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Moving Time at a House of Horrors

Film: To pay legal fees, Forrest Ackerman is selling his Los Feliz mansion and a vast collection of monster and sci-fi memorabilia.

September 08, 2002|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With its voluminous collection of monster heads and ghoulish figurines, Forrest Ackerman's mansion attracted science fiction and horror film fans from around the world for nearly three decades.

The two-story, 5,800-square-foot mansion perched on winding Glendower Avenue in the Los Feliz hills once had more than 300,000 science-fiction and horror film items, crammed into every nook and cranny. Its walls were covered with movie posters, paintings and masks of screen legends like Boris Karloff.

But now the 18-room house known as "Ackermansion" feels more like a mausoleum. The walls are barren, showing only nail holes and loops of old adhesive tape. Floors are littered with curios, boxes of letters, books and film photos. Hanging in the basement is a Dracula cape that Ackerman said had been worn by Bela Lugosi.

Ackerman, the former literary agent for such authors as Ray Bradbury and founding editor of the cult magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland," is selling the house, which was listed for $1.3 million and is now in escrow.

In addition, Ackerman, 85, said he is liquidating his memorabilia collection to raise money to pay for an expensive legal fight against his onetime business associate, Ray Ferry.

Two years ago, in a Van Nuys jury trial, Ackerman won a $500,000 judgment and rights to the Dr. Acula pen name from Ferry, the former publisher of Famous Monsters, whom Ackerman had sued for trademark infringement and breach of contract.

After Ferry lost, he gave trust deeds to his North Hills house and magazine assets to those close to him, and transferred the Famous Monsters trademark to a corporation controlled by his attorneys at the Beverly Hills law firm Freund & Brackey, according to court documents. The firm then licensed the trademark back to another corporation controlled by Ferry, and Ferry filed for bankruptcy, claiming to be destitute.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Arthur Greenwald found Ferry's asset transfers to be fraudulent. Court trustee David Gottlieb alleges that the trademark transfer to Freund & Brackey was also fraudulent, and a decision on that part of the case is pending.

Last month, Greenwald declared that the attorney-client relationship between Ferry and Freund & Brackey was "in furtherance of an unlawful scheme to defraud" Ackerman, documents show. Both Ferry and Freund & Brackey have appealed, which Ackerman and his lawyers blame for driving up the legal bills.

But Ferry said he shouldn't be blamed. "It's regrettable he sustained the losses," he said. But he added, "This is just how litigations go."

"I filed the appeal because I felt the verdict was in error, and I have a legal right to appeal," he said.

Freund & Brackey's lawyers did not return calls seeking comment.

"It's tragic for Mr. Ackerman. He won in state court. His victory, at least for the time being, has been taken away from him completely," said Wesley H. Avery, the lawyer representing Gottlieb, the bankruptcy court trustee. "It's not how the justice system is supposed to work."

Ackerman has not collected a penny of his judgment. He estimates that costs from his trial, bankruptcy and appellate lawyers are several hundred thousand dollars.

Ackerman now lives in a rented five-room house in the flatlands, far below the Los Feliz hills, surrounded by a few of his most-treasured items, including a replica of the female robot from his favorite film, "Metropolis."

"The Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein and Dracula all dwindle in comparison to this," Ackerman said of his legal battles. "[The litigation] has drained me dry."

Longtime fans said they were saddened by the demise of the "Ackermansion."

"It's the end of an era," said film director Frank Darabont, who, along with filmmakers such as John Landis and Steven Spielberg, has credited Ackerman and his magazine for inspiring him to go into filmmaking.

Darabont, who directed "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption," said he had visited the house about a dozen times. "You want something like that to last forever," he said.

An estimated 50,000 people have traipsed through the home to see the collection, said Ackerman, who kept guest books and gave personal tours on Saturdays, or by appointment--even letting the visitors touch the prized items.

A friend who is helping Ackerman said that items that aren't hauled away to storage or sent to auction by late September, when escrow is expected to close, will likely go into the trash.

"It's a real shame," said Bradbury, who credits Ackerman with giving him his first big break in the late 1930s when Ackerman published Bradbury's first short story, ''Hollerbochen's Dilemma," and whose science-fiction classic and film "Fahrenheit 451" is being remade in a film by Darabont.

Though fans describe Ackerman's cache as "treasures," much of the collection came about only because he salvaged what movie studios had designated for the garbage heap.

"Props don't get saved. Art from movies doesn't get saved," said Harry Knowles, chief executive of the film industry Web site, "Ain't It Cool." "Forry's collection is one of the greatest ever assembled."

Knowles, who lives in Austin and has traveled to the mansion five times, said he is puzzled over why the collection hasn't been taken to a museum, and wonders why Hollywood moguls or film studios haven't tried harder to preserve it.

"It's a statement of Hollywood's neglect of its own history," Knowles said. "They don't want to remember the movies they've made. They want to remake them."

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