By TRICIA EATON
By MICHAEL IWINSKI
Carla Laemmle, the last living link to The Phantom of the Opera and Dracula, celebrated her 100th birthday last October 26. A celebration was held on Soundstage 28 at Universal Studios, and Ms. Laemmle returned to the set where she played the prima ballerina in Phantom of the Opera in 1925.
I interviewed her on the eve of her centennial celebration, and Carla Laemmle’s voice was clear and her mind sharp. Earlier this year she even penned a book with Daniel Kinske, Growing Up With Monsters. Her roots in Hollywood date back to 1921, when she arrived from Chicago at the age of 11. Her uncle, Carl Laemmle, founded Universal Studios, and she describes growing up on the studio lot as a magical time, a kind of perpetual fantasy world. It was while working for the studio that Laemmle played roles in two of the greatest horror films ever produced.
Laemmle became a cult figure in horror fandom. “I’ve been getting mail nearly every day from all over the world,” she says. Always an accommodating signer, Laemmle is flattered by the attention she still receives, but keeps it in perspective: “They praise me and flatter me so much that you can’t take it too seriously.” After all, she was only 16 years old when she performed in Phantom. Fans continue to request autographs and sometimes send gifts in the mail. “I just received a wonderful letter from an artist in Canada. The portrait he did of Lon Chaney is really excellent!”
Of Chaney’s role as the phantom, Laemmle says, “It was a closed set. I was only in the ballet sequence at the beginning, and they didn’t allow anyone in the room when the unmasking scene was being made.”
The scene Laemmle is referring to is one of the most iconic in movie history. The phantom’s mask is removed, revealing his hideously deformed face. “Only the people who were involved with the scenes were able to be on the set. It added shock value by keeping it a secret.”
In 1931 Laemmle delivered the first lines in another Universal classic, Dracula. “I was in the carriage and just read the lines that were right in front of me.” Seventy-eight years later, she recites them from memory: “Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass, are found crumbling castles of a bygone age.”
Even while it was being filmed, Laemmle felt Dracula was unique. “It was the first talking picture—the first sound horror movie being made. We knew there would be quite a bit of special interest in it. It was no longer just silent movies. That’s what set it apart at the time and made it special.”
Laemmle, who was trained in ballet, would go on to use her dance skills in musicals throughout Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s. “I worked at every studio—MGM, Universal, Warner Brothers, RKO.” Thinking back to what the town was like during the early days, Laemmle feels the actors were much more approachable and visibly appreciative: “They were very gracious in those days. They knew how valuable being accessible was and were very nice.”
Carla Laemmle exudes these qualities today, something autograph collectors and horror film aficionados appreciate. Surprisingly, she is not a huge horror fan. She never even auditioned for the part in Dracula but was called in by Universal at the last minute. No director was present when the scene was filmed on a back lot, with men rocking the carriage to and fro to create the illusion of motion. “I’m not interested in horror movies at all!” Laemmle says. “But I like to watch Dracula and Phantom of the Opera when they are on.”
By JON ALLAN
In 1965 singer-songwriter and humorist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about entertainers in politics entitled “George Murphy,” a spoof on the recent election of that dancer-actor to the Senate.
Hollywood’s often tried to mix
Show business with politics,
From Helen Gahagan
To Ronald Reagan,
But Mister Murphy is the star
Who’s done the best by far.
Of course Ronald Reagan did go on to “do the best by far” with his election to the presidency in 1980. But the history of actors crossing into U.S. politics predates Reagan and Murphy, and goes back to Congressman Julius Kahn, who performed on stage in the 1880s opposite Edwin Booth, Joe Jefferson and other top stars of the theater before spending almost 20 years in the House, from 1904 until his death. P.T. Barnum, who served in the Connecticut Legislature in the 1860s, was Mayor of Bridgewater and twice ran for Congress.
Still, when you mention actors turned politicians, Reagan is usually the first name that comes to mind. While his story is so well known that it doesn’t bear repeating, Reagan is connected to a number of other celebrity politicians who may not be as familiar. He and George Murphy fought the left wing political activists in Hollywood for control of the unions and, like Reagan, was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Murphy was elected to the Senate in 1964 and was expected to easily win re-election in 1970 despite a bout with cancer. Then it came out that he had been accepting a regular fee of $20,000, a car and a credit card from Technicolor Inc. The hint of bribery lost him the race to Gene Tunney, the son of the former heavyweight boxing champion. Throughout his film career and after leaving the Senate, Murphy was an easy autograph signer, although his Senate signatures are often Autopens and he is of only moderate value.
California: Home of the Celebrity Politician
Perhaps because it is the center of the entertainment industry, California has had more than its share of actors who transition into politics. Today, California’s governor is A-list entertainment celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose story has played out in the press since his first election to governor. As his friend and Predator costar Jesse Ventura found out, it’s easier to win an election than run a state. Schwarzenegger has filled collections with non-authentic autographs since reaching stardom so use extreme caution in purchasing his autograph.
Another Californian of early note was Helen Gahagan Douglas, who served in Congress from 1945-51. A stunningly beautiful Broadway star, Douglas was known for her one role in the film She and was married to Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas. In 1950 she decided to run for the Senate and faced off against fellow Congressman Richard Nixon who dubbed her the “pink lady” and intimated she was pro-Communist. She authored the term “Tricky Dick” and went on to become a heroine of the women’s liberation movement.
Will Rogers Jr., son of the legendary humorist, was elected to Congress in 1943. When a bill he had authored to save the Jews in Europe failed, he resigned from Congress and became a highly decorated tank commander. He lost a race for the Senate in 1946. In The Will Rogers Story, in which he played the role of his father, his costar was the former Mrs. Reagan, Jane Wyman.
Hollywood Celebs Take their Fame Back to their Home States
Fred Thompson went from politics, where he was the Republican counsel of the Watergate Committee, to “B” movies, then back to politics as a Senator from Tennessee. He then made the unusual move of resigning from the Senate to star as the conservative DA on Law and Order. In the last presidential primary he seemed to have a reasonable chance of winning the Republican nomination, but it soon became obvious that he had little passion for the run and pulled out.
By the time this article comes to print it is quite possible another entertainment celebrity will be in the Senate, if Al Franken’s slim victory in Minnesota stands up to court challenge. Minnesota has a reputation for electing out of the mainstream figures. Before Franken there was Jesse Ventura, who not only won the governorship, but did it on the Independent Reform ticket. Ventura, a wrestler, action star and commentator, spoke his mind, politically correct or not. It wasn’t his attacks on religion or his lifestyle that brought him down but the grind of trying to balance budgets and work with legislatures.
The post of ambassador is one of the few political appointments given to amateurs. Just ask Reagan friend, Psycho’s John Gavin, whom he sent to Mexico. The most famous movie star ambassador was Shirley Temple, aka Shirley Temple Black, film’s greatest child star. An active Republican, she served as Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, was Representative to the United Nations and the first woman Chief of Protocol. She wanted very much to hold office and unsuccessfully ran against fellow Republican Pete McCloskey, a Korean War hero and opponent of the Vietnam War. She lost by a substantial margin. Temple’s early autograph can be very expensive, and in later years she signed Shirley Temple Black and has tried to inscribe signatures so that the inscription cannot be cut away. No matter what form, she is an excellent investment.
Like Temple, another famous actress and playwright, Clare Booth Luce, served in Congress from Connecticut and was appointed Ambassador to Italy and later to Argentina. Luce, the wife of Time-Life owner Henry Luce, came in second to Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in a 1947 national poll to determine “the American woman you most admire.” Another Connecticut actor turned politico was John Lodge, who starred in films and on stage opposite Shirley Temple, Greta Garbo and others. He was a member of the famed Lodge family and brother of Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. Not only was he a Republican Congressman, but he was also Connecticut Governor and Ambassador to Argentina, Spain and Switzerland.
From TV to Congress
After establishing themselves as national figures in TV shows, actors have gone to their home states to run for office. Among those in recent years have been the actors who played “Gopher” and “Cooter.”
Fred “Gopher” Grandy of The Love Boat was a Republican who returned to Iowa, where he was elected to Congress and served from 1987-95. Grandy tried to distance himself from his acting career after he entered politics, but he did tell People magazine, “If there were no Gopher, there would be no Fred Grandy for Congress.” He lost a race for Governor in 1994 by only four points.
Democrat Ben “Cooter” Jones of The Dukes of Hazzard was elected to Congress from Georgia, serving from 1987-93, was defeated for re-election, and lost again in a 2002 congressional race in Virginia. Congress has also been the desire of others like Ralph Waite, the father on The Waltons, who ran for Sonny Bono’s seat but was beaten by his widow, Mary. Nancy Kulp, “Miss Jane” on The Beverly Hillbillies ran for Congress from Pennsylvania. An open bi-sexual, she lost the race to Sheila James Kuehl, who ran with Kulp’s former costar, Buddy Ebsen. “Zelda Gilroy” on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, who was also an open lesbian, has been a powerful and popular figure in the California House and Senate for almost 20 years and announced a possible run for California Secretary of State. Gopher, Zelda and Cooter were good at signing autographs, both in and out of office.
Politics and entertainment are two of the most popular areas of autograph collecting and the mixture of the two makes for an interesting specialty. With a few exceptions such as Reagan and Schwarzenegger, very few of the autographs are terribly expensive. Both professions are spent in the public eye, and the entertainer, looking for votes, is quite apt to authentically sign. Of these names, few have not signed authentically for me.
By JEFF BENZIGER
Featured in Autograph April 2009
Those amazing big blue eyes could melt any man quickly. They may have done more to launch Joan Blondell’s career than anything else up until her death in 1979 at age 73. Of course, there was more to Blondell than just the eyes or even those long legs that made for wonderful cheesecake poses after she made the jump from vaudeville to Hollywood films in the 1930s. She was a good actress and not afraid to work hard.
When Blondell was asked why some actresses like herself had staying power, Joan noted: “It’s more than talent and beauty. Maybe it’s the audience seeing itself in you.”
Blondell was a ready signer who had a vertical handwriting almost as light and feathery as her eyelashes. She often inscribed photos to each fan with the phrase, “All that’s good, Joan Blondell.”
Autograph collectors shouldn’t have much difficulty securing signed images of an older and plumper Blondell for such photos have sold on eBay for around $60. A tougher find is a signed vintage cheesecake portrait from her early career as a major pin-up star.
Born Rose Joan Blondell on August 30, 1906 to a traveling New York City vaudevillian family, Blondell ended up in Dallas, Texas, where she won the 1926 Miss Dallas pageant. A year later, she was off to Broadway, where in 1930 she was cast in Penny Arcade with James Cagney. Although that play only ran for three weeks, it launched her career when Al Jolson bought the rights and packaged it with Cagney and Blondell for the Warner Brothers movie, Sinners’ Holiday.
The studio put the wise-cracking blonde into a long parade of films over a nine-year period and capitalized on her looks for publicity photos. Blondell was one of Warner’s most valuable properties at a time when the studio was cranking out pictures at a maddening pace. She once quipped that she was “Warner’s workhorse,” but she was also one of the highest earning stars during the Depression. By the time Blondell left Warner Brothers in 1939, she had appeared in nearly 50 films. Her beautiful face was used in magazine ads to sell products like beauty soap.
Blondell’s personal life was less than idyllic. She was sexually assaulted at age 23 while working as a library clerk, a job she took after vaudeville’s popularity waned and before her Broadway break. Joan was married three times, her second to actor Dick Powell, with whom she made 10 musicals. Her third marriage to producer Mike Todd was marred by his gambling addiction and violent streak. Todd once hung Joan outside a hotel window by her ankles.
Her more than 100 films included the 1937 The Perfect Specimen with Errol Flynn and Lady for A Night with John Wayne. She received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for her 1951 role in The Blue Veil. She was also featured prominently in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), Nightmare Alley (1947), Desk Set (1957), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) and The Cincinnati Kid (1965).
Joan never retired because she needed the money after her last failed marriage. No longer the sex-pot she once was, Joan played character roles and no longer commanded top dollars. From 1968 to 1970 Blondell was the spunky saloon gal Lottie Hatfield in the Pacific Northwest based western TV series Here Comes the Brides with Robert Brown and teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman. She had minor roles in Grease (1978) and The Champ (1979) with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder.
Blondell died of leukemia on Christmas day, 1979 surrounded by her children and her sister.
By KIMBERLY COLE
Featured in Autograph April 2009
“If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going to go,” Forrest J Ackerman would tell guests touring his collection. But when the man known as Uncle Forry to legions of horror and science fiction fans died in December at 92, he left an amazing collection behind. Thousands of sci-fi and horror related items will be auctioned from April 30 to May 1 by Profiles in History. “This will be the most important sale of horror-related items ever assembled for auction,” said Joe Maddalena, the firm’s CEO.
Jerry Weist, an author, collector and science fiction consultant for Sotheby’s described Ackerman’s collection in 2003: “There was nothing like it anywhere in the world, and there never will be again. The heritage of modern collectors is based in the Ackerman collection. It’s as if one guy in Europe had most of Braque, Picasso, Matisse and Chagalle, as if one person had an overwhelming collection.”
No. 1 Fan
Ackerman won a special Hugo Award in 1953 for No. 1 Fan Personality. He published 50-plus stories, was literary agent to the likes of Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard and Marion Zimmer Bradley, appeared in more than 200 films, and served as editor and writer of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland for 25 years. But the word most often used to describe him? Fan.
The key to Ackerman’s tremendous influence on the genres of horror and science fiction films and literature was his life-long enthusiasm for the art form and its artists. As a fan, he amassed a collection that, at its peak in the mid-’60s would have been worth about $10 million in today’s market, Weist once speculated.
Unlike many collectors, Ackerman always shared his collection with the public, offering free tours of it at his home every Saturday. The “Ackermansion,” as his 18-room Los Feliz estate was called, became a mecca for science fiction fans and visitors from around the world. Even after the cost of legal troubles and illness forced him to downsize his collection and home, Ackerman continued to greet visitors and give personal tours of the house he dubbed the “Mini-Ackermansion.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Ackerman often recounted the birth of his fascination with science fiction when, in 1926, he bought a copy of Amazing Stories. “Among all the magazines, that one said, ‘Take me home, little boy. You will love me.’”
Three years later, he published his first story in Science Wonder Quarterly and founded The Boys Scientification Club. His dream of bringing together a community of science fiction writers and readers began. In 1938 he published a young Ray Bradbury’s first story and introduced him to science fiction greats Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett and others. They were members of his chapter of the Science Fiction Society, which met in L.A.’s Clifton Cafeteria. Years later he bankrolled Bradbury’s fanzine Future Fantasia with $90.
In 1939, Ackerman attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in Manhattan with his friend Myrtle R. Douglas. Both of them dressed in space costumes, setting the stage for the thousands of Trekkies who would follow suit.
Ackerman is credited with coining the term “sci-fi.” In a story told to the Los Angeles Times, he explained that he was driving with his wife in 1954, when the radio mentioned the term “hi-fi.” “I looked in the rear-view mirror, stuck out my tongue and there, tattooed on the end was ‘sci-fi.’ To her immortal embarrassment, my dear wife said, ‘Forget it, Forry—it’ll never catch on.’”
His connection to the film world grew naturally out of his career as a literary agent, and Ackerman became friends with horror stars such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price. But Ackerman also promoted the works of the behind-the-scenes artists who created the magic of the movies, inspiring film director Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King, Penn & Teller, and many others.
A life-long fan of science fiction B-movies, Ackerman had cameos in more than 200 films, including The Howling, Return of the Living Dead Part II and the campy Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. More important than his work onscreen was his role in shaping the industry’s understanding of the genre. It was Ackerman who brought attention in the United States to the 1927 German film Metropolis. He called himself Ed Wood’s ‘ill-literary’ agent, and provided feedback to Wood as he wrote and directed Plan 9 from Outer Space.
In 1958, Ackerman launched his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, each issue full of interviews with film monsters Lugosi and Karloff, articles on past and current genre films, comic strip adaptations of classic movies and a letter to the editor’s page called “Fang Mail.” In the Mimosa fanzine, Ackerman explained the Famous Monsters tone: “The publisher sent a sign saying ‘I am 11-and-a-half years old and I am your reader, Forrest Ackerman. Make me laugh.” Ackerman obliged until 1983 when the magazine stopped publication after a run of 191 issues.
Horror and science fiction may have lost their No. 1 fan, but Ackerman’s legend lives on. In the words of Stephen King, “Forry was the first; he was best and he is the best. He stood up for a generation of kids who realized that if it was junk, it was magic junk.”
Inside the Ackerman Estate Auction
After the Ackerman estate trustees decided to use Profiles in History to handle the auction, we spoke to Joe Maddalena, who was in the thick of preparing for the sale. In explaining the trustees’ decision, Maddalena said that his company had sold items from Ackerman’s collection over the years to help sustain him financially. “We specialize in the higher end of this field of collecting—science fiction and horror memorabilia. And we have the right market—not only have we got the memorabilia clients, but we have the autograph clients.”
When asked to give a peek into what’s involved in auctioning Ackerman’s collection, Maddalena described the effort of inventorying the contents of the house and storage. “Forry’s house is just full—I mean, thousands and thousands of items. There’s autographs, magazines, newspapers, costumes, toys, art work. We’re inventorying, and then we box it up and bring it to our offices.”
Maddalena will go through the entire collection, looking for the items that will stand alone in the auction. The rest will be sorted by genre, personality, or film and sold in lots. “We turn the collection into thematic lots that can be sold in a sensible way. There are a couple of people who were alive at the time Forry was building his collection and they’ve been helping us identify the history and who he got each item from.”
In addition to local resources, Maddalena said that he’s been receiving countless emails from fans who toured the Ackerman estate—more than 50,000 people visited during the many years that Forry opened his house to the public and people are eager to share stories about items in the collection. “It’s a tremendous help in assembling the catalog,” Maddalena said.
The catalog, available for download from the Profiles in History website in early April, should be a major resource for fans of horror and sci-fi who want one last chance to ogle Ackerman’s collection.
Maddalena provided interesting insights into the challenge of pricing the items. “I like to set starting bids based on what’s reasonable. I believe that these collectibles will find their value at market. For example, we have the Dracula ring listed at $20,000-$30,000. But it’s a unique item. It came from Lugosi to Forry. It’s uninterrupted provenance. Who knows what that’s worth? It could go as high as $100,000, but it’s hard to guess because there’s never been another. Or the costumes—there has never been any Lugosi wardrobe for sale before.”
While popular culturally, horror films were not considered historically significant years ago. “Horror material from the 1930s and ’40s just doesn’t exist,” Maddalena said. “People thought there was no reason to save a Dracula poster. No one thought about saving a costume from Dracula, so this type of material just doesn’t exist. No one has unearthed any Universal horror costumes or costume pieces of significance ever.”
No one except Forry Ackerman. Through his friendships with actors, directors, writers, costume and set designers, Ackerman saved what might have been lost.
“Also impacting value is that the items were given to Forry, and his association has an added value,” Maddalena explained. “You not only have an 11×14 beautiful photograph of Marlene Dietrich, but it’s inscribed to Forry Ackerman. Is there a premium associated with that? Is that premium 10 percent? 20 percent? Is someone willing to pay a premium of 100 percent because it’s associated with Forry’s life?”
Here are a few of the items that Maddalena has identified for single sale.
Dracula ring worn by Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula in the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula. In the original 1931 Dracula, Lugosi’s Count is wearing a ring with what appears to be a simple black onyx stone. Because there are no references to the ring, it is assumed to have been a personal possession of Lugosi’s, as was the medallion he wore in that film. Lugosi gave the Abbott and Costello ring with the crest on a carnelian stone to Forry Ackerman. Ackerman later loaned it to Christopher Lee for use in his portrayals of Count Dracula. It’s the single most important Lugosi / Dracula screen-worn piece to ever come to auction.
Bela Lugosi’s robe from The Raven (1935) is reportedly the most important 1930s horror costume to ever come to auction. There’s a classic photo of Lugosi, as the Poe-obsessed Dr. Vollin, wearing the velvet collared robe as he strokes the head of a stuffed raven.
Also available in the auction is the cape made for Bela Lugosi in 1932 and used by him in stage adaptations of Dracula. Lugosi also wore the costume in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Lugosi was buried in one of his three Dracula capes, and his son owns the second. This is the third and final cape worn by Lugosi.
The 1899 first American edition of Dracula signed by Bram Stoker and inscribed by Bela Lugosi to Ackerman (also signed by Christopher Lee, John Carradine and a host of other Dracula-related personalities). The book was originally published in the U.K. in 1897. When Douglas & McClure published the American edition in 1899, they used the original copyright year of 1897. There have been numerous publications of Dracula, but this is the first U.S. edition and should not be confused with the 1927 Grosset & Dunlap edition which was published to coincide with the theatrical opening of Dracula on Broadway.
Autograph asked Maddalena whether the book was of greater interest to autograph or book collectors. “Any real book collector is going to think the Dracula book has been defaced. First American edition signed by Bram Stoker, that in itself is worth $10,000. A book collector is going to get sick when he sees all those other signatures. But an autograph collector is going to be euphoric.”
Fritz Lang’s monocle, which he wore when he directed Metropolis. Ackerman was an ardent fan of the 1927 silent film, and Lang gave his monocle to Forry. Along with Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, Metropolis is considered one of the most important science fiction films ever made.
A copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Man Demon signed by the author.
Also available are hundreds of signed 11×14 photographs of stars like Marlene Deitrich, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Fritz Lang and John Carradine. “These are the most personal autographs,” Maddalena said. “The ones he didn’t want to sell.”
Over the years, a number of individuals suggested that Ackerman’s collection belonged in a museum—that it should become a museum. The failure to do so has enraged some fans. In a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, Ray Bradbury was quoted, “We live in a stupid world.” He had over the years begged executives at a number of companies to help preserve the collection. “I said, ‘A special room with all of that [Ackerman’s collection] will be more fascinating than all that junk you have.’ They didn’t believe in the future. I believe in the future. Forrest Ackerman believed in the future. No one else cared.”
But within hours after news of the auction hit the Internet, horror and sci-fi sites began buzzing with the idea that from the sale of Forry Ackerman’s collection, thousands of fans will find the core of their own collection; a basis from which to build their own celebration of horror and sci-fi films and writing.
And, as Maddalena explained: “Forry’s will divides the proceeds from the sale among his beneficiaries. It’s a chance to help Forry give something to the people who meant the most to him.
“This is a great time to celebrate this man’s career. If collectors have ever wanted something from this genre, Ackerman is probably the single most important person who influenced collecting.”
Autograph asked Maddalena for tips for auction novices. “Decide how much you want to spend,” he said. “And try to understand what you’ll be getting for that money. For example, Forry had the last Vincent Price index card—Price signed the date on it. That card will be in a lot with other Vincent Price-related things. But it’s not just Price, it’s the connection to Forry Ackerman that you’ll be buying, so you’re really getting a lot for your money.”
The auction is a treasure trove for Vincent Price fans. In addition to the last Vincent Price autograph, there’s a handwritten tribute Price wrote to Ackerman, which reads, “Eventually he and his collection will become monuments to a (but for him) much neglected cinema art form. We all owe him a great debt for keeping alive his favorite genre of movies and preserving its mementoes. His fans are legion.”
To download the Ackerman Estate auction catalog, go to www.ProfilesInHistory.com. The auction will be held April 30-May 1 at Profiles in History’s offices in Calabasas Hills, Calif.