever seen before. The interest was intense."

Ettinger said that the national interest in science fiction-fantasy and Ackerman's reputation as the genre's premier collector was translating into very high selling prices at auction.

"We didn't really know going in what these items would sell for because many are one-of-a-kind," said Ettinger. "But with all the sci-fi and fantasy movies, and the die-hard fans' interest, (the auction) has sort of taken off."

The weekend's highest selling price--$39,600--was bid by an unidentified Los Angeles buyer for the "Wizard of Oz" script.

Somewhat Annoyed

Ackerman remains diplomatically miffed that some of Hollywood's greater science-fiction movie figures have stayed quiet about helping get the L.A. science fiction-fantasy museum off the ground.

"I keep wondering why those film makers who've made millions off of science fiction and fantasy--I'm not naming anyone particularly--haven't been interested in financing the museum's start-up costs," said Ackerman a bit peevishly. "They could get it going with what amounts to pocket change for them, and it would be a way of putting a little back into the genre they made their fortunes in."

But Ackerman keeps his hopes up. Various amusement parks have expressed interest in housing some of his hoard, while talks with the city continue.

"It hurt a little to auction the stuff off in New York," he said wistfully. "But that's where it happened. But I was born in Los Angeles and will probably die in Los Angeles, and that's is where the museum really has to be."

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