By LAWRENCE GROBEL
By SCOTT VOISIN
Featured in Autograph January 2010
“Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”
With that line on the classic ’80s sitcom Newhart, actor William Sanderson officially became a pop culture icon. Although he would become forever identified as one of the dim-witted, backwoods siblings, the character of Larry is the polar opposite of the actor who portrayed him. “After high school, I went into the army for a couple of years and then came four years of college and three years of law school,” Sanderson says. “During my last year in law school, I had begun to get my nerve up to do some plays. Without taking the bar exam, I moved to New York for an apprenticeship in acting.”
After brief appearances in such critically-acclaimed movies as The Onion Field and Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sanderson landed a memorable supporting role in the 1982 sci-fi film, Blade Runner. “Up until then, I was playing a lot of renegades and derelicts,” he explains. “I like to think J.F. Sebastian was a sympathetic character and it was fun to play. I was just so thrilled to be there shooting a major film on the Warner Brothers lot and anytime you can be in a film with that cast you should feel grateful.” Although the film is regarded as a classic today, it failed to make much of an impact during its initial release. “Since Harrison Ford was in it, everyone expected it to do as well as Star Wars. I read some nice reviews, but the one that always stuck in my mind—I think it might have been Pauline Kael—said it was a fascinating failure. It’s quite ironic that it’s become a cult classic. I’m not wise enough to know why it’s stuck around, but director Ridley Scott is somewhat of a visionary, and I think some of his vision came true. He’s a genius.”
That same year, Sanderson made his first appearance on Newhart. Although the role was originally intended to be a one-time guest shot, the show’s creators quickly changed their plans. “The audience applauded the first time we appeared, so that encouraged them to bring us back again,” Sanderson says. “In the second season, I think they doubled the number of episodes we were in. The third year, the show went down in the ratings, and I don’t want to sound self-righteous or anything but they decided to make us regulars, and lo and behold, the show went back up in the ratings. Bob Newhart has said that we gave it a shot in the arm, but it was the two brothers—John Voldstad and Tony Papenfuss—that made the group work. I learned years later they originally wrote the character for a friend of mine, Tracey Walter, who’s a great actor. He had to go in and audition for it even though the writer wrote it for him. I mean, can you imagine: they write my friend a role, he goes in and auditions, and they give it to me? I think if success comes to you, you should consider yourself lucky, and I definitely got lucky with Newhart.”
Since then, Sanderson has parlayed that success into roles on such high-profile projects as Lonesome Dove, Deadwood and the current HBO hit, True Blood. Looking back, he has no regrets about choosing to work on a soundstage instead of in a law office. “Personally, I think it’s very difficult to make a living as an actor,” he says. “There are over 100,000 actors in the union and only 2,000 or 3,000 work regularly. We chose it, so we can’t really complain, but the rejection is hard, at least for me…. I don’t want this to sound like self-pity because when it’s fun, it’s fun. The adrenalin is akin to playing in the Super Bowl, and I’m addicted to it. I’m just a journeyman actor with an obsession to keep working and keep learning.”
Autograph photos are available from Sanderson’s Web site, www.williamsanderson.com. Signed photos start at $20 and signed Newhart scripts will cost you $35. Prices on eBay for signed photos range from $15-21.
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 MARK J. GROSS
Featured in Autograph April 2009
The wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, was the First Lady of Star Trek, having been involved in the franchise since its original pilot. As fans gear up for the May 8 release of Star Trek XI, we remember Majel, who died at 76 last December.
Majel’s career with Star Trek began with some resistance from NBC executives, who insisted that her then-boyfriend, producer Roddenberry, cast a man in her role as starship officer, Number One.
Majel went on to play Dr. McCoy’s assistant, Nurse Christine Chapel. And devoted Star Trek fans recognize her voice the first time they hear it, as Majel was the voice of the ship’s computer in the original series, all the spawned series, as well as the films.
Her performance as Deanna Troi’s famous mouthy mother Lwaxan Troi generated a huge fan following. This character appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation often, and in Deep Space Nine as the love interest of security chief Odo.
Majel was a staple at various conventions throughout her career, promoting new projects. I had a chance to interview her at a convention in 1999. She was as down to Earth as ever, signing autographs and chatting about her memorabilia company, Lincoln Enterprises.
Mark Gross: What was it like being involved with Star Trek from the start?
Majel Barrett: Well, for all of us back then, it was a job, and unfortunately after that first pilot episode, I got fired from my job. I worked my way back in and got the role of Nurse Chapel. We all went to work every morning never thinking it was going to be any more than what it was that day or that week. Each year, we hoped we were going to be on another year, but that only happened for three years. We were actually a failed series then.
What did you do after the show was cancelled, until you came back as Nurse Chapel for Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Gene and I did Spectre, The Questor Tapes, Planet Earth, Genesis II and I was also doing TV shows myself then too.
What was your time like with Gene, who was such a genius in creating science fiction shows?
We just led a normal life. I mean Gene was not really “spacey” and our house didn’t have Star Trek and sci-fi stuff all over. Actually, we were golfers and we went everywhere around the world to play golf.
How did you and Gene meet?
Gene was working on three pilots in L.A. and I was introduced to him as a possibility for a role. We began talking and one thing led to another. We lived together for one year and were married for 22 years.
How did the Nurse Chapel role come about?
I actually found the role as Nurse Chapel because I was so disappointed in not getting the role as Number One. I kept looking at the scripts and finally, about the fourth script in, I found the role of a doctor who was coming onboard the ship to look for her fiancé, and I said, “I can do this.” But once the network fires you—you know they don’t want you back. So I went out and bleached my hair, which fooled even Gene at first. I said, “If I can fool you, I can fool anyone.” Gene said, “Yes you can.” And I did.
What about your famous voice as the ship’s computer?
I was just simply there, they needed somebody to say all those words onto the tape, and so there I was.
Tell me a bit about your character Lwaxana Troi, Deanna’s mother from The Next Generation series.
Gene came home one day and said to me, “Majel, I have a great part for you, and guess what, you don’t have to act!” Well, I didn’t know what the role called for, and Gene just described it as the Auntie Mame of the Galaxy. Then the character kept coming back, and I got to be quite proud of it. I often heard women yelling to me from across a parking lot telling me that this role has done more for women over 40 than any movement in America. I love Lwaxana, she was a great role!
On Sunday Jan. 4, 2009, Majel’s family, friends and fans came to Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in the Hollywood Hills to pay their final respects to the First Lady of Star Trek. A large crowd, including many Star Trek luminaries, gathered for the official memorial.
The Roddenberry family also held a public memorial for Majel at The Hall of Liberty at Forest Lawn. The crowd of approximately 300 was a mix of friends, family, colleagues and many Trek fans, some of whom showed up in costume. Present were Majel’s Original Series costars Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and George Takei, as well as many of the lead actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series, including Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton, Anthony Montgomery, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips, Armin Shimerman and Garrett Wang.
When her husband died in 1991, Majel had part of Roddenberry’s remains launched into space in 1997 through Celestis Inc., a memorial spaceflights company. After Majel’s death, Celestis Inc. announced it will launch the remains of both Gene Roddenberry and Majel in 2012. They will traverse the cosmos and galaxy together, which is exactly how it should be.
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.