September 13, 2011

The Fog Rolls Into the Ackermansion!

"Just call me Uncle Forry."
I happened to be going over some old photos of Martine Beswicke and
myself the other day when one shot in particular caught my eye. We are
seated together with drinks in our hands smiling at the camera as if
we are at some sort of genre event.  As I thought about it a bit I
remembered exactly where this picture was taken. It was the night
Forry Ackerman allowed Mick Garris to organize what was his very first
press conference for Avco Embassy's THE FOG, directed by John
Carpenter.  In fact, she and I are seated in Forry's upstairs livingroom
which for this event had been cleared of furniture and replaced
with several rows of folding chairs.  Mick and John Carpenter would be
seated at the front of these chairs with a makeshift desk placed in
front of them with microphones to take Q&A from the invited press.
Forry, was, of course, allowed to invite some of his friends as well, so
the house was filling up by the time Martine and I took our places.

The "Ackermansion."
Now what I really remember of this event was the fact that perhaps for
the first and definitely the last time, alcohol was allowed into the
Ackermansion.  Both Forry and his wife of many years Wendayne were
acknowledged tea totellers and encouraged sobriety amoung their friends.
Forry was infamous for getting on the soapbox regarding the evils of
booze and it's negative effects on everybody especially in the film
community.  I happend to be at Forry's the day Natalie Wood died and I
will never forget his expression when the news reports on TV mentioned
all the drinking done by Natalie and RJ the afternoon of her death
from drowning.  Forry just shook his head saying, "I will never
understand why such a beautiful and talented woman like that would
allow herself to drink to the point of not being able to save herself
from such a fate."

Jon Hall and his younger self.
There was one reality story Ackerman never found the time to tell his fans regarding the Ackermansion on Glendower. It involved the late Jon Hall who really did live in that house many years before Forry moved in and while Forry was living there Hall commited suicide in 1979 having been dianosed with bladder cancer, as his suffering proved to be more than he could bear, so he shot himself. The neighbors that surrounded Forry's place were tolerant of the Ackermonster's constant flow of weekend guests, most of which were there for open house but the neighbors drew the line at Scientologists mass ticketing of every car up and down Glendower during the night of the FOG press party. This was due in part to Forry mentioning in a recent interview on television that he was L. Ron Hubbard's literary agent. The neighbors had been through intrusions on their privacy in a different way when Jon Hall lived there, as apparently Hall was a big-time drinker who found it amusing to urinate out in front of his house, as well as, making a number of unwanted loud observations to any of the neighbors that happened to be home during one of Hall's weekend binges.

It has been many years since that night and from what I can remember
Forry never really thought about the fact that most press conferences
held at night like this one would be treated like a cocktail party.
Avco Embassy treated this one no differently and it was catered with a
full bar complete with a professional bartender in tow.  It was just
amazing to see Wendy, hands clasped behind her, watching and fuming as
this was being set up in her living room, a set of circumstances that
would never have occured if she had known in time. The Ackerman's had
a maid named Suzy who worked full time and lived in a bedroom
downstairs past where Forry kept his office and where most everyone
who ever came there entered and exited. There was an enterance from
the driveway that avoided the front door of the main house allowing
fans to walk down a flight of stairs to enter Forry's office directly.

However, on the night of THE FOG press party, guests were greeted at the
front door by a representative of Avco Embassy and their names were
duly checked off as each group of journalists, as well as, FJA guests
were ushered into the living room for a chance to ask John Carpenter
personally about this million dollar film that told a rather old
fashioned tale of a ghostly galleon that concealed itself in a
supernatural fog.

This was also a very special night as I look back on it because Forry was his old self, tall and a bit overweight, enjoying being Forry at the height of his fame and popularity, as was John Carpenter, looking boyish and thin with his career mostly in front of him, still in the afterglow of the worldwide success of HALLOWEEN, which made so much money for AVCO and placed John in the realm of heavy hitters in Hollywood in 1980.

I had invited Martine Beswicke who was practically like my sister by this point and she was still working as an actress so events like this were always a must do in her book because let's face it there is always a chance a director like John Carpenter might just use her in one of his upcoming projects.  At this time Carpenter was still married to Adrienne Barbeau who was at the time a very busy actress in and out of genre films. I loved her in CREEPSHOW in which she excelled playing one of the best bitches in a horror film during the 1980s.

Forry showing off his what's new?
The press conference itself was very well presented as Mick was
totally in his element. He was a huge fan of genre films and like the
rest of us, had grown up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland.  John
chained smoked which was another reason Wendy was not a happy camper
aside from drinking, smoking was a huge "no no" in the Ackermansion and
with good reason, with all of Forry's collection of rare book in the
house. However all that was stored downstairs and the downstairs was
off limits.  Typically of Ackerman, not an hour into the event, people
were wandering down to his office anyway. Forry could never resist
showing off his stuff regardless of how many of his friends, both in and out of show business, told him to not be such an easy mark for

John was fascinated with Forry and his connection to golden age
writer's like H.P. Lovecraft, not a good choice off the bat from
Carpenter since Lovecraft and Forry were never on very good terms. It
was Forry's pal Robert Bloch who knew and was liked by Lovecraft. In
those days Forry was the fans par excellance while Bob was the writer
in the group. Carpenter mentioned Lovecraft as an inspiration for THE
FOG and it was not lost on any of us that saw the film.  It was more
in keeping with a fellow writer of the macabre Willian Hope Hodgson
who really wrote several ghostly tales of the sea during the time
Lovecraft was writing for WEIRD TALES back in the 1920s.

Martine Beswicke and yours truly at the THE FOG press party, 1980.
One thing I do remember was getting a bit cross with Martine who took
a moment during the Q&A when Carpenter was discussing Janet Leigh
being in the film with her daughter Jamie. He mentioned that
Hitchcock was an idol of his and wished he could make films like the
master, to which Martine in a moment of abandon yelled out, "You're
better John!"....a comment that I wished she had not made, Carpenter was
charming about it but it still was not cool because the comment was made by
an actress hoping to work with him sometime so it made the whole thing
rather desperate which is not what Martine was going for in the first
place. It was just one of those thoughtless things that can happen in
these situations.  She knew I was pissed about it but we made up
before we left the Ackermansion and all was well between us.  This was
part of our brother-sister act that we had down by then.

L. Ron Hubbard
Forry proved to be a jolly host telling his stories to a fresh group of Hollywood insiders, some of which were new to all this fandom stuff and found him to be old time Hollywood at it's best.  One very awkward moment did arrive as we all began to depart to our cars some that the valet parking had taken all the way up Glendower toward the old Frank Lloyd Wright house, the one immortalized in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. It seems the cars parked nearest to Forry's all had Scientology flyers placed on the windshields and as I mentioned earlier, Forry had done a press conference of his own early in the day and mentioned that he was among other things the literary agent for L. Ron Hubbard. What he neglected to tell them was this was many years ago when L. Ron was still a science fiction writer for publishers like Shasta Press which also published the works of writers like John W. Campbell Jr. whose classic WHO GOES THERE would be filmed in the near future by John Carpenter as well.

There were many such events and gatherings at that house on Glendower known thoughout fandom as The Ackermansion but for me that one evening was when new Hollywood, with open bars and valet parking, merged with Wendayne (Rocket to the Rue Mogue) and Ackerman for once allowed the place to be part of the Hollywood scene and as Forry would have put it, "when this you see, remember me----4-e...4-e...4-e!"

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