Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Dziawer Odyssey, Part Seven by Greg Dziawer

Greg Dziawer's personal copy of The Young Marrieds.

Where's Ed Wood in this thing?
Time flies. Not the most original sentiment, perhaps, but undoubtedly a truism if one lives long enough. I'll be turning 50 in less than three weeks. If I survive just half a decade more, I'll have outlived Edward D. Wood, Jr., the subject of this series. My AARP card even came in the mail last week. I've arrived!

Truthfully, the realization that I'm now over the hump, moving down the other side of the proverbial hill, has increasingly occupied my thoughts in recent years. For a long time, I've found Maslow's hierarchy of needs a viable framework. And although I've long understood—or at least had my own interpretation of—self-actualization, it's only recently that I've come to feel legacy needs. For me, that has taken the shape of writing these articles about Ed Wood over the past two and a half years. Through them, I've endeavored to amplify and extend Ed's legacy. I even crafted my own three-tiered mission statement a few years back. 
  • Recognize Ed as an outsider artist.
  • Index Ed fully. And, no, that's not impossible.
  • Access Ed's work. Clamor for it. It won't rediscover itself.

Last May, thanks to the immense generosity of Vinegar Syndrome co-founder Joe Rubin, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an actual 16mm print of Ed's last-known feature, The Young Marrieds. (The details of obtaining this rare print are another story.) A copy of this 1972 porno film had been discovered more than a decade earlier and identified, perhaps for the first time, as Ed Wood's work by my good friend, self-styled porn archaeologist Dimitrios Otis. Since that watershed moment in Woodology, more prints have emerged—I know of at least six in existence—and The Young Marrieds has been released multiple times on DVD. It can even be streamed over the internet.

Keith Crocker at home.
Soon after getting my print of The Young Marrieds, I e-mailed another good friend, Long Island cult film schlock-teur Keith Crocker, the demented genius behind The Bloody Ape and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69, to tell him of my good fortune. Keith graciously offered to host a private screening of the print and invite a small audience. He also proposed that we introduce the film and follow it with a Q&A. I was, naturally, tickled pink. 

We both had a busy summer, but finally the day came. On the last Saturday in August, I hopped in my car and put the big plastic canister containing The Young Marrieds on the back seat and hit the road for Long Island. The guests would be arriving around 7pm, Keith told me, and we planned to eat first and have a few drinks before retiring to the screening room. I live in Northeast Pennsylvania, and the drive took considerably longer than I expected, especially once I crossed the George Washington Bridge. There was a lot more traffic than one would expect for a Saturday afternoon. To make matters worse, the GPS kept recalculating my route owing to accidents. 

But I finally arrived at Keith's place, where my wonderful host and his wife Christina cooked a too-late lunch on the grill. Keith and I then went to work cleaning the print. In one of those "duh!" moments that seem to become more frequent as I get older, I had previously neglected to mention that my copy of film was on a core, not on reels that could be threaded into a projector.

Time now started proving tight as Keith cleaned the film, spliced it, and wound it onto two reels. The hand-lettered leader was curiously dated 1981, the same year The Young Marrieds was first released on videotape in the UK, sans any attribution to Ed Wood. Amid a bit of confusion and some related profanity, we ended up winding the film back and forth a few times, the clock ticking, until we got it right. With no time to spare, we finished just as the first guest arrived at Keith's place.

A copy of The Young Marrieds.
In all, we had a crowd of eight people, including a few students from Keith's film class, a fun and smart bunch who knew their exploitation films well. None, though, had ever seen The Young Marrieds. We ate, talked, and drank before we finally retired to the screening room, where Keith had placed several exhibits, including some 8mm Swedish Erotica films now attributed to Ed Wood and some books and magazines related to Ed.

Among the paperbacks was the 1971 sex education manual The Young Marrieds by Benjamin Blatkin. Billed as "a photographic study of the marital habits of the younger generation," this book was published by Pendulum and carried the company's Atlanta address inside. Although this volume was not actually written by Ed Wood, its orbital proximity to Ed's career and the fact that it shares a title with one of his movies make it an interesting related artifact nevertheless. I'd brought along one of my two copies to give Keith as a gift. But since he already owned it, Keith suggested we give the extra copy away as a prize. Together, he and I agreed on a suitable trivia question to determine who would win the book: What does the sign outside the strip club say? 

As Keith began his introduction to the screening, I was feeling very relaxed and comfortable. I was a few drinks in by that point, and there was a congenial atmosphere with good company as we all prepared to watch an early '70s pornographic film. This wasn't my first rodeo, so to speak. In my high school days, my friends and I would occasionally cut class to visit a small local porno theater. We got a kick out of watching the old guys jerking off in there.

That said, it had been 30 years since I'd watched a porn film with a group this large. More importantly, I was about to screen The Young Marrieds theatrically with an audience, an extremely rare occurrence these days. Keith and I introduced the film, then fielded questions. The audience proved to be a highly engaged bunch with plenty of insights, opinions, and inquiries. As the movie began and I settled down in the back of the screening room, I was a bit surprised to realize that our intro had taken a full half hour.

See no evil? A small crowd, including Greg Dziawer (center), in the screening room of Keith Crocker.

The audience laughed raucously and commented out loud throughout The Young Marrieds. Afterward, Keith led a follow-up discussion lasting well over an hour, far longer than the film itself. We laughed again, noting that the movie's protagonist Ben always gets the primo parking spot right outside the strip club he frequents. It was observed—and not for the first time—that Ben's climactic moment of decision in the film evokes a Twilight Zone-like turnabout.

We also talked about the numerous set decorations shared by The Young Marrieds with 8mm porn loops from the same era. While discussing the loops, I made a straight-faced reference to their dreamlike quality, again comparing these short pornographic films to the works of experimental directors like Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren.

And, yes, one lucky winner went home with a paperback copy of The Young Marrieds. The closest answer was: "Something about a computer." Fairly astute, considering how quickly that sign flashes by.

Looking back on this wonderful evening, it was one of the most memorable experiences I've had in the last year. Or any year. Enjoying Ed's work with a like-minded crowd will validate your obsession, believe me. And if you know a like-minded crowd who would like an Ed-perience of this sort, let me know. This host comes free and works best with complimentary drinks.
BONUS: Some images from this event have been posted to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: Remembering "Jail Bait: The Director's Cut" (1994)

Dolores Fuller scolds Clancy Malone on the VHS cover of Jail Bait.

This sticker was a common sight in the 1990s.
Ed Wood's notoriety from having been named the worst director of all time in The Golden Turkey Awards in 1980 was wearing off just a little by the end of the decade. But his posthumous career would come roaring back in the 1990s, thanks to two major developments: the publication of Rudolph Grey's oral history Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) and the premiere of Tim Burton's star-studded biopic Ed Wood (1994).

Suddenly, Eddie  was "hot" again, and his comeback happened to coincide with a general resurgence of public interest in all things considered "camp" and "kitsch." This was back when the internet was still fairly primitive, so consumers were much more reliant on physical media, including compact discs and videotapes. This was, therefore, a golden age of reissues. Lots of old albums and movies suddenly came back into prominence and started appearing in spiffy new editions on store shelves. Yesterday's disposable junk was today's marketable "collectors' item."

Leading the charge was a Los Angeles-based reissue label called Rhino Records. Now a part of the Warner Music Group behemoth, Rhino started in 1973 as a quirky, brick-and-mortar record retailer. Within a few years, Rhino was releasing records of its own (generally novelty numbers), and by the 1980s, it was a thriving reissue label with a wide variety of products. It was only natural that they would transition into marketing video tapes as well, again specializing in kitsch and nostalgia.

Some Rhino VHS tapes.
The work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. seemed tailor-made for a company like Rhino. As I remember it, Rhino Video was the preeminent distributor of Eddie's movies in the 1990s during the heyday of Nightmare of Ecstasy and the Burton film. The first VHS editions of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), Glen or Glenda (1953), Night of the Ghouls (1959)and Bride of the Monster (1955) that I ever owned were all from Rhino. I even had the three-tape set with the pink faux-angora box. I still have it, in fact.

Rhino also released some titles that Eddie had merely written rather than directed. The Violent Years, for instance, was marketed as part of the company's Teenage Theater series, hosted by 1950s glamour girl Mamie Van Doren. Much to Steve Apostolof's chagrin, Orgy of the Dead bore a garish pink and green sticker marking it as part of "The Ed Wood Collection." Meanwhile, Joe Robertson's Love Feast was regurgitated by Rhino as Pretty Models All in a Row, complete with doctored credits fraudulently suggesting that Ed Wood himself had directed it! And, while we're talking about Wood-related films, let's not forget that Rhino bankrolled its own quirky, humorous documentary about Eddie: Look Back in Angora (1994), directed by Ted Newsom.

One of Rhino's strangest yet least heralded Wood releases from this era was a 1994 "director's cut" of Eddie's turgid 1954 crime drama Jail Bait. Even though it was made during Eddie's golden age and features many of his regulars (Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, Mona McKinnon, Bud Osborne, and Conrad Brooks), not to mention future Hercules star Steve Reeves, Jail Bait has never been as loved as its siblings. It lacks the cross-dressing of Glenda and the sci-fi/horror elements of Bride and Plan 9. It also lacks the commanding screen presence of Bela Lugosi, though Herbert Rawlinson makes a valiant effort, wheezing through his final screen role. For all these reasons, fascinating though it is, Jail Bait just isn't as instantly fun as the other Wood films of the 1950s.
Rhino's 1994 version of Jail Bait.
Another problem with Jail Bait, at least for many modern viewers, is that it contains a two-and-a-half-minute blackface sequence lifted wholesale from Ron Ormond's Yes Sir, Mr. Bones (1951). Performed by Cotton Watts and his wife Chick, this comedic routine presents African-Americans as being slow-witted, cowardly, and animal-like. Since the movie's plot revolves around a nighttime robbery of a theater, this footage is supposed to represent a show being staged at the doomed venue.

Rhino's 1994 edition excises the Ormond footage almost entirely -- leaving only a shot of a theater audience and a curtain closing -- and replaces it with a rather tame burlesque routine by Evelyn West (1921-2004), a legendary cabaret performer of the 1940s, '50s, and '60s. (Thanks to Ed Wood superfan Milton Knight for making the initial identification!) My learned colleague Greg Dziawer is currently researching both Cotton Watts and Evelyn West, and he'll have much more to say about both of them in the near future.

Rhino, meanwhile, is vague about how this supposed "director's cut" was assembled, since Ed Wood himself had been dead for nearly 16 years by then. The explanatory notes on the back cover of the VHS tape were penned by Kansas City-based film distributor Wade Williams, who has occasionally claimed to hold a copyright on Ed Wood's 1950s films. You can see from this passage that Williams is playing into Ed's campy "so bad, it's good" image from The Golden Turkey Awards, even mentioning that book by name. Williams openly admits that the Evelyn West footage was "not included with the original release of the picture" but was "discovered when the long-lost narrative was unearthed." It is not identified or credited in any way, but a title card says "FOLLIES THEATRE, LOS ANGELES." And Evelyn West did appear in a 1947 film called A Night at the Follies, directed by W. Merle Connell.

Williams also says Jail Bait was "filmed entirely on location in the underbelly of 1950's Hollywood," which is patently untrue. It was, in fact, shot at various places in Los Angeles County, California. A bar scene, for instance, was shot at the Hunters Inn in Temple City. A robbery was filmed at the Monterey Theatre in Monterey Park. (The film was also previewed there, according to Rudolph Grey.) And a scene at a police station was shot in Alhambra, where cast member Mona McKinnon lived at the time. Lyle Talbot remembered filming the climactic swimming pool scene at a motel on Sunset Boulevard. Much of the film appears to have been shot -- like Eddie's other movies of this period -- on a sound stage. Cast member Theodora Thurman recalled working on "a small set."

Anyway, here are Williams' notes:

Wade Williams describes Jail Bait.

Other than the Cotton Watts sequence, the biggest difference between the 1994 version of Jail Bait and all other versions is the title sequence. In most currently-available prints of the film, the credits roll over some wobbly footage of a police car driving down a street at night. In the Rhino version, however, the credits appear as a series of grainy still images. Apparently the "negative" that Williams "unearthed" was in poor shape, and this part of the movie wasn't quite salvageable.

The "director's cut" of Jail Bait didn't have much of a shelf life beyond this 1994 release. Subsequent DVD releases of the movie have reverted to the Cotton Watts footage and are generally sharper in picture quality than Rhino's version, complete with fully-restored opening credits. The 1994 version, however, was included on a 2007 double-disc set called The Ed Wood Collection: A Salute to Incompetence from a company called Passport.

It is from that collection that I gleaned the following clip, to show you how the Evelyn West footage was incorporated into Jail Bait. The burlesque footage seems to have been shot without sound, so some borrowed music has been dubbed in. Curiously, the last minute of this routine takes its audio directly from the Cotton Watts blackface footage! (It kicks in at about the 1:42 mark.) If you listen carefully, you can even hear the audience laughing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

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

Gallery goers ponder the subtle intricacies of Panther Descending a Staircase (artist unknown).

"Bright paint on black velvet creates an image so plush it makes you want to touch it, or maybe even wriggle your naked toes against the part of the painting's fuzzy pile that isn't covered by paint."
-The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste (1990)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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

Actress Lita Grey stands in front of a very familiar painting in The Devil's Sleep (1949).

Poster for The Devil's Sleep.
Last week, I identified a familiar-looking sailboat painting in the background of a shot from The Body Beautiful, a one-reel glamour short from the early 1950s. This same work of art also hangs on the wall of Glen's apartment in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953). Hoping to build on this connection, I decided to go hunting for the painting elsewhere, starting in the most likely place: movies that were made at hole-in-the-wall Quality Studios in Hollywood. 

We know that Eddie filmed the interiors for Glen or Glenda at Quality on Santa Monica Blvd., the same facility where he filmed Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). I surmised, therefore, that The Body Beautiful was filmed there as well. Reusing set decorations in the interest of economy is a longstanding practice in the world of low budget films. For example, it is quite common in the adult 8mm loops and features that Ed Wood worked on during the 1970s.

In the 2015 book Dreaming in Angora: The Life and Films of Ed Wood, author Pablo Bendix III notes: "The Pentagon office depicted [in Plan 9 from Outer Space] includes a map of the United States with the sign of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The same map appears in Bagdad After Midnight (1954), which was also filmed at Quality Studios. It was probably a standard prop used by the studio." Bendix was undoubtedly correct, and it wasn't the sole instance of a prop being recycled at Quality. 

In The Devil's Sleep, a Screen Classics title from 1949, another map (different from the one in Plan 9) shows up in two different rooms within the same film. Actor Timothy Farrell, Glen or Glenda's understanding Dr. Alton, appears in The Devil's Sleep as sleazeball Umberto Scalli. This was the first of his three appearances for producer George Weiss, and it's eerie to see him channel the same soothing empathy he would use as Dr. Alton, only this time for sinister ends. A cheap noir drugsploitation flick, The Devil's Sleep was shot at—where else?—Quality Studios. 

And the cluster of correspondences only begins there. 

The Devil's Sleep was shot by none other than William C. Thompson, who served as Ed Wood's trusty, colorblind cinematographer on all his features from Glen or Glenda in 1953 to The Sinister Urge in 1960. Furthermore, The Devil's Sleep was directed by W. Merle Connell, the same man credited with creating the burlesque and whipping footage inserted into Glen's nightmare in Glen or Glenda.

Connell is an interesting figure in his own right. A veteran of exploitation cinema, he began making burlesque shorts for Quality Pictures in 1946, partnering with a man named Nathan Robin. Initially making one-reel striptease flicks like Dancing Dolls of Burlesque, featuring girls performing at the Follies Theater in Los Angeles, Connell soon opened Quality Studios. After a brief run of films with Robin, many of which were shot at actual burlesque houses, Connell partnered with George Weiss in 1947. 

Weiss' office was almost directly across the street from Quality Studios. Together, over the course of about a half-dozen years, Weiss and Connell would churn out an amazing string of low-budget exploitation shorts, features, and features compiled from shorts. For instance, the aforementioned Body Beautiful was shot at Quality Studios and directed by Connell. 

The painting appears here in The Devil's Sleep.
But getting back to The Devil's Sleep. The recycled map in that film is not the only set decoration that jumped out at me. The map appears in two different rooms—actually, the same set redressed. In one of those rooms, the infamous sailboat painting makes yet another appearance. In one shot, it can be seen tucked away at the extreme right edge of the frame. In another, it can be glimpsed over the left shoulder of actress Lita Grey, the second wife of movie legend Charlie Chaplin.

This seemingly ordinary, nondescript painting was obviously a much-reused prop, appearing repeatedly in films shot at Quality Studios. But just how ubiquitous was it? And what other recurring set decorations might we find in these films? Those are questions to be answered in future installments of this feature. 

P.S. On February 17, my good friend and fellow Wood obsessive Mike Hickey—a man with a particular talent for identifying film locations and who supplied priceless details for this article—paid an early afternoon visit to the site where Quality Studios once stood. Currently under construction, the building is being remodeled as a recording studio. Luckily for us, Mike managed to evade a worker who was on a smoke break and walked through an unlocked gate to capture some footage of the place as it appears in 2018. This video answers the question: Whatever happened to Quality Studios? And here are some pictures taken at the site by Mike. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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

Captain DeZita, as depicted by the redoubtable Drew Friedman.

The fateful compilation.
A few weeks ago, I was scanning through some vintage burlesque and related shorts, not really looking for anything in particular on the Ed Wood research front. I was aware, though, that I was in a potential target zone of connections to Ed and that, given those fertile conditions, some startling ideas for articles can blossom unexpectedly. Startling because they seem... new! Sudden!

Eventually, I arrived at the final short on a now-decades-old compilation from Something Weird Video called Grindhouse Follies, Volume 2. I did a double-take at what I saw on the screen. 

The short in question was The Body Beautiful, credited to Roadshow Attractions, a company begun by exploitation pioneer Dwain Esper in the early 1930s. Roadshow was still distributing exploitation films two decades later, except by that time it was being run by Esper's former partner Louis Sonney. In their prime, Esper and Sonney had been among the original "Forty Thieves" of film exploitation lore. Legendary B-movie magnate George Weiss often produced shorts and features in the early '50s that were distributed by Sonney. The name George Weiss should certainly ring a bell even for casual fans of Ed Wood's work, since Weiss was the producer of 1953's Glen or Glenda and was colorfully portrayed by Mike Starr in Tim Burton's Ed Wood

A masseur in The Body Beautiful.
What initially made me do that double-take during The Body Beautiful was the presence of a certain very familiar-looking masseur. In the first half of this 13-minute film, this slight, balding, mustachioed man demonstrates a variety of massage techniques on the body of a voluptuous young lady. He works carefully, woodenly, and inexpertly, with a towel just barely covering any exposure of his customer's taboo flesh. 

Reaching for my trusty copy of Eric Shaefer's indispensable Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959, I looked up the short in the appendix and discovered that it had been written and directed by one W. Merle Connell. Connell often shot and/or directed films for Weiss' company Screen Classics, including such exploitation perennials as Test Tube Babies and The Devil's Sleep. Wood obsessives likely recognize both of those titles as films in which actor Timothy Farrell appeared early in his astonishing, albeit brief, career. 

Farrell gives one of many breathtaking performances in Glen or Glenda, narrating the film as well as portraying kindly, sympathetic Dr. Alton. The amazing Farrell rates a Wood regular, also appearing in Jail Bait (1954) and The Violent Years (1956). Connell, incidentally, is credited with shooting the insert footage that comprises Glen's nightmarish fantasy of burlesque dancing and S&M in Glen or Glenda

Captain DeZita in Glen or Glenda.
For us true Wood obsessives, the director's movies contain many fleeting but memorable appearances by outlandish characters. Chief among these is Satan himself, who pops up during the nightmare sequences in Glen or Glenda. Considering how brief his screen time actually is, this shadowy, demonic figure has had quite a long-lasting impact on viewers and must rank high on any list of indelible performances in Wood's films. 

As portrayed by the mysterious, Austrian-born Captain DeZita (1890-1955), Satan is an odious presence in Glen or Glenda with his truly wicked grin and piercing eyes. The makeup by Wood regular Harry Thomas must also be noted, as it contributes brilliantly to the overall effect. But ultimately it's DeZita himself—with his otherworldly, even scary intensity—that burns itself on the brains of all who have seen this movie.

Although the actor is not given any onscreen credit, the IMDb lists Glen or Glenda as DeZita's sole movie role. Specifically, he is credited with playing both Satan and Glen's father, an evocative duality worth pondering. It's a bit like the theatrical tradition of having the same actor portray both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in productions of Peter Pan.

Once I saw the masseur in The Body Beautiful, I immediately pulled up Glen or Glenda on my computer in a separate window. Comparing the two films side by side validated my surmise: The masseur is indeed played by Captain DeZita, who in reality was a booking agent for strip clubs. He looks slightly younger in Beautiful, and given its relative chastity, the short appears to have been shot a few years prior to Glenda. Actresses were routinely baring their breasts onscreen (albeit with pasties) by around 1953 or '54, as evidenced by Connell's Bagdad [sic] Over Midnite. That film, also from Screen Classics, is suspected to have some possible involvement by Ed Wood

Shaefer notes The Body Beautiful being in color, but Something Weird's version is black-and-white. Shot with synchronized sound—although the soundtrack of this print lags terribly behind the image— this film affords us the opportunity to hear the Captain's rather matter-of-fact, heavily Austrian accented, and even somewhat soft-spoken voice. Oddly, he sports a small, white, square object—a bandage, perhaps?—below his left ear.

The Body Beautiful has the feel of an early white-coater, i.e. a salacious movie unconvincingly disguised as an educational documentary. As DeZita massages the girl, he recites a dry, technical explanation of the efficacy of massage and how it impacts the curves of the beautiful bodies on display. The latter half of the short features footage of girls exercising, as well as a girl-on-girl massage. Magnificently prosaic, the short leaves all of the dirty up to the imaginations of its targeted male audience.

To use a phrase beloved in the world of ballyhoo: But wait! There's more!

I continued comparing Glen or Glenda and The Body Beautiful side by side on my computer screen. In one window, I scanned forward in Glenda to find the shots of Glen's father sitting at the bar. In another window, I paused on DeZita in Beautiful as he hovered over the girl on his massage table. While doing all this, I happened to notice a curious background detail in Glenda: a painting of sailboats on the wall in Glen's apartment, seen when Glen and Barbara are finally establishing mutual empathy.

Sure enough, in The Body Beautiful, this very same painting hangs in the background of the spartan set over DeZita's left shoulder. It shows up on the wall in the next sequence, too, as the girls exercise. The painting makes its final appearance during the film's girl-girl massage sequence.

Curiously, in Glen or Glenda, the sailboat painting is draped by a curtain, an aesthetic nicety that would be ubiquitous in the pornographic loops produced by Bernie Bloom and his son Noel in the 1970s. Those films, on which Ed Wood also labored in various capacities, feature a multitude of recurring paintings and other recycled set decorations.

A sailboat painting shows up in both The Body Beautiful and Glen or Glenda.

The recurring presence of the sailboat painting suggests that The Body Beautiful was shot at the same facility as the interiors for Glen or Glenda, namely Quality Studios on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. (Quality was a frequent home to producer George Weiss.) It further suggests that Captain DeZita may have appeared in more films that are floating around out there. Perhaps, like The Body Beautiful, there are undiscovered DeZita performances that have been right under our noses all along.

Most importantly, a discovery like the sailboat painting suggests a whole universe of intriguing Woodian interstices. It's a subject that demands further investigation... and more.

We'll follow up on all of these suggestions in future editions of this feature, delving deeper into Ed Wood's depictions of Satan and his execrable arts across various media. And, naturally, we'll dive headfirst into the sizzling, sulfurous career of William Michael Achilles De Orgler DeZita.

Captain DeZita as both Satan and Glen's father in Glen or Glenda.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

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

Paula shows off some Victor Most-designed duds in The Violent Years (1956)

"I felt myself a victim rather than a victor in the realm of pictures."
-Gloria Swanson

Victor's onscreen credit in The Violent Years.
A few weeks ago, I popped in the new Blu-ray release of the Ed Wood-scripted crime thriller The Violent Years (1956, dir. William Morgan) from the American Genre Film Archive and Something Weird Video for the first time. We'll review that disc here in the near future, but first, indulge me a tangent.

The surprisingly profitable film, written when Eddie was at the peak of his creative powers, concerns the descent of flippant, spoiled Paula Parkins (Playboy Playmate Jean Moor(e)head) and three of her female classmates (Theresa Hancock, Joanne Cangi, and Gloria Farr) into juvenile delinquency. It's meant as a stern cautionary tale for those in the audience, since the wrongdoers come from a "respectable" suburban upbringing. And yet, The Violent Years lends its wayward, amoral characters a definite sense of glamour and excitement.

Watching the ill-fated "teenage" girl gang in their clingy sweaters, calf-length skirts, and shiny leather jackets, exploding from the screen in pristine HD, my 14-year-old daughter Elyse remarked, "Wow! They're all sooo pretty!"

Indeed they are. And they possess some really tremendous outfits. That thought led me to wonder about the film's intriguing wardrobe credit: Victor Most of California. Who was this man who'd supplied these fabulous clothes? What was his story? I decided to find out. Again, census records and old newspapers tell much of the tale.


Details from the 1940 census.
Before he was Victor Most, he was Victor Mostowy, born in New York City on August 17, 1918, to Morris and Fannie Mostowy, two immigrants who'd only gotten here from Russia earlier that decade. Victor's sister Millie was three and a half years older. When Morris filled out his draft registration card in 1917, he listed a Cleveland address and his employ as bricklayer. By 1920, the family, still carrying the name Mostowy, was recorded living on East 110th Street in Manhattan in the US Federal Census. 

Flash forward two decades: Victor, now 21, is still living with his father Morris, but they've relocated to San Jose, CA. The family surname is recorded as Most in the 1940 Census. By this time, Morris is on his second wife: Aida, also of Russian descent. In the process, Victor has picked up a couple of siblings: a 17-year-old stepbrother named Leonard and a baby half-sister named Zondra, only a year old.

So over the course of 20 years, a New Yorker named Victor Mostowy became a Californian named Victor Most. What could be more American than moving 3,000 miles to the west with a de-ethnicized surname? That's American history in a nutshell.


A Most garment from the '60s.
Victor Most's eventual entrée into the fashion world came during a prosperous and exciting time for that industry. 

As noted in the mammoth, four-volume work Clothing and Fashion: American Fashion from Head to Toe (2015; coauthored by José F Blanco, Patricia Kay Hunt-Hurst, Heather Vaughan Lee, and Mary Doering): "Greater prosperity after the Great Depression meant that consumers could spend more on clothing, entertainment, and recreation. The increase in consumption also allowed department stores to prosper." The authors note that many of these new shoppers were women. Teens, too, were now employed and had money to spend on clothes.

And Victor was living in one of America's fashion hubs. "Southern California was considered the Riviera of the United States," the authors further declare, "and designers and manufacturers sprouted up in California during the early 1940s." These designers created what was dubbed the "California Look," a style that found favor with the movie industry because it "exuded youth, celebrity and leisure and pioneered a movement toward more casual fashions."

By 1944, Victor was living on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles and working as a salesman. He married in 1951, and by 1953 he was living in Hollywood. His address then was 919 Screenland Drive in Burbank, a block or so off Magnolia, in a four-room/four-bath house newly built in 1951. At just over 2,000 feet of living space, the modest digs occupy pricey terrain today, the house valued at three-quarters of a million bucks. 

The following year, Victor moved to 1927 N. Bronson St (now a retail storefront) in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from Hollywood Blvd. He registered to vote as a Democrat. Within a few years, he had landed the only film credit of his that I can locate: dressing Paula Parkins, et al. in The Violent Years.


A Long Beach newspaper ad from 1963.
Though his film resume is scant, Victor Most would remain, right through the 1960s, an everyday name brand in casual mainstream retail fashion, his affordable "California Look" obtaining on the shelves and racks at strip mall storefronts and in suburban malls.

While garments carrying his label still turn up (very sporadically) across the vintage fashion market niche, Victor Most's lasting legacy will certainly be those costumes in The Violent Years, defining of their era and burned into the brains of those privileged to have seen it.

He passed on November 24, 1984, in Woodland Hills, CA, a short drive west of the Hollywood sign. Like Ed Wood, he had toiled mightily in its long shadow.

We'll probably never know, but could Ed have ever worn a piece by Victor Most?

Note: Additional images for this week's article have been posted to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. You can check out some of Victor Most's costumes for The Violent Years right here. And you can peruse some ads and labels from Victor's fashion career right here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Plan 9 Odyssey, Part 2 by Greg Dziawer

Plan 9 producer/gravedigger Hugh Thomas; (background) the Carlton Theatre.

It's time once again to delve into the hidden history of Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s most well-known film, the one that serves as the cornerstone of his cult stardom: the unique sci-fi/horror hodgepodge known as Plan 9 from Outer Space. Some might assume that everything worth saying about this patched-together 1957 film has already been said, especially since Plan 9 has inspired a documentary of its own (1992's Flying Saucers Over Hollywood) as well as countless articles and essays. The making of Plan 9 was also memorably dramatized in Tim Burton's fanciful biopic Ed Wood (1994). But even after all that, my research continues to turn up interesting little gems about this misunderstood classic.

In our first Plan 9 Odyssey, for instance, I shared a 1959 ad for the film that contained a statement from one of the film's associate producers, Hugh Thomas, Jr.

Well, it turns out that ad was for a showing at the Siesta Drive-In in Sarasota, Florida in 1959, and as this September 16, 1970 newspaper article indicates, Hugh Thomas himself had designed and fully engineered the Siesta years prior. 

In addition to the background information about the Siesta, this article brings to light many startling things. To wit:

1. Although it's often presumed that Hugh Thomas was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention of Beverly Hills, he makes no mention of it here. That particular religious institution looms large in the Plan 9 myth, as all Wood fans know. Thomas is said to have been a member in the 1950s, along with his Plan 9 producer and costar J. Edward Reynolds, who passed in early 1959 and was thus robbed of the gratification of what the film would become. Plan 9 associate producer Charles Burg was also alleged to have been part of this congregation. Interestingly, in this article, Thomas firmly places himself in roles working in and around managing movie theaters for his entire career. 
2. Given Thomas' pioneering and jubilant celebration of Plan 9 for its "bad" qualities in his statement in the ad in 1959, his estimation here over a decade later that the film was a "success" is either ballyhoo or bespeaks its financial ROI. The latter, never calculated to my knowledge, must be estimable, given the film's ubiquity in drive-ins and then TV syndication for more than two decades, only to rise again and remain so since as prototypical cult object. That said, it's apparent that Thomas was no more a financial benefactor of that "success" than Ed was. 
3. The Peacemaker (1956) appears to have been the only film into which the Southern Baptist Convention successfully trojan-horsed its religious views. Although he is not credited, and the IMDb claims the crew to be complete, Thomas mentions himself as producer both here and in the 1959 ad. In this article, he says that he co- produced it with Hal R. Makelim, the credited producer. And here, he claims that Plan 9 was another co-production by the pair. I can find no evidence of Makelim ever being involved in Plan 9 from Outer Space.  
4. Hal R. Makelim was, like Ed, another would-be entrepreneur trying to catch a big break in Hollywood. Beyond The Peacemaker, his scant credits include the forgotten programmer Man of Conflict from 1953—also his sole directorial credit—starring John Agar. Makelim served as Agar's manager at the time. Agar never appeared in a Wood film, though he likewise still gets his fair share of "worst actor" attributions owing to the bargain-basement run of schlock he indiscriminately appeared in throughout the '50s. By the early '70s, if not considerably earlier, Agar and Ed had become drinking buddies.  
5. Agar and Thomas were, like Eddie the Marine, WWII vets, John in the Navy and Hugh in the Army. This correspondence demonstrates, in the proverbial bigger picture, just how commonly that conflict was a doubtless crucial part of the lives of so many people, remaining so today. 
6. After his "failed" partnership with Makelim, Hugh Thomas bought the 1,200-seat Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles. If that name rings a bell, it was the venue for the world premiere of (then-titled) Grave Robbers from Outer Space, on Friday, March 15, 1957, then (per this article) under Thomas' ownership. A survey card from the premiere sold on Ebay for almost $1300 a little less than a year ago.  
7. The Carlton occupied 5411 South Western in Los Angeles from the '20s through its closure in 1959. The building was demolished by the early '70s, making way for a McDonald's. 

Besides serving as producers and financiers on Plan 9, Hugh Thomas and J. Edward Reynolds are best known and loved by Wood fans today for their memorable roles as the film's ill-fated gravediggers. These two bumblers die an offscreen death, dispatched violently by Vampira, but not before delivering this characteristically Woodian exchange:

Hugh (the tall and younger gentleman on the left): You hear anything? 
J. Edward: Thought I did. 
Hugh: Don't like hearing noises, especially when there ain't supposed to be any. 
J. Edward: Yeah, kinda spooky-like. 
Hugh: Maybe we're getting old. 
J. Edward: Well, whatever it is, it's gone now. 
Hugh: That's the best thing for us, too, gone. 
J. Edward: Yeah, let's go.

Incidentally, as the historical record indicates, these guys are not the narrow-minded, uptight autocrats as depicted in Tim Burton's Ed Wood. They are clearly regular joes, magically appearing in a soon-to-be and unbeknownst-to-them exalted circumstance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Take away the characters, and 'Family Circus' becomes a haunting series of still-life images (UPDATED)

Disused Jungle Gym (2016)

Where have they gone, the lovable, melon-headed characters who normally populate The Family Circus? Where are rambunctious Billy, inquisitive Dolly, sensitive Jeffy, and dear, sweet, hopeless PJ? For that matter, where are their parents: long-suffering Thel and checked-out Bill? All of them seem to have mysteriously vanished. Were they raptured into Heaven to be with their dear departed Grandfather? It's unknown, but the world they inhabited -- at least the buildings, furniture, and other non-living objects -- seem to be just fine. Perfectly intact. It's a puzzler, this one. But aren't these images eerily beautiful?

The Lonely Ottoman (2016)
The Rack (2016)
Couch on the Edge of Oblivion (2016)

UPDATE: Just in case you followed a link from somewhere else to get here, I thought I'd add a couple more of these that I've done over the years. As always, enjoy.

Stille Nacht (2018)

Confusing Doors (2017)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ed Wood Extra: To those we lost in 2017

Rance Howard, Martin Landau, Conrad Brooks, David Ward, and Steve Apostolof.

Before we get too far into 2018, I thought it only proper that we should acknowledge a few of those who died in 2017, specifically those whose lives intersected in some way with that of Ed Wood. Sadly, the number of people who knew Eddie or who worked with him directly is getting smaller and smaller each year. And even Tim Burton's Ed Wood is now 24 years old, if you can believe it, and a number of cast and crew members from that biopic have since died. In brief, 2017 took a hell of a toll on the Ed Wood community. It was nice, I suppose, to have some new books and BluRay releases, but they're a poor substitute for these extraordinary people.

Let's deal with the Burton film first. Two of the principal cast members of Ed Wood passed away in 2017. The one who got the lion's share of the headlines, naturally, was Martin Landau, who died at the advanced age of 89 on July 15 of last year. A native New Yorker whose career in film and television spanned an astonishing 64 years, Landau finally won an Oscar in 1995 for his portrayal of a cranky, crumbling Bela Lugosi, turning to Ed Wood for employment and companionship in his final years. Aided by Rick Baker's award-winning makeup, Landau managed to bring new insight and vulnerability to the much-imitated and caricatured Lugosi. Whenever I see Bela in a movie -- whether it's one of Wood's movies or not -- I think of Landau.

Departing our realm, too, was character actor Rance Howard, who played straight-shooting moneyman Donald McCoy in Ed Wood. (He wants Eddie's movie to end with a "sky full of smoke" and gazes up dreamily as he imagines the glorious destruction.) Father of Clint and Ron Howard, Rance was one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood, appearing in nearly 300 movies and television shows starting in the mid-1950s. He had an honest face and a slight Oklahoma drawl that served him well in dozens upon dozens of roles. Rance worked so often and with so many people, in fact, he comes much closer than Kevin Bacon to being the center of the Hollywood universe. Rance Howard died on November 25, 2017. He, too, was 89.

Perhaps the most significant Wood-related death of 2017 was of actor turned filmmaker Conrad "Connie" Brooks, who died just last month at the age of 86. An irreplaceable link to the past, Brooks was truly the last surviving member of Eddie's inner circle, having appeared in Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, The Sinister Urge, and Jail Bait. Since Eddie's personal and professional lives were so intricately intertwined, Conrad Brooks can safely be called one of Ed's cronies. Who knows how many more movies they would have made together if there were but world enough and time, not to mention cash? A staple of documentaries about Wood, always popping up to talk about his departed pal, Brooks was a B-movie lifer. Even without Eddie, the incorrigible, garrulous Connie appeared in dozens of low-budget flicks (as well as Burton's Ed Wood) and eventually wrote and directed a few of his own.

Attention should also be paid to the passing of stage and screen actor David Ward, who died in August at the age of 84. He'd been a resident of a Los Angeles nursing home for years, and Ed Wood superfan Bob Blackburn stayed in contact with him and visited him frequently until the end of his life. Ward was another of Wood's Hollywood cronies, especially during Eddie's boozy final years in the 1970s, though the two didn't really work on many movies together. Ward was also a personal friend of Bulgarian-born filmmaker Stephen C. Apostolof and made cameos in at least two of Apostolof's movies, The Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife, both scripted by Eddie. And Ed had other plans for David, including an adaptation of his short story "To Kill a Saturday Night," that never came to pass. The David Ward saga is an incredible one, inspiring the unproduced screenplay Edward Ford, which I thoroughly discussed here.

Speaking of Apostolof, the late filmmaker's oldest son Steve Apostolof died unexpectedly after a brief illness in Simi Valley, CA at the age of 60 on November 19, 2017. Like all of Apostolof's children, Steve made numerous visits to his father's sets and even made an onscreen appearance in 1978's Hot Ice, canonically the last film Ed Wood ever worked on. (Eddie was credited as an assistant director and was slated to make a cameo but was too drunk to do so.) In addition, Steve was one of the interviewees in Jordan Todorov's documentary Dad Made Dirty Movies. He took great amusement in his father's colorful career and helped keep the Wood-Apostolof legend alive by sharing his stories of those bygone days of the 1960s and '70s.

Rest in peace, one and all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part Seven

She was only in one Ed Wood feature, but Valda Hansen casts a long shadow. Art by Drew Friedman.

Among the circle of fascinating personalities appearing prominently in Ed Wood's first half-dozen films—the work for which he is best and "worst" remembered—Valda Hansen (1932-1993) stands out as a fixture of the group despite making only one relatively brief appearance. As The White Ghost in Night of the Ghouls, moll to the scheming Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), she projects a delicate beauty and ethereal presence. That film also featured another key player in the Wood repertory company, Criswell, in one of his most memorable roles. In my research, I've discovered a fascinating old newspaper clipping that involves both Criswell and Ms. Hansen, and I'd like to share it with you this week.

The Long Beach Independent and Independent Press Telegram were Criswell's first homes as a regular newspaper columnist in 1949, as he laid the foundation for his persona. These papers covered him often, and it's not hard to imagine that his pull was largely responsible for a full page feature in the Telegram from December 7, 1958, featuring Valda and coverage of the "recently-released" (?) Night of the Ghouls ("...which carried her up to stardom"?). While there are no mentions of writer-director Ed Wood, there are priceless details about Valda that have gone unrecorded elsewhere. And then there's that photo of Cris as "Dead Man." (!) Enjoy.

We'll return to Valda Hansen, and to Night of the Ghouls, among a host of topics all related to Ed Wood, this coming year here at Ed Wood Wednesdays!
NOTE: The original layout for this vintage article can be seen here at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.