Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Bookie Nights"

Don Most and Jack Dodson are son and father on Happy Days.

According to Ron Howard, ABC wanted to re-brand Happy Days as Fonzie's Happy Days during the show's third season. Fortunately, this shortsighted plan was nixed by Howard, who was still the sitcom's nominal star, and the title remained simply Happy Days. Nevertheless, the program's focus had unmistakably shifted to greaser mechanic Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli by this point, a process that only accelerated during Season 4. This was the season that gave us "Fonzie Loves Pinky," "Fonzie the Father," "Fonzie's Old Lady," and much more.

Even during these Fonzie-centric times, though, Happy Days still gave the other characters spotlight episodes of their own. We've had showcase moments for Potsie, Joanie, and Marion during Season 4. For the season's penultimate installment, "Last of the Big Time Malphs," it was practical joker Ralph Malph (Donny Most) at center stage. The plot has Ralph becoming a bookie and incurring an $80 debt to local thug Bruiser (Paul Linke). The best thing about a story like this is that it brings in character actor Jack Dodson (aka Howard Sprague of The Andy Griffith Show) as Ralph's wisecracking father, Dr. Mickey Malph. You can easily see that Ralph is a chip off the old block, for better or worse.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days podcast, we talk about "Last of the Big Time Malphs." But our conversation touches on many topics, including succotash and the 1958 Green Bay Packers. Have a listen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 105: "On the Trail of Ed Wood" (1990)

Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood, Criswell, some graffiti, and Tor Johnson figure in this documentary.

A somewhat forgotten documentary.
Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) can be described as a film about the rise and fall of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, a man ultimately thwarted by his own ego and insatiable desire to be loved. But, seen in a different way, it can also be interpreted as the story of a diligent reporter named Jerry Thompson (William Alland) who sets out to discover the meaning of Kane's last word—"Rosebud"—and interviews several of the great man's personal and business associates in order to file his report. At the end of his unsuccessful quest, Thompson dismisses the idea that "Rosebud" would have explained everything about his subject.
"No, I don't think so. No, Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything. I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. A missing piece."
As strange as this may sound, I thought about Citizen Kane many times while watching the unloved 1990 documentary On the Trail of Ed Wood. This humble, hour-long film, made by Michael Copner and Buddy Barnett of Cult Movies magazine, is essentially an extended interview with Conrad Brooks (1931-2017), Eddie's close friend and an actor in several of his films, including Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Conrad is a lot like the interview subjects in Citizen Kane, ruminating on the life of a famous dead man and trying to glean some meaning from the man's chaotic life. The difference is, the remembrances in Kane are full of drama, comedy, intrigue, tragedy, philosophy, etc. while Conrad Brooks' stories are often vague and slow-paced. Connie spent a lot of time with Ed Wood but doesn't seem to possess any special insight into the eccentric filmmaker. As a result, On the Trail of Ed Wood plays like the footage Orson Welles (or Jerry Thompson, for that matter) might have cut from Citizen Kane.

But that's not to say On the Trail is without merit. The documentary turns 30 this year, so this is as good a time as any to look back on it. If nothing else, it offers a snapshot of the Wood cult as it stood a decade after the publication of Harry and Michael Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards and four years before the release of Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood. This was an in-between time for Eddie's fandom. The initial wave of curiosity provoked by the Medveds had cooled off, but the second, more scholarly wave of Woodmania hadn't really begun yet. In particular, Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) was still two years away from publication, so the closest thing to a career-spanning Wood biography was the homemade 1981 chapbook Edward D. Wood Jr.: A Man and His Films by superfans Randy Simon and Harold Benjamin.

Besides Grey's book and Burton's movie, the 1990s also saw the release of three distinctive, stylized documentaries about Eddie: Ted Newsom's Look Back in Angora (1994), Mark Patrick Carducci's Flying Saucers Over Hollywood (1992), and Brett Thompson's The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1995). Crude as it is, On the Trail of Ed Wood predates all of these, not to mention Grey's book. As far as I know, it's the first full-length documentary about Ed Wood of any real substance. For that alone, it deserves better than its current 3.8 rating at the IMDb.

The DVD version that I reviewed.
On the Trail of Ed Wood begins with a rudimentary credit sequence set to the theme from Swan Lake, a piece of music inextricably linked to Bela Lugosi. Conrad Brooks is listed as the host of the program, with Cult Movies publisher Buddy Barnett as the producer, a man named John Norris as the associate producer, and Cult Movies founder Michael Copner as the director. It would be more accurate to say that Copner, whose life took a tragic turn in the 2000s, is the documentary's true host, since it is he who welcomes us to the film, while Barnett is the one interviewing Brooks.

After these credits, On the Trail offers us some goofy man-on-the-street interviews shot in Hollywood, with Copner asking passersby what they know about Ed Wood and Plan 9. Perhaps coincidentally, this is also how Flying Saucers Over Hollywood starts. While I'm not hugely enthusiastic about this material in either film, this footage at least allows us to see what the busy intersection of Hollywood Blvd. and Cherokee Ave. looked like 30 years ago. (Side note: The legendary Musso & Frank Grill, a key location in Ed Wood, is just offscreen.) 

"We have just seen the evidence," says Copner to the camera in the style of Criswell. "There are still people out there in the world today who have no idea who Edward D. Wood, Jr. really was. Now we hope to change all that with this videotape." On the Trail was originally marketed as a mail-order VHS tape in the pages of Cult Movies magazine, but the version I reviewed was a DVD edition from Alpha Video.

Copner gives us a very perfunctory, pre-Wikipedia description of Ed Wood (back when people thought Eddie made only six movies), then explains that he and Barnett ran into Conrad Brooks while doing research on a horror movie book. According to Copner, Brooks allowed the Cult Movies team to see rare pictures and other documents from Connie's own personal archives. Throughout the film, we glimpse various posters, lobby cards, and press kits related to Ed's movies, with Orgy of the Dead (1965) being the most recent film thus featured. There are also plenty of photographs, including behind-the-scenes pictures, headshots and promotional photos, and even some personal snapshots. I don't think any (or many) of these were new to me, but maybe this was all virgin territory in 1990. This was pre-internet and pre-Nightmare of Ecstasy.

The vast majority of On the Trail consists of Conrad Brooks, dressed casually in a red sweatshirt and dark blue slacks, slumped on a couch, reminiscing at great length (but not great depth) about Ed Wood. Buddy Barnett occasionally chimes in with questions or prompts. Connie is not exactly a natural raconteur, with his slow, halting delivery, and the slack editing here does him no favors. On the Trail really makes you appreciate those other '90s Ed Wood documentaries I mentioned, all of which feature multiple interview subjects rather than just one. I can imagine clips from this film being used in another, more focused movie.

As it is, Copner and Barnett's discussion with Conrad Brooks is divided into a few major sections, interrupted by occasional field trips to significant locations in Los Angeles. I've done what I can to find interesting or useful information in these parts of the documentary.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "A Fonz and His Dog"

(from l to r) Henry Winkler, Scruffy, Ron Howard, and Erin Bunt.

"Never work with children or animals." That was supposedly the motto of legendary screen comedian W.C. Fields, though I can find no evidence that the famously misanthropic Fields ever said such a thing. The idea behind the saying is that children and animals tend to get all the laughs and attention from audiences, and they're notoriously unpredictable performers who don't stick to the script. Onscreen, Fields was occasionally paired with bratty children, since they tended to bring out the hilarious worst in him. One of his most memorably irritating foils, for instance, was child star Baby LeRoy.

Today, on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, my cohost and I look at "Spunky, Come Home," a 1977 episode in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) shares the screen with both a child and a dog. The child in question is prolific '70s film and TV star Erin Blunt, probably best known today for his work in the Bad News Bears movie franchise, though he also turned up in everything from The Waltons to Get Christie Love! back then. The dog is Scruffy, a well-trained terrier who had previously starred on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and who would go on to shill for Chuck Wagon.

This is the first new podcast we recorded since the nationwide protests over police brutality, and the timing was either perfect or horrendous. In "Spunky, Come Home," Fonzie acquires and then quickly loses a dog named Spunky (played by Scruffy). Erin Blunt's character, a wisecracking black kid named Wilbur, is falsely accused of having stolen the dog and is arrested and nearly charged. Fortunately, Ralph (Donny Most) and Potsie (Anson Williams) reluctantly come forward and admit they accidentally let Spunky get away from them while building a pen for the animal. No charges are filed against Wilbur, and Fonzie even vows to get the child another dog as a reward. All's well that ends well.

Under the current circumstances, though, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that Wilbur was largely arrested because he was black. The episode's one policeman, Officer Porter (Tom Dever), seems very willing to believe the worst about Wilbur. Fortunately, a potential tragedy was averted in this case, but it shouldn't have even gotten this close. "Spunky, Come Home" is a very cute episode, but it has some disturbing subtext.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The strange but true saga of the 'What's My Line' intruder

This pleasant young man somehow wandered onto the set of What's My Line.

Game show host John Charles Daly
The appeal of live television has always been the possibility that something might go seriously wrong on the air in front of an audience of millions. Much of what we see on TV is carefully planned, rehearsed, and edited before it ever reaches us. It's no wonder, then, that we hunger for a little chaos amid all that control. Let's face it, this is the main justification for Saturday Night Live's continued existence. The long-running comedy-variety series could easily be pretaped, as are most sketch shows from the 1960s onward, but it would lose its sense of danger and spontaneity.

We hunger for these things in our entertainment. I can't help but think about Dave Chappelle's stand-up routine in which he discusses the infamous night in 2003 when magician Roy Horn was attacked by a tiger during a show in Las Vegas. "That's why we really go to the tiger show, right?" Chappelle says to the audience. "You don't go to see somebody be safe with tigers."

These days, pretaped shows are the norm and live broadcasts are considered special events. This was not so in the earliest days of the medium in the 1940s, when virtually everything on TV went out over the airwaves as it was being made and relatively little was saved for posterity via crude kinescopes. A major change arrived in 1951, when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had the foresight to film their sitcom I Love Lucy on 35mm stock, thus ensuring the episodes would be preserved for future reruns.

Over the course of the 1950s, videotape technology improved and became more common in the industry, allowing shows to be shot in advance and edited. This was seen as a potential breakthrough for the medium. On his 1957 record "Tele-Vee-Shun," satirist (and stubborn TV skeptic) Stan Freberg begrudgingly admitted that "videotape may help somewhat." Freberg himself had been a puppeteer on the children's show Time for Beany (1949-1955) and had learned about the hazards of live television when he'd burned his hand during a sketch involving a clown. On a DVD commentary, Freberg recalled that the clown puppet made "a fast exit" from the scene after catching on fire.

By the 1960s, many shows were being filmed or taped in advance, but the venerable panel show What's My Line (1950-1967) was still being broadcast live every week from the CBS studio in New York City. Produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, What's My Line is the kind of stately, old-fashioned program that seems inconceivable to modern day audiences. The premise is very simple. The host introduces a contestant with an unusual occupation, and then four celebrity panelists—generally culled from the theater and publishing worlds—try to determine that occupation (or "line") via a series of yes/no questions. ("Do you work with animals?") The contestant's goal is to stump the panel for as long as possible.

For me, the highlight of each What's My Line episode is the appearance of a celebrity "mystery guest." During this round, the panelists wear blindfolds and attempt to guess the identity of the famous person, again through yes/no questions. ("Are you known for your work in the theater?") This is an exceedingly polite and genteel program, making it truly seem like a relic from a bygone age. The show's stuffiness is now, at least to me, its chief selling point.

On the evening of October 7, 1962, the What's My Line panel consisted of actress Arlene Francis, musician and comedian Victor Borge, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, and publisher Bennett Cerf. The emcee was John Charles Daly. Francis, Kilgallen, Cerf, and Daly were all regulars on the program, while Borge made occasional appearances as both a panelist and a mystery guest. This would have been his ninth visit to What's My Line, so he was very familiar with the show by then. For the most part, the episode progresses normally. The first contestant is a baseball announcer. The second is a woman who tests razor blades. Typical What's My Line fare.

Things go off the rails only during the final round when Melina Mercouri, a glamorous Greek actress best known for Never on Sunday (1960), appears as the week's mystery guest. The panelists, having dutifully donned their blindfolds, start asking Ms. Mercouri about herself.  Dorothy Kilgallen asks the actress if she's in show business. So far, so good. Mercouri smiles broadly and answers yes, but the word has barely left her lips when she is interrupted by a young man in a dark suit who shuffles in front of the camera and describes himself as the show's "second mystery guest." Mercouri looks up at him and meets his gaze, but emcee Daly only gestures vaguely in the young man's direction while talking to someone off-screen.

"Just a moment," Daly says in that calm, measured way of his. "We have a small problem. Gil, will you get the relieving unit in? Schedule two."

A "schedule two" scenario on the set of What's My Line.
The mystery man is utterly undeterred. "The reason that I came here," he says to the audience, "is to talk about a dating service that we have." What's striking is that this interloper does not even seem that out of place here. His demeanor is pleasant. He is clean-cut and well-dressed. He looks like someone who actually belongs on the set of What's My Line.

By this point, the camera has pushed in on John Daly, who says, "Well, that's fine. You can talk some other time." He looks slightly impatient, like a man waiting for a slow-running elevator. If he's afraid, he doesn't show it.

Then, in what has to be one of the oddest TV moments of the early 1960s, bespectacled announcer  Johnny Olson (the man best known today for his "Come on down!" catchphrase from The Price Is Right) jogs onto the stage, zipping past the panelists and the logo of the show's sponsor, Geritol. The panelists, don't forget, are blindfolded and see none of this. Seconds later, Olson and another man escort the intruder off the set. Yet another man, this one wearing a grey suit, follows quickly behind them.

The camera returns to Mercouri and Daly. The actress repeats her previous answer to Kilgallen's question, but Daly interrupts: "Now, actually, panel, so that you will not be confused, we've had a bad-mannered visitor who has now been removed from the stage, and we can go on with what we were up to." He then restates the rules of the game, and the program continues as if nothing had happened. I'm struck here by Daly's description of the intruder as a "bad-mannered visitor." I've described What's My Line as  a polite show, which it is, so this incident is treated not as a breach of security but as a breach of etiquette.

Kilgallen, Cerf, and Francis all ask routine questions of Mercouri, with Daly rushing them along a little, perhaps eager to make up for wasted time. Finally, it's Victor Borge's turn to speak. "Are you alone on the stage?" he asks Mercouri.

Daly answers for her: "No, I'm here, too."

"I realize that, of course," Borge responds, "but they removed somebody." He chuckles, which makes everyone else on stage and in the audience laugh, and the tension is broken. Even Daly lets himself laugh. Borge and the three other panelists may have the least idea of what just happened because they couldn't see the intruder. All Borge knows is that "there are a lot of things going on." Presumably he, Kilgallen, Francis, and Cerf only learned the truth after the show was over.

Paul Jones chimes in.
The What's My Line episode attracted some press attention at the time. In a syndicated column that appeared in the October 8, 1962 edition of The El Paso Herald-Post, TV critic Harriet Van Horne (what a name!) called the previous night's show "bizarre" and said that the incident "will be regarded in some quarters as proof that the only safe shows are tape shows." This proved to be prophetic. Within a few years, Goodson-Todman would switch to videotaping its game shows. Indeed, 1970s episodes of Match Game were taped well in advance of airing. Ms. Van Horne was obviously not a game show fan and took great pleasure in seeing What's My Line interrupted. "Such mystery guests should pop in more often," she writes.

Van Horne identified the interloper as one Ronald Melstein and said that the delusional young man was under the mistaken impression that he was the night's mystery guest. The critic reported that she felt "a wave of sympathy" for Melstein, who was escorted to the police station after the show. As for Daly's actions, Van Horne writes: "With typical British sangfroid, he simply asked for volunteers to show the gentleman to the wings. The gentleman was shown—so quickly that the entire incident, observers said, took less than a minute of network time."

Two days later, in the October 10, 1962 edition of The Atlanta Constitution, columnist Paul Jones gave readers the show's official version of the debacle. According to CBS, the intruder was simply an audience member who "had a ticket to see the show" and "somehow slipped backstage." Jones' column points out that What's My Line was being simulcast on CBS radio and that "the radio portion of the show was cut off" when Melstein bounded onstage. Jones says that the intruder was removed from the set by "two burly stagehands." Considering that Johnny Olson was one of the bouncers, that description is a bit of a stretch.

Jones explains that the interloper was "handed over to New York City patrolmen stationed nearby" but that no charges were filed against him in this case. The man was written off as a mere prankster and given a verbal warning. Curiously, the columnist then scolds Daly for not giving the panelists or the audience the full story of who this man was and what happened to him. "This would have eased everybody's mind and it would in no way have detracted from the show."

In Daly's defense, I think he wanted to give Melstein as little satisfaction as possible, so as not to encourage him any further. As for Jones' suggestion that Melstein be brought back as a guest on What's My Line, I think this would have set a very dangerous and irresponsible example. My mind flashes to Robert De Niro as would-be comic Rupert Pupkin, who manages to worm his way onto network television through a berserk kidnapping scheme in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1982).

Further insight into this strange event is provided by the book Johnny Olson: A Voice in Time (2009) by Randy West. The biography describes the What's My Line episode as "disturbing," which shows how our thinking about such matters has changed over the years, especially since 9/11. According to West, the "Gil" whom Daly addressed during the episode was What's My Line producer Gil Fates. The book includes a quote about the episode from Fates:
"In the control room, [director] Frank Heller yelled, 'Who's that? What's he doing? Get him out of there!' Daly, spotting me bewildered in the wings, said, 'Gil Fates, will you please remove this man from the stage?' I signaled to our announcer, Johnny Olson, and together we moved in. Before 30 million people coast-to-coast, Johnny and I each grabbed an arm and eased the interloper —still into his plug—off the stage and into the custody of the stage doorman, who passed him on to the police."
West clarifies that the young man was promoting "a dating or escort service" and that "the audio engineers turned down the input from the on-stage microphones" while Fates and Olson were walking Melstein away from the set. In the episode, the sound only dips out for a few seconds. In retrospect, it's amazing how well What's My Line handles this interruption. No one seems flustered or frightened, just slightly inconvenienced. Apparently, they were prepared for such an occurrence. According to the IMDb, John Daly began using code words when it became clear something was seriously wrong. "Schedule two" was his signal to the camera and sound crew to cut the microphones and change the focus.

Ronald Melstein's faculty picture.
And what of our merry intruder? The public records offer some interesting information about this strange but seemingly jovial fellow. The son of a Russian immigrant father, Nathan, and an American mother, Rose, Ronald L. Melstein was born in New York on January 26, 1930, making him 32 at the time of What's My Line. Ronald was the couple's first-born child. By the time of the 1940 census, he had two younger sisters, Joyce and Brenda, and they all lived together in an apartment at 2040 Bronxdale Ave. in the Bronx along with a 21-year-old maid named Mary Kalosky. Nathan Melstein listed his occupation as "executive" and his employer as "Wholesale Trimming," so he must have been doing alright for himself to afford a full-time domestic after a decade of economic depression in America.

In 1974, still living in the Bronx, Ronald married a woman named Wilma Sirota. In November 1977, he brought a civil suit against the brokerage firm Merrill Lynch at the Office of the Bronx County Clerk. At the same location, he brought another civil suit against the New York Telephone Co. in March 1978, so he may have been lawsuit-crazy for a time. Or maybe he was just plain crazy. Ronald and Wilma Melstein divorced in 1983, and there was some ugly disagreement over visitation rights and Ronald's sanity:
"Under the circumstances herein, defendant's refusal to submit to a psychiatric evaluation was a sufficient ground for denying him visitation rights. We note, however, that this is without prejudice to his moving for modification upon a showing of his willingness to submit to a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation."
Further documentation of the case is here. Ronald's ultimate fate is unknown, but he was still living in the Bronx as of 1999. His last-known address is 3017 Riverdale Ave., only 7 miles away from where he grew up.

As for what Ronald Melstein actually did for a living, it looks like he was a public school math teacher. In August 1957, The Herald News in Passaic, NJ reported that "Ronald Melstein of New York" had been hired by the Clifton (NJ) Board of Education to teach school for $3,700 a year. The article specified that he was one of the 20 new hires that year with a degree. (Seven more teachers were hired without a degree.) In September 1960, The Herald News further reported that Ronald Melstein was hired to teach mathematics at Lyndhurst High School at $4,600 a year. 

The 1961 Lyndhurst High School yearbook still exists, and there's a pictured faculty member named Ronald Melstein who looks very much like the man from What's My Line. His bio states that he's a resident of the Bronx, which checks out. He received his B.A. from Long Island University and his M.A. from New York University. The yearbook states that Melstein "is teaching General Math in his first year at L.H.S." His personal motto: "Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you."

How does the 1962 What's My Line incident fit into the bigger picture? It appears that Ronald Melstein grew up in relative comfort in the Bronx, became a math teacher, got married, sued some companies, had at least one child, got divorced, and stayed forever loyal to the borough where he was born. In 1962, a year after taking a job at Lyndhurst High School in New Jersey, he somehow bluffed his way onto a nationally-televised game show, claiming to represent a dating service. Did this service even exist or was this all part of a prank? Did he do this to impress his students? Was he actually delusional, as evidenced by his legal problems down the road? The world may never know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 104: The search for Clancy Malone (aka Scott McCloud)

Care to help me solve a mystery this week? Tell me who this man was!

A credit for Scott McCloud in Glen or Glenda.
If there is one thing that this project has taught me, it's that Edward D. Wood, Jr. has the most knowledgeable and persistent fans in all of popular culture. I think that would have pleased him greatly. Though he kept plugging away as a writer and director, always hoping for some measure of success and fame (or at least a little respect), Eddie barely subsisted on the fringes of show business from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. Even though he got his own lavish biopic in 1994, his career is nowhere near as well-documented as that of other, more respectable filmmakers. And so, his loyal acolytes have largely taken it upon themselves to gather information about Ed Wood and his movies. This week, I am hoping that the Eddie experts of the world will come to my aid as I try to solve a mystery that has stumped me for years.

In Ed Wood's woozy, hellish crime drama Jail Bait from 1954, the central character of Don Gregor is played by a young man credited as Clancy Malone. While this is not necessarily a star-making performance, Malone brings a certain nervous, Anthony Perkins-esque intensity to the part. His skinny frame helps, since he always looks too small for his clothes. Don Gregory is a spoiled, immature boy lost in the very grown-up world of crime and death, and that's just how Clancy Malone plays him. If you think about it, this is really a dual role, since Malone also appears at the end of the film as the post-plastic-surgery version of gangster Vic Brady. Unfortunately, the Internet Movie Database says that Malone never played another role, not even for Ed Wood. So who was this guy, anyway?

The only full-length biography of Eddie, Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), contains a few, fleeting references to Clancy Malone. The book does clarify, for instance, that Malone was also known as Scott McCloud and served under that name as Unit Director on Eddie's feature debut Glen or Glenda (1953). In fact, the book contains a remarkable snapshot (provided by Conrad Brooks) of the Glenda cast and crew posing in the doctor's office set. Clancy/Scott is front row center with a knowing smirk on his face. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was the director!

Scott McCloud (aka Clancy Malone) is the smirking guy in the front row with the script on his lap.

Other information about McCloud/Malone is difficult to come by. On the 2011 DVD collection Big Box of Wood, filmmaker Ted Newsom relates the following anecdote about him:
"The lead guy who plays the profligate son apparently was the guy who delivered groceries to Eddie Wood's apartment. He said he wanted to be an actor, and Eddie said, 'I've got the perfect role for you! Here it is!' And that was it. I don't think he ever acted again. He's okay."
This is very possible. The surest way to gain access to Eddie's entourage was to be in close physical proximity to him. In his later years, as detailed in Nightmare of Ecstasy, Eddie planned to use his neighbor Shannon Dolder in a film. It's not difficult to imagine a plucky delivery boy worming his way into a couple of Ed Wood movies. ("Gee, you're a real live movie maker? That's neat! I've always wanted to be in showbiz myself! Think you could use me?")

Ed Wood obviously took some pride in Mr. Malone's performance, giving the young thespian an "introducing" credit, complete with his character's name.

Prominent billing for Clancy Malone

For some reason, though, the actor was listed as Scott McCloud on the posters and lobby cards for Jail Bait. This particular example features a striking closeup of the newfound star.

This poster for Jail Bait lists Scott McCloud, not Clancy Malone.

So what happened to this guy? People don't just magically disappear. Clancy Malone/Scott McCloud must have had some kind of life before and after working with Ed Wood on Jail Bait and Glenda. Other than those two films, however, and that marvelous behind-the-scenes photo, there is very little to attest to the existence of this human being. If you have more information about him, let me know.

John Avery in Jail Bait.
UPDATE: After sharing this article with an Ed Wood discussion group on Facebook, a few readers have come forward with what they know about Clancy Malone. Ted Newsom, director of the documentary Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora (1994), said he had no more information about the actor and had even forgotten where he'd originally heard abut Malone delivering groceries to Eddie's apartment. "It was obviously someone who had spent time among the Woodites," Newsom speculates about his source.

Meanwhile, artist Stephen B. Whatley, whose work is featured in Dolores Fuller's 2008 autobiography A Fuller Life, shared a 1983 article from Fangoria magazine entitled "I Remember Eddie Wood" by Jail Bait coauthor Alex Gordon. In addition to being Wood's creative partner for a period in the 1950s, Gordon was also Eddie's roommate. In the article, Alex talks about those days with Ed Wood and how their paths crossed with Clancy Malone:
"I had kept up my friendship with Bela Lugosi and saw him several times a week and introduced Eddie to him, and Lugosi was eager to become involved. Eddie and I took a small apartment near Lugosi on Carlton Way [in Hollywood], with two small bedrooms and a kitchen, and two would-be actors, Clancy Malone and John Avery, to help considerably with the rent payments and supply of food."
This is interesting, as it suggests Malone was actually living with Ed Wood for a time. The "supply of food" detail may be the origin of the story about Clancy delivering groceries to Eddie's apartment. Perhaps Clancy was the one in charge of actually getting food and bringing it back to the Carlton Way apartment. John Avery, for the record, played a small role as a police doctor in Jail Bait, reciting his few lines ("Couldn't be any deader.") in a colorless monotone as his arms dangle lifelessly at his sides. Like Clancy, he never acted in a motion picture again. Throughout this research process, I've never been able to determine if this man's real name was "Clancy Malone" or "Scott McCloud." At least one of those is invented. The way Gordon tells the story, I'm beginning to think that the Malone moniker is genuine.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Welding School Dropout"

No, that's not Richard Deacon. It's actually Ken Olfson getting a sales pitch from the Happy Days gang.

How, in this tumultuous year of 2020, can you possibly do a podcast about a lighthearted, silly show like Happy Days? What could be less relevant right now than an extremely Caucasian, nostalgia-driven sitcom that went off the air 36 years ago? The problems of Richie, Fonzie, and the gang at Arnold's seem awfully trivial compared to what's happening across America currently.

To be honest, it was difficult to stay interested in Happy Days as racial unrest and a global pandemic dominated the headlines. As a result, our weekly podcast, These Days Are Ours, went on a brief hiatus. We came back quietly last week, and we released another new episode earlier today. Both of these episodes were recorded shortly before the protests started. They now seem like relics of a more naive time.

For what it's worth, the episode we're reviewing, "Fonz-How, Inc." is an agreeable romp that teams up grouchy Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) and the ever-cool Fonzie (Henry Winkler) in a scheme to invent an in-home garbage compactor. Imagine every Family Matters episode that teams up Carl Winslow and Steve Urkel. It's basically that. You Mel Brooks fans might recognize one of the guest stars: Ken Olfson, who plays a small role in Spaceballs (1987). Also, Paul Thomas Anderson's mom Edwina is in there somewhere, too.