It’s shaping up as one of the greatest battles in the history of monster movies, right up there with “Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man,” “King Kong vs. Godzilla” and even the yet-unfilmed “Freddy vs. Jason.” Coming soon to a courtroom near you (via Court TV, natch): “Forry vs. Ferry,” with cameos by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Hugh Hefner and others.
The “Forry” in question is Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a guru to sci-fi and horror movie geeks all over the world (including Hollywood directors Joe Dante, Sam Raimi and Frank Darabont). “Ferry” is one Ray Ferry, the magazine’s current publisher, and the target of a $1 million lawsuit in which Ackerman seeks to regain control of his creature-feature legacy.
“I hope future generations of fans will remember me as the preserver and promoter of the imagi-movie genre, and the original Famous Monsters of Filmland as the bible according to Saint Forry,” the 83-year-old Ackerman tells Hollywood.com.
Famous Monsters of Filmland Ackerman produced Famous Monsters (or “FM” as readers know it) from 1958 to 1982. FM was the first magazine of its kind, a ritual read for lovers of horror galore — from the good stuff (Karloff, Lugosi, Christopher Lee) to the bad (like “Reptilicus” and “The Hideous Sun Demon”). Every issue overflowed with huge photographs, and there was lots of cool stuff to buy (like monster masks and model kits) via old-school mail order. But what made it unique was Ackerman’s inimitable, pun-prone prose. (“Hello boils and ghouls! I’m looking forryward to Mummorial Day! Hope your horrordays are everything you scream of!” Etc.)
Ferry, a filmmaker, photographer and Forry fan, revived the mag in 1993 and retained Ackerman as editor. The two men parted ways around 1995, with Ackerman exiting the magazine and Ferry continuing to publish it.
Now Ackerman says Ferry drove a Dracula-sized stake through his heart. Not only does Ackerman’s suit say that he wasn’t paid for work he did on the mag, it alleges that Ferry stole the monstermeister’s vernacular, downplayed his role in producing the magazine and publicly demeaned his abilities as a writer and editor.
Forrest J. Ackerman (right) with Vincent Price To help defend his rightful place in horrordom, Ackerman plans to summon a few friends to the witness stand when the case goes to trial April 11 in a San Fernando Valley, Calif., court. Among them are authors King and Bradbury (both former clients from Ackerman’s days as a literary agent), director John Landis (“Twilight Zone: The Movie”), Playboy mogul Hefner, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris) and Gene Simmons, the blood-spitting, fire-breathing rocker from KISS.
A point of contention for the Ackerman camp is that, after all these years, FM still looks and reads pretty much the same as it did 30 years ago. The horror mogul says that his pen name (“Dr. Acula”) and all the catchphrases he created — like “Fang Mail,” “You Axed For It!” and “Beast Witches” — belong to him. But Ferry and his lawyer say it’s a matter of intellectual property rights; since Ackerman created his “Forryisms” for FM, they remain property of the magazine and, therefore, they have the right to them — and Ackerman doesn’t.
“We think the complaint is preposterous,” says Ferry’s attorney, Thomas Brackey. “We try a lot of cases, and this one is really from left field.”
As in any decent monster vs. monster movie, it’s not always easy to tell the “good” creature from the “evil” one.
Brackey says his client never ripped off Ackerman, and there are canceled checks to prove it. Moreover, Ferry has filed a $25 million countersuit, alleging that Ackerman issued death threats, harassed him by posting a stir-up-the-fans message on the Internet and sent him hundreds of faxes at all hours. Ferry also says the windows of his home have been shot out.
“I don’t think we’re worried so much about Mr. Ackerman coming out and doing something [to Ferry], but he has a lot of supporters who are dedicated to his cause, and some of these guys are going around shooting out windows,” Brackey says. “There’s a little bit of a mob mentality out there in monster fandom.”
Ackerman retorts: “I have never threatened Ferry over the Internet or anywhere, even verbally or mentally.”
At the trial, Ferry plans to summon iconic science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison as his star witness. Ellison went to court last year seeking a restraining order against Ackerman, saying he was similarly harassed with faxes.
Ackerman, who coined the term “sci-fi” in the 1950s, is also one of the world’s biggest collectors of sci-fi books, movie props and other memorabilia. He has an estimated 300,000 items (such as Lon Chaney’s teeth and hat from 1927’s “London After Midnight” and a vampire cape worn by Bela Lugosi), all housed at his creepy home, “The Ackermansion,” in the Hollywood Hills.
The collection is also at issue in the lawsuit. Ackerman once gave Ferry the right to purchase part of it for a mere $2,500 after his own death, but now Ackerman wants to rescind that agreement so he’ll be free to sell or donate his memorabilia.
Ackerman, who gives his version of events on his Web site (http://www.best.com/~4forry/), has solicited contributions from friends to help pay his legal bills, and some high-profile sci-fi aficionados have reportedly answered the call.
As John Landis once said: “It’s amazing how many lives [Ackerman has] touched in his weird, bizarre way. He’s a touchstone for all those crazy people out there.”