Debate & Analysis: Forry Ackerman’s “Dracula” Ring (Profiles in History)
April 10, 2009 by Jason DeBord
There has been a significant amount of discussion and debate with regards to the provenance and history of the famous “Dracula” ring that is one of the highlights of the Forry Ackerman estate, to be auctioned by Profiles in History on April 30 and May 1 as part of their “Hollywood Auction 35″ and Hollywood Auction 36″.
In speaking with Joe Maddalena (owner of Profiles), Joe Moe (close friend to Mr. Ackerman), and others, as well as performing additional research, I have assembled some information and photos which should be of interest to those who have been talking about “the ring” and its history.
The Profiles in History Auction
The ring is one of the key items offered in the upcoming Profiles in History “Hollywood Auction 36″ sale event, which features memorabilia from the estate of Forrest J. Ackerman, who passed late last year (see Forrest J. Ackerman: 1916-2008).
Below is the description from the Profiles in History catalog:
Bela Lugosi “Dracula” ring
This “Dracula” ring was originally created in 1944 for Universal’s House of Frankenstein and worn by John Carradine in the role of the Count. Carradine again wore the ring in House of Dracula (1945). Three years later Universal signed Lugosi to reprise his role as Dracula (for his second and last time on film) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Lugosi, who was a very close friend of Forry, wore the ring in this classic comedy and kept it for several years thereafter. Late in life he gave it to a young fan and friend who gave the ring to FJA, along with other Lugosi-owned wardrobe. Likely to be Forry’s most prized artifact, this ring is depicted in numerous photographs, portraits and artistic renderings of FJA and became intertwined with his persona. Its significance cannot be overstated.
$20000 – $30000
Below are photos produced by Profiles in History for this sale event:
Online Discussions & Debate
Some collectors have discussed and debated the history and provenance of the ring. However, the debate itself is varied.
I don’t believe I’ve read any suggestions that this is not a ring owned by Forry Ackerman.
What I have seen are a variety of questions as to whether this is “the” ring created for and worn by John Carradine as Dracula in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, and later worn by Bela Lugosi as Dracula in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Some have speculated that at some point “the” ring may have been replaced with a ring not made for and used in those films.
The following are links to related discussions on the Internet:
- The Movie Prop Forum: “Forrest Ackerman auction at Profiles”
- Classic Horror Film Board: “Forry Ackerman Auction”
- Classic Horror Film Board: “The Forrest J Ackerman Estate Auction”
- Classic Horror Film Board: “Dracula 1931 Ring Stills Or Pictures Needed”
- Original Prop Community: “Looking for Famous Monsters Issue/Scan/Information, Forry Ackerman’s Dracula Ring”
Much of the debate has been generated by a comparison with one older photo that is of poor quality. Because this is referred to as “Back Lot Charlie’s Images” by Profiles in History in their analysis (further below), I will continue that reference here to avoid confusion. The photo illustrates the ring as worn by Forry (LEFT, date unknown) and one of the Profiles in History images (RIGHT):
The claim is that the little branching filigree along the left side of the ring in the photo on the left appears softer than what is seen on the photo of the ring taken by Profiles in History.
One other account cited in these online discussions is a story about Mr. Ackerman having lost the ring in a parade, with some speculating that perhaps the original ring was subsequently replaced.
I have spoken with another collector who claims to have personally made a casting of Mr. Ackerman’s ring in the early 1980s, and he has expressed concerns that his replica casting is discrepant with the ring as it is seen today.
Below is a sample photo of the replica claimed to be a direct casting of the original ring:
This collector also claims that he recollects that the band of the ring was broken in the back, so as to be squeezed for sizing. However, his band is different from what he describes – he recollects using a different style band for his replica casting:
Replica Dracula Rings
Over the years, various replica copies/castings were made of the ring owned by Forry Ackerman. The information in this section is is being provided merely for informational purposes.
The first post in the Classic Horror Film Board topic, “Dracula 1931 Ring Stills Or Pictures Needed”, includes a great photo compilation of some of these rings:
Ted Newsom offers his assessment of the photo compilation in the first reply post:
I’m no collector, but I think I know a couple of simple answers.
Forry’s ring is, I think, the real McCoy. It was a prop worn by Lugosi in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948. It may be the same ring worn by Carradine in the two HOUSE films, and it may be the one worn by Chaney in SON OF DRACULA. It’s a logical assumption, but there’s a good possibility the Lugosi ring was one of a number of rings made at the studio in the forties. It’s likely, for instance, in the case of a specially-made prop which figures in the action, to have doubles or triples made. The ring is central to action in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and A/C; not so much in the other two. I don’t think anyone has shown any visual proof that Chaney wore a ring like this. Indeed, the “crest” shown in the film, on Dracula’s coffin, was the “Alucard” crest, an entirely different thing (unlike the HOUSE films, which did use the bat & four crowns design).
Forry had copies of the ring made in the mid-1960s and sold a few through the magazine, though not through a Captain Company ad. The price was relatively high, I recall– $60 or so. One was given to Christopher Lee, who then wore it when he played Dracula from that point on (I think the first time was DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. A simpler, non-crest ring was used in the first two Lee Hammer Dracula films.)
Eyeballing the Sheffield ring, I’d say this is a “re-original” cast, patterned after the genuine Universal/Lugosi ring, or even photographs of Forry’s original. The Mojica variation, likewise. A very clear close-up of the ring was shown in a FAMOUS MONSTERS issue with the A/C Lugosi on the cover–accompanied, strangely enough, with a photo of Bela from the 1931 film in which he clearly was not wearing that style of ring.
Note that none of the middle three of the five you show compy the carnelian base with the silver design atop it; instead they look like simpler castings. I think I’d read the last one you show actually does use a carnelian base. This makes it closer in design to the Universal prop original.
Dimensional Designs currently offers replica copies on their website: DimensionalDesigns.com
Another replica was recently produced by Quantum Mechanix (“QMX”):
Below is an excerpt of an interview with Steve Dymzso from HobbyTalk.com (see Quantum Mechanix – Steve Dymszo Interview):
Bela Lugosi’s Dracula Ring is our premier piece, and that was obtained from Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest Ackerman. The ring was originally worn by John Carradine in House of Dracula, but wound with Lugosi for Abbott & Costello meet Dracula and he wound up keeping it himself after the film. We molded the replica directly off the original ring, and we actually scaled up the master pattern so that the replicas wouldn’t be reduced slightly during the molding process. It’s pure sterling silver, and shrinks quite a bit.
Statement & Research From Joe Maddalena (Owner, Profiles in History)
I have spoken at length about this ring with the President and owner of Profiles in History, Joe Maddalena.
Below is a message sent to me by Mr. Maddalena with permission to publish in this article.
The “Exhibits” graphic prepared by Profiles can be found unaltered below the e-mail – I have take the liberty of cropping sections out and inserting the applicable images into the message for easy reference and context:
From: Joe Maddalena
Re: Dracula Ring
Thank you for taking an interest in this matter as I want to set the record straight about this Dracula ring.
Please see the accompanying analysis to illustrate my points below.
First, since “Back lot Charlie’s” images and analysis is posted on the web, I want to bring your attention to the full frontal view of our ring and compare it to the circled area of the filigree of Back lot Charlie’s image and you will notice them matching-even when examining the very subtle shading of the inside vertical branch between the outer filigree and the shield. This minute detail would be lost in a recasting.
Second, I want to bring your attention to two images images of Forry’s ring taken ca. 1960s-70s. You will notice the crest of Forry’s ring as being sharp and crisp-like the example we are offering from his Estate-not at all like the “muddy” crest with the smooth filigree edges on the replica ring (images provided in illustration).
Third, as remarked by an owner of a replica ring, “the band is also very different from that of the PiH ring – but it is exactly the way I remember Forry’s screen-used ring’s band.” You will plainly see that the replica band is straight-not tapered. I suppose no one has ever bothered to do the proper research and wade through the photographic files at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library to find sharp set stills from the master key book of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. I have attached images obtained from the Library showing Lugosi wearing the ring and it clearly shows the band tapers and has the same design as the FJA Estate ring!
We have absolutely no doubt about this being the correct FJA ring that was actually worn by Bela Lugosi in A&C Meet Frankenstein. Our analysis far exceeds and refutes the evidence presented by the critics.
Should you have any other questions, please let me know.
Full Profiles in History Exhibit Graphic:
Discussion with Joe Moe (Friend of Forry Ackerman)
This week I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Moe, Mr. Ackerman’s good friend and caretaker who lived with him at the “Ackermansion” for many years.
There is a great interview with Joe at DreadCentral.com, which gives back story to his relationship with Forry Ackerman:
Joe himself recently published an article about the Profiles in History auction at DreadCentral.com:
Below is an excerpt from his article, as it pertains to the ring.
(Note: In the 90′s, Forry thought his famous ring was lost. He retraced his steps. The last place he remembered wearing it was at a parade. He imagined it must have flown off his finger while waving to crowds. Months later, I decided to give the house one more search. Just before giving up for good, I did the old, “If I were a huge-ass Dracula ring, where would I hide?” Instinctively I went to Forry’s sock drawer and rooted around. Before I pulled my hand out, I knew I’d found it! If you’ve ever left loose change on a dresser then absentmindedly swept it into a drawer that’s ajar, well – mystery solved! The ring was never lost. Just misplaced – Joe Moe).
I confirmed all of this with Joe, and he is absolutely confident that it is “the” ring.
I did inquire about the claim made by another hobbyist that the ring band was of the style that was broken in the back so that it could be sized up and down and squeezed to fit. Joe stated to me that the ring band has always been as it appears in the Profiles in History photos today. Also, that the frequency with which Mr. Ackerman wore it was dependent on his weight at the time – so at times he recollects padding the band so he could wear it at times in which it might have otherwise been loose.
Joe also recollects that the stone had fallen out of the ring and been repaired in the past.
More Photos & Analysis
David Sechrest today published the following on the Classic Horror Film Board – “Forry Ackerman Auction” in Post #145 & 146, showing photos of the ring, worn by Mr. Ackerman, circa 1989:
Don’t know if this will offer any insight or not, but here’s a pic of both rings I took when I visited Forry at Ackermansion #2 in 1989…
The following photo is attributed to Famous Monsters issue #66, which per MovieMags.com, was published in 1970:
Ring Comparison: “1960s/1970s”, 1970, 1989, 2009
Below is a compilation that I produced using a selection of the higher quality photos above, showing as best as possible a direct “side by side”, straight on comparison of the ring over a 40-50 year time span. The ring depicted in each of the photos would appear to match; at the very least, I personally observe no differences which would suggest that any of these is a different ring than the one at auction.
If anyone has any comments or input, please publish a “Reader Comment” below, contact me, or participate in the discussions on the various online forums already noted above.
Many thanks to those who contributed to the information presented in this article.
Jason De Bord