Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 13 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood hoped to clean up in the adult film business.

Over the last few years, Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s involvement in the porn industry has been increasingly well documented, and more of his adults-only material has come to light. Outside of his pornographic features, such as Necromania (1971) and The Young Marrieds (1972), Ed is most closely associated with the original Swedish Erotica loops that were first released circa 1973. But even Ed's dedicated fans may not know that he continued to work on silent X-rated loops throughout the 1970s, well after that first wave of Swedish Erotica titles.

These short erotic films still intrigue me. They were produced by Noel Bloom, son of Bernie Bloom, Ed Wood's boss at Pendulum Publishing. Eddie wrote a wide array of magazine texts for Pendulum during the '60s and '70s, and this led directly to him working on Noel's X-rated films.

It's likely that, by the mid-1970s, the erratic, hard-drinking Ed was no longer working on set. However, as I've surmised over and over in previous articles, he continued writing box cover summaries and subtitles for Noel Bloom's loops right up until his passing in 1978. These summaries and subtitles contain textual elements that are highly consistent with Ed's overall writing style. I'm constantly experiencing déjà vu while watching these loops. (And writing these articles, for that matter.)

As an example of what I've been discussing, I transcribed the subtitles from Swedish Erotica loop #92, "Bubble Bath." Did Ed Wood write these lines? I say yes, but draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: Genesis—An Ed Wood Odyssey by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi costarred in Glen or Glenda (1953).

Columnist Scott Rivers wrote about Ed.
In the decade following Edward D Wood Jr's untimely passing on December 10, 1978, his status changed dramatically. The late writer-director morphed from a forgotten footnote in Hollywood history to an emblem of the cult movie movement. The view of Wood that took root during that decade still dominates his pop culture reputation today, for good or ill.

The publication of Michael and Harry Medved's snide Golden Turkey Awards in 1980 fueled it all, dubbing Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) the worst movie ever made and Ed Wood himself the worst director of all time. The book's success inspired numerous screenings of Ed's films, often at revival houses and college campuses. Soon after, Paramount's zany compilation movie It Came From Hollywood (1982) featured an entire segment about Wood hosted by famed comedians John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. While not a critical or box office hit, It Came aired ubiquitously on cable TV throughout the '80s. But it was the arrival of Ed's movies on VHS that made it all real, finally affording the general public a glimpse into Ed's work beyond Plan 9.

Throughout these crucial years, newspaper staffers regularly overviewed Ed Wood, trotting out a version of events that reads like deja vu regardless of authorship. The same basic tropes—Eddie's Grade-Z ineptitude, his "strange" cast of regulars, the "camp" fun of watching his films—appear again and again in these articles. The same notions and even verbiage are repeated ad nauseam, along with the same biographical details. The effect was twofold, painting Eddie as a character of derision, a naive fool at best and cynical hack at worst, and cementing a highly limited and oft-inaccurate version of his biography.

Here's a representative example I found while combing through old newspapers. It appeared in the February 9, 1988 edition of Salt Lake City's Daily Utah Chronicle. This particular article was written by Scott Rivers as part of his "Artwatch" column, but there are dozens more just like this from newspapers across the country.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 17 by Greg Dziawer

The demonic Captain DeZita shows up in 1954's Bagdad After Midnite.


A poster for Bagdad After Midnite.
A few months back, I finally caught up with Bagdad After Midnite, a 1954 burlesque feature occasionally rumoured to have some connection to Edward D. Wood, Jr.  I endeavored to watch it carefully with patient, searching eyes. It turned out to be breezy and watchable, with tolerable burlesque "comedy," lots of pretty girls, and juggling. Losing myself in the film's thin story, I was soon transported to the far-off, fictional land of Pomonia and happily jettisoned my solipsistic academic mindset.

Released decades ago on VHS by Something Weird Video, Bagdad After Midnite survives solely in that incarnation today, though this transfer has since been digitized and is available as a DVD-R or as a streaming video. The colorful blurb for the film on SWV's website, credited to Rev. Susie the Floozie, provides a synopsis of the plot:
Hubba hubba! PHIL TUCKER, the demented visionary behind the 1953 classic Robot Monster and who exposed Lenny Bruce’s Dance Hall Racket (also 1953), lensed this equally insane short feature the following year. 
Bagdad After Midnight’s delightfully flimsy premise is one long gag featuring comics DICK KIMBALL and WALLY BLAIR, in which Blair is sent by a travel agency to visit the Passionate Pasha of Pomonia and his accommodating harem. 
The first sequence treats us to five (count ’em!) modestly veiled harem-girl hoochie cooch numbers. Well... maybe Girl #1 and Girl #5 are the same, but she dances with a look of exquisite madonna-like suffering which more than makes up for the repetition. 
Then, for some stupid reason, Blair returns to the travel agency and begs to be sent back to the land of exotic Oriental delights. Come to think of it, maybe he returned hoping the agency secretary, played by the stunning young-Marilyn-Monroe-look-alike ARLENE HUNTER (The Art of Burlesque), will drop her duds too but, alas, Arlene stays dressed. Blair’s eager display of juggling on a tiny bicycle (oh, did I forget to mention that part of their act?) wins over the travel agent, and Wally is sent back to Pomonia (what ever happened to Bagdad?), where, this time, there’s some real pasties-and-net-panties strippin’ action! With GENII YOUNG, MAE BLONDELL, DIMPLES MORGAN, MITZI DOEREE, BRANDY JONES, and VALDA. 
Part of producer GEORGE WEISS’ “After Midnight” burlesque series. Collect ’em all! From a 35mm print that’s “Hot As the Sahara Sun!"
As hoped, Bagdad has numerous connections to Ed Wood. The entire film, for instance, was shot at W. Merle Connell's fabled Quality Studios on Santa Monica Blvd, a locale familiar to any serious Wood obsessive. It's the same soundstage where Eddie shot scenes for Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). And director Connell himself was a close associate of Glen or Glenda producer George Weiss. Reputedly, Connell shot the gratuitous "hot" scenes that were spliced into certain prints of Glenda when that film played in more permissive markets. Seeing Bagdad for the first time, I noted that I'd seen some of the dance numbers—and even some of the juggling—in short burlesque films that Weiss distributed through his company Screen Classics at around the same time.

It is a de rigueur practice of SWV to add some related content to each of the films it distributes. This tradition likely dates back to the VHS era, when tapes typically ran two hours. To my delight, Bagdad After Midnite is no exception. The hour-long feature is followed by a 27-minute featurette, Cairo After Midnight, assembled from the same shoot as Bagdad. Same girls, same "comics," more juggling. The tape is rounded out with over 20 minutes of stripper shorts.

The VHS version of Bagdad After Midnite from Something Weird Video.

Tame as it may seem today, Bagdad After Midnight was pretty hot stuff in 1954. Exhibiting high-haired ladies in high heels and pasties or see-thru bras was a dangerous business at the time. Below, at left, you'll find an article from the December 3, 1955 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, describing how Bagdad was seized during a police raid.

Defying time and the censors, George Weiss managed to keep Bagdad alive in the theatrical market well past the point at which it had become a laughable anachronism. Below right is a clipping from the December 19, 1968 edition of the Oregonian, a Portland newspaper, showing that Bagdad After Midnite was playing on a triple bill with Stranger in My House and Smoke of Evil almost a decade and a half after its initial release.

Two clippings related to Bagdad After Midnite.

"Kneel, boy! Kneel!": DeZita (right) in Bagdad After Midnite.
"Kneel, boy! Kneel!"

The voice is thin, though the line is meant to be authoritative, even threatening. A miserable-looking bodyguard barks this order at a clueless American tourist who has stumbled into a throne room where dancing girls are gathered at the feet of a grinning potentate whose outfit includes sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt.

I knew I'd seen this actor before. Despite having become rapt in the simple charms of Bagdad After Midnite, I spotted him again, just over 13 minutes into the feature. Standing at the right edge of the frame in a medium shot was Captain DeZita, the vaguely sinister, bald-pated man who had made brief and silent but indelible appearances as both the Devil and Glen's father in Glen or Glenda. In Bagdad, he's originally seen observing the action from the sidelines, his arms folded across his chest.

A minute or so later, DeZita walks through the frame and collects a suitcase belonging to juggler Wally Blair, the film's goofy protagonist. The Pasha of Pomonia (Dick Kimball) remarks that DeZita's grim-looking character is unhappy since he "buried three wives last week." DeZita had by then blazed a trail of petty crime and flim-flam cons across the United States for four full decades, charged and jailed for voluminous crimes against women along the way.

27 minutes into Bagdad, the Pasha finally identifies this dour man in the fez as Sahib, as Captain DeZita walks across the frame and makes a sour face at the camera.

After more "funny" banter from Dick Kimball and Wally Blair and more exotic dancing, the Captain makes yet another appearance in Bagdad After Midnite roughly an hour into the film. At this point, the movie's action switches from Pomonia to the "good old U.S.A." We cut from the throne room to the stateside travel office where the movie began. Dick Kimball strides in, holding a rope and declaring himself "the ex-Pasha of Pomonia." (He advises the woman behind the counter never to trust a crystal ball.) But it's not a total loss. He tugs on the rope, and we see that he has a string of half-clad imported beauties on a long leash, arranged from shortest to tallest. Holding the other end of the line is Captain DeZita as Sahib, apparently still acting as Kimball's servant.

(left) DeZita at the end of Bagdad; (right) a 1937 article from Brownsville, TX detailing one of his arrests.

DeZita was by then a (discredited) theatrical agent specializing in female "burlesque talent," i.e. strippers. The shot of the Captain with the tied-up women is barely (har har) metaphoric. Some or all of these performers must have truly been in his control. Bagdad After Midnite ends with the Captain eyeing the ladies up and down before the end card. His character doesn't appear in Cairo After Midnight.

In the final decade of his whirlwind, oft-unsavory life, Captain DeZita partnered with Vance Pease, running the Premier Theatrical Agency out of an office above a Warner Bros./Pantages movie theater. The building still exists today, at-current the heart of the diamond district in LA.

William Michael Achilles De Orgler DeZita succumbed to cancer in 1955, just as Bagdad After Midnite hit screens. We'll cross paths with him in myriad ways in future installments of this series, and I'm sure I'll spot him again in other movies, his image forever frozen on celluloid. In the meantime, you can watch a trailer for Bagdad After Midnite here and, if that piques your interest, download the complete film at Something Weird's website.

I'll leave you with some comedy juggling of a higher order from late night TV mainstay Michael Davis, well known for his appearances on Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman. Wally Blair was never this good.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 12 by Greg Dziawer

This dapper gent was the mascot of Germany's Mister Climax series of loops.

It is now generally believed that Edward D. Wood, Jr. "made" the first 19 entries in the notorious Swedish Erotica series of pornographic 8mm loops in the early 1970s, possibly writing and directing these short silent films and almost assuredly writing their subtitles. But this was far from his only participation in the world of loops. Previous articles in this series have explored the likelihood that, at the very least, Ed continued writing subtitles and perhaps even box cover summaries for this series and numerous other short X-rated films. If so, it's an exciting new world of Wood work for fans to study and analyze.

Commonly, the Swedish Erotica series is composed of loops that were either shot stateside—in Los Angeles and, later, San Francisco—or overseas in Denmark. The foreign-made films were acquired via an international co-distribution deal with European porn behemoth Color Climax. Some of the imports, when repackaged for the home market in America, featured subtitles by Ed. And both the domestic and imported Swedish Erotica loops from this era contain subtitles with distinctive earmarks indicating Ed's involvement. That's over 100 loops, released right through 1978!

It was only recently that I realized the full geographical scope of Ed Wood's career in vintage porn. His work was not limited to just Hollywood and Copenhagen. To wit: Swedish Erotica loop #49, "The Elevator." This film was originally produced by a German company called Tonfilm and released in the Mister Climax series as loop #27, "Fahrstulporno," a title that translates roughly as "lift porn."

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Comics are fun for everybody! Let's read some now!

Batman is not in this article. This image is lying to you.

I know I just did a comics roundup a few weeks ago, but I figured it would be a nice change of pace to post something non-Ed Wood-related to this blog. So let's dive in and swim, huh?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 84: Ed Wood Goes to College (1974)

This week, let's put the "Ed" in "higher education."

"My school was the open road, pain and suffering my textbooks. My teachers? The gypsies and rapscallions I met along the way."
-Manny Coon

Anderson House in Washington, D.C.
There is no solid evidence to suggest that Edward D. Wood, Jr. earned any degree beyond his high school diploma. But the pre-Hollywood years of his life are still only sketchily documented at best, so it's entirely possible Ed continued his studies in some fashion after his 1942-46 stint in the military. In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, Wood's widow Kathy recalled: "He told me he went to Northwestern University in Chicago after he got out of the Marine Corps." Could this have been another of Ed's tall tales or did the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) really study at the prestigious institution?

Ed's business partner John Crawford Thomas alleged that Eddie studied writing at the Kingsmith School of the Creative Arts in Washington, D.C. and even typed the script for Crossroads of Laredo on official Kingsmith stationery. The address Thomas lists for the place—2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW—is that of the historic Anderson House, which since 1939 has been a museum and library run by the Society of the Cincinnati. Rudolph Grey's own timeline of Ed Wood's life states that in 1946, Ed studied "at Kings School of Dramatic Arts, Frank Lloyd Wright Institute, Washington, D.C." Note the subtle name change from Thomas' version of the story.

Whatever academic adventures Ed Wood may have had in his own life, higher education remained a sub-motif in his work from the 1950s to the 1970s. In Glen or Glenda (1953), for instance, Dolores Fuller's character, Barbara, is introduced as a college student with "only seven months to go" in her schooling. She is apparently studying psychology and has graduated by the end of the film, crowing, "My studies are through, college is concluded, and I'm free at last!" Not that all this education helps Barbara cope with the tricky issues of life. "The end of study is only the beginning of reality," she somberly declares. I've seen Glenda with college-age audiences, and this line tends to get appreciative howls from them.

In truth, by the way, Dolores Fuller only pursued her own education after leaving Ed Wood. In Nightmare of Ecstasy, she lists "going to college" as one of her proudest post-Wood accomplishments. Eddie, meanwhile, merely frequented a bar called the College Inn with actor Kenne Duncan and cinematographer Bill Thompson.

More college connections? Well, The Undergradute (1971), which Ed Wood wrote for producer Jacques Descent, takes place entirely on a college campus and consists of an explicit sex lecture given by an open-minded teacher (John Dullaghan) to his libidinous students. The Class Reunion (1972), one of Ed's many collaborations with producer-director Stephen C. Apostolof, centers around the horny alumni of "the old alma mater," who gather in a hotel for a weekend to screw, drink, and reminisce. Wood and Apostolof would have explored collegiate life further in two more films, The Basketballers and The Teachers, but neither of these scripts was ever produced.

And then there are the two collegiate-themed articles I'm covering this week, both of them from 1974. Technically, these fall under the category of non-fiction, but Ed's supposed "research" is so obviously fraudulent that I'd be willing to think of them as short stories. These are presented as true-to-life exposés, but they derive solely from the imagination of Ed Wood.

More collegiate adventures.
The stories:
  • "College Cherries," originally published in Fantastic Annual, January/February 1974. Credited to "Dick Trent." 
  • "College Interview," originally published in Cherry, vol. 3, no. 1, January/February 1974. Credited to "Ann Gora." Both of these articles were anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

  • "College Cherries" describes the sex lives of contemporary college students, particularly females. Girls are no longer concerned about protecting their virginity, so boys are therefore less reliant on prostitutes and homosexuality to fulfill their needs. Meanwhile, the innocent campus fads of old, such as goldfish-swallowing and panty raids, have been replaced by "pot-sex orgy parties." Girls are also much more sexually aggressive now, which is an improvement over the old days, when women entered into marriage with little to no sexual knowledge. College, the article concludes, is a time for people to experiment with as many sex partners as possible. When these young people get married, they'll know "what it's all about" in the bedroom.
  • "College Interview" presents itself as the testimony of a young woman called Dolores S., supposedly a student at "a major university." She does not believe that society will return to the puritanical ways of the past, when girls who got pregnant or even talked about sex openly were disowned by their families. Dolores says things are better now, when people can talk honestly about their sexual hang-ups. She says that sexual frustration drove people to insanity or alcoholism in the past. But no more! Dolores will do whatever she wants, including fellatio and lesbianism. Sex is out in the open, and it can't be "shoved back into the dark closet ever again."
Wood trademarks: "Missionary position" (again italicized, cf. "The Exterminator," "Never Look Back"); whorehouses (cf. "The Whorehouse Horror"); typing in ALL CAPS (cf. "Never Up—Never In"); phrase "what it's all about" (cf. Necromania); women's underwear (cf. Bloomer Girls); ellipses (cf. nearly all stories in Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever); invention of the automobile and the airplane (cf. Glen or Glenda); disdain for puritanism (cf. Orgy of the Dead); the scourge of alcoholism (cf. Nightmare of Ecstasy); mention of the play The Blackguard (cf. The Blackguard Returns); character named Dolores (possible nod to Dolores Fuller); "medical men of science" (cf. Glen or Glenda).

  • (from "College Cherries") "And of course the panty and brassiere raids of yesterday were mild events when considered with the demands of today. Simply stealing the undies isn't enough any longer. Now the boys demand getting into the places which the panties and the brassiere covered… and where the lipstick was once well painted. However there are still the collectors… such as the young fellow who brags about having more than a hundred panties in his locker… each taken from a girl he has laid… or had various forms of sex with."
  • (from "College Interview") "Now isn't it better that the whole thing is right out in the open? There certainly are fewer people going to the rubber room at the happy farm because of their sexual hang ups. Bedlam, the kookoo bin in England, might never have been necessary if the medical men and men of science started thinking with an open mind centuries ago. But they are a stubborn lot. They wanted all the knowledge so they could keep the rest of the people from finding out what a phony most of them were."
Dr. Alton in Glen or Glenda.
Reflections: Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, college campuses were seen as hotbeds of sexual experimentation, where students were living wild, libertine lifestyles, finally unshackled from the stifling morality of the past. Or at least that's the image of campus life consistently presented in pornography of the era. In a way, this makes sense. College kids are generally young, healthy, and of legal age. Plus, they're out on their own, living away from their parents for the first time. And students of the era were challenging social and political norms.

But the middle-aged men in the porno biz didn't really care about politics or society. They just wanted to drool over those attractive college kids having no-holds-barred, no-strings-attached sex. Sex without guilt! Sex without commitment! Sex with one partner after another!

It's interesting to me that these adult magazines had to disguise all this as supposed scientific research. Pseudo-documentary films like Glen or Glenda (1953) and The Undergraduate (1971) have been called "white coaters," since they attempt to present salacious or lewd material in a dry, educational manner. "College Cherries" and "College Interview" are the textual equivalent of "white coaters," since they're both written like news articles. In the former, Eddie even cites a bogus expert named Dr. Graham B. Balini, who insists that "Radcliffe girls think petting is dirty because it's teasing. They feel if you are going to do it, it's better just to have sexual intercourse.” Uh huh. Sure. Please do not ask for Dr. Balini's professional credentials.

It's difficult to suss out Ed Wood's true opinion of homosexuality in these articles. In "College Cherries," he writes: "Perhaps something very good has come from the sexual revolution on the campus however, because the incidents of male homosexuality has dropped considerably. When the girls were keeping the legs of their panties tight and the boys couldn’t find a whore or street girl they naturally turned to their own kind for their releases." Naturally, Ed.

In "College Interview," Dolores says that homosexuals will have no problem finding others of their kind on college campuses today, since everything is out in the open. Homosexuals existed in the past, too, "but whoever heard of homosexuality then except a few long bearded psychiatrists who turned out to be some kind of sex freak themselves?" I can't be sure, but I think Dolores is referring to Sigmund Freud here.

In all, "College Cherries" and "College Interview" are minor but interesting footnotes in the Ed Wood saga, mementos of a time when horny, aging men were obsessed with the sex lives of college students. For more nonsense in this same vein, be sure to check out College Girls (1968), a film by Stephen C. Apostolof. Neither Ed nor Steve knew a damned thing about youth culture or college life, but that didn't even slow them down!