|This DIY title sequence is perhaps the first clue that this is an Ed Wood production.|
"Confidentially, I even paratrooped wearing a brassiere and panties. I tell ya, I wasn't scared of being killed, but I was terrified of getting wounded and having the medics discover my secret."
-Ed (Johnny Depp) opens up to a producer in Ed Wood (1994)
|Sexploitation king Harry H. Novak|
From roughly 1964 to 1978, he did so under the auspices of his own company, Boxoffice International Pictures, whose familiar globe logo became a beacon to knowledgeable connoisseurs of cinematic sleaze. Among the most infamous Boxoffice productions, all with tell-tale titles: Suburban Pagans (1968), Axe (1977), Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974), Country Hooker (1974), The Mad Butcher (1971), and dozens more. Thanks to Novak's business acumen, showmanship, and ability to satiate his paying customers, the Chicago-born movie maven managed to do what Ed Wood and so many others in his profession failed to do: make a very decent living in the skin flick market.
In a lot of ways, Ed and Harry had parallel lives. Born only four years apart, they were both adoptive Angelinos, having moved to Hollywood (or "the great salt lick," as it's called in Barton Fink) to be part of the ever-alluring entertainment industry. They both fought in World War II. They both worked for major studios early on, too. While Eddie spent a few months as a salaried employee at Universal, Novak lasted several years at RKO in the studio's publicity department, honing his skills at hucksterism.
Both Ed and Harry, however, truly made their names in low-budget independent pictures, generally of a disreputable nature. Part of Novak's success, at least according to one exhaustive survey of his career, derived from his habit of hiring talented people, both in front of and behind the camera. But, in truth, Harry and Ed worked with a lot of the same exact folks, including directors like Pete Perry and Don Davis and performers like Valda Hansen, Marsha Jordan, Pat Barringer (aka Pat Barrington), and the first couple of porn, Ric Lutze and Rene Bond.
|Please Don't Eat My Mother one-sheet|
In both flicks, the wily, cunning plant ultimately convinces its gullible owner to feed it human victims, causing it to grow exponentially. The difference is that, in the Novak-produced film, which was directed by Carl Monson, the hapless antihero (portrayed by super-prolific character actor Buck Kartalian) is also a peeper, and most of his victims are naked, busty women. But the overgrown weed gobbles up a few fellas along the way, too. Interestingly, Novak's film gives the plant a seductive female voice. In every stage and screen version of Little Shop, the plant is male.
As you might guess, Ric Lutze and Rene Bond wind up as plant food in Please Don't Eat My Mother. Ric and Rene were a real life couple for years, too, but if the IMDb can be trusted, their brief marriage ended in 1972. It didn't seem to affect their movie careers, though, as their filmographies continued to overlap and intertwine for several more years. What strikes me now, revisiting Novak's film after having watched this same couple in several Ed Wood movies, is that Ric and Rene constantly seem to be fighting onscreen, occasionally with serious consequences. And the arguments always seem to be about Ric's sexual potency or lack thereof.
In Necromania (1971), written and directed by Ed Wood, Ric and Rene visit a "necromancer" because he can't satisfy her in bed or even maintain an erection. In The Snow Bunnies (1972), written by Ed but directed by Steve Apostolof, Rene accuses Ric of being both a transvestite and a homosexual when he fails to become aroused by her, so he beats her severely. In Please Don't Eat My Mother, meanwhile, Ric and Rene successfully make love -- all while our friendly peeper watches through the bedroom window -- but afterwards, Ric becomes paranoid that Rene is lying to him about her own orgasm and his sexual prowess. This escalates into a violent argument in which Ric threatens to kill Rene, but she gets to the gun first and shoots him dead.
It's truly surreal watching these two people, who obviously couldn't make their own marriage work, re-enact the same basic argument again and again in their movies. Does art imitate life or the other way around? I have no idea.
What's also noteworthy is that Please Don't Eat My Mother was clearly made after Rene Bond's breast augmentation surgery, which apparently happened in either late 1971 or early 1972 and must be one of the worst-kept secrets in sexploitation history. In Necromania, she is basically flat-chested. Not exactly "two aspirins on an ironing board" flat, but not busty by any means either, at least not by porn star standards. In the films she made for Stephen Apostolof the very next year, however, she sports the bulbous, balloon-shaped appendages for which she was well-known.
A persistent urban legend is that Harry Novak himself paid for Rene Bond's breast augmentation. On Something Weird Video's special edition DVD of Please Don't Eat My Mother from 2001, SWV founder Mike Vraney asks Novak about it, and the producer neither confirms nor denies the story. He merely says that he never fraternized with actors in any way, with the exception of Marsha Jordan (who was also long-time friends with Don Davis) and never liked to deal with them directly.
If Boxoffice International Pictures financed Rene Bond's notorious boob job, it would have been handled by one of Harry Novak's partners or subordinates. He does say, however, that Rene didn't "feel feminine" until she got those artificial breasts. Ironically, in Please Don't Eat My Mother, Ric and Rene's characters have just come home from a "dirty movie" starring a "big-titted broad." Rene frets that her own attributes are insufficient in comparison, but Ric assures her, "I like you just the way you are." Keep in mind, this is definitely after Rene's surgery.
|Something Weird's Mike Vraney (1957-2014)|
The conversations between Mike Vraney and Harry Novak on the Something Weird special editions are chatty, funny, and informative, a valuable resource for anyone researching the history of exploitation cinema. Vraney, too, died in 2014 at the age of 56 after a long battle with lung cancer that he largely kept hidden from the outside world, apart from a few relatives and close friends. It's difficult to imagine that both Harry and Mike are gone now.
To honor Mike, one of the greatest collectors and historians of B-movies the world has ever known, I am choosing this week to spotlight one of the more obscure titles in the vast Something Weird archives, the kind of movie that might otherwise be totally overlooked or forgotten. The film in question has no production logos or credits, so it's difficult to tell exactly who made it. It wouldn't have been Harry Novak, though, since it was released well before Harry got into the hardcore racket. Besides, the script and overall production values are well below the usual standards of Boxoffice International Pictures. But Novak did have an effect on this movie, albeit an indirect one. After all, it does feature the cosmetically enhanced body of one Ms. Rene Bond, made possible by a generous grant from the Harry Novak Foundation, so to speak.
The reason why I'm including this obscure stag film as part of my ongoing series, however, is that there is just a ghost of a chance that it was written and directed by Eddie Wood himself. Was it? Let's find out.
BLOOMER GIRL (1972)
|Love is in bloom for Ric Lutze.|
Alternate titles: Panty Girls [the film's original title and still the one under which it is best known]; Panty Party
Availability: The film is available from Something Weird Video on a DVD-R entitled Dragon Art Theatre Double Feature Vol. 175: Bloomer Girl/Peacock Lady. The other film on the disc was originally released as Two Hours on Sunday in 1973 and features such familiar performers as Jack King (from One Million AC/DC), Starlyn Simone (from The Class Reunion), and Rick Cassidy (from Hot Ice and The Beach Bunnies).
|A class act all the way: Radley Metzger|
If 1991 was the year punk broke, then 1972 was the year porn broke. For the first time, sexually explicit films gained mainstream, if temporary and conditional, acceptance in the United States. Actors and directors who worked in the X-rated film industry during its Golden Age in the 1970s repeatedly attest that there were distinct levels of quality and respectability within porn during this exciting time, and they lament that those at the bottom eventually crowded out those at the top.
When I read interviews with these folks and come across such comments, I'm reminded of Timothy Bottoms' monologue from The Paper Chase (1973) in which he discusses the various "echelons" in his Harvard law class.
"It's very interesting to me how quickly the classes have divided up into three factions. One faction being the students who sit in the back. Given up sitting in their assigned seats, preparing the cases. What is it, only October? They've already given up trying. Cowards. The second group are the ones who won't raise their hands or volunteer an answer, but will try when called upon. That's where I am right now, living in a state of constant fear. And then there's the third echelon. The upper echelon. The volunteers. They raise their hands in class. They thrust themselves into the fray. I don't think they're smarter than anyone else, but they have courage. And they'll achieve the final recognition."
Bottoms divides his fellow students into only three distinct levels, but I think there are actually more subtle gradations than that in the world of erotic films. In the upper echelon are "boutique" directors like Radley Metzger, whose classy films like The Lickerish Quartet (1970) and The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975) have attracted serious critical attention beyond porn aficionados.
There existed in the 1970s, a breed of X-rated filmmakers who aimed a little higher than the garden variety smut peddlers and actually put thought into such niceties as plot, character, and overall mise-en-scène. For example, the Mitchell Brothers' Behind the Green Door (1972), starring former "Ivory Snow Girl" Marilyn Chambers, was artsy and abstract, which perhaps helped it attract a higher class of clientele at the box office. More intellectual, less savage, you might say.
At the complete opposite end of the scale, occupying the lowest possible echelon of porn, were the schlockmeisters and mercenaries whose films exhibited no finesse whatsoever. Eschewing plot or production values, their movies existed only as delivery systems for explicit sex and nudity.
But there were lots of strata in between these two extremes. Take a filmmaker like Steven Apostolof, for example. His films technically were not hardcore, since they didn't actually contain real on-screen sex. (His actors and actresses came as close as they possibly could, though.) This meant that Steve's films could play in places where hardcore movies were still unwelcome. As morally and artistically dubious as they may have been, the Apostolof movies always had at least some semblance of a plot and usually contained a mixture of location and studio footage.
Several rungs below that on the ladder of respectability were the films called "one-day wonders." As the name implies, these were feature-length pornographic films that were made very quickly, generally in just a day or two and often at a private residence. Obviously, with such a tight shooting schedule, there wasn't enough time to develop characters, tell a coherent story, or compose fancy-looking shots. Instead, such a movie would quickly establish some very contrived reason for its characters to have sex and then devote the rest of its screen time to artless, matter-of-fact depictions of fornication.
Some of the classier porn stars had nothing but contempt for the "one-day wonders" and refused to do them. Others swallowed their pride (along with some other things, no doubt) and appeared in them because, hey, a buck's a buck. In his autobiography, 10 1/2 (Zebra Books, 1975), the late, legendary porn actor Marc Stevens discusses doing these quickie films simply as a reality of life in the field of adult entertainment.
|Bloomer Girl made it to DVD.|
The action in this film starts in the large living room, which comes complete with some groovy wicker furniture and a crimson-colored shag rug, then migrates to the master bedroom down the hall. Along the way, there's one brief detour to the bathroom for an obligatory shower scene. But that's all the scenic variety you're going to get from this flick.
There are no names in the opening or closing credits, not even pseudonyms or production company logos, because nobody was going to boast about participating in its making. This was not one to put on the resume. This was more of a "take the money and run" scenario, the kind of film that was made very quickly so that it could be shipped out to establishments with names like the Kitty Kat Theatre, where frustrated, middle-aged businessmen might watch it over their lunch breaks. It even conveniently clocks in at just under an hour. It's the kind of thing I can imagine Travis Bickle watching in Taxi Driver (1976). The fact that a print of Bloomer Girl survived long enough to be digitized and immortalized by Something Weird Video is a minor miracle. By all rights, this is the kind of ephemera that might otherwise disappear and not even be mourned.
|Ric and Rene found a formula (literally) for love.|
The star attraction is Rene Bond, the so-called "porn princess" about whom I have already written a great deal. Rene seemed comfortable at just about any echelon where she happened to find herself on any given day. And just about wherever Rene went in the early 1970s, her real life sweetie Ric Lutze was sure to follow. In truth, they made a natural and attractive onscreen couple with obvious audience appeal since they looked like they could have been the head cheerleader and the captain of the football team at a suburban high school.
No matter what raunchy things they were doing in their movies, Rene and Ric always seemed healthy and wholesome. That's why I call them the Barbie and Ken of porn. I mean that as a compliment. I've already discussed Rene's chipmunk-esque cuteness and innate likability in previous articles. As porn actresses go, she has an admirable range, which was probably why she scored so many assignments in so many movies for so many directors. The pampered daughter of proud, upper-middle-class parents, Rene could turn on the honeyed charm any time she liked and often played the part of the archetypal "California Girl" right out of a Beach Boys song. But generally, Rene's characters (including the one she portrayed in Bloomer Girl) had a dark undercurrent to them and could become enraged in a matter of seconds.
Ric, meanwhile, was svelte and physically fit, though not musclebound or imposing. His most distinctive feature was probably his wavy, cinnamon-colored hair, which he wore in a unisex style nearly down to his shoulders. He was fairly good with dialogue and often played generic nice guys (as he does in The Class Reunion). But his characters could turn on you if you weren't careful and display a nasty temper (as he does in The Snow Bunnies). One trait that he demonstrates repeatedly in Bloomer Girl that I hadn't noticed in his other movies is a goofy, Elmer Fudd-type laugh.
Sexually, Ric is a reliable if unimaginative performer. According to Mike Vraney on the Please Don't Eat My Mother DVD, Ric and Rene had a template for their lovemaking scenes that they followed in movie after movie, doing the same basic moves in the same order again and again. Sadly, my sources inform me that Ric Lutze passed away about a decade ago, though he did live long enough to be interviewed by Rudolph Grey for Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in the early 1990s.
|Margo/Tina in Bloomer Girl (left) and a pinup photo (right).|
Besides Lutze, the two other "studs" in this flick are Rick Cassidy (whose amusing noms de porno include Reggie Balls, Dick Cassidy, and Rod Marine) and Franklin Anthony.
Cassidy, you may remember, appeared in the R-rated 1976 softcore film The Beach Bunnies, which was written by Ed Wood and directed by Steve Apostolof. (If you follow that link to the article, you'll find an intriguing quote from Rick on the nature of acting in pornographic films.) He appears muscular and broad-shouldered, with a physique that reminded me somewhat of Peter Hinwood in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and has an understated, soft-spoken demeanor.
The relatively scrawny Franklin Anthony, who portrays Cassidy's sidekick in this movie, resembles a cross between Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin' Spoonful and Annie Hall-era Paul Simon. He seems like a nice enough guy, probably destined to be a second-stringer.
On the distaff side, in addition to Rene Bond, we have Cyndee Summers and Tina Smith (aka Margot Kennedy).
A native of Los Angeles, Summers (1949-2009) is a sweet-faced, slim-bodied redhead with a cheerful disposition. She got started in porn around 1970, when she was roughly 21, and kept at it until the early-to-mid 1990s. She has a fresh-faced, unspoiled appearance in this movie, which occurred very early in her career. As the years rolled on, though, Summers morphed into a heavily-made-up Jessica Rabbit type vamp.
As for Tina Smith/Margot Kennedy, well, it turns out she has something of a cult following. A busty brunette with prominent dark eyebrows, her most high-profile role was in a softcore film called The Pig Keeper's Daughter (1972), produced by (you guessed it) Harry H. Novak for Boxoffice International Pictures. She worked in both hardcore and softcore flicks from roughly 1970 to 1976 and did some pinup modeling, too, before vanishing into the ether. Although her career was somewhat brief, she obviously attracted fans who retained fond memories of her for decades, as evidenced by this Yahoo! fan group.
|A relevant excerpt from the Ed Wood Apocrypha.|
So respected is Frey in the field of Woodology, I must point out, that Legend Films tasked him with assembling the trivia track on its DVD and Blu-Ray release of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Rob Craig, author of the guidebook Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Study of the Films, also relied heavily on Frey's research in the composition of his book. The motives and methods of the original e-mailer remain unknown.
What is known, however, is that Frey added this movie, under its original Panty Girls title, to the roster of Ed Wood Apocrypha with the notation [FA] denoting "fan attribution." I have scanned this list many times, but somehow the title Panty Girls did not jump out at me as it should have. I probably figured it was yet another of Ed's "lost" films, until faithful reader Douglas North informed me otherwise.
The film itself was actually a breeze to track down, and once I'd watched the first five minutes of it, I decided there was sufficient evidence to award the rechristened Bloomer Girl a full-length write-up in Ed Wood Wednesdays. The presence of Ric Lutze and Rene Bond, the stars of Ed Wood's own, nearly-contemporaneous Necromania (1971), was encouraging. Furthermore, the timeline seemed about right, since Eddie would definitely have been involved in the making of hardcore features and loops circa 1972. Besides -- and here I venture into the realm of pure speculation -- Bloomer Girl seemed to me to have certain thematic and aesthetic connections to the Ed Wood canon.
|Ron discovers Linda and June in the shower together.|
The story, if one may call it such, is exceedingly simple. Ron (Ric Lutze) is a designer of women's underwear, and he has hired a pair of models, Sue (Cyndee Summers) and Linda (Tina Smith), to demonstrate his wares, specifically a line of "Pretty Panties," to a group of buyers who are due to arrive in a few minutes. Ron vaguely implies to Sue and Linda that they are to cater to the needs of the customers, i.e. serve as prostitutes.
In the quarter-hour before the arrival of his guests, Ron has sex with Sue on the floor while Linda watches. Then Sue and Linda depart to prepare themselves for the upcoming fashion show. In the film's only outdoor scene, we watch as the main buyer, Charles (Rick Cassidy), drives his white compact car through the Hollywood hills to Ron's wood-paneled house. Accompanying him on this "business trip" are his secretary and lover, June (Rene Bond) and his partner Bob (Franklin Anderson). Ron barely has time to put his clothes on when Charles and the gang show up at his doorstep. Before the girls model the panties, June visits the restroom, where she finds -- and joins -- Linda in the shower for a brief makeout session.
Then it's time for Linda and Sue to demonstrate Ron's "Pretty Panties." The fashion show goes over exceedingly well and quickly turns into an orgy. Ron pairs up with June, Charles with Sue, and Bob with Linda. Suddenly, June becomes jealous that Sue is spending so much time with her boss, and an abortive catfight ensues. June storms off to the master bedroom to sulk, so Sue goes after her to try and make peace. Naturally, this develops into another lesbian love scene, with June initiating the rather naive Sue into the world of sapphic experimentation. ("I never knew it could be like this!" Sue exclaims.) Ron discovers them scissoring in his bed, and soon he and June resume their previous lovemaking, while Sue is relegated to the role of a spectator.
Then, the remaining characters also enter the bedroom and engage in the film's second and final orgy. While Ron and June watch from the sidelines, seemingly content in each other's company, the film's two other couples make love on what must be Ron's bed. Again, Charles is paired with Sue, while Bob is paired with Linda. And, in case you were curious, Charles and Bob say they will be purchasing some of Ron's feminine undergarments. The end.
|A charming, homey touch|
Well, the most obvious factor is the movie's obsessive and narrow focus on women's undergarments. It is well documented that Eddie wore ladies' panties himself on occasion, and he often went out of his way to include detailed depictions of lingerie in his film scripts (e.g. Glen or Glenda?, The Snow Bunnies) as well as his novels (e.g. Killer in Drag, Devil Girls), focusing especially on how sheer or lacy these items are. So it's only natural that Eddie would make an entire movie about the marketing of panties. And there are some doozies on display in this movie, including "spider web" panties and a pair of "peek-a-boo" drawers with a ripcord in the crotch! This script was obviously the creation of someone who spent a good deal of time thinking about women's underwear. And who in the porn biz ruminated on that subject more than Ed Wood? Along those lines, I was further charmed by the movie's old-fashioned alternate title, Bloomer Girl, because who was still saying "bloomers" by 1972 besides Ed Wood, who was born in the mid-1920s?
The title sequence, too, is intriguing even though it lasts only a few seconds. While bongos echo furiously on the soundtrack, we see a title card with an assortment of colorful "unmentionables" arranged around the words BLOOMER GIRL spelled out, rather crookedly, in tiny white plastic letters against a grayish backdrop. Delightfully, the movie concludes with a matching title card which has the words THE END displayed in a similar fashion. It's a nice, eccentric little flourish, the kind I associate with Eddie's work.
And just like a true Ed Wood movie, Bloomer Girl starts with a big chunk of clumsy but heartfelt expository dialogue.
[Ron's living room. He is kneeling on a shag rug in front of his two models, giving them a pre-show pep talk. Sue is curled up on a wicker love seat, while Linda is perched like a bird in a wicker chair hanging from the ceiling.]
Ron: (claps his hands once) Okay, I think we've gone over everything! Now, the buyers should be here in about 15 minutes. Are there any questions?
Sue: Can we just go over all of this once more?
Sue: The guys arrive, and we wait in the other room until you call us out by name. Right?
Linda: Then we sway sensuously across the room, trying to look like the sexiest things ever, all because of Ron's Pretty Panties.
Ron: (clapping) That's it, sugar! That's it! Now, look, I wanna make a reeeeaaalllly big sale outta this, so I want you girls to really be nice to these guys. You know, pamper 'em a little bit. Okay?
Linda: Just how far do we pamper them?
Ron: Aw, now, look. You girls are the bosses as far as these guys are concerned. I mean, you know, they're kinda country. All right? So, look, as soon as they see your cute, pretty little fannies and those little bodies of yours, you'll have 'em eatin' right outta your hand. And that's what I want, okay, to make this SALE!
[He slaps his palm on the floor for emphasis.]
|Rene Bond, clad in a towel, in a groovy 1970s kitchen.|
No Ed Wood movie would be complete without a baffling plot twist in the last act, the narrative equivalent of an unsignaled left turn. Well, this movie has one in the form of Rene Bond's totally out-of-nowhere temper tantrum. Even though her character, June, is supposed to be Charles' girlfriend, she spends virtually the entire movie with Ron! In fact, Ron and June make love just a few inches away from Charles and Sue for many, many minutes. So June has no real cause to become jealous and possessive, but that's just what she does. She and Ron take a break from their amorous activities, and it's only then that she realizes that Charles, too, is canoodling with someone else. This proves to be more than she can take! "That's enough of my man, bitch!" she yells at a rightfully-bewildered Sue. (As we've seen in Fugitive Girls, Rene Bond has a certain way with the word "bitch.")
There's a too-brief physical altercation between the two women in which June smashes some crockery from Ron's groovy adjacent kitchen with its funky multicolored cabinets. Then, she storms off to the bedroom, and there's a fairly hilarious scene in which the other characters clean the shards of broken dishes off the floor. I appreciated the fact that Bloomer Girl takes the time to depict this totally non-sexual activity. It adds much-needed texture to this little film.
I also couldn't help but notice that the actresses looked very bored when they were sitting in the background, watching other people have sex. Those are the kinds of things that you don't see in more "slick," polished films but are common in Ed Wood's movies. And who but Eddie would have written the following monologue, which is assigned to Ric Lutze:
"The clothes make the man! Don't you ever forget that! And the panties make the chick! Every girl looks better in my panties than they do in the nude, I'll tell you that right now. Right? Do you think they wanna see that pubic hair? Huh? You think that turns 'em on at the beach?"This is a profoundly Wood-ian statement and fits neatly with the philosophy expressed by the main character in Ed's 1963 novel, Killer in Drag. In that story, you may remember, the protagonist was a fastidious transvestite who hated to be completely nude even for a second and went to some lengths to avoid that state. So, while the true authorship of Bloomer Girl may remain forever a mystery, this movie can nestle cozily among the other films on Ed Wood's bizarre and varied resume.
In two weeks: In 1982, Ed Wood appeared prominently in a film which was released by a major studio and whose cast included some of the biggest comedians in Hollywood, including folks from Saturday Night Live and SCTV. That's the good news. The bad news is that the movie in question was released on the fourth anniversary of Eddie's untimely demise, so he wasn't exactly in a position to enjoy it. How about that, huh?
While this particular flick introduced many viewers to Ed Wood who otherwise may never have heard of him or his work, it was also partially responsible for cementing Eddie's undeserved reputation as a laughingstock, coming two years after the publication of The Golden Turkey Awards. Was this movie a boon or a curse? Both? Neither? We'll sort all that out in 14 days when I take a close look at It Came From Hollywood (1982).