The Ingrid Pitt column: Forrest Ackerman

Ingrid pays her own personal tribute to the late, great Forry Ackerman

Ingrid Pitt

I had just sent off a Christmas card along with the latest Fan Club Newsletter. I came home, sat down at my desk and dialled up my emails. First thing I read was that Forrest Ackerman, the enthusiast who gave Sci-Fi its name, was dead. It came as a bit of a shock. Forry was a long time member of the Club and an old friend. Our birthdays came around more or less at the same time and each year we sent each other an invitation to our party. Neither of us ever made it. Which is a shame because we had been mates for a long time.

First time I met Forry was way back in November 1975 at the Famous Monsters of Filmland Convention in New York City. I nearly didn’t make it. I was filming in Tres Arroyes, a little town about 200 miles south of Buenos Aires. The film was called El Lobo and was about a virgin and a wolf that was a devil in disguise. Type casting I thought. Things hadn’t been going so well on the set. Argentina wasn’t exactly the most stable country to be working in and the producer was having a bad time both financially and politically, so when I received a telegram from my agent reminding me that I was due to be at the convention in New York in three days time I sensed he was relieved to get me off his hands for a few days.

When I arrived at the convention I was given a bodyguard/guide called Jerry Arden. I was told that Jerry was there for me. I soon found that I could hardly set foot outside my room without Jerry being ‘there for me’. Flattering at first but a bit inhibiting. Jerry was guiding me through the hotel on the morning after I arrived when this tall, interestingly dressed man threw himself down on one knee in front of me and pledged undying love and declared he wanted to marry me. I gave him a weak smile and tried to walk around him but he wouldn’t let me pass. I didn’t want to make scene so I painted on a smile and broke the news that I had married Tonio only a few weeks before. The man claimed he was devastated and would wait for me forever. Jerry came to the rescue. “How’s the wife, Forry?” he asked.

The man climbed to his feet and gave me a broad smile. “Well it was worth a try,” he said.

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Jerry introduced him as Forry Ackerman. It still didn’t press any buttons but Jerry made a date with him for lunch so I guessed it was all right.

Jerry filled me in on Forry’s background. Forry could rightly claim the title of Mr. Sci-Fi. He loved the genre and spent his entire life surrounded by like-minded fans of alternative worlds and ways of life. His friends were the people who made the genre live. He was the editor of the long running magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and was still talking about bringing it back to life until his death on December 6th. He was also the owner of the Vampirella comic book franchise.

But Forry was much more than a workman in the field of the future. Forry made it happen. He was born in 1916. At the age of ten he read a magazine that generated his life’s obsession for the remote and unbelievable. The magazine, Amazing Stories, was the slightly dodgy Hugo Gernsback vehicle to get his stories published without the inconvenience of having to find an editor who shared his enthusiasm.

As the Sci-Fi genre began to take hold, Forry was there astride the leading rocket. He gathered together others who were enchanted by the fast growing medium and did everything he could to foster their talents. His enthusiasm was so catching that he soon had a coterie of budding writers who were to become the greatest names in the business.

The home from home of the American sci-fi writers of the day was Clifton’s Cafeteria. There you would find the fledgling Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Brackett and many other writers discussing other worlds and parallel Universes. Forry was a great life-long fan of Ray Bradbury. When Ray wanted to start a magazine for the futurists called Futuria Fantasy it was Forry who scraped together the funds to get it into print. Before long Forry had turned his passion into a business and was agent for such luminaries as Isaac Asimov, A.E Van Vogt, Curt Sodmark, L. Ron Hubbard and, of course Ray Bradbury.

Forry’s house in Lincoln Park, L.A, Acker Mansion, was a magnet for all fans of a Sci-Fi or Horror persuasion. He had somehow managed to inveigle his way into more than 50 films and had taken home souvenirs from most of them. Friends and grateful fans had donated others. There was hardly an inch of space in the whole house that didn’t tell a story. And Forry was there to tell ’em. Even the toilet was papered with posters and magazine covers. On most Saturdays he would throw open the door and greet the fans lining up outside. He would then spend the day taking his visitors around the exhibits giving well-honed stories on any of the pieces in which the fans showed an interest.

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I was invited to visit the Acker Mansion when I was in Los Angeles in 1997 for the Festival to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Forry picked me up from the hotel and took me to his home. On the way we picked up another Horror icon, Bob Quarry. Bob was America’s answer to Christopher Lee. On the way to Forry’s place he told me that in one of his films, I’ve forgotten which, there is a scene from either Countess Dracula or Vampire Lovers. Unfortunately I can’t even remember the name of the film. Forry was still declaring undying love and promising to marry me but the fun had gone out of it a little. His wife Wendayne was ill and Forry was obviously worried about her. But he gallantly did the tour for me and at the end did me the honour of asking, not for my hand in marriage but for my signature on the flyleaf of his first edition of the Stoker masterpiece. I really felt privileged to be among such giants of the Horror scene as Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Bob Quarry, Elsa Lancaster and many others.

I suppose it was a bit childish carrying on the ‘courtship’ performance for so many years but we both enjoyed it. I’ll miss him next time I go to America. The last time I saw him was at a convention in Baltimore. Approaching his nineties he had all the enthusiasm and chutzpah that he had all those years ago in New York. He gave me a copy of his book, Forrest Ackerman’s World of Science Fiction. On the flyleaf he wrote, in various coloured inks, ‘For Ingrid the Rapturous, Captor of the Heart of your Eternal Fan and Friend. with Ardent Affection – Forry.’

You can’t have it better than that.

Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.