Forrest J. Ackerman has been trying to donate his collection of more than 300,000 pieces of science-fiction memorabilia to the city of Los Angeles for years. Lucky for fans, he has been unsuccessful. Free tours of Ackerman's house of horrors are still one of the city's finest and cheapest thrills.
Nestled above Los Feliz in the Hollywood Hills, the "Ackermansion" is a twisting maze of fright- and fantasy-filled rooms, open for visitors every Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon.
The journey begins in a library of more than 50,000 volumes, including 600 books about the lost city of Atlantis, 250 editions of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and 250 editions of Bram Stoker's "Dracula."
Newspaper clippings, sketches and movie-lobby cards plaster every inch of the walls with werewolves, witches and warlocks as well as space aliens, robots and wide-eyed creatures of the night. Displayed prominently is a 1926 copy of Amazing Stories--one of the first magazines to present science fiction as a literary art form.
"[That magazine] just jumped off the stand," Ackerman remembers vividly. "[It] really spoke to me."
Now 83, Ackerman began his career as a literary agent with such early clients as Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard and Ray Bradbury. He is the self-proclaimed "king of cameos," having appeared in more than 56 films, and is founding editor of the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
Since opening his house to the public in 1951, Ackerman has received close to 50,000 visitors who creep around such treasures as an original Bela Lugosi "Dracula" cape. "Lugosi was here 40 years ago," Ackerman recalls fondly. "He wrote one word in my guest book: 'Amazed."'
The tour winds its way up and down, through the kitchen and even into a bathroom filled with horrifying sights such as a model dinosaur from the 1933 film "King Kong," death masks of Charles Laughton and Peter Lorre, and sketches of "Vampirella," a comic book character created by Ackerman. A Japanese television star, "Geophagus: The Earth Eater," guards the door to the cellar, where a mock graveyard is set up in the dirt underneath the 18-room house.
In the living room, set against the backdrop of a "Battlestar Gallactica" robot, Ackerman gathers the crowd around him. Stories about the greats--Lon Chaney Jr., John Landis, Vincent Price and Boris Karloff--are met with appreciative "oohs and aahs."
"I was with Bela Lugosi at the premiere for 'Black Sleep' two weeks before he died," Ackerman recalls. "He was weak from all the drugs and could barely walk but still a very vain man. He looked like a concentration camp victim, but his audience wanted him one more time. He pulled himself up, stood straight and took on the proud appearance of Dracula."
They don't make them like they used to, Ackerman says. And that's coming from the man who coined the term sci-fi ("I was listening to a commercial for a hi-fi on the radio, and it just came to me," he explains).
The obsession began at an early age, when Ackerman's grandparents would indulge him in up to seven films a day. He was 9 when his all-time favorite, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," came out. Ackerman has seen the film 91 times--so far.
"I'm not a fan of today's 'gore-orr' films" he admits. "It's all buckets of blood, and actors losing their heads."
While today's teen-scream films may never be termed classic, Ackerman always will be.
Call (213) MOON-FAN for tour information.