Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #6 by Greg Dziawer and Joe Blevins

Apparently, the public was demanding a sequel to Watts... The Difference. And Ed Wood gave 'em one!

Edward D. Wood, Jr. rarely had the opportunity to produce official follow-ups to his films, books, and stories, but we do have a few memorable sequels in the Wood canon. His kinky 1963 novel Killer in Drag, for instance, eventually spawned Death of a Transvestite (aka Let Me Die in Drag) in 1967. Wood's long-unreleased movie Night of the Ghouls (1959) works as a companion piece to his earlier epic Bride of the Monster (1955). Eddie must have also been fond of his short story "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" from 1971, since he brought the title character back for a second adventure two years later.

This week, we're examining another of Eddie's literary sequels: Watts... After (1967). This remarkable novel furthers the story of Rocky Alley, a Black actor who works his way up from poverty to stardom in Los Angeles in the turbulent 1960s. We first met Rocky in Watts... The Difference (1966), a book that attempted to capitalize on the racially-motivated Watts uprising. By the time of Watts... After, Rocky is now a famous TV Western star and is getting serious about his relationship with his white, angora-loving girlfriend, Angie. But some shady characters from Rocky's past resurface and threaten to destroy it all.

The front and back covers of the novel.

Teeming with political and social commentary, Watts... After is one of Ed's more orthodox narratives as well as one of his more atypically positive works. We hope you will enjoy this thorough and wide-ranging breakdown of the novel. As you'll soon see, our conversation branches off in a number of directions. Yes, spoilers abound.

Although this book is over half a century old, Watts... After remains surprisingly relevant today. In addition to the topics mentioned in this video, the characters Rocky and Angie face similar issues as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to bring an interracial child into the world. All the more reason to explore this somewhat overlooked Ed Wood creation.

NOTE: All previous installments of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast can be found here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "You Can't Curse on Happy Days"

Mary Rose Betten and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Was I a huge Happy Days fan as a kid? You'd probably think so, since I have cohosted a Happy Days podcast since 2018. I certainly remember watching the last few seasons of both it and Laverne & Shirley when they originally aired in the early '80s. Mostly, however, I became familiar with the show through syndication. Reruns of the sitcom would air under the title Happy Days Again on a local TV station every afternoon from Monday to Friday. I consumed The Brady Bunch and Three's Company in the same way. (I guess those coveted midday timeslots are now occupied by the likes of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.)

Most of Happy Days is a big blur to me now. I remember the basics -- Richie, Fonzie, Arnold's, etc. -- but I'd forgotten many of the specific episodes. Certain installments of the series, however, have very much stayed with me, particularly the most wild and gimmicky stories. A great example is "The Evil Eye" from  Halloween1978. This one is nuts. Gullible restaurateur Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) is convinced an old hag (Mary Rose Betten) has placed a curse on him and can control his right arm. Eventually, Richie (Ron Howard) decides to stage an exorcism and enlists his friends Potsie (Anson Williams) and Ralph (Don Most) to assist hm. As you might guess, this all builds up to a showdown between the witch and Fonzie (Henry Winkler).

This episode is memorable, sure, but is it actually any good? Listen to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast and find out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 116: The Harl Foltz Files

Let's figure out who Harl Foltz was.

Is Ed Wood's Jail Bait (1954) a particularly well-lit movie? Eh, by the standards of low-budget 1950s crime movies, it's roughly adequate. Having screened many B-grade flicks over my lifetime, I can definitely say I've seen much worse than this. For the most part, the viewer can actually discern what's happening onscreen. That alone puts Jail Bait ahead of many other independent features of the era. I can't honestly say that the lighting enhances the viewing experience in any noticeable way, however, apart from a few suitably moody shots.

Steve Reeves and Dolores Fuller in Jail Bait. Notice the lighting.

What I can say is that Jail Bait is the first of Ed Wood's movies to give a specific onscreen credit for lighting. In this case, the lighting is attributed to a man named Harl Foltz with no other known film or TV credits. Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) doesn't mention him at all. So who was this fellow? I thought I'd use the historical records to construct a timeline of Mr. Foltz's life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Ralph Malph: Fear Eats the Soul"

Don Most and Leon Askin on Happy Days.

Imagine living your life totally without fear. Do you think it would turn out well or not? You wouldn't fear death, disease, poverty, pain, heights, wild animals, rejection, public speaking, loneliness, darkness, etc. It sounds promising at first. You'd finally be free of the heaviest shackles mankind has ever known. Think back to Louis Mackey's monologue in the film Waking Life (2001):
What are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question and that's this: Which is the most universal human characteristic -- fear or laziness?
Is that what happens to most of us? We don't realize our full potential because we're either too scared or too lazy? Possibly. Maybe, without fear, we would be elevated to the next level of human evolution and make advancements in everything from art to technology to medicine. Or maybe fear is the only thing keeping us in check, and without it, we'd all just become insensitive jerks who end up harming and even killing ourselves and others for no good reason. Fear might be the only thing that's been keeping us alive all these centuries.

These issues are at the heart of "Fearless Malph," a very memorable episode from Happy Days' sixth season in 1978. The bizarre plot has cowardly Ralph Malph (Don Most) being hypnotized by a mad scientist (Hogans Heroes baddie Leon Askin) and becoming completely fearless as a result. Since Ralph is defined by his cowardice, what happens when that trait is taken away? Does he evolve into something better or does it just turn him into a jerk?

Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 115: The Wild, Untamed Credits of Ed Wood's 'Jail Bait' (1954)

Jail Bait remains mysterious, all these decades later.

Sixty-seven years after its release, Jail Bait (1954) remains the overlooked middle child of Ed Wood's early filmography. Even with its outrageous plastic-surgery-at-gunpoint plot twist, this low budget noir thriller simply isn't as flashy as Bride of the Monster (1955), Glen or Glenda (1953), or Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Jail Bait has no killer octopuses, zombies, or flying saucers to offer its viewers. Criswell, Tor Johnson, and Bela Lugosi are AWOL. The most overtly Wood-ian flourishes are in the wardrobe: Mona McKinnon's furry hat, Dolores Fuller's lacy nightgown, and Theodora Thurman's silk pajamas.

I guess we're not supposed to pay much attention to Jail Bait, kind of like how we're not supposed to focus too much on Zeppo during the Marx Brothers' movies. Perhaps paradoxically, that's why I find it so compelling. I've already written articles about the film's young star, Clancy Malone, and its (sort of) composer, Hoyt Curtin, plus I coauthored a piece about the aforementioned Ms. Thurman. But this week, I just wanted to dive right into the film's credits and see if there were any names that stuck out for whatever reason, preferably names I hadn't given much thought in the past.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "The Quarterback and the Quarterbackup"

Ray Underwood and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

For as long as there are movies and TV shows about high school, Hollywood will always need actors to play jocks, bullies, preppies, and snobs -- the guys who make life miserable for the nerd heroes. They walk around the school like they own it and treat everyone else with condescension if not outright hostility. Generally, these characters are destined to receive an embarrassing public comeuppance at the end of the story, perhaps even a punch in the (immaculately chiseled) jaw. We love to hate these characters, and it's so satisfying to see them get what's coming to them.

One of the great Hollywood screen bullies was Ray Underwood (1953-1993), a sandy-haired actor from Aspen, Colorado whose life ended much too soon. You could think of Ray as the James Spader of the 1970s, mixed with a little Billy Zabka. I first spotted him in Rene Daalder's darkly surreal cult classic, Massacre at Central High (1976), where he and his fascist pals rule the school and pay the ultimate price. Ray plays a rather similar character in "Sweet Sixteen," the Happy Days episode we're reviewing this week. As Joanie's womanizing boyfriend, a high school quarterback who won't take no for an answer, Ray Underwood projects the same arrogance and entitlement that he did in the Daalder film. He's great.

But is the episode worthy of him? Find out when my cohost and I review "Sweet Sixteen" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.