Come April 4, the unlikely gathering place for classic horror film fans will be the Van Nuys courthouse. Cult figure Forrest J. Ackerman, former editor of the beloved magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” and owner of the world’s largest collection of horror-film memorabilia, is going to trial against Ray Ferry, the current owner of “Famous Monsters.”
The trial will resolve conflicting claims of ownership rights and alleged defamations.
Scheduled to testify on behalf of Ackerman — known universally as Forrey — are director John Landis, Gene Simmons of the rock bank Kiss, science-fiction luminary Ray Bradbury, Tim Sullivan, associate producer of the film “Detroit Rock City,” and Sara Karloff, daughter of horror icon Boris Karloff.
Shock-rock pioneer Simmons said: “Forrest J. Ackerman changed my life. He made me realize that all things are possible and that I was only limited by my imagination. In a very real way, without ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland,’ I would have been behind a turnstile someplace asking, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ ”
Added Sullivan, “We are all the surrogate children of Uncle Forrey, and many of us have grown up to be creators in the horror genre.”
But Ferry called the case “a vendetta to bankrupt the magazine by somebody with a tremendous ego.” Describing Ackerman as never more than a hired gun at the magazine, he added, “What the fans don’t realize is that Ackerman created the whole mythology about his role at ‘Famous Monsters.’ ”
Deal gone sour
On the face of it, the suit is about a business deal gone sour. Sources said, however, that the real motivation for the lawsuit is the desire of Ackerman, 84, to reclaim his legacy as the guiding force behind a magazine that celebrated both the masterpieces and the schlock of the horror genre.
According to the complaint, Ferry and Ackerman joined forces in 1993, when Ferry proposed to revive “Famous Monsters,” which had its heyday in the late 1950s and ’60s and which ceased publication in 1982.
Ackerman then signed an agreement giving Ferry the option to purchase for $2,500 a portion of his memorabilia collection. The collection, which Ackerman claims has a value of $10 million, has never found its way to a museum. It currently is housed — along with several cats and many layers of dust — in Ackerman’s home, known as Ackermansion.
Describing the collection as “mostly junk,” Ferry said the agreement gives him only the option to buy several reference works after Ackerman dies.
Under the agreement, Ackerman’s name and photo were to be displayed on the cover of each issue of “Famous Monsters,” and after his death, the magazine would continue as a tribute to him. In 1995, Ackerman resigned from the magazine because of disputes over money, he alleges. “Famous Monsters” continues to be published without input from Ackerman.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Jacqueline Appelbaum, alleges that Ferry defamed Ackerman with letters and Web site messages stating that Ackerman’s only connection with “Famous Monsters” was as a hired hand and that Ferry “had to let Forrey go” because he didn’t do any writing or editing for the magazine.
Ferry described a completely different scenario under which he brought Ackerman back to the magazine as a figurehead. He said that when he refused to publish an article of Ackerman’s because it was “dull reading,” Ackerman walked out in a huff and demanded that his name be removed from the magazine.
‘Dr. Acula’ at issue
Ackerman also seeks clear title to the moniker Dr. Acula, a name the pun-loving author coined for himself in 1939 when he started signing his messages to readers, “Beast Wishes from Dr. Acula.” Ferry claims he now owns the Dr. Acula title and has threatened legal action against merchandisers ad Web sites.
Ackerman asks for money damages of about $1 million and rescission of the purchase agreement so that he is free to sell his collection.
As for Ferry, he has filed a $25 million counterclaim, alleging that he fears bodily harm because Ackerman has posted messages on the Internet inciting his fans to seek revenge on Ferry. “When you’re dealing with the world of monsters and vampires, you need to take these things somewhat seriously,” said Ferry’s lawyer Thomas Brackey.