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Fan-tastic

ae_monster_bookAckerman monster movie collection preserved in Santa Cruzans' new book
It was a Paradise on earth for monster movie fans. The 18-room house near Griffith Park in Los Angeles was home to some 300,000 items of memorabilia. In addition to posters, lobby cards, stills, props, toys, costumes, masks, and models from 80 years of science-fiction/fantasy/horror movies (inluding Bela Lugosi's cape and signet ring from Dracula and the dinosaur models from the original King Kong), there  were complete print runs of vintage sci-fi pulp mags like “Weird Tales” and “Amazing Stories,” galleries of cover art, and tens of thousands of hardcover and paperback genre books from around the world. It was an astonishing collection amassed over a lifetime by Forrest J. Ackerman, writer, literary agent, venerated editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine,” and lifelong booster for the cinema of the fantastic.

But as Ackerman (beloved as “Forry” to his legion of friends and fans) grew older, he was forced to downsize. Unable to interest the city of Los Angeles in preserving his collection as a museum, he started selling some of his pieces. After his death (at age 92) in 2008, the rest were auctioned off to such high-profile buyers as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, among many others.

The breathtaking vastness of the original intact collection would only be a fading memory now, if not for intrepid Santa Cruzans Al Astrella and James Greene, and their new book, “A Forbidden Look Inside the House of Ackerman” (Midnight Marquee Press, $35). Subtitled “A Photographic Tour of the Legendary Ackermansion” (Forry's name for the home that housed his collection), the oversized paperback boasts 142 full-color pages of room after mind-boggling room of Forry's stuff. Prepare to be amazed when you drop by Atlantis Fantasyworld this Halloween Sunday (2-5 p.m.) where Astrella and Greene will be signing copies of their book.

Self-described “monster kids,” both men grew up in the '60s reading “Famous Monsters” (published 1958-1983). Greene remembers buying his first issue in a candy store in New York City. Astrella’s first introduction to “FM” was a coupon for a free issue that came in an Aurora monster model kit he got as a boy in Worcester, Mass. “Forry was the pied piper for us monster kids,” says Astrella, especially after he started featuring glimpses of his fabulous collection in the pages of FM. Greene notes that “Forry was the first one to see value in the cast-offs of the movie industry.”

Ackerman's collection was a mecca for fanboys and celebrity visitors alike, including Lugoisi, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Ray Harryhausen and Fritz Lang (director of Forry's all-time favorite film, Metropolis). But it wasn't until 1990 that Astrella and Greene, who had both migrated west and met each other in Santa Cruz, made their first pilgrimage to the Ackermansion. Forry was “a big kid at heart,” remembers Astrella, who loved to share his collection with other kids of all ages. For decades, Forry opened up his home and collection on Saturdays to anyone who wanted to see it; all you had to do was call him up (dial MOON-FAN) and ask to come over.

Astrella visited Forry about a dozen times over the years (often with his wife, Holly, and their children); the two became close friends, and Astrella took lots of snapshots. When, in 2003, due to health and financial reasons, Forry had to move into a much smaller house (termed the “Acker-mini-mansion”), Astrella and James joined the loyal “Bat Pack” of friends helping him pack up for the move. Forry kept the items most dear to him, others pieces were crated up for sale, and a large dumpster occupied the back yard for the rest. “Imagine dumpster diving at Forry Ackerman's house,” says Astrella, wide-eyed.

These days, Forry's spirit lives on in Astrella's own thriving collection of toys, books, posters, magazines, and other sci-fi/monster movie memorabilia. With Blob-like stealth and determination, it has taken over an entire former bedroom vacated by Astrella's oldest daughter in the family’s Ben Lomond home in the redwoods.

After Forry's death, when the last of his collection had been auctioned off, Greene remembers looking over Astrella's photos and saying, “Wouldn't it be great if this was a book?” Many of Forry's friends and intimates were eager to contribute their own photos and commentary to the project. Flipping through the book with its photos of rare scripts, magazines, books, paintings, posters, monsters, space aliens, robots and creatures crammed to the rafters in every room, it's easy to imagine the sensory overload of seeing the collection in person. “It sort of put you in a psychedelic monster state,” says Greene.

For those of us who missed out on that experience, “House of Ackerman” is a rare Halloween treat for monster fans of all ages.


Al Astrella and James Greene will be signing copies of “A Forbidden Look Inside the House of Ackerman” at Atlantis Fantasyworld, 2-5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 31. Come in costume and receive a special treat.

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