Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part Ten by Greg Dziawer

Lyle Talbot as captured by the legendary Drew Friedman.

Lyle Talbot in Plan 9.
One of the most persistent myths surrounding Edward D. Wood, Jr. concerns his untimely death on December 10, 1978. The standard story goes that Eddie passed away while watching a football game on TV, despite the oft-repeated fact that he had no interest in the sport whatsoever.

Well, I recently learned a little more about that fateful game while researching one of Wood's most frequent collaborators: Lyle Talbot (1902-1996), the sturdy, incredibly prolific character actor who appeared in Crossroad Avenger, Glen or Glenda, Jail Bait, and Plan 9 from Outer Space, amid dozens of other assignments in a film and TV career spanning six decades. In interviews, Talbot staunchly avoided mention of working with Ed Wood. But that changed with Tim Burton's 1994 biopic elevating popular interest in Eddie to its then-and-still pinnacle. 

With Glenda and Plan 9 back in the spotlight, Lyle Talbot ultimately acquiesced and started talking to the press about his days working with Ed Wood in the 1950s. Take, for instance, an article I found in the October 2, 1994 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. Here, although Talbot's work with Wood is described as being from a "fallow" period in his career, the actor is finally empathetic toward his former boss. And that's despite the fact that he reveals his possible—and very personal—reason for his decades-long separation from the world of Wood.

Here is the article in its entirety:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: RIP Jacques Descent (1937-2018) by Greg Dziawer

Jacques Descent surrounded by some of the films he worked on over the years.

Jack in 2009.
I have some sad news to report to you this week. The dwindling number of associates and friends who knew and worked closely with Edward D. Wood, Jr. has decreased by one. Film producer Jacques "Jack" Descent—a man who had become my very best friend these last few years—passed away in the early afternoon of Tuesday, June 5, 2018.
Apart from his connection to Ed Wood, Jack lived an extraordinary life of his own, his career and accomplishments remaining largely unknown to this day. He reinvented himself again and again as a filmmaker and an inventor and a painter, among many other things, always a fearless pioneer. It was all about the deal, he frequently told me, self-identifying as more artisan than artist.  
In the last year, owing to some near-impossible circumstances, I found myself working with Jack on the post-production of a movie he'd shot and co-produced in 1974. The interiors had been filmed at the Cinema 35 Center, Jack's full-stack studio/lab at Hollywood Blvd. and Western Ave. in Los Angeles. Together, we sifted through more than five hours of raw 16mm superneg footage and an equal measure of quarter-inch Nagra sound reels, bringing this material back from the dead.  
Day in and day out, I saw how Jack had retained his hands-on managerial artistry, even a quarter century after retiring from the film business. I only regret that Jack never saw the finished film, which is now mere weeks away from completion. Beautifully shot, it reveals artistry of another sort. It was gratifying to see Jack gradually but ultimately accept that.  
OJ in his Bruno Magli shoes
Just two weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the better part of five days with Jack as he lived out his last days. Despite the circumstances, Jack's mind was sharp and his outlook positive, still looking for the deal. The steady stream of stories and anecdotes became even more incredible. Paid out of his half of a film with Jayne Mansfield's last Cadillac. Meeting Jobs and Wozniak in 1974 and selling their first "product" before there even was an Apple. Buying a pair of Bruno Magli's in the same store on the same day as OJ Simpson bought the pair he allegedly wore. 
Jack was living in Beverly Hills at the time, he told me, and he wandered into the shoe store one afternoon. He knew OJ from around town, not a friend, just to say hello at restaurants. Jack spotted OJ, who was with a couple of other ex-NFL players.
"Hello, OJ. How are you?" 
As they conversed, OJ mentioned that he was buying a pair of Bruno Magli's. Although Jack had never heard of the brand, he figured why not? Different than OJ's lace-ups, Jack purchased a pair of leather slip-ons that day, more than a quarter of a century ago. They are now, surreally, in my closet. 
Decades prior, Jack shot Ed Wood in a fabled, gone-missing film called Operation Redlight, which Ed also scripted. The angora sweater Ed wore in that film hung in the front office of the Cinema 35 Center through the mid-'70s.

Jack's story has only begun to be told, a life well and fully lived. Endings are beginnings.

Relive Jacques Descent's life and career with these links:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Young Marrieds Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood dedicated his final film to documenting the sex lives of the younger generation.

Ed Wood's last stand as a feature film director.
This week, I am again turning my attention to Ed Wood's last-known feature, a hardcore pornographic film from 1972 called The Young Marrieds. There's a lot to talk about here. For instance, I've already discussed the movie's various releases on home video as well as some of its Los Angeles filming locations. This time, however, it's the movie's very title that concerns me.

Every now and then, that rather odd turn of phrase—"young marrieds"—piques my curiosity and sends me on a search. This particular pairing of words remains sparsely used in the English lexicon, with most appearances clustered from the mid-1960s through the early '70s. It is quite uncommon today even to see "marrieds" used as a plural noun. But, half a century or so ago, the term "young marrieds" popped up in a fair number of newspaper articles and ads and was even used as the title of a 1961 novel by Judith Heiman.

Back then, the press identified young marrieds as a large and promising consumer base, marked by their increased likelihood of possessing college educations and their subsequently enhanced earning power. Having come of age during the postwar Populuxe era of the 1950s, these youngsters seemed poised to buy even more than their parents' generation had. The natural flip side to this acquisitiveness—and a theme commonly addressed in the popular literature of the time—is that young marrieds would accrue debt beyond their means. And so they did, but not before Ed Wood named a movie in their honor.

Never a man with great financial acumen, Ed typically throws socioeconomics to the wayside in The Young Marrieds, instead exploring the sexual hang-ups of the new generation, whose members were far better situated in those permissive times to explore their sexuality than their more conservative forebears. 

Judging by these 1960s clippings, "young marrieds" were the millennials of their day.

Title card from the ABC soap opera.
All of this is mere preamble to a surprising discovery I made only recently: from 1964 to 1966, ABC ran a black-and-white soap opera called (you guessed it!) The Young Marrieds. Depending on which source you believe, the series lasted either 380 or 382 half-hour episodes. I suspect this connection had already been made by other Woodologists but had somehow slipped past me, unnoticed or unreckoned, until just now.

Be that as it may, the now-forgotten show ran mostly in late morning time slots (plus a few afternoons) on ABC affiliates across the country. It was a spin-off, in fact, of the massively popular General Hospital, which still airs today as one of the last surviving soaps on network television.

The Young Marrieds took place in the fictional town of Queen's Point, a suburb of GH's mythical Port Charles. Still to this day on General Hospital, the occasional character hailing from Queen's Point will pass through Port Charles. Otherwise, once it was cancelled, The Young Marrieds seems to have entirely disappeared in the ether of the pop culture, never to be re-aired. The UCLA Film and Television Archives holds a mere seven episodes, likely all that remains of the series. When Ed Wood made a movie called The Young Marrieds in 1972, the ABC series of the same name would have been just barely visible in the nation's rear view mirror.

By 1973, however, this new generation of young marrieds was already beginning to decline as a sociological and economic force, their higher divorce rates and lower birth rates foiling the hopes of the corporations. The term would all but disappear from use by the mid-'70s, and those same corporations would adapt by learning to profit from debt, a proven business model as it remains sustainable to this day. 

It seems of little sociological significance, in retrospect, that an aging pornographer appropriated the term "young marrieds" for his final, ignoble feature. More telling, perhaps, the title could explain the crazy scene in Ed's movie in which frustrated housewife Ginny (Alice Friedland) masturbates while watching a soap opera in her living room. The fact that there really was a soap opera called The Young Marrieds makes this scene an irreverent inside joke. And, given this Wikipedia summary of the series, there seems to be yet another direct link between the TV show and the movie, since both feature characters with the surname Garrett. To wit:
The Young Marrieds focused on the conflicts between three married couples in the suburban community of Queen's Point. Dr. Dan Garrett and his wife Susan Garrett, commercial artist Walter Reynolds and his wife Ann Reynolds, and Matt Stevens and Liz Stevens, a young couple who were engaged and ready to begin their married life together. 

Featuring just a handful of actors whose names are still recognizable today—including Charles Grodin, Ted Knight and Lee MeriwetherThe Young Marrieds ended its abbreviated run on ABC with an unresolved cliffhanger. This is appropriate, since Ed's film, too, ends on a note of uncertainty. Namely, would-be suburban swinger Ben Garrett (Dick Burns, aka Louis Wolf) has to decide whether to engage in homosexual activity at an orgy or just walk away.

We'll never know Ben's ultimate decision. What's your guess?

P.S. This 1964 ABC promo reel includes some footage from The Young Marrieds. And keep an eye out for Ed Wood regular Timothy Farrell (Glen or Glenda, The Violent Years, Jail Bait), appearing on the likewise forgotten Day in Court

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

A relic from the heyday of 1970s porn.

Prop of the week: a bronze statue.
When we examine the films Ed Wood worked on in some capacity during his final decade—plus the ones we think he might have worked on—we see how often they intersect through their set decorations. There are distinctive props, furnishings, and wall hangings that turn up again and again in these 1970s adult movies.

I've already covered several of these decorations previously. For instance, there are the Chinese guardian lions and the lion's head door knocker that show up in Necromania and The Young Marrieds, two feature films directed by Ed, as well as in numerous silent 8mm loops. Then there's the black velvet painting of a panther descending a stone staircase. And let's not forget the infamous gold and white skull

Some of these set decorations serve as signposts to the alert viewer that a particular movie was made at Hal Guthu's studio set on Santa Monica Blvd. That's not always a guarantee, though, that Ed Wood was involved. I've seen some films and loops that feature items from those sets but likely have nothing to do with Ed. However, the lion's share (no pun intended) of these set decorations strongly suggest that Ed Wood was involved in a production.

This week, I'm going to follow an item I first noticed in Necromania. I traced this item first to another one of Ed Wood's features and finally to a mysterious but intriguing loop.

Ed's feature film Necromania is rife with items that turn up in other movies. It was only recently, while watching the outtakes of Take It Out In Trade, that an item from Necromania I had not spotted previously caught my eye. In Necromania, when Danny (Ric Lutze) and Shirley (Rene Bond) enter Madame Heles' place at the outset of the story, there stands a small piece of bronze decorative statuary just inside the door, sitting on the floor in the lower right corner of the screen. It's a squat, bulbous thing maybe about a foot and a half high. In the Trade outtakes, during a shot of a travel poster, two such bronze statues appear in the bottom left and right corners of the screen, indicating they were a pair.

Bronze statues in (from left): Cafe Lust, Necromania, and Take It Out In Trade.

Mere days later, I was screening some 1970s adult loops, and—sure enough—there it was again. The loop in question, Café Lust, takes place on a cheap strip joint stage set. The cast consists of two gals and a guy. One of the aforementioned bronze statues sits atop a table in the corner of the set, just to the left of the stage. The stage itself uses a piece of zebra-striped fabric as a backdrop. I've seen this same fabric repurposed again and again in these movies: as a blanket, as a wall hanging, as decorative bric-a-brac, and even as a carpet! Café Lust gave me my best view yet of this faux zebra skin. Up close, it looks like it is indeed a carpet.

Café Lust is also fascinating in that it dates from the brief era when the porn industry was transitioning from softcore to hardcore, placing it circa 1970. (Meanwhile, the clapperboards visible in the outtakes from Take It Out In Trade indicate it was filmed in mid-January 1970.) Lust survives today, ID'ed as "White Box Productions #23." This is another example of a loop that was packaged anonymously in an effort to protect its makers. The filmmakers obviously took some other precautions. There are a few halfhearted attempts to block out genitalia with objects in the foreground, and an oral sex scene is clearly entirely faked, with the act itself obscured throughout by the actresses' hair.

Aesthetically, the sparse strip show stage in Café Lust makes the stage in The Young Marrieds look ornate by comparison. But that could be owing strictly to the lighting and we could be on the very same set. Also worth noting: the stripper's dance moves are extraordinarily similar to those of the stripper in The Young Marrieds.

The real question, as always, is: Was Ed Wood involved in this loop? The circumstantial evidence suggests that he was, but that's still just an inference. We're close, without a doubt, but there remains more work to do.