This week, we review a novel with an alarming title!
While there are a number of reasonably well-known Ed Wood books published during the last decade and half of his life—Killer in Drag (1963) and Death of a Transvestite (1967) jump immediately to mind—there also exist dozens of little-known titles.
In this edition of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast, I'm joined by Joe Blevins, James Pontolillo and W. Paul Apel to review one of the latter, perhaps the first review of an obscure 1971 paperback.
Check it out to find out which book it is:
A special thanks to my guests for providing their expert insights into a tome that, in today's world, will likely offend some as outmoded in its viewpoints. It's also at times incredibly graphic, and in candidly estimating it, the language in the podcast is likewise explicit.
When you think of the great animated moms who have appeared on our TV screens in the wake of Marge Simpson, you probably think of Lois Griffin, Linda Belcher, and Peggy Hill. Divas all, to be sure, but there's one you shouldn't forget to add to your list: Francine Smith of American Dad. Since 2005, the wildly underrated Francine has secretly been one of the funniest characters on that show and one of the funniest cartoon moms ever, and a lot of that is due to the off-kilter delivery of Wendy Schaal, the actress who provides her voice.
But there's more to Wendy than just Francine. A favorite of director Joe Dante and the daughter of actor Richard Schaal, she's been working steadily in TV and film since the 1970s, and in late 1982, she even made a memorable guest appearance on Happy Days. Some of you more perceptive readers may have guessed that we are reviewing this very episode on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, and you'd be right. We are. The episode in question is called "Since I Don't Have You," and it revolves around Jefferson High basketball coach Roger (Ted McGinley) and his on-again, off-again, decades-long relationship with a fickle, materialistic blonde named Lorraine (Wendy, natch).
So I'm an avowed fan of Wendy Schaal, but does that mean I liked this episode? Find out by listening to the latest installment of our podcast.
Is this documentary worthy of being resurrected? Or should it stay buried?
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. Even though Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) is a major player in the Ed Wood saga—and a big part of why Eddie even has a cult following in the first place—I have never done a deep dive into the great man's life and career. It's just too big a subject. While I've seen many of Bela's films, perhaps two dozen or so, I've never even cracked the spine of a full-length Lugosi biography. The only Lugosi book I've read cover to cover was Richard Bojarski's informative The Films of Bela Lugosi (1980).
A copy of the script with notes by Forry Ackerman himself.
Frankly, there's so much Ed Wood history to explore that I've scarcely had time for poor Bela. We must remember that Bela's time with Ed Wood in the 1950s was but one brief chapter in the Hungarian actor's eventful and often tragic life, a sprawling saga that spans decades and continents. So many plays! So many movies! So many wives! So many drugs! Where to begin?
What I desperately need is the CliffsNotes version of the Bela Lugosi saga. As luck would have it, I recently learned of a somewhat neglected 1986 documentary called Lugosi: The Forgotten King. This film's compact 46-minute runtime suggests that it was meant to run on television as an hour-long special with commercials, though I can't tell if it ever did. Whatever audience it had, it seems to have garnered through home video. The Forgotten King's two credited directors, Mark Gilman, Jr. and Dave Stuckey, are known almost exclusively for their work on straight-to-video showbiz documentaries.
Lugosi: The Forgotten King is a humble affair, obviously produced on a low budget, but it is well worth viewing for fans of either Bela Lugosi or Ed Wood. The program's enthusiastic host and narrator is horror superfan Forrest J. "Forry" Ackerman (1916-2008), founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Ed Wood's literary agent for a brief stint in the 1960s. (Once Eddie started writing for adult publisher Bernie Bloom, no such agent was required.) Ackerman performs his duties from the so-called Ackermansion, his famed Los Angeles home that served as a museum of sci-fi and horror memorabilia. Unfortunately, the video quality of The Forgotten King is so murky that you'd be hard pressed to identify any of the classic props behind Mr. Ackerman.
With just three-quarters of an hour to tell its story, The Forgotten King sprints through the highlights of Bela's life—his childhood in Hungary, his theatrical career, his breakthrough in Dracula (1931), his downward career trajectory due to typecasting, his battles with drug addiction, and finally his death at the age of 73. Most of this is told through the same old photographs and film trailers you've probably already seen many times if you've researched Bela at all. This material probably seemed a lot fresher in the pre-internet days of 1986.
Like many retellings of Bela Lugosi's life, The Forgotten King has to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, the film tells us repeatedly that Lugosi was unfairly pigeonholed as a horror actor and should have been allowed to play more comedic, dramatic, and even romantic roles to demonstrate his versatility. On the other hand, directors Gilman and Stuckey obviously knew what viewers wanted from a documentary like this: spooky stuff and plenty of it. Therefore, Lugosi's many horror films dominate this retrospective. Forrest J. Ackerman even says that Lugosi's "very name became synonymous with the mysterious, the monstrous, the macabre." This documentary proves that the typecasting of Bela Lugosi continued long after the man was dead.
Alex Gordon in The Forgotten King. (Note the skull behind him.)
So if there's very little information about Bela Lugosi in The Forgotten King that you couldn't glean from simply reading the actor's Wikipedia page, why bother tracking down this film today? The answer is that it includes interviews with some very noteworthy folks. Actor Ralph Bellamy, who appeared with Bela in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), drops by to talk about the making of that film and share some insight into its director, Erle C. Kenton, who apparently directed with a megaphone bigger than Rudy Vallee's. Carroll Borland, Lugosi's costar in Mark of the Vampire (1935), comments favorably on Bela's sex appeal and says he should have been the next Ezio Pinza.
But most intriguing of all, The Forgotten King prominently features another key figure in the Ed Wood saga that I have largely neglected in this series: British film producer Alex Gordon (1922-2003). Dedicated Woodologists know Gordon for his contributions to the screenplays for Wood's Jail Bait (1954) and Bride of the Monster (1955). Alex also served as executive producer on The Lawless Rider (1954), a Johnny Carpenter Western that Eddie cowrote.
Somehow, in all these years of studying the life and career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., I had never even seen a picture of Alex Gordon, let alone any footage of the man. In The Forgotten King, Mr. Gordon is revealed as a stout, soft-spoken, well-mannered gentleman with kind eyes and splendid enunciation. His accent is neither American nor English but somewhere in between, and he comments fondly about Bela Lugosi's versatility and charm. Gordon also mentions that he originally met with Lugosi because the latter was interested in doing a touring version of Dracula onstage in England.
One thing I did learn from this film was how England's temporary ban on horror films negatively affected Bela Lugosi's career. I wonder what Bela would have thought of England's "video nasty" scare in the 1980s. For that matter, what would Ed Wood have thought of it? I'll never understand how the same country that produced Hammer Studios could be so squeamish and prudish when it comes to the horror genre.
If you're wondering how much Ed Wood content there is in The Forgotten King, rest assured that there is plenty. Eddie himself had passed away by the time this documentary was made, so he "appears" only via a photograph, but Alex Gordon is there to represent him and talk about the projects that Wood and Gordon had planned for Bela, including Doctor Voodoo, The Vampire's Tomb, and The Phantom Ghoul. According to Gordon, these would-be projects gave Bela hope during his waning years when work was difficult to come by.
Elsewhere, The Forgotten King includes the entire trailer for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) and mentions the film's cult classic status, never alluding to its Golden Turkey Awards infamy. The documentary actually treats Ed Wood with a surprising—dare I say, refreshing—degree of respect and affection. The narration even repeats the old story (probably apocryphal) that Bela Lugosi died while reading the script for Wood's Final Curtain. Forrest J. Ackerman neglects to mention Glen or Glenda (1953), but he does have this to say about the Wood/Lugosi relationship:
In 1953, Lugosi joined forces with young exploitation film director Ed Wood to make what would be his last films. The legendary Wood was chiefly responsible for keeping Lugosi working during his lowest ebb and remained a trusted friend to the end.
I think Ed would have been very happy with that.
PLEASE NOTE: In 2017, Mark Gilman released another documentary called Lugosi: The Forgotten King of Horror. Running an hour and 20 minutes, it can be described as an expanded version of the 1986 film. Perhaps someday, I will review it, too. In the meantime, if you want to see the longer version of the documentary, it is freely available from Tubi.
How does your family get along? Well? Not well? Somewhere in between?
My sister and I fought a lot as kids, the way most siblings do, but my immediate family generally got along pretty well. My extended family was a different story, though. There were people on my father's side of the family who hadn't spoken to each other in years. Every time there was a wedding or funeral or family reunion, there would be speculation as to who would dare to show up. I never understood it. What could you say or do to a relative that would make them stop talking to you for the rest of your life?
This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're talking about the episode "All I Want for Christmas," which deals with rivalries within families. Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) is reuniting with his overbearing older brother Dick (Richard Paul) for the first time in years. Will they be able to get through even a single day without fighting? This is a sitcom, so I think you can guess the answer to that one. Meanwhile, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) pressures his girlfriend Ashley (Linda Purl) to contact her estranged parents at Christmas. This plot goes in a direction I did not foresee.
You can hear exactly what we thought of "All I Want for Christmas" by clicking the play button down below. It's right there. Couldn't be easier.
There's a quote from the published screenplay of Ed Wood (1994) that's been bouncing around in my head for years. In their highly entertaining and informative introduction to the script, writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski talk about the difficulties of basing their screenplay on the one available biography of Ed Wood:
As we started ordering the anecdotes we found interesting, we were struck by a problem: we didn't know how Ed met anybody. These people were so obscure that the information had just fallen off the face of the earth. Even our principal source, Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, a book of interviews with Ed's friends, didn't help. So we started inventing "meet cutes" for most of the characters, as Ed accumulated his Magnificent Seven.
The screenwriters are playfully referencing John Sturges' epic Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), which was famously adapted from Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954). In Sturges' film, a beleaguered village hires a gunfighter named Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) to defend itself against some ruthless bandits led by the villainous Calvera (Eli Wallach). Adams then recruits six more gunslingers to aid him in the inevitable, bloody showdown against Calvera's men.
I suppose, to Alexander and Karaszewski, Ed Wood is analogous to the Chris Adams character. But who would be the other six members of his Magnificent Seven? Well, the script for Ed Wood provides those aforementioned "meet cutes" for several key members of the Wood entourage: Bela Lugosi, most prominently, but also Criswell, Tor Johnson, Vampira, and even Dr. Tom Mason. But several important members of Eddie's inner circle are already working with him when the story starts, including Conrad Brooks, Dolores Fuller, Paul Marco, and Bunny Breckinridge. The film also depicts a few key figures who worked with Eddie behind the scenes, including producer George Weiss, cameraman William Thompson, and makeup artist Harry Thomas. And let's not forget that, in the script, Eddie also meets his eventual wife, Kathy.
If you're counting, we're already way past seven people, even if you don't include Eddie himself as one of the seven.
But let's be true to The Magnificent Seven and say that there are only seven gunslingers all together, including Ed Wood. Who deserves those other six slots? Well, Bela, Tor, and Cris are in, for sure. Their names are forever tied to Eddie and his films. I'm going to include Conrad Brooks and Paul Marco, both of whom would have followed Ed Wood into a shootout. That leaves just one spot, and I'm giving it to Vampira. True, she and Ed only worked on one project together, but sometimes, one is all it takes. It's impossible to separate Ed Wood and Vampira, especially as the latter's image has been widely used on posters, DVD covers, T-shirts, and other merchandise related to Ed Wood.
When Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote about Ed's "Magnificent Seven," I think they meant the lineup I just described: Ed, Bela, Tor, Cris, Vampira, Connie, and Paul. What do you think? Who would you include in this lineup?
This week, we're tackling one of Ed Wood's more obscure adult paperbacks.
By 1969, Ed Wood had spent the better part of the previous decade writing adult paperbacks. He was then transitioning into an incredibly prolific stint writing short stories and articles for various Pendulum/Calga magazines, published by Bernie Bloom. Pendulum would ultimately publish many of Ed Wood's full-length books as well, including both novels and nonfiction works.
But Eddie was writing for other publishers during this busy time in his career, too, including a mostly-forgotten company called Private Editions. This was a relatively obscure imprint even in its heyday, connected to the publisher Columbia (per Ed's own resume). Private Editions released Ed's salacious paperback Night Time Lez (1968) as well as the novel that is our focus this week: the truly remarkable and politically-charged Toni: Black Tigress (1969). Interestingly, the publisher's address listed in Toni—7805 Deering Ave in Canoga Park, CA—is the same as that of adult magazine publisher Press Arts, Inc. Today, it's the home of Ferguson Plumbing Supplies.
These days, Toni: Black Tigress remains one of Ed Wood's rarer books, infrequently turning up at online auctions (and at times for exorbitant prices) and perhaps, until now, never reviewed. We aim to change that with the latest edition of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast. Expert Woodologists Joe Blevins, James Pontolillo and Rob Huffman graciously join me for the task.
FAIR WARNING: Please note that this book covers racial and sexual matters in a highly insensitive, in fact offensive, manner.
Special thanks must go to Rob Huffman for painstakingly scanning his rare, valuable copy of Toni: Black Tigress so that we could read it for this podcast.