Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The 'Glen Or Glenda' Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

These posters weren't exactly subtle about what inspired Ed's movie.

"A lady is a lady, whatever the case may be."
-Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) in Glen Or Glenda

Christine Jorgensen holds the Daily News.
Born just a year and half after Ed Wood, only in the Bronx instead of Poughkeepsie, George Williamson Jorgensen likewise enlisted in the military in his late teens, having been drafted shortly after graduating high school in 1945. By 1946, both discharged, Ed began pursuing the creative life while George began pursuing Christine.

Finally, after knocking around Hollywood for a half dozen years, Ed landed his big break. A feature. And even better, impossibly, a feature about a subject through which he could Trojan Horse his own story, a plea for transvestism. We all know that's Glen or Glenda, but the rapid-fire sequence of events in getting the film to market is worth mentioning. It's even worth opening a new Odyssey, and sharing a key document that, already in early 1953, months before Glen or Glenda was even released, reveals Ed's awareness as Outside Artist.

"EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY": That Daily News headline from December 1, 1952 started it all, launching Christine Jorgensen into the staid 1950s, where she remained celebrated and, owing to her class and wit, rarely derided. Her return to the United States from Sweden, landing at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in Queens—the busiest international air passenger gateway in the US at the time—was the largest press gathering to date. She was, for a spell, arguably the most famous woman in the world.



Beating just about everyone to the punch, low-budget exploitation film producer George Weiss hired a hungry young Ed Wood to write and direct Glen or Glenda, a film intended to cash in on the Christine Jorgensen case, in early 1953. Although Wood veered far from the nominal source, he turned the assignment quickly, which was all that mattered. Inside of a week from the time that Christine landed in the States, this newspaper article credited to UPI correspondent Aline Mosby was already in syndication. The following clipping originally appeared in the February 19, 1953 edition of the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah.

"A sort of Orson Welles of low-budget pictures."

As much as I'd like to comment
...on this unbelievably early tie of Ed to Orson Welles, as kindred maverick artists by implication, as well as this early recognition of Welles' ultimate place in film history
...on the "tiny studio"
...on Ed and Martha Graham
I'll try to stop and let it speak for itself. Weiss clearly managed quick placement of a promotional piece, the content clearly provided almost if not entirely by Ed. It makes it his first (perhaps only) nationally syndicated newspaper interview.

By April, Glen or Glenda premiered across drive-ins and hardtop fleapits, adopting different titles for different regions. It continued playing these venues for a full decade.

Christine Jorgensen remained a staple of the pop culture throughout the 1950s, appearing in men's adventure magazines (interesting to imagine the average joe's reaction), as spokesperson for the transgendered and belatedly as subject of her own movie bio. She died in 1989 at the age of 62, felled by bladder and lung cancer.

As for Ed, we'll explore more in future Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special Thanks: The scan of the article above is from The Scene Of Screen 13, a blog where you will additionally find a ton of Ed-related movie ads in local papers, and a veritable mountain of ads from the world of ex- and sexploitation during Ed's era. And for more about Christine Jorgensen, make sure to check out the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.

5 comments:

  1. Worth noting - don't know how I neglected to recollect it, but Joe Blevins pointed it out to me - that this same article appears in Nightmare of Ecstasy on pg 222, just before the index, with a different title, and there identified as a UPI story.

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    1. If nothing else, this proves that Utah newspapers were a hell of a lot hipper than I thought in 1953.

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  2. fascinating to see a po-faced estimation of a sex change at this time, indeed!...and in the local paper that landed on your doorstep.

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  3. Incidentally, I think I've identified the other movies that Aline Mosby mentions in her article. The movie about the man and his lion in the army was Fearless Fagan (1952). The movie about the girl falling into the well was The Well (1951). And by 1953, there were already several movies about the Korean War. But the earliest was The Steel Helmet (1951), directed by Sam Fuller. By this point, Eddie had already worked for Fuller on Baron of Arizona.

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  4. awesome!that's a deep dive into ephemera, joe!

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