A friendly presence at LoneStarCon was Forrest J Ackerman (arguably the number one
fan of all time), who has attended every worldcon ever held except one. In
Mimosa 20, Forry described events that made him famous outside of fandom
with the publication of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. This latest
installment of Forry's series of autobiographical essays also deals with the movies,
in particular with two of the most revered cinematic legends of the science fiction
I have now seen Metropolis, my favorite film, a total of eighty-eight times. I hope to hit a hundred before I hit 100! I've been a movie fan for almost as long as I can remember. My dear maternal grandparents started me off on movies at the age of five-and-a-half. When I was growing up I was seeing films like The Lost World, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Thief of Bagdad. I enjoyed them immensely, but back then I wasn't paying any attention to the directors.
That changed when I was about thirteen years old. The year was 1929. I had seen Metropolis for the first time, and of course was thoroughly thrilled by it; soon afterwards I began hearing about another film from Germany called The Woman in the Moon. I was living in San Francisco then; unfortunately the film never got closer to me than Chicago. But in the meantime I'd seen yet another German film, Siegfried, and I suddenly realized, wait a minute, this one name keeps turning up -- Fritz Lang, Fritz Lang, Fritz Lang... I found out he lived in Berlin, so I decided to write him a letter. Quite some time passed, but eventually, I think in 1931, I received a nice, inscribed photograph of him and some stills from Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon) and Metropolis.
After that I kept up a correspondence with Mr. Lang. He eventually emigrated to America in 1934, and soon after that he made his first film here, Fury with Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney; that is one of my great favorite non-science fiction movies. Some years later, during World War Two, I was fortunate to be stationed only about 25 miles away from Hollywood, and I read in the morning paper one day that he was to appear that evening about eight o'clock in conjunction with a private screening of a couple of his films. I managed to wangle a pass to leave the army base, just for the evening; I got up to Hollywood and I went to the address. Today that address is Ron Borst's science fiction and fantasy film shop, but at that time it was just a little meeting place for a film appreciation group of about thirty people. So there I arrived and the lady at the door said, "Oh, I'm sorry, sir, this is members only. I can't let you in." Well, I threw myself on her mercy: "Oh, pleee-ease let me in! I've got a one-night pass and I've come all the way from Fort McArthur today just to meet Mr. Lang. Mr. Lang even knows me -- I've been corresponding with him!"
Well, it must have worked. She said, "All right, I'll tell you what we'll do. When the lights go down, you just sneak in and find an empty chair." And I did.
After the showing, Mr. Lang lectured for a while. I was in awe of him, and when he and his lady secretary left, I followed for a couple of hundred feet along Hollywood Boulevard before I worked up enough nerve to approach him. Finally I caught up to him and introduced myself, and we stood in the doorway of a storefront to be out of the way of passing pedestrians while we talked for a while. I had brought with me a copy of the book The Woman in the Moon, and he inscribed it, 'To Forrest Ackerman, in memory of the day that we first met'.
After that, we became very good friends, and over the years I was frequently invited to his home. In 1969, he and I were in that fabulous ten-day affair in Rio de Janeiro, the Fantasy Film Festival. Robert Heinlein was there, as was Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, Sam Moskowitz, A.E. van Vogt, Robert Bloch, George Pal, Yvette Mimieux... There were so many luminaries of the science fiction world there. One of the most flattering occasions in my life happened the evening they showed Metropolis. Fritz was about 95% blind at that time, so he and I sat in the front row. When the lights went up, they wanted him to come up on the stage and fend some questions about Metropolis. But as he stood, he put his hand on my shoulder and addressed the audience, saying "Anything you want to know about Metropolis, ask my friend Forry Ackerman. He knows more about it than I do."
I remember on one occasion during that film festival that Fritz Lang told me that originally he had planned an ending for Metropolis where the boy and girl had got sick and tired of the whole situation in the big city and had gone off on a rocket to Mars. That obviously never happened, although it turns out that, through repeated takes, he photographed forty-nine times as much footage for Metropolis as ever reached the screen. His very favorite shots he made into a version that was released in Germany. Then he took the second-best, and made those into the version that was released in England. Other versions were made specifically for France, Australia, etc. I have chased that film all around the world; I've seen five or six different versions of it. The one I saw in Australia I call the 'vitamin-enriched version' because it seemed like scenes would start a minute or so before I was used to seeing them and would go on an extra minute or so afterwards. There's one version that I just can't wait to get my hands on, in videocassette, so that I can slow it down and look at it frame-by-frame. In that version, for one mad moment, we see citizens of Metropolis walking along a city street, and they go right past a magazine stand. There appear to be dozens of magazines available in the year 2027. I want to freeze that and zoom in on it to see each and every magazine; I want to have a print of that frame to see just exactly what those magazines were all about!
# # # #
In 1932, my father did me a big favor; he got me a ticket to see Bela Lugosi live in San Francisco, at the Erlanger Theatre as I recall, doing Dracula. I never forgot that; I never dreamed that after Lugosi died I would inherit the cape that I saw him wearing on the stage, and which he wore for the last time in that infamous film, Plan 9 from Outer Space. More than twenty years later, there was a young boy, fifteen years old, who after he saw his first Lugosi film was so entranced by Bela that he went home and stood in front of the mirror putting the whammy on himself, doing his best to talk like Lugosi. And then this young chap, Dick Sheffield, to his great surprise and pleasure, discovered that Bela, who was more or less forgotten by the world by then, was actually living in a nearby apartment house!
Well, the youngster didn't have the nerve to ring the doorbell of Dracula, so he got his aunt to call up and pretend to be a journalist who wanted to know if she could interview him. Once he said yes, she asked, "Can I bring my nephew along?"
She could. Well, after Dick Sheffield met Lugosi, he saw that Bela could use all the help he could get, so for the last three years of Lugosi's life he was quite devoted to him. He would go to the store for him, get his shoes re-soled, and buy his favorite cigars for him -- just do anything he could to make Bela's life easier. So he proudly called me one evening, and he said, "Mr. Ackerman, Bela Lugosi is a friend of mine. Would you like to meet him?"
I said, "Why, I certainly would!" So my wife and I -- and at the time we had a house guest, Tetsu Yano from Japan -- the three of us went over there. I had the theater sound disks from Lugosi's film, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, so I took one of them with me and played it for Bela. He was rather deaf; he cupped his ear and smiled as he heard himself say, "My NAME is Dr. Mirakle, and I am not duh YOO-shool sideshow charlatan. So if you're looking for duh YOO-shool HO-koos PO-koos, just GO to duh box office and get your money back!" He laughed and left the room; when he came back he was wearing his Dracula cape. He put the whammy on Tetsu Yano, and I took a photograph of it.
After that, I realized, like Dick Sheffield, that Mr. Lugosi could use all the help he could get so I volunteered to take him a last time to get his shoes re-soled. Anybody else but Bela would have thrown them away seventeen solings before, but they had come from Hungary and had sentimental value to him. As he got out of the car, he put his arm on my shoulder and said, "I don't understand why you young people are so good to me."
I said, "Well, Mr. Lugosi, you were good to us. You entertained us for so many years of our young lives." He shook his head and walked away.
I happened to be with him two weeks before he died; there was no intimation at all that in fourteen days he'd be on his deathbed. We were at the premiere of what was actually his final film, The Black Sleep. They had him play a deaf mute in it, because, frankly, he couldn't remember his lines anymore and they didn't want to pressure him or embarrass him. I sat up in the mezzanine with him and young Sheffield. In public, Bela was very vain and would not wear glasses, so everything must have been a big blur to him as we were coming down the stairs. We knew they were set up in the lobby to interview him for television, so when we got Bela to the bottom of the stairs, he said, "Boys, point me in the right direction." After we squared him around, we told him, "Now take about six steps forward and you'll be in the perfect position."
I hope that a kinescope of that still exists, because it was kind of a minor miracle to see. Here was this dear old man who looked kind of like a concentration camp survivor (he was still on withdrawal from the morphine drugs that had been prescribed for him because of terrible sciatic pain). But the world wanted him one more time, and this frail old man, just two weeks away from his deathbed...well, it seemed like he underwent a change before our very eyes. He straightened up and filled out, took command of the situation, and strode toward the waiting television cameras -- a tall, proud figure, Count Dracula one last time.
Lately, whenever I mention Lugosi, I'm always asked my opinion of the movie Ed Wood. I take exception to the way Lugosi was portrayed in Ed Wood. First of all, he was a real European gentleman; I never heard him say so much as a 'hell' or a 'damn', much less those dreadful scatological things. Everything was wrong about Lugosi except his appearance and the way he spoke; Martin Landau certainly deserved the Oscar for that. Lugosi never 'fought' with the prop octopus in the movie Bride of the Monster; that was done by George Becwar, a stunt double. He never walked into a theater of screaming maniacs tearing up the furniture; he didn't go out to find his automobile half destroyed, because he was in the hospital when all that was happening.
They didn't premiere Plan 9 on Hollywood Boulevard at the prestigious Pantages Theater; the premiere took place out about 48th and Vermont, at a little theater that doesn't exist anymore. The two dogs they showed in the film were nothing like his. In particular, the funeral scene from the movie was all wrong. It showed only about eight people in a tiny little room. Actually, I was the 101st person to walk by his coffin. I stood there alone, for about five minutes in silence; nobody else was around at the time. I thought, well, if you're looking over my shoulder in spirit form, Bela, I think you'll be very pleased with your final appearance.
All illustrations by Teddy Harvia