Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Museum of Forrest J. Ackerman

[Colleagues have asked, where is a picture of Wendy Wahrman?  When I get a suitable picture of Wendy I will post it]. 

Once upon a time I had met most of the working west coast writers of science fiction, or at least the ones who came to the Westercon, the west coast science fiction convention.  This was no big deal, pretty much anyone who attended Westercon could meet them, they were very approachable.  This included such authors as Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson and Jerry Pournelle, just to name a few. Someone I knew about, but had never met, was Forrest J. Ackerman.

"Forry", as he was known, was quite famous in that world. He was a pioneer and contemporary of Robert Heinlein and people of that generation, and had made a living as a writer, an editor, a publisher and a literary agent all in the area of science fiction.   Science fiction is to literature as puppetry is to theatre, it doesn't get much respect.   And it is very difficult to make a living as a writer of fiction no matter what genre the writer works in.   He published none other than "Famous Monsters" magazine.  He probably wrote the first ever story for Vampirella.

This is Vampirella in her pre-sex goddess form.  No kinky leather jumpsuit at this time.

Forrest was also famous in this world of science fiction for his vast collection of all kinds of memorabilia from the worlds of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  Such items as Bela Lugosi's cape from Dracula, and the mask from Creature from the Black Lagoon. He collected with the passion and obsession of all great collectors and kept everything in a great old mansion in the Hollywood Hills.

To give you an idea of what we are dealing with here, consider this link, which has a scan of a letter from a 14 year old Forry to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the reply from Mr. Burroughs.     

One day a good friend of mine, a pioneer of the ARPANET who lived in Palo Alto, and a fan of science fiction, asked me to arrange a tour of Forrest's mansion for him.  The idea was that I was a local, and he wasn't, so I should do this.    As it happened, I knew Mr. Ackerman's phone number, because everyone who knew science fiction knew his phone number.  It was (213) MOON FAN.

 So I gathered up my courage and out of the blue one afternoon, I gave him a call.

"Mr. Ackerman," I said, "my name is Michael Wahrman, but you don't know me, but we of course know of you and of your famous collection and a friend and I wanted to know if there was a time when people could come see this collection. Perhaps you might have an open house one day a year or something like that. If you do have a way for people to tour your collection, we would very much like to do so."

I can not begin to write in a way that expresses how Forrest Ackerman used to speak. I want you to imagine in your mind that his lines are being spoken by Boris Karloff in The Mummy (1932).

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then he said "What is your name again?"

"Well, my name is Michael Wahrman, but I am pretty sure you have never heard of me".

"How do you spell that", he asked.

"Well, its spelled W-A-H-R-M-A-N, why do you ask?"

After a pause he said, mysteriously,  "You may come by, whenever you wish."

Well, that's odd, I thought.   But I made an appointment and my friend came to town and we went to this fabulous house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills and we were received by Forrest, shown around, and introduced to his lovely wife, the former Wendy Wahrman.   She greeted me with a fabulous Hungarian or perhaps eastern European accent saying "Ah, Wahrman.   An old family name.  From Hungary".

It is almost certain that Wendy and I were related. Its a very unusual name. Associated with a specific intellectual (jewish) elite of Europe. Only a few black sheep with that name came to this country, most of them were killed in the Holocaust, a few went to Israel, so you do not find many Wahrman's on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I am looking for a suitable picture for Wendy Wahrman Ackerman, but haven't found one yet.

I will always remember Mr Ackerman, now dead these many years, and his amazing hospitality to a total stranger, and with this fabulous voice, doing a perfect horror movie rendition: "You may come by, whenever you wish".

Wikipedia page for Forrest Ackerman:

A link to a first edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula, signed by Forry, Christopher Lee, and many others.

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