Friday, May 26, 2017

Hit Parade Of Hell: The Liner Notes Of John Waters

Your Music Appreciation 101 professor, John Waters.

A stack of John Waters soundtracks on CD.
This will seem impossibly quaint to you youngsters, but music used to be bought and sold as a tangible, physical commodity. In other words, it was a thing you had to go get. In actual, brick and mortar stores, no less! First came the wax cylinder, then the vinyl record, followed by the 8-track, the cassette, and finally, the compact disc. Nowadays, music is all just ones and zeroes to be uploaded and downloaded in the twinkling of an eye over the internet.

For the most part, this change has been a good thing. More music is available to more people more quickly than ever before. But we have lost a few things along the way as we've abandoned physical media. Liner notes, for instance. Remember those? Yes, albums used to come complete with little explanatory essays that told you something about the music contained within. To me, the king of liner notes was cult movie director John Waters. He took obvious delight in penning the notes that accompanied the soundtrack albums for his movies, explaining exactly what these songs meant to him and even giving his listeners instructions on how to listen to the albums for maximum effect.

Much of Waters' writing has been collected and anthologized in book form elsewhere. But, to my knowledge, his soundtrack album liner notes have never reappeared anywhere. So before they vanish from memory completely, I thought I'd showcase them here. I had to scour through my musty, dusty underground storage locker to retrieve these little items, which I present in roughly chronological order. Notice that Waters' texts become more elaborate over time, from a humble paragraph for Hairspray in 1988 to a 450-word essay for A Dirty Shame in 2004.

This collection is not complete. I have yet to transcribe the notes for two compilation albums curated by Waters: A John Waters Christmas (2004) and A Date With John Waters (2007). Perhaps if the reaction to this article is positive, I will dig those up, too. In the interest of historical accuracy, I have tried to present these notes exactly as they originally appeared, with all spelling, punctuation, and grammar intact.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part Fourteen by Greg Dziawer

Hard Tack Harry stares down readers in this vintage Libra Press pictorial.

Daisy Chain Affairs

The cover of Gay Guys Book One.
In previous weekswe've revisited Ed Wood's efforts in the gay-themed adult magazines released by Pendulum Publishing and its various corporate sisters, including the little-known Libra Press. Curiously, Libra's titles were not filed for copyright, as Pendulum titles commonly were. And now, we've found yet another intriguing Libra Press title: Gay Guys Book One. Likely a one-off "stroke book" rather than an ongoing series, it's undated. And though its contents are recycled from previous Pendulum mags, it is swollen with Wood.

This week, we're sharing two pictorial texts from this issue and wondering aloud if they could have penned by Ed.

Although the contents of this issue of Gay Guys stretch back to original material in Pendulum mags from as early as 1971, an ad late in the issue lists titles from Gallery Press mags from early 1974, dating the issue. Ed is credited within under his own name for the reprinted short story "I, Warlock," which originally appeared in the August/September 1971 issue of Gay Studs from Pendulum Publishers. The identical page layout is carried over from the original publication, as a matter of fact. The remainder of the issue's writing—including the editorial, a feature article, and more pictorial texts lifted from earlier pubs—is without credit, but on the whole suggests Ed's ubiquitous involvement.

The cover and two pictorials within feature Rick Cassidy, a porn star, bodybuilder, and model who appeared in a handful of softcore sex films written by Ed and directed by Stephen Apostolof in the the early '70s, including Drop Out Wife (1972). Cassidy's numerous hardcore films include the allegedly Wood-directed Bloomer Girl (1972).

The pictorial preceding "I, Warlock" in Gay Guys includes the following text accompaniment:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Five by Greg Dziawer

John Holmes is ready for his closeup in Fanny Up.

Fanny Up  

This week, we're once again entering the Wood Loop Orbit, in which Edward D. Wood, Jr. possibly played some part in the creation of short pornographic films during the 1970s. In my estimation, the 8mm loop Fanny Up, the sixth loop in the John's Girls series, was subtitled by Ed at very least, to bury the lede.

Logo for the John's Girls series of loops.
There is an evident and genuine artistic concern on display throughout Fanny Up, clearly an evolution for the creative principles responsible for the majority of the Bloom-family loops. Swedish Erotica was about to return, soon the pillar of the Bloom enterprise, and with it came a set of new aesthetics. Bearing copyright dates of 1975/1976, though likely shot a bit earlier, John's Girls was the artistic pinnacle of the second phase of the Bloom-family loop aesthetic. The first phase, the Cinema Classics loops, though initially lacking subtitles, were far more perfunctory and far less ambitious, but not without their Woodian charm...yet another story that will be told.

Back to Fanny Up, a jewel of a loop in a great series: Naked by the strikingly blue pool, a pretty young blonde with heavy blue eye shadow brushes her hair. Her male costar, John Holmes, wearing a powder blue shirt open to the belly button, with an appropriately huge belt buckle, dials the (also powder blue) rotary phone in his kitchen. The girl by the pool, Tonie, puts down her brush and picks up the phone with a suitably long cord. Ed Wood's captions take it from there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Dziawer Odyssey, Part Four

Eros and Tana from Plan 9 wearing some of Ed Wood's favorite accessories
Eros and Thanatos: A Neck Scarf Odyssey
"Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies."
Ezekiel 1:11

I've mentioned before that the Swedish Erotica pornographic loop series on which a destitute Edward D. Wood, Jr. labored in the early 1970s ultimately adopted silk and chiffon neck scarves as de rigueur attire for its actresses. These fashion accessories—in a variety of colors, typically saturated, some even adorned with patterns—became signatures of the series. The scarves also show up across several related loop series produced by the Bloom family from 1975 to 1978 and even beyond. Danish Films, Danish International Films, Swedish Erotica Classics and—needless to say—the flagship Swedish Erotica series all extolled the scarf.

In my research, I learned that Ed was cashing a check from Art Publishers, Inc. (a classy-sounding alias for the Bloom/Caballero/Swedish Erotica porn empire) for the better part of the last two years of his life, a period in which he was previously thought to be unemployed. Those scarves, then, were with him for most of the decade.

Monday, May 8, 2017

No, really, I have a YouTube channel! Also, I figured out the point of 'Rogue One'

Just a sample of the visually thrilling content at my YouTube channel.

I don't know how to break this to you guys, but... I have a YouTube channel. Yes, I know how shameful that is. But it's the truth. I do have a YouTube channel. It's right here. And not only that, but I upload content to it occasionally. Why? I have no idea. It's not like anyone watches the damn thing. Many of my videos have yet to break the double-digit mark in terms of views. YouTube has been one nut I've been singularly unable to crack. No approach has worked. Literally everything has flopped there. Hard. But I'm not giving up without a fight. Please, I beg you, go to my channel and watch a couple of videos. That's it. That's all I ask. Just let me know that someone is out there on the other end and that my words aren't echoing in a chasm.

Thank you. Here, again, is a link to my channel. There's Star Wars-related stuff there, if that helps. Does it help? Hello? Can anyone hear me? Is this thing on?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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

Alice Friedland was available in Betmamax and VHS in 1981.

Video Killed the Loop Star

Young Marrieds on VHS
Previously at Ed Wood Wednesdays, we shared a page scan from a 1981 UK adult mag titled Tip Top. That scan was an ad for mail-order loops—quite late in the game, as tape was rapidly taking over—that included a loop derived from Ed Wood's last-known film as a director, 1972's The Young Marrieds.

In this week's Young Marrieds Odyssey, we're travelling to the UK once again, bearing witness to the box cover from a nearly-forgotten tape release of The Young Marrieds and speculating on its ties to that magazine loop ad.

Videotape quickly became the norm in the 1980s. Cheap exploitation films flourished on the medium. In the UK, a company called Dapon released a clutch of low-budget sex films on both VHS and Betamax in 1981. Among them: The Young Marrieds, presumably like the rest shorn of any hardcore content, although the majority of titles were transition-era softcore circa 1970-1971. Three films released on tape by Dapon in this cluster were produced by Jack Descent (Agent 69, The Family, and Love from Paris) although Jack recently told me that he had no recollection of this release. It was Joe Rubin of Vinegar Syndrome who pointed me at the site listing for the Dapon video releases. Identifying a crossover point, Joe noted that the tapes released by Dapon were, concurrently, excerpted for the loop home market. We may never know how, but Golbek Sales, the company selling the loops, must have had some affiliation with the tape distributor Dapon.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sally and Ted Forth secretly want to kill each other

The characters of Sally Forth descend into hell, a few panels at a time.

Marriage is a long haul. And no one knows that better than the characters in syndicated comic strips, where people generally don't age (or age much) and everyone is stuck in some kind of Groundhog Day-esque nightmare loop of time. That little parody up there is based on a real Sally Forth strip. It took very little to make it very bleak indeed. On the bright side, though: prime rib!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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

Ben exits the Nude A Go Go in Ed Wood's The Young Marrieds.

Loser of the Week

Sportscaster Stu Nahan
I remember Stu Nahan (1926-2007) as one of the color commentators in the Rocky films. Not yet in my teens, I don't think it occurred to me that Stu Nahan was essentially playing himself. For the better part of 30 years, from the 1970s through the '90s, Stu was a sports anchor in the Los Angeles television market. Early on, he appears to have had a bad week in the local press, the very same week that Ed Wood and crew were shooting the exterior location of the strip club in The Young Marrieds.

In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're taking a trip down La Cienega Blvd in West Hollywood, circa spring 1971.

I'm sure many of you noticed the two moments in The Young Marrieds when Ben exits the strip club, and quickly rushing by behind him as the camera follows him, we see a sign on the building. The club, as identified by Joe Blevins previously here at Ed Wood Wednesdays, is the Nude A Go Go. We can make out part of the sign to the right of the entrance in the first shot of Ben exiting, and the sign to the left of the door reads:


Not sure what this meant exactly, I inferred it might have something to do with Stu having made a sports prediction (or predictions) with a computer, obviously novel at the time. The prediction(s) must have been wrong, and were likely regarding an LA team, as the proprietors of the Nude A Go Go saw fit to dub Stu their Loser of the Week. Incidentally, the sign also listed Fidel Castro and Richard Nixon among its losers of the week. But what was this all about?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

"I'd like to buy an O."

Widening The Aperture

A legendary porn producer.
Founded in 1974 by Noel C. Bloom, Caballero Control Corporation (later Caballero Home Video) was one of the most successful and durable adult film studios in American history. Noel was the son of another legend in the porn industry: publisher Bernie Bloom, whose Pendulum family of magazines employed Ed Wood frequently throughout the 1970s. Always desperate for quick cash during the last years of his life, Ed worked as a writer for Bernie on various adult magazine imprints, starting with Pendulum Press titles in 1969 and running through titles from Art Publishers, Inc (home to the multi-media Swedish Erotica empire) in late 1978, just before Ed's passing. Drawing on the Pendulum talent pool, Caballero likewise threw some work Eddie's way during those years for its film productions.

Another Pendlum staffer from that era, artist Phil Cambridge, was a coworker and personal friend of Ed Wood. He talked about the origins of Caballero and Ed's involvement therein with author Rudolph Grey for the book Nightmare Of Ecstasy: The Life And Art Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

"When Caballero first started, they just did 8mm movies," Cambridge told Grey. "They'd put one-liners, captions, on the bottom of the screen, just like silent films. They gave Ed a hundred bucks to write ten movies. There had to be fifty lines in each movie, minimum."

We've quoted Cambridge before in this series, as a signpost to the discovery of 8mm loop subtitles that could have been written by Ed. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're sharing another set of loop subtitles. These come from Danish Films International #10 Photo Layout from 1976. This short film stars a trio of Golden Age porn legends, though who is saying what is open to interpretation.

Read on and see if you detect the presence of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in these lines.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood's career in loops comes further into focus this week.

Swedish Pre-Rotica
Ed Meese's report on pornography.
In last week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we took a glimpse at Ed Wood's possible involvement in writing editorials for the Pendulum family of magazines. Ed was then working as a magazine staff writer at the Pendulum offices on W. Pico Blvd. in LA. In 1969, Ed's boss Bernie Bloom went into the film business, launching Cinema Classics, run by his son Noel. Ed wrote and directed three features (that we know of) for Cinema Classics/Bloom: The Only House in Town, Necromania and The Young Marrieds. While we've outlined correspondences between the latter two films previously and obsessed over orbital loops, we've neglected to mention how instrumental Noel Bloom was in the production and distribution of said 8mm loops. And how risky it was to deal in porn circa 1970, even in North Hollywood.

Take this with a grain of salt, as it is Uncle Sam's spin from The Meese Report (1986), and note that Bernie is absent:
Noel Bloom, doing business as California International Distributors and Cinema Classics, is a major Los Angeles based distributor of 8mm films. He has been arrested several times on local misdemeanor obscenity charges and has one Federal arrest for Interstate Transportation of obscene matter (ITOM) charges which resulted only in a guilty plea by the corporation.

But what about the loops? By my estimation, conservatively, there are four or five dozen loop series produced and/or distributed by Noel Bloom in the first half of the '70s, Swedish Erotica by far the most prolific and durable. Ed penned subtitles for many of these loops, and perhaps played a larger creative role, listing over 700 "short picture subjects" on his resume from 1971 through 1973. We have summarized these possibilities before. To reiterate: Ed wrote subtitles for a variety of Bloom-related loop series, and likely edited some. And the consensus remains that Ed "made"―interpret that as you will―the first nineteen Swedish Erotica loops. (If we here enter auteur territory, I disagree, but that's another matter.) 

Within the possible terrain of Ed's involvement, within this week's Orbit, I've randomly (no kidding) selected a handful of box cover summaries from Bloom-related loop series. When I say "possible" I mean "definite." You be the judge:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The day Mary Worth and Mark Trail switched places!

Writing comics is easy and fun!

Sometimes, it doesn't take much to transform a mediocre or poor comic strip into a great one. The elements are all there; they just have to be properly arranged for maximum effect. Take Mark Trail and Mary Worth. Currently, both of these long-running serialized strips are mired in very slow-moving, creaky storylines with little appeal to newcomers. The title character of Mark Trail, a nature writer and adventurer, has apparently stumbled onto some kind of crime ring while on his way to study ferrets. Some no-goodniks have kidnapped a very passive blonde woman for reasons that remain unclear. Meanwhile, the heroine of Mary Worth, a sixtyish advice columnist, is taking a cruise with her much younger friend, Toby, and might wind up interfering in the lives of strangers while on the boat.

Ho-hum, right? Pretty standard fare for both series.

What I did with these strips is simply swap the dialogue. Now, both comics are more intriguing. Mark Trail seems to be complicit in a human trafficking operation, while Mary has lost all interest in "helping" others. It's called playing against type, and it works like gangbusters.

For comparison, the originals are here and here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Orbit, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

This week, we're looking into Ed Wood's career as an editorial writer,.

A Pendulum publication.
During the sad last decade of his career, a financially desperate Edward D. Wood, Jr. found employment as a super-prolific staff writer for Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing in Los Angeles. Pendulum churned out adult magazines under a number of different imprints during that time, and Eddie wrote for many of them -- from Pendulum in 1968 to Swedish Erotica in 1978, plus a whole slew of others like Calga and Gallery Press in between. Some of Ed's work was done under his own name and has been properly identified and even anthologized. Many of the articles he wrote for Pendulum, however, were either credited to a pseudonym or left completely unsigned. This means there is a potentially vast storehouse of both fiction and nonfiction by Ed Wood just waiting to be rediscovered by modern fans.

This is where the Wood Magazine Orbit comes in. The purpose of this series-within-a series is to sift through some of those old magazines in search of potential Wood work. In previous editions of the Orbit, we've taken a look at only a minuscule cross-section of Pendulum-family magazines, a thousand or so mags in total. This week, we're returning to that same source material to cast a net across a sample of magazine editorials. What have we caught?

Reprinted below for the first time in decades are three editorials from vintage Pendulum publications. Are these the work of Ed Wood? Read on and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Ancestry Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

The Wood family headstone.

Sticks and Stones

Ed Wood, Sr. with his wife, Lillian.
We traveled to the Poughkeepsie of Ed Wood, Jr.'s youth here and there in recent Ed Wood Wednesdays, and this week we're going back even further in time, to Edward Davis Wood Sr.'s adolescence. Welcome to the first Wood Ancestry Odyssey. 

Though he moved to the city of Poughkeepsie, married, raised a family and remained there for the rest of his life, Ed's dad grew up out in the sticks. The 1905 New York State Census finds Ed Sr. aged 10, living with father Byron and mother Emily and six (of seven) siblings. Although not far from from Poughkeepsie, in the city of Marbletown just 25 miles northwest across the Hudson River in Ulster County, it was all lush country, lowland farms and upland forests. Situated on the eastern edge of the Catskills, the town was given its name owing to being built on large limestone deposits. 

The Dutch arrived there in the late 1630s, and by the 1660s the town was being settled. Its original inhabitants, the Esopus Indians, moved west and joined the Delaware tribes. Marbletown briefly served as State Capitol during the Revolutionary War, after Kingston burned. It grew to a population of nearly 5,000 by the beginning of the 20th Century. With over 5,500 inhabitants today, it has grown little since, and still remains predominantly Caucasian. When Byron and Emily Wood were raising their children, it was an agricultural/industrial town. These days, it's an idyllic getaway, fetching steep prices for its old stone houses. Julia Roberts sold her estate there for $1.5 million in 2009. 

The Wood siblings were Luella (the oldest, born in 1882 and living to 1981), Ransom, Mary, Anna/Annie, Edward, Gertrude, Ruth and Granvill (the youngest, just over 6 mos. old at the time of the 1905 Census). Luella had moved out by 1905, but the other siblings remained at home, living in the small hamlet of Kripplebush (one of numerous hamlets that comprise Marbletown), now on the National Register of Historic Places. Kripplebush is along the southern edge of Marbletown, Main St (now Route 209, the oldest road in the United States) running along its eastern edge, intersected by Kripplebush Road. 

The Census Record lists the family at Main St, and Byron's occupation as a flag quarryman. Flag is a designation of a type of rock (sheerbate flags, for example). He had grown up in Marbletown, first working as a stone cutter. Oldest son Rance, 17 years old in 1905, was already a farm worker, like the majority of men in Marbletown. He was a lifelong resident of Kripplebush. Ed Sr was in school.

Byron Wood (1853-1925) was Ed Wood's paternal grandfather. May he rest in peace.

Byron, too, would end up a farm worker, into his late sixties and still in Marbletown. Eddie Jr would not have remembered his grandfather, who passed away in early 1925 (in his early seventies like his son Ed Sr, generally a younger age than the hearty Wood siblings), when Ed Jr was still an infant. His grandmother Emily lived until 1940. Most of Ed Sr's siblings, as he did, left Ulster County. But the Wood siblings would eventually and finally return to Marbletown (with Ed Jr's mother Lillian), to the family burial plot in Stone Ridge. One of the hamlets in Marbletown, adjacent to Kripplebush and with Route 209 running right through it, Stone Ridge is home to Fairview Cemetery. Ed Jr's father, per his headstone, was a wartime soldier like his son. His 1917 draft registration card still has him living in Kripplebush at the age of 26, working as a Bell Hop. And Byron and Emily are therewith him at Fairview, reunited with most of their children. 

But the story does not die with them. We'll go even further back into Ed's roots, going back generations in New York. We'll go back to Marbletown, and on a farm there, we'll meet Ed's paternal great-grandfather Josiah and his wife Charlotte, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.

NOTE: Some fascinating bonus images related to this week's article have been posted to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr:    

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Glen or Glenda Odyssey, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

Even in death, Ed Wood managed to get bad reviews.

Snips and Snails

You know the storyThe Medved brothers' The Golden Turkey Awards was published in 1980, a few years after Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s passing. The book cited Plan 9 from Outer Space and Wood as, respectively, the "worst" film ever made by the "worst" director of all time. The "so bad it's good" cult film phenomenon didn't start there, but for Wood, it posthumously resurrected his career (shades of Plan 9). Paramount Studios, apparently smelling blood in the water, picked up the rights to Glen or Glenda in 1981 in the wake of Ed's crowning as schlock auteur par excellence.

Viewpoints on Ed and his work continue to morph over time. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're taking a literal snapshot of the life of the inestimable cultural artifact that is Ed Wood's epic Glen or Glenda—I'm dead seriousat an unfortunate point in time in Woodology, yet arguably a point without which having occurred there'd be no Woodology today. 

As reviews and news articles show, the early '80s relaunch of Glenda didn't go as Paramount had planned. I snipped a few newspaper clippings from then, of a consistent and cynical viewpoint. The quoting of (ludicrous) lines that don't even appear in Glen or Glenda really pisses me off! It's also instructive to see how Glenda played elsewhere, the Aussies reveling in the "bad" movie viewpoint then in vast majority, while going far beyond in decrying the film for its cringe-worthy stereotyping. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Vernal Equinox from Vernal Q. Equinox!

Vernal Q. Equinox in his natural habitat.

When I was in junior high and high school, I created a variety of crudely-rendered characters who "starred" in comics that I would pass around every day in class. Some of the characters, like Iffy the Troll and Margin Man, had dozens of little pencil-drawn adventures. Others, however, only appeared once or twice before being abandoned. Even then, I was sensitive to reader feedback. Only the characters that got the best reaction became regulars. One quickly abandoned character was redneck mechanic Vernal Q. Equinox. I must have heard the term "vernal equinox" somewhere and thought it sounded like a funny name.

I'm sure I was influenced by Jim Varney's then-ubiquitous "Hey, Vern!" commercials, plus the Gomer and Goober Pyle characters from The Andy Griffith Show. The illustration above is my attempt to recreate what Vernal would have looked like. None of his original adventures -- and there couldn't have been more than two or three -- survive to this day in any form. The photographic background is pretty authentic. I used to clip out B&W pictures of things I didn't feel like drawing.

Why do I mention any of this? Well, today is the vernal equinox, and it made me think back to those old comics I used to do. I'm the only person in the world who remembers Vernal Q. Equinox, so this blog post is my way of immortalizing him before he vanishes from even my memory. And what is this blog good for if it can't be a repository of my useless trivia from the past? Enjoy this moment, Vernal.

Incidentally, if anyone feels that Vernal might be a marketable character, I'd be willing to sell him very cheaply. Like I'd take a pack of gum for him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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

Add caEd Wood, country crooner? It could have gone that way.ption

Mountain Music

Ed does his part for war bonds.
When we think of young Ed Wood growing up in Poughkeepsie, envisioning what he will someday be, we'd be forgiven for imagining a movie-mad boy dreaming of fame in Hollywood. The requisite elements of that story are there: getting a job as usher at a movie theater, childhood idols including Buck Jones and Bela Lugosi, and—the clincher—receiving a home movie camera as a birthday present. The seeds were sown, back home in Poughkeepsie, of the Hollywood filmmaker.

The story does, though, neglect the very real possibility that things could have gone another way. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're taking a peek at Ed Wood's career (yes, that's a fair designation) in music, where he had his first breakthrough in the entertainment industry.

The Poughkeepsie New Yorker from October 24, 1943 includes a brief article in which Ed Wood urges the public to buy more war bonds. It's a curious piece, quoting a letter from Ed to the paper. After his war bond pitch, the article goes on to mention a recent letter to Ed's parents, before closing with the detail that's relevant here: He was one of the "original" Sunshine Mountaineers heard over WGY radio. 

The detail that Ed started a band called the Sunshine Mountaineers isn't new; that little factoid is generally mentioned in concert with information that Ed started his own band called Eddie Wood's Little Splinters in his teens and that he played several instruments. Both bands consisted of Ed and his friends, and it appears the Splinters came first. By the name of the band, you'd be hard pressed to know what sort of music they played. A big band, a jazz combo? I found reference to the Splinters being a Country and Western band. And that would make sense, as Ed's hero was cowboy film star Buck Jones. 

Going back even further into Ed's musical roots, 1924, the year of his birth, was also the dawning of traditional mountain music upon the popular landscape. Scottish immigrants brought their musical traditions to North America centuries prior, leaving England in fear of religious persecution, where they had settled after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Settling from Quebec to Nova Scotia and across the Catskills, the Scots' traditional musical forms merged and morphed through the years, from barn dance music to Northern Woods lumber camp folk songs. The name Wood, indicating one who lives near a wood, incidentally, has its roots in Scotland before the migration to England. The motto of the family coat-of-arms is to defend. 

Ed Wood's boyhood hero Buck Jones
By the early part of the 20th century, two forms of mountain music had emerged: the "hillbilly" style out of Southern Appalachia, and the more somber strain hailing from the Catskills. It was then, in the latter half of the 1920s, that the hillbilly stereotype came into being. Popular radio and record bands included The Rex Cole Mountaineers, and some bands took the stereotype to its extreme, dressing in straw hats and overalls, bearded and barefoot, toting jugs in addition to their string instruments. In your typical mountain music band, you are likely to find a guitar or two, a banjo or bluegrass mandolin (in Appalachia) or dulcimer (in the Catskills), a fiddle and/or a bass fiddle. 

This style of mountain music would remain popular right into World War II. By the late '30s, however, both country and western influences began to take root in America. In the post-war years, the genre eventually known as Country and Western would supplant traditional mountain music. Naming his band—or possibly renaming the Splinters—The Sunshine Mountaineers would situate a particular style of music in the minds of the audience. Though mountain music was waning, the Catskills, the mountains west of the Hudson River, remained a foothold of the tradition. 

Debuting in 1922, the pioneering WGY was the first radio station launched by General Electric. The station could boast of its range, reaching London and Havana, as well as its accomplishments. Within mere months after launch, WGY performed the first full-length live drama on radio—two and a half hours long, complete with the medium's first-ever use of foley effects. The station's home was Schenectady, New York, just north of the state capital of Albany, and an hour and a half's drive due North from Ed's hometown of Poughkeepsie. 

The Wood family—as we know from the 1930 US Census Record that oddly captures this bit of information—possessed a "radio set" Before he fell in love with movies, Ed was surely introduced to the world of entertainment via the radio. And it's worth noting, too, that the Bardavon Theatre, where Ed worked as an usher in high school, was also a full-fledged performing arts venue, staging vaudeville acts and playing host to every form of popular music. 

While the details behind Ed being "heard over" WGY as one of the "original" Sunshine Mountaineers remain unknown, we can surmise a few things: 
  • Of the instruments Ed could play, a string instrument or two was likely among them. 
  • Ed's initial artistic ambition, and breakthrough, was musical, heading a band.
  • The style of music Ed's bands played was country and western, to a significant if-not-dominant degree influenced by the popular regional mountain music styles popular on the radio when he was a child. 
  • The Sunshine Mountaineers continued performing even after Ed left the group.

The pioneering WGY. Note the GE logo on the side.
WGY increased its broadcasting signal strength a few times through the years, and in 1938 built the largest radio tower in the world, standing half the height of the Empire State Building. WGY dropped all programming immediately after Pearl Harbor, devoting itself entirely to the war effort (and no doubt urging listeners to buy war bonds). 

Exactly when and how often The Sunshine Mountaineers played on WGY, we can't say. (Presumably Ed and his friends would have driven north to the studio and performed live, as was customary) Nor do we know how The Sunshine Mountaineers scored the gig or what their background was. What we can say is that, sometime circa 1938-1941, Ed played in a band heard by what could fairly be described as a worldwide audience. 

Fighting in the South Pacific came next, and then a brief pursuit of life in the theater after he returned from the war. Finally, Ed began work in the medium for which he is best-remembered: film. Years later, in 1963, he would script Shotgun Wedding, drawing on hillbilly stereotypes, as had become common practice in the pop culture from Betty Boop to Hee Haw. He even purportedly wrote a spec script for the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies that was never produced. (Side note: The Beverly Hill Billies was also the name of a mountain music band that made its first recordings in 1930.) Little did we know that his kinship with this iconography lay deeper.

And little do we still know about Ed's career as a musician in his teen years. But we'll keep digging, and we'll travel back again to Poughkeepsie, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Special thanks to Raleigh Bronkowski, who shared the newspaper article of Ed hawking war bonds, and whose blog The Scene of Screen 13 is a mind-boggling treasure-trove of exploitation film newspaper ads. Further thanks go to Bob Blackburn, co-heir of the Wood estate, who shared priceless scans from an original copy of Buck Jones sheet music.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sgt. Snorkel is ready for his closeup

I find this version much more true to life.

Barney Google, Olive Oyl, Blondie Bumstead, Fritzi Ritz. What do they all have in common? They were all the stars of their own comic strips before being pushed aside in favor of more exciting, audience-pleasing characters. Fritzi became Nancy's aunt. Olive became Popeye's girlfriend. Blondie has long toiled in the shadow of her lazy, sandwich-scarfing husband Dagwood. And poor Barney was reduced to rare cameos in a strip he nominally co-headlines with Snuffy Smith. And this phenomenon isn't limited to old-timey funnies either. Such latter-day strips as Funky Winkerbean and Bloom County gradually changed focus, too. Funky is still an important character in the strip that bears his name, but his friend and former classmate Les Moore is now arguably the protagonist. And wry, bespectacled Milo Bloom never left Bloom County, but he couldn't compete with the likes of Opus the Penguin or Bill the Cat for the public's affections.

Could such a thing happen to Mort Walker's super-long-lived military farce Beetle Bailey? After all, the strip already underwent a major format change in 1951 when its title character dropped out of college to join the military. Is it time for Beetle himself to step aside and make room for one of his co-stars at center stage? Above you will see a pilot episode for a proposed revamp called Sarge, concerning the adventures of Sgt. 1st Class Orville P. Snorkel, long a second banana and comic foil to Beetle. I think this new version compares quite favorably to the original

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Orbit, Part Two by Greg Dziawer

A reader prepares to enjoy Tod's First Time from 1972.

Thevis Like Us

When I think of Ed Wood's work for Pendulum, I generally think first of the magazines. The hundreds, perhaps thousands, of short stories and articles, the endless editorials, pictorial texts and photo captions. Then I ponder, perhaps too fondly, the socio-sex illustrated paperbacks rooted in the fabled T. K. Peters source. While Ed wrote nearly a quarter of them, I suspect he wrote just about all of the photo captions (80 or so per book) across the roughly 50 paperbacks in the two Peters' series.

And there were films, features like Necromania and hundreds if not thousands of 8mm home market loops. Ed wrote subtitles for these silent loops. He wrote the box cover and catalog summaries, too, and contributed in as-yet-undiscovered ways to their making. 
A kingpin of the porn biz.

The mags, though, are the constant throughline, Ed unequivocally writing across hundreds and hundreds of issues, by name, under pseudonym or anonymously. Of course, Pendulum magazines morphed into Calga, then Gallery Press, offshoot imprints like Edusex and Libra Press, the anonymous triple-dot mags, before it all finally reached its zenith with Swedish Erotica.

All of that, of course, is a long and involving story, one we have been chipping away at week-to-week here at Ed Wood Wednesdays. The story neglects the genesis of Pendulum, though. 

Michael Thevis rapidly grew Peachtree Books of Atlanta into a major distributor of adult mags and paperbacks at the dawn of the Golden Age of Porn. By the end of the '60s, he had diversified his enterprise into a multimedia porn conglomerate. Seeking to expand his geographical reach and increase in-house production, Thevis funded the West Coast arm of his own Pendulum Publishers, Inc. In charge of that operation was Bernie Bloom, a managing editor at Golden State News, a preeminent West Coast mag distributor and sometimes-publisher. 

Ed worked for Bernie at GSN, writing paperbacks (many still not identified) and texts for magazines. Incorporating Pendulum West in the spring of 1968, Bernie hired Ed first. Their first work at Pendulum, the illustrated paperbacks Raped in the Grass and Bye Bye Broadie, were published by Pendulum East in 1968. In addition to churning out illustrated socio-sex paperbacks that served as templates for the Pendulum West T. K. Peters' books, the Atlanta publisher also released numerous gay-themed magazines. 

The handful of 1972 Pendulum East mags that I have seen typically consist of nothing but photos. No editorial. Not even a photo caption. It suggests that the Pendulum East office possessed no writing staff. I am, needless to say, more than intrigued by the freewheeling (read: inebriate) text accompanying the first pictorial in Pendulum East's solo issue—the norm for their gay-themed titles at that time—Tod's First Time from 1972.

That text is presented below, spelling and other typographical errors intact, for the first time in 45 years.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 65: The 'Glen or Glenda' Transcript

Ed Wood and Dolores Fuller share a tender moment in Glen Or Glenda.

Here's what made this project possible.
Greg Dziawer, that tireless chronicler of all things Ed Wood, is taking a much-deserved week off. So no new "Orbit" or "Odyssey" from him today. He will return next week with more fascinating findings. In the meanwhile, as a poor but ready substitute, I offer a vintage document from my own archives, one that dates back nearly 20 years. Apparently, back in June 1997, I was whiling away the summer days by painstakingly transcribing my VHS copy of Glen Or Glenda from Rhino Home Video. Ah, youth! On the road to ruin! May it ever be so adventurous! 

If I really concentrate, I can even remember exactly how the transcription process went. I recorded the audio from my TV directly onto a boombox with a dual cassette deck. Back then, I had a cassette adapter that could plug directly into the headphone jack on my TV. I took the resulting recording and played it back on my trusty Aiwa Super Bass stereo radio cassette player. (Essentially a Walkman.) The Aiwa did not have a pause button, so I'd play a few seconds, STOP, type what I'd heard, REWIND, play a few more seconds, STOP, etc. Even with a relatively brief movie like Glen or Glenda, this was a slow, arduous task. I was inspired in this madness by a similar transcript of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that had been floating around cyberspace in the early to mid-1990s.

You have to remember, this was in the very primitive days of the internet. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and even Google were still in the future when I started. The Internet Movie Database, Amazon, and Ebay existed but were relatively primitive. Instead, my online life revolved around text-based Usenet newsgroups. There was even one called Like most Usenet groups, it's all spam and garbage now. Twenty years ago, however, it was actually home to a small but fervent community of Ed Wood fans, trading what little information was available to us in that benighted era. And it was there that I first posted the transcript you are now (hopefully) about to read.

I vouch for the accuracy of none of this. The formatting is atrocious and inconsistent. I'm sure this document is riddled with errors of all kinds. But maybe, just maybe, you will find it an interesting keepsake from a bygone epoch of Ed Wood fandom. Since it's based on the Rhino edition of the film, it contains a few scraps of dialogue that do not appear in the current DVD version.

Enjoy with my compliments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How comic strips use color: A study in contrasts

Color charts for Funky Winkerbean and Dick Tracy.

How comics used to look.
When I was growing up, only the Sunday comics were in color.  The rest of the week, the funnies—like most of the newspaper—were in black-and-white. But times change, and papers eventually started incorporating more and more color images in an ultimately futile effort to keep up with other media. It was a messy transition. In the mid-1980s, John Waters joked that color photographs in the newspaper were so blurry they looked like 3D movies without the benefit of glasses. But, today, even the front page of The New York Times (aka "The Old Gray Lady") is in color.

Meanwhile, print media has been all but entirely usurped by the internet, where color presents no added expenses or technical headaches. And since I now read comics online rather than in print, I've become used to seeing daily strips in color. But there is still a schism between weekdays and weekends. On Sundays, the artists themselves color their own strips. From Monday through Saturday, that chore is farmed out to subordinates hired by the syndicates. Comics blogger Josh Fruhlinger refers to these mysterious workers as "coloring drones."

As one might guess, these drones are hit-and-miss in their duties. Most days, they just go through the motions. Comic strips tend to be very repetitive, using the same characters, settings, and scenarios over and over again. It's not uncommon for the characters in these strips to wear the same outfits every day for decades. It gets to be very routine. But occasionally, a coloring drone will do something that stands out. Normally, this means making some boneheaded mistake, like accidentally giving a character blue skin or something. Or maybe it means that a drone put in some extra effort on a strip, e.g. depicting autumn leaves in various shades of red, gold, and brown.

At the top of this post, you'll see two contrasting strips, both of which ran today: Funky Winkerbean and Dick Tracy. You can see at a glance how wildly different these two strips are. Funky is a serialized comedy-drama about depressed, dilapidated, aging adults. It's supposed to be realistic and relatable. The title character, for instance, has spent the past few days at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Notice how drab the colors are: so many shades of blue, gray, and blueish-gray. Dick Tracy, on the other hand, is a highly stylized crime/action strip about a violent, trenchcoat-wearing detective who hasn't changed much since the 1940s. He's currently wrapping up a (ridiculous) case that teamed him up with The Spirit, another throwback crimefighter. The riotous color scheme tells you all you need to know about the over-the-top sensibility of this strip.

Just for further elucidation of this topic, here's a breakdown of today's Garfield. You'll notice that the palette is more limited than either Dick Tracy or Funky Winkerbean. This long-running strip goes for broad, obvious jokes, and that dedication to simplicity extends to its color choices. 

Yeah, Garfield only has about six colors.

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

In the realm of the census: The 1930 US Census records the details of Ed Wood's life and family.

"S" Is For "Street"
Although October 29, 1929 is historically considered the day of the stock market crash, and a key precipitator of the Great Depression, the US economy had been showing signs of ill health in myriad ways throughout 1929. Ed Wood turned five years old in early October 1929, and six months later, in early April, his residence was hand-recorded by a US census taker, Mrs. Van Etten.

In this week's edition of Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're visiting Ed's home in Poughkeepsie in 1930, a year when this country undertook its fifteenth official census. While the popular record of Ed's life in Poughkeepsie from his birth in 1924 until his enlistment in the military in 1942 locates him at 115 Franklin St, in previous Ed Wood Wednesdays, we've found Ed living at 35 Delano St from at least 1935 to 1940, and at 1 Fountain Place in the early '40s. Did Ed reside at any other residence as a kid growing up in Poughkeepsie? Bet your life on it!

The 1930 US Census Records contain over 2,000 pages for Dutchess County, New York, the vast majority listing residents of Ed's hometown of Poughkeepsie. It took me quite a while—a patient three hours or so scanning through the pages—to finally locate the listing for Ed and his family at the bottom of page 701 in one of the files. Not long before, I had run through the listing of residents at 35 Delano St, where I knew Ed resided as early as 1935. I only found a man and wife there, and knowing it was a multi-unit apartment house, I immediately felt deflated. If Ed was living there in 1930, clearly the census record was incomplete and we'd never know for sure.

Undaunted, I quickly bounced back, and it was only minutes and pages later that I found Ed's family listed at yet another residence: another apartment building at 44 Conklin Street. Conklin, like Delano, is a short L-shaped street on the interior of a larger block, in this case Mansion and Catherine Streets, concentrations of apartment houses and single-family homes on opposite sides of the street. The bottom end of Conklin intersects with the East-West Arterial, which takes you right on and over the Mid-Hudson Bridge a dozen or so blocks to the west. Within a couple of blocks of Conklin, there are three churches today: Baptist, Lutheran and Congregational. The neighborhood was designated entirely "W" for "white" in the records. 

House beautiful?: Some interior shots of 44 Conklin Street.
Scanning the Poughkeepsie records, I noted a number of interesting things. Wood was not a common family name, for instance. Gentrification was in full effect. And the "race" column in the records often referred to persons of African-American descent, direly, as "Nig."  
44 Conklin St. as it appears today.
44 Conklin is, like Ed's residences at Franklin and Delano, another multi-unit apartment house. The building hails from 1910, housing an upstairs and downstairs unit. Still standing, the original look of the building is now hidden beneath cheap vinyl siding. With four beds/two baths and six beds/two baths, respectively, the units at 44 Conklin were far more spacious than Ed's other residences in Poughkeepsie.

The 1930 Census Record lists the head of household at 44 Conklin St as Frances J. Phillips, Ed's maternal grandmother. She was living with her daughter Lillian and son-in-law Edward, and their two young sons Ed Jr. and Howard. A year and half younger than Ed, Howard W. Wood went by William, but the 1930 and 1940 Census Records corroborate his real first name as Howard.

In the spring of 1930, at the dawn of the Great Depression, Ed's dad was working as a factory machinist, common male employ. Less commonly, Ed and Howard's mom worked, too. The immediate aftermath of the crash necessitated change and adaptation. Living with the in-laws. Working moms.

Lillian was a department store "saleslady."  Among the ephemeral details in the record, the residence had (commonly) a "radio set." Rent was thirty bucks a month. Ed's grandma is most likely listed as "W" for "widow," but the recorder clearly first wrote "M" for "married" and then smudged it over with a nebulous correction.

And the whole Phillips' line of Ed's family was born in New York, at least as far back as Ed's matriarchal great-grandparents. The roots of the Wood family lie deep, in Poughkeepsie and beyond. 
We'll go there, and travel back a millennium to Scotland, dissecting the Wood family coat-of-arms, right here in future Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Before we depart, a few bonus items:
  • Additional maps of Conklin Street in Poughkeepsie