The late Forrest J. Ackerman dedicated his life to amassing what many consider to have been the world’s largest personal collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror memorabilia. On Thursday, about 500 remnants of his prized cache will go on the block as part of a larger auction of Hollywood collectibles. (The auction has plenty of other historic Hollywood totems, among them this mask from classic 1954 monster tale “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”)
Among the Ackerman-owned items for sale are the ring worn by actor Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film “Dracula,” Lugosi’s vampire cape from “Plan 9 From Outer Space” and other movies and his robe from “The Raven.”
“Forry died a pretty broke guy,” said Joe Maddalena, president of the auction house Profiles in History, who’s staging the event at its Calabasas Hills headquarters and online at http://www.liveauctioneers.com. “He didn’t do this for money. He did it for love.”
During his lifetime, Ackerman put the items on display at his house, and he was approached by a litany of people, including former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, with hopes of transforming his collection of 300,000 items into a museum. But the plans always fell through, and Ackerman eventually had to sell his trove piecemeal amid mounting bills for health problems and a legal fight surrounding the magazine he edited and wrote for, Famous Monsters of Filmland.
When Ackerman died in December at age 92, he left behind thousands of pieces in his modest Los Feliz home. The house was dubbed the Acker Mini-Mansion, an allusion to his original 18-room home, the Ackermansion, which was sold in 2002 along with the majority of his collection.
“What he had left were the most sentimental, intimate things that he treasured,” Maddalena said. He estimates that Ackerman’s portion of the auction is expected to bring in $500,000, to be distributed among the 17 beneficiaries stipulated in his will.
Though his inner circle included sci-fi royalty — he was Ray Bradbury’s first agent, and Famous Monsters influenced Stephen King, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas — the beneficiaries aren’t famous. Among them is a waitress from his favorite restaurant, House of Pies in Los Feliz, said friend and estate trustee Kevin Burns.
“It’s because they weren’t expecting to be in his will that they are in his will,” he said. “We’re expecting that everyone will get something.”
Auction items include a signed first edition of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein,” priced at $2,000 to $3,000; a first edition of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” signed by the author, Lugosi and Boris Karloff, at $6,000 to $8,000; and a copy of “Triton,” signed by Ackerman and bearing the property label of L. Ron Hubbard, at $600 to $800.
The most expensive items are those Ackerman cherished above all others. Lugosi’s black cape is priced at $15,000 to $20,000; his ring, at $20,000 to $30,000, and it is expected to go for much higher, Maddalena said. Lugosi kept the ring until he died; a friend of his gave it to Ackerman because of his admiration for Lugosi.
“Having the ‘Dracula’ ring was something he could wear on his hand, and once he started wearing it, he became known as the man who had Lugosi’s ring,” Burns said. “It has a certain mystery and magic having been worn by Lugosi and then by Ackerman. He would never take it off.”
Another favorite possession is a copy of the robot from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” Ackerman reportedly watched the 1927 movie more than 100 times and spent years trying to track down the original prop. But he could never locate it, because the robot was burned at the end of the movie. Never willing to give up, Ackerman got hold of the design and gave it to filmmaker Bill Malone, who built a replica. The robot comes with a stuffed monkey doll that once belonged to Lang. Only two were made, and one of them was buried with the Austrian director in 1976. The estimated price for the lot: $12,000.
Other items are not as pricey: Autographed photos of Marlene Dietrich, Karloff and countless other actors, writers and filmmakers start at $200. The goal was to make the auction accessible to fans and collectors, Burns said, and preserve Ackerman’s legacy.
“At the end of the day, the one that made the museum was him,” he said. “He was the greatest item in his collection.”
— Alicia Lozano
RECENT AND RELATED
Auction items photos courtesy of Profiles in History. Forrest J Ackerman at his home in 1969. Credit: Jack Carrick / Los Angeles Times.