Biography

If there is any actor in history who can claim the largest number of roles for the shortest total time onscreen, it's Forrest J. Ackerman. "My film career has lasted over 50 years and my total time on film is probably less than an hour," he mused in an interview in 2002. Starting with a role as an extra in Hey, Rookie (1944), Forry Ackerman had bit parts in nearly a hundred films, never really playing anyone other than himself. He never really had to, because directors who liked him and respected his long campaigns to promote fantastic films and to save film props and memorabilia put him in their films as a mark of their respect. Directors slathered him with makeup and put him in small parts, and you knew you were watching a really low-budget horror movie when you recognized Forrest J. Ackerman beneath the zombie costume. Long before he got in front of a camera, Forry Ackerman was a fan of the movies, and in 1932 he created the first known listing of science fiction and horror films, which was published in the Time Traveler, a fanzine that he edited. Ackerman wrote and published some of the earliest articles about science fiction and fantasy films as a genre, and he and a teenage friend by the name of Ray Bradbury became experts on the subject. More importantly, inveterate collector Ackerman started to accumulate film memorabilia, which at the time was simply thrown away at the end of every film. Universal Studios chief Carl Laemmle became acquainted with the teenager who was a rabid movie memorabilia collector, and in 1932 he wrote a note which read only, "Give this kid anything he wants." Armed with this scrap of paper, Ackerman saved what are now priceless items, including the only known recordings of the soundtracks of The Mummy, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein, and other films. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Ackerman enlisted, and thanks to his experience writing for movie fanzines, he spent his war years editing a military newspaper that was published at Fort MacArthur. In 1944 Columbia Pictures decided to shoot the patriotic musical Hey, Rookie at that very base, and Ackerman is seen in a pan shot reading the newspaper that in real life he edited. His first speaking role in a film didn't come until 1947, when he played a heckler in The Farmer's Daughter. By then he had returned to Hollywood, where he continued his memorabilia collecting and worked as a literary agent. Among his clients was Edward D. Wood Jr., who pressed Ackerman to market a science fiction novel he had written. By all reports the dialogue and plot in this tome were as bad if not worse than his screenplays for such gems as Plan 9 From Outer Space, and the book remained both unpublished and unpublishable. (Ackerman, unfortunately, didn't keep the manuscript, which would now be quite a collector's item.) In 1957 Ackerman issued his first professional magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Originally planned as a one-shot item, the response was so enthusiastic that Ackerman continued publishing it for over 20 years. Among the many people who claimed inspiration from the magazine were John Landis, Fred Olen Ray, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. Though Famous Monsters focused on horror films past, present, and in production, they also printed some fiction, including the first story by a teenage fan by the name of Stephen King. The magazine included illustrations of items in Ackerman's collection, and in response to numerous requests he opened his home on a regular schedule and gave guided tours, showing off items like Bela Lugosi's cape and ring, the female robot from Metropolis, and the Martian lander from War of the Worlds. His fame as a publisher and film historian grew as the magazine attracted legions of young fans, and Ackerman had bit parts in an increasing number of low-budget films. Oddly, Forry Ackerman almost had one genuine feature role in 1968, when his friend Boris Karloff convinced director Alex Gordon to audition Ackerman for the part of Ernest Thesiger in a planned remake of The Ghoul. Ackerman got the part, but Karloff died before the first scene was shot. One minor part that Ackerman played was to become a famous in-joke. In Schlock, directed by John Landis in 1973, Ackerman is repeatedly seen in close-up at a movie theater, eating popcorn by the handful while completely absorbed in a terrible monster movie. Thirteen years later, Landis directed Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video and set a scene in the same theater -- with Ackerman sitting right behind Jackson, 13 years older but wearing the same suit, in the same seat, and still eating popcorn. Film buffs who remembered the first movie fell out of their chairs when they saw the video. Landis later gave Ackerman what is to date his longest speaking part as an actor -- his two-minute speech as President of the United States in the film Amazon Women on the Moon. In 1992 Ackerman and his collection were themselves the subject of a movie, Forrest J. Ackerman's Amazing Worlds of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Along with views of material from his collection and interviews with luminaries like Ray Bradbury and Gene Roddenberry, Ackerman is onscreen for most of the film as genial host and all-knowing guide. He had been accumulating the material in that collection for all of 60 years, and though the film shows only a tiny portion of his holdings, it's still mind-boggling. As a new century dawned, Forrest J. Ackerman was still a beloved figure in the film, magazine publishing, and science fiction communities, still acting in the occasional film and television show. Injuries from a fall in front of a shopping center in April of 2002 put a number of projects on the back burner, but he planned to continue work in films and publishing and to reopen his museum of film memorabilia. ~ Rovi