Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 132: "Rapee's Revenge" (1970)

Today's Ed Wood story deals with a man who spends years in a dungeon.

Fans who know Ed Wood mainly through his 1950s film work or through his more accessible adult films, such as Orgy of the Dead (1965), may be in for a shock when they investigate his literary career. In his novels and short stories, Ed tackled some shocking and upsetting subject matter, occasionally wallowing in the very worst of humanity. The truly obscure short story I'm covering today is a prime example. We're a long way from Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) here. Though it's far from Ed's most graphic writing, it is still quite disturbing in its implications.

The story: "Rapee's Revenge." Originally published in Illustrated Case Histories (Calga Press), vol. 1, no. 3, November/December 1970. Credited to "Jack Ripar." (Ed used a very similar pseudonym, "Jacques Rippee," in that very same issue.)

Summary: Marvin has been languishing in the dungeon of an unknown woman for nearly five years. Haggard and dressed in rags, he subsists on "slop" while enduring the elements because his cell has no roof, only 25-foot walls and a stone floor. Today, however, he plans to escape. He has been slowly chipping away at one of the stones in the wall with a sixpenny nail, and now he can reach an unlit tunnel on the other side. 

While Marvin cautiously traverses this dark passageway, he thinks about his former life as a prolific rapist and occasional murderer. In fact, he had raped the woman who is now his jailer. She'd knocked him unconscious while he was committing the act and has kept him prisoner ever since. He thinks now of killing her. Finally, he sees a light at the end of tunnel and is overcome with joy at the thought of freedom. His jubilation, however, is short-lived.

Excerpt: "The Woman, he thought, brushing a cobweb away from his face—he wondered what she would do when she found him gone, when she found no one left to vent her insane hatred on. In all the years Marvin had been in her prison which was not really a prison, but rather a part of a huge mansion in which she lived, Marvin had never learned The Woman's name, had not even spoken a single word to her, in fact. But he had raped her."

A typical "Hudd & Dini" adventure.
Reflections: It's one of the enduring images of popular culture—the bearded, almost-skeletal wretch who has been left to rot in a dungeon for years on end. How many New Yorker one-panel cartoons have featured just such unfortunates? Monty Python put these miserable characters into nearly all their films, perhaps best typified by Michael Palin's luckless Ben in Life of Brian (1979). Dungeon dwellers have also played a role in classic horror films. Boris Karloff’s character in House of Frankenstein (1944) starts out languishing in a dungeon before escaping and wreaking havoc. Then, there's Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) in which a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) is thrown into a dungeon by a cruel nobleman and stays there so long he essentially becomes a beast.

"Rapee’s Revenge" is Ed Wood’s twisted take on the "dungeon escape" plot. This is one of those moral tales in which a truly loathsome and sinful character receives his justly deserved comeuppance. It’s driven by the same logic as many Tales from the Crypt episodes: if you do something evil enough, the universe will get you back in some way. Certainly, after we learn of what Marvin has done, we cannot root for his escape. Had the law apprehended him, he would have faced life in prison or even execution. It's possible that Ed felt at least some degree of sympathy for his protagonist, however, since he lets us know that Marvin regretted some of his past crimes. It's a little late for that, though, especially in the case of the murder victims.

What’s truly odd about this story is the Wood-ian dream logic that guides the plot. How has Marvin survived this long? What has kept him going through the rain, sleet, and snow? And what is this place where he has found himself? Ed tells us the dungeon is part of a large estate owned by a wealthy woman. I guess, since the cell has no roof, it's basically a big pit in the backyard—sort of like a swimming pool that got out of hand. 

Since any passerby could peek into the pit and see Marvin down there, this estate must be in a remote location. No servants are depicted or even mentioned, so our dungeon mistress apparently lives alone. How is she maintaining this property by herself? If torturing Marvin has become the sole focus of her life, hasn’t she become another sort of prisoner?

Then there is the tunnel itself, the most mysterious part of this entire story. Why would such a tempting but useless passage exist? The nearest I can figure is that the woman built it herself in the hopes that Marvin would one day find it and try to escape, only to have his hopes dashed. She may have even planted that sixpenny nail in his cell. Take away the rape angle, and this story closely resembles Vic Martin's "Hudd & Dini" comics that used to run in Cracked magazine in which two bumbling crooks continually break out of prison, only to find themselves in custody yet again. Perhaps Ed Wood, himself a prisoner of poverty and alcoholism, could relate to their plight.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "It's an Honor Not to be Nominated"

Ted McGinley and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

I can't say that I've won a lot of awards in my time. If I owned a trophy case -- and I don't because I still have a shred of sanity left -- it would largely be empty. I remember being a kid and feeling unreasonably jealous of those classmates who received perfect attendance medals at the end of the school year. That seemed so unfair to me. Why should I be punished simply for getting sick a couple of times? It's not like I chose to be contagious! 

My grades were generally fine, if not spectacular, and I was a total washout at sports. So I didn't win awards as a kid, and I continue not to win them as an adult. I'm a little bitter about that, sure, but I think I keep my bitterness to a reasonable level. It occupies maybe one-eighth of one percent of my brain, about as much as my irritation with hangnails.

Didn't Sally Field speak for all of us?
I think this matter of awards is significantly more important to those in show business. After all, if you're an entertainer, your job depends on receiving support, praise, and encouragement from the public and the press. Even Lady Gaga admitted to all of us that she lives for the applause. When people stop applauding for you, that can be devastating. People go mad from it. (See Sunset Blvd.) Entertainers' self-image is dependent upon what others think of them. So, yeah, they're going to want every Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony they can get their hands on. We all snickered at Sally Field for her infamous "you like me!" speech at the Academy Awards, but isn't it true? 

Receiving one of those industry awards may be even better than applause. It means that you're not only liked but respected. And if you're in an industry where a great deal is subjective -- since no one can ever definitively prove what's "good" or "bad" in art -- awards are as crucial as TV ratings or box office receipts. They're as close as you can get to objective, verifiable evidence of your success. Awards may be unfair or political or arbitrary, but they're also permanent. If you win one of those major industry awards, it becomes part of your story. It'll be mentioned when you die. It becomes part of the historical record, etched in stone.

Happy Days did quite well in the ratings for about seven of its eleven seasons. In addition, it had a long and prosperous second life in reruns and generated a fair share of merchandising revenue. So it was liked, but it was not respected. The reviews ranged from middling to hostile (I found one article from the '70s that called the modest sitcom "everything that's wrong with television"), and the show won one measly Emmy in eleven seasons. And that was for editing!

The eighth season episode "And the Winner Is..." deals directly with the matter of awards. The plot has a desperate Fonzie (Henry Winkler) campaigning vigorously but fruitlessly for the Teacher of the Year (or TOTY) award at Jefferson High. Not only does he not win the award, he's not even nominated. It's easy to read this episode as Happy Days' response to the Emmys. Family Guy and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia also did episodes about their failure to win these coveted awards. Happy Days ultimately comes to the conclusion that awards, while nice, don't really matter. What matters is knowing that you're doing good work.

Is it a convincing argument? Find out when we review "And the Winner is..." on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. And if there are any TV podcast awards we could possibly win, please nominate us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 131: "Sex Clinics" (1974)

When Ed Wood writes about "sex clinics," he doesn't mean the kind with actual doctors.

A month and a half ago, I completed what might have been the most ambitious Ed Wood-related project of my entire life: reviewing every single story included in the massive 2021 anthology When the Topic is Sex. Even Bob Blackburn, the Wood superfan who compiled the book, doubted whether I would be able to do it, since When the Topic was even longer than the previous volumes of Ed's work, Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever

Admittedly, the project was not always convenient, especially now that I'm working a full-time office job again. But I set aside a particular time each day to read and review each of the articles, and I managed to get through it with my sanity relatively intact. It helped that When the Topic is Sex gave me new insight to a part of Ed Wood's career that I had barely broached, i.e. his nonfiction writing. In fact, I'm already jonesing for some more of this material. So today, I'm covering one of Eddie's nonfiction articles from the 1970s that didn't wind up in Bob's book.

The article: "Sex Clinics." Originally published in Fantastic Annual (Gallery Press, 1974). Credited to "Dick Trent."

Excerpt: "The voyeur is a frequent client to these establishments. Many peepers have been saved from the jail cells because the girls put on the peep shows for him. Previously, the peeper or the voyeur had to go sneaking through yards and alleys at night hoping to find an open window where he could look into and see the girl undressing or having sex acts with her boyfriend or girlfriend, as the case may be, and suffer the possibility of arrest. All this was eliminated for him."

Reflections: One thing I have learned from reviewing the writings of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is never to judge an article by its title. Ed's mind worked in mysterious, sometimes inexplicable ways, and he could take an assignment in directions that you did not anticipate. His 1974 article "Sex Clinics" is a perfect example. I assumed from the title that this was going to be about individuals and couples consulting licensed medical professionals about their sex problems. Wrong! In fact, Ed dispels this notion right away:
Now, there is always the churchman, the doctor, the psychiatrist, the sexologist and hordes of other schooled men who will take your case and their explanation is in just as many medical terms as one might find in any medical journal… and just as confusing. Where then could the guy or the girl with the sexual hang-up go to figure out something about himself? Where can the guy or the girl go to find out what they are lacking in their sex lives? How about a sex clinic? Now we are not referring to some medical type of sex clinic staffed by those of the medical profession as stated above.
Okay, so if Ed isn't talking about sex clinics staffed by medical doctors, what the hell is this article about? Well, according to Ed Wood, there are numerous underground sex clinics staffed entirely by retired prostitutes who have aged out of the profession but are still, for the most part, "young and pretty." Haven't hookers been teaching young men about sex for years? Besides, Ed says, many ex-prostitutes "have at least one year of college and they have studied sociology or sexology or one of the other courses with a sex background, therefore they know many of the terms which they will be called upon to use." Too bad they're not covered by insurance.

The great thing about these underground sex clinics is that the prostitutes "perform the physical act which is disturbing their clients… with the client or clients." Try getting that level of service from a medical doctor! These newfangled sex clinics will cater to those with particular fetishes, including cross-dressing and voyeurism. They'll also aid those who wish to experiment with lesbianism or group sex but don't know where or how to get started. The clinicians' fees may be high, Ed warns, but it's worth it because they get results.

What makes this article a special gem is that Ed Wood (writing yet again as "Dick Trent") gives us some potential biographical information about himself. While writing about sex workers of the past, he offers this personal insight: "After all the houses [of prostitution] have been closed… there are no more of the red lights hung over the door such as the ones I visited in Kinston, North Carolina in 1942." Kinston, North Carolina in 1942, eh? That would have been around the time Ed was undergoing Marine training in Parris Island, SC, so it's possible he and some fellow jarheads made a day trip up north to Kinston for some fun. This detail seems too specific to be wholly manufactured. Reader Shawn Langrick shared with me this article that ran in the September 6, 1944 edition of The Durham Morning Herald.

Kinston, NC was apparently a hotbed of vice... and a big attraction for Marines!

While reading this article, I could not help but think how perfectly it fits in with the movies that Ed Wood was making at the time. Right from the start, for instance, Ed mentions the prevalence of "sex hang-ups" in our society. This put me in mind of The Young Marrieds (1972), in which newlyweds Ben and Ginny frequently argue about their own sexual hang-ups. "You're just hung up bad," Ben tells his wife at one point. Then there are the nostalgic references to houses of prostitution. The fact that Ed refers to these establishments simply as "houses"—rather than "brothels" or "bordellos" or any other term—reminded me of his film The Only House in Town (1970), which is set in just such a place.

Above all, though, the Ed Wood film I thought about the most while reading "Sex Clinics" was Necromania (1971). I now realize that the mysterious Madam Heles character in that movie is running the kind of underground sex clinic that Ed is describing in this article. She's just added an element of mysticism or Gothic horror to it. Consider the scene in which "quickie artist" Carl complains to Tanya, "I must come first! I paid plenty to be first! Be completely cured!" Basically, he's lodging a customer service complaint.

Ed Wood ends "Sex Clinics" with a quote from a nurse who works at an underground sex clinic: "I know a lot of prudes might object to our therapeutic techniques, but our patients come in as wrecked souls and leave as happy, sexually capable lovers." Isn't that exactly the path that Danny and Shirley take in Necromania?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "The Ghost of Richies Past"

Anson Williams on Happy Days

In his later years, Happy Days creator Garry Marshall maintained in interviews that Ron Howard's departure from the series in 1980 was not such a big deal because, by that point, Scott Baio's character, Chachi, had largely replaced him. And it's true that Chachi does serve as an eager protegee to Fonzie (Henry Winkler) in the middle and later seasons, just as Ron's character, Richie Cunningham, had done in the early seasons of Happy Days.

But Marshall must've been in denial, because Ron's departure had a seismic impact on the show. One need only look at the episodes from Happy Days' eighth season to see that. For the first few post-Richie shows, it seems like all the other characters are reminiscing about Richie and worrying about him and speculating about what he's doing now that he's in the army and stationed in Greenland thousands of miles away. He's like a ghost haunting the show, invisible yet omnipresent. As for Chachi, he starts wearing some of Richie's old outfits, including his iconic Jefferson High letter sweater. He even plays on the Jefferson High basketball team, just like Richie did. He's essentially had to make himself over in Richie's image.

This obsession with Richie reaches a peak with the December 1980 episode "White Christmas," in which Richie's mother, Marion (Marion Ross), is experiencing severe seasonal depression because of her son's sudden absence. All she wants is a phone call from her beloved red-headed child. Does she receive it?

There are other Christmas crises afoot in this traumatic episode. Can Fonzie make it through the snow to deliver toys to the Pfister Orphanage? Can Potsie (Anson Williams) forgive his father for making him wear a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer mask? And what about the Christmas Lunatic? Will he strike again?

You can find out the answers to all these questions when we review "White Christmas" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Join us!

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 130: The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future (1970)

Did Criswell accidentally record the greatest album of all time?

In 1970, Criswell released an album that I have probably listened to as much as—or even more than—Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon, or Exile on Main St. No, I am not kidding. It's called The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future, and I consider it one of the greatest albums ever made. I wish he'd recorded ten more just like it, but this was the famously inaccurate prognosticator's only full-length LP.  (It wasn't his only trip to a recording studio, though.) 

Jeron Criswell King (1907-1982) is largely remembered today for his appearances in three Ed Wood movies: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), Night of the Ghouls (1959), and Steve Apostolof-directed Orgy of the Dead (1965). But, in his heyday, Criswell was a multimedia celebrity whose fame easily eclipsed that of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The great seer published numerous books (some containing his predictions, others intended for those trying to break into showbiz), hosted his own Los Angeles TV show, and wrote a syndicated newspaper column that ran for decades. He was a favorite of two consecutive Tonight Show hosts, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. And, yes, he recorded this one remarkable spoken-word LP.

The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future (catalog number H-156) was a product of a tiny Hollywood-based label called Horoscope Records. Given that extremely on-the-nose name, I thought this was a one-time-only vanity label that existed solely to release this LP. Nope! Horoscope appears to have been a legitimate record label for several years in the late 1960s and early '70s, releasing mainly spoken word albums, including Paul Leon Masters' The Voice of Meditation and Bill Novell's Transcendental Meditations For Happiness, Peace Of Mind, Prosperity and Riches. Horoscope also released a sentimental Vietnam War ballad entitled "I Was Called" by Jimmy Chapel, produced by Mars Bonfire (who wrote "Born to be Wild" for Steppenwolf) and Morgan Cavett. The independent label is long gone, naturally, having ceased operations sometime in the mid-1970s. Its headquarters once stood at 1610 N. Argyle, which today is the Hollywood Le Bon Hotel.

The former location of Horoscope Records in Hollywood.

But what is the album itself actually like and why do I love it so dearly? Those of you who have read Criswell's books, Your Next Ten Years (1969) and Criswell Predicts from Now to the Year 2000! (1968), will know exactly what to expect from this LP. For 42 glorious minutes, the Indiana-born futurist—and that's really what Criswell is, a futurist, more so than a psychic or fortune teller—monologues in that beautifully melodious voice of his about what we can expect in the decades to come. 

To say the least, it's a mixed bag. At times, Cris points to a whiz bang Jetsons-like future with incredible technological advancements: floor-to-ceiling TVs, robot maids, education pills, anti-gravity pills, and a "one-shot serum" for all known diseases. At other times, his pronouncements are extremely grim, including a 40-day ice age when the entire earth will be covered in snow and ice and the cessation of life as we know it on August 18, 1999. It's unclear from this album whether we should be looking forward to the future or dreading it.

Obviously, this LP is going to appeal most strongly to Ed Wood fans, and they will not be disappointed by what they hear. Criswell begins Side 1 with a speech very similar to the one that he recites at the beginning of Plan 9 from Outer Space:
Ah, greetings, my friend! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives, whether we want to or not. And remember, my friend, these future events will affect you! The future is in your hands! So let us remember the past, honor the present, and be amused at the future!
Just for the sake of comparison, here is the opening spiel from Plan 9:
Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.
It has long been a pet theory of mine that Ed Wood may have ghostwritten for Criswell on occasion or at the very least served as a consultant or sounding board for the prognosticator. Some of the passages on this album are very Wood-ian in tone and cadence, as when Criswell refers to "the endless, endless ribbon of time" or repeatedly calls doctors "miracle men of medicine." It's possible that Ed Wood and Criswell simply shared a lot of the same interests: cemeteries, funerals, flying saucers, prostitution, etc. All these topics come up on the album. When Criswell predicts that flying saucers will land on the White House lawn on May 6, 1991, it's difficult not to think of it as a deleted scene from Plan 9.

Most interestingly for Ed Wood fans, Criswell makes this apocalyptic pronouncement near the beginning of the album:
I predict that the coming years will be known as the three R's: riot, rape, and revelry. I predict this insatiable desire for destruction will be fed by the increased use of drugs found in a simple headache tablet. Huge areas of cities will become smoldering ruins! Piles upon piles of human bodies will be heaped in our thoroughfares as a warning by these writhing radicals! Some gutters will flow with blood, as rain after a spring shower. Law enforcement will break down, and we will be forced to go into a garrison state and other military rule! The riots, the rapes, and the revelry will merely be replaced by crisis, chaos, and carnage!
According to the bibliography in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Ed Wood wrote an entire book called Riot, Rape & Revelry. This seems too astonishing to be a mere coincidence.

An excerpt from the bibliography in Nightmare of Ecstasy.

Make no mistake, however: this is a Criswell album through and through. Listening to The Legendary Criswell Predicts! Your Incredible Future is like spending 42 minutes with the man himself. It's an incredibly intimate recording. The famed predictor often pauses, stumbles over words, loses his train of thought, and audibly shuffles the pages of his script. These "mistakes" greatly enhance the listening experience, which may be why I've listened to this LP so many times.

Criswell's obsessions and quirks are on full display throughout this album as well. He certainly thought more about the topics of leprosy ("the scar on the festering face of the future") and the Panama Canal than the average person. Just as he does in Plan 9, he works in a quick plug for vitamins on this album. Perhaps the most interest motif on the album is nudism. He mentions the topic no fewer than five times, being careful to mention that man is made in the image of God and that public nudity will one day be commonplace. From what I understand, Criswell's wife, Halo Meadows, was a devoted nudist. Perhaps she and Cris went nude at home, though I hope they managed to cover themselves up when they had company.

It would be difficult for me to pinpoint my favorite part of this album, since there are so many. I will point out the aforementioned "leprosy" segment, however, as a particular highlight. For one thing, the way Criswell pronounces the name of this dreaded ailment, it sounds like "le pussy" to me. I'm also charmed by Cris' suggestion that squeamish listeners should cover their eyes during this gruesome part of the record. What good that will do, I don't know. Another noteworthy portion of the album occurs when Criswell makes a series of predictions inspired by Lewis Carroll's 1871 poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter." Remember that part about "shoes and ships and sealing wax"? Well, Criswell has predictions for each of those subjects, plus cabbages, kings, pigs with wings, and more.

Perhaps the sweetest and most vulnerable moment on the album comes at the very end.
And in closing, I would like to say: oh, my friend, when all else is lost, remember the wonderful future still remains. Now when you see me on the street, come up and speak to me. For that is the only way that you and I can ever win our war against our loneliness. I'll be lonely without you. And may all your shattered dreams be mended by morning and may success overtake you overnight. Goodnight, my dearest friend, and may God bless you.
For my money, that's at least as profound as: "And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "Joanie and Chachi Get Attacked by Monkeys"

Scott Baio and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

Let me set the scene for you. It's late 1980 and Happy Days is hobbling through its eighth season, the first without star Ron Howard. Not quite the ratings powerhouse it had been just a year and a half ago, the nostalgic sitcom is still a Top 20 hit and winning its Tuesday night time slot. In Ron Howard's absence, the long-running show has shifted its focus to Erin Moran as young Joanie Cunningham and Scott Baio as her boyfriend, Chachi Arcola. Happy Days creator Garry Marshall has given his writers an edict: more Joanie and Chachi stories. It's what the public wants.

Writer-actor David Ketchum
Enter Anthony DiMarco and David Ketchum. They've written numerous episodes of Happy Days already, and David has even acted on the show several times. In other words, these guys know Happy Days inside out. Now they have a new idea that they want to pitch to Garry Marshall. He knows and trusts these guys, so he's receptive to whatever they have to say.

"Okay," says  Anthony, "it starts with Joanie and Chachi staggering into Arnold's. Their clothing is tattered and torn, they're limping, and Chachi is sporting a large bruise on his face."

"They barely make it to a booth," adds David, "and Al asks them what the heck happened. I mean, how did these two wind up like this?"

Garry leans forward. He's rarely been this intrigued by a story pitch. Why can't all his meetings be this exciting?

"So Chachi explains the whole thing to Al," Anthony continues. "They were on their way to a Bobby Rydell concert. But neither he nor Joanie has a car, so they had to double date with a couple named Gus and Ginger."

David takes it from there. "Well, it turns out that Gus and Ginger have monkeys."

"Monkeys?" Garry asks, flabbergasted.

"Yeah," says David. "They brought these monkeys in the car with them on the way to the concert, and the monkeys viciously attacked Joanie and Chachi. And then..."

But Garry has heard enough.

"Stop right there!" he shouts. "You've already sold me! I'm hooked! This is the episode that puts Happy Days back on top! Go write it!"

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we review the episode that resulted from this (theoretical) pitch meeting: "Joanie Gets Wheels." It starts exactly as I've described above. Does the rest of the episode live up to that intriguing early scene? Listen and find out!