Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 57: The Auction of Lot #3026 (UPDATED!)

This suitcase full of Ed Wood's shattered hopes and dreams can be yours.

"Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49."
-Thomas Pynchon

"Auction houses run a rigged game. They know exactly how many people will be bidding on a work and exactly who they are."
-Jerry Saltz

I've done some dumb things in my time, citizens. Made a lot of mistakesprofessionally, personally, romantically, financially, you name it.

Totaled a car or two. Accepted jobs I had no business accepting because I was completely unqualified and unsuited for them. Nearly got arrested once for drunk driving while stone-cold sober, mainly because I was motoring down a country highway just a few notches under the speed limit and then was so physically uncoordinated that I actually had difficulty walking a straight line by the side of the road when asked to do so by an officer of the law.

I've said things I shouldn't have said and eaten things I should not have eaten. I've asked out people whom I should not have asked out. I've blatantly failed to take advantage of opportunities that came my way, mainly because I was too oblivious to even recognize them as opportunities at the time. Yep, the blooper reel stretches on and on.

And that doesn't even take into consideration the Titanic-level screw-ups, like that time in 2001 when I tried to kill myself to get out of being a customer service rep. (Don't worry. I survived. Spent some time in the ICU, though.)

But this week, dear readers, I was tempted to do perhaps the stupidest thing I have ever done in my time on this planet: drop a good chunk of my life savings on some battered old suitcases and yellowing pieces of paper, simply because these trinkets once belonged to Edward Davis Wood, Jr.

Let me explain.

A few months ago, well into doing this project, I finally got the bright idea to sign up for a Google Alert on Ed Wood so that I'd get regular updates in my e-mail inbox whenever something Wood-related popped up in the news. Now, that probably seems like a no-brainer to you, but there is no such thing as a "no-brainer" in my world. Even something as simple as this was a "some-brainer" for me. It took about a year or so before that particular neuron finally fired in my brain.

So, anyway, these last few months, Google has been dutifully sending me Ed Wood stories, sometimes about the man himself and other times just about the 1994 biopic that bears his name. For example, when that film's director, Tm Burton, reunited with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on another quirky biopic, Big Eyes, I received a slew of links about it. That's to be expected.

Google has also been telling me a lot about the recent Plan 9 remake, so much so that now I feel vaguely obligated to review it. (I kind of don't want to. I'd be perfectly content to let that particular sleeping dog lie, you know?) And when a theatrical troupe in Las Vegas turned Glen or Glenda? into a stage show, well, I heard all about that, too.

None of this has been too terribly earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting, even though this kind of news is most welcome. Last week, however, I had an e-mail alert with a headline that shook me to my core: "Director Ed Wood's belongings up for sale."  Quoth (the weirdly British-seeming, yet American-named)
A Plan 9 program.
A collection of director Ed Wood's belongings will be auctioned off later this month (Mar15). More than 200 items which once belonged to the iconic moviemaker are up for sale, including a briefcase containing photographs from his 1959 movie Plan 9 from Outer Space, a page from a notebook featuring Wood's notes on sexual terminology, and a programme from one of his first plays. The briefcase is the most expensive item in the collection with a starting bid of $2,500 (£1,600) while the signed programme is up for $300 (£190). Items from Wood's personal Hollywood memorabilia collection are also up for sale including actress Greta Garbo's 1938 immigration card and an array of candid backstage pictures from various movie shoots. The Hollywood Lifetime Collection Auction is to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 19 March (15).
Now, how could I pass up something like that? (Garbo's green card? Are you shitting me?) Obviously, this required some further investigation.

A quick search for "Hollywood Lifetime Collection Auction" led me to this: a tantalizing, blow-by-blow description of  Lot #3026 - Ed Wood's Personal Collection on a site called RR Auction. Now, you might be wondering, how did Ed Wood even have a "personal collection," seeing as how he kept getting evicted from different residences and was thus forced to throw most of his precious mementos away?

Unsurprisingly, the answer was provided by superfan Bob Blackburn, the fellow who befriended Kathy Wood in her final years and became the co-keeper of the Ed Wood flame, so to speak, after her death. On the Ed Wood Facebook group, Bob recently explained: "I actually own the one suitcase that Ed and Kathy had when they were evicted from their Yucca St. apartment in December of 1978, which is identical to one that is included in this lot. The one I have, Kathy had kept the manuscript for Hollywood Rat Race in and the script for I Woke Up Early The Day I Died." Sounds like a choice item.

But what about the suitcase being auctioned off in 2015? Bob again: "This was from the Bekins Storage up on Lankershim [Blvd. in North Hollywood]. They put their stuff there at one time, and it got sold off. There's stories that some of the film canisters that Ed had were also in that unit." 

So there you have it, folks. Decades before Storage Wars, Ed and Kathy Wood put some belongings into a storage unit and then just couldn't keep up with the payments, so their possessions became somebody else's possessions. And now, that stuff is available to the highest bidder, which could be you, dear reader.

According to the official site for the Ed Wood sale, these rare items come from the James Collings Collection. Based on his official bio, Collings, who passed away in 2012, seems like an interesting character in his own right: an obsessive, hippie-ish memorabilia collector, numismatist, and autograph hound who met his wife in a 12-step program. (For hoarders, one wonders?) From what I can glean, it's Jimmy's widow, Merlyn, who's authorizing this auction. According to the bio, she "seamlessly embraced her husband's insatiable lifestyle." Meaning, I guess, she enabled his addiction while he was alive and now wants to make bank on all that junk he accumulated over the years. Good for her. I don't blame her a bit.

So what have we got here? Let's go over some of  the juicier items in detail:
Ed Wood's briefcase
  • For many, the main item of interest in this sale is a light-brown, cowhide-leather, Rexbilt briefcase that was personally owned and used by Edward D. Wood, Jr. If the photo can be trusted, there's even a fading "EDW" monogram in the lower-right-hand corner. This is a fantastic-looking item. I can imagine Eddie toting this around with him when he went to meetings with potential publishers or backers. Gotta look the part, after all. Accessories make the man. "Anybody carrying that kind of briefcase must know what he's talking about! How much do you need, Mr. Wood? One million? Two million? Is cash all right? You certainly have room for it in that magnificent briefcase of yours!"
  • Then, there are two further pieces of luggage the auctioneers are describing as "trunks," which maybe makes them sound bigger than they are. You can see one of them at the top of this article. These are boxy, suitcase-sized jobs, one of which was manufactured by "Travelgard Vancouver Trunk & Bag Ltd." That company, which dates back to the 1930s, seems to be long gone today. Pity. I can't help but think back to a 1996 Simpsons episode entitled "Bart the Fink" in which a cash-strapped Krusty the Clown has to auction off his possessions. One item in particular is "a handmade leather suitcase carried by the Krustofski family upon their arrival at Ellis Island in 1902. A priceless heirloom and historic piece of Krustyana." It goes for a whopping 40 cents to Marge Simpson's chain-smoking sister, Selma, who buys the cherished keepsake just to soak her feet in it. 
  • There's a whole mess of Plan 9 promotional items, including a few pressbooks, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos, complete with (apparently unheeded) suggestions for alterations by Ed Wood himself, who wanted Bela Lugosi posthumously added to a cast portrait along with "smoke" and "special effects." Touchingly, one of these items bears a dedication to Wood's longtime cinematographer, William C. Thompson, "the cameraman who made it all possible!!"
  • I'm guessing that the 1965 autographed glossy photo of Ed Wood "on a film set with his camera in the background and a script in his lap" derives from the production of Orgy of the Dead, given the year and the fact that it's signed "To Steve, My friend a thousand times over." Who could that be but Orgy director Steve Apostolof?
A program from The Casual Company.
  • For me, maybe the most interesting item in the entire auction is a program from The Casual Company, the autobiographical, WWII-set play Ed wrote, directed, and costarred in after moving to Hollywood in 1947. I've said before that Eddie's 1940s theatrical career has not been properly documented, and this ultra-rare document helps to fill in some gaps there. It reveals, for instance, that the show was performed by a troupe called "the Sad Sacks," which included Ed himself and future Night of the Ghouls producer and Atomic Productions co-founder, Maj. J.C. Foxworthy. Moreover, the show is much less serious than it is depicted as being in Tim Burton's Ed Wood. The cover describes it as "A Farce in Three Acts," and the characters have such Beetle Bailey-worthy names as "Pfc Elbo Joints," "Pfc Jim Nastics," "Pfc Lemmy A. Dime," "Ilene Sideways," and "Mary Widow." Eddie gave himself the rather-more-dignified-sounding role of "Corporal Anthony," while his buddy Foxworthy played "Capt. J. Sleepingwell Gutter." Make of that what you will. Unlike what Burton's movie says, by the way, the cast and crew does not include such Wood regulars as Dolores Fuller, Conrad Brooks, Paul Marco, or Bunny Breckenridge. Eddie likely hadn't even met those people yet.
  • You've gotta have some Tor Johnson stuff in this auction to make it official. Luckily, there are three Tor-autographed photos here, including one from 1961 in which the Super Swedish Angel refers to Ed Wood as "my favorite producer." The auction people warn bidders that "all signatures are extremely faded, with poor contrast," but they also point out that "Johnson played iconic roles in Wood’s most notorious films and represents an exceedingly rare horror autograph." Take 'em or leave 'em, folks.
  • The only item that competes with the Casual Company program for sheer Wood-ian intrigue is a "lined notebook page of Wood's typed and handwritten notes on sexual terminology." In the 1960s and 1970s, in addition to writing novels and short stories, Wood also wrote (often under pseudonyms) many, many, many volumes of non-fiction, usually sexual and salacious in nature. (Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History is a good example.) Although such works were pure hokum with no scientific validity, Eddie took these publisher-mandated assignments rather seriously. From his earnest entry on aphrodisiacs: "Spanish Fly is probably the most talked of aphrodisiac, but it is actually a diuretic." Good to know. Furthermore, such supposed love potions as absinthe "are merely intoxicants." And that's something about which Eddie was truly an expert.
  • In a strange coincidence, the auction also includes "a magazine layout for Wood's short story 'Howl of the Werewolf,' framed to an overall size of 22 x 28." In case you're just joining us, I devoted the entirety of the previous Ed Wood Wednesdays to that particular story of a lusty lycanthrope and his most-unfortunate female victim, a stressed-out secretary who should never have vacationed in the woods during werewolf season. As such, I can attest that the unsigned artwork accompanying the story is quite eye-catching. And now, here it is, coming up for auction. Small world, am I right?
On the set of The Sun Was Setting.
And there's more, too. Much more.

Lot #3026 includes stills, press clippings, lobby cards, and publicity photos related to Jail Bait (aka The Hidden Face), The Sinister Urge, The Bride and the Beast, Crossroad Avenger, Bride of the Monster, and Fugitive Girls, among others. Basically, this is the exact stuff to which I have devoted the last two years of my life. If you could fit the last twenty-four months of my existence into two steamer trunks and a suitcase, it would look like this. What really surprises me is that there are even some items connected to obscure or semi-forgotten Wood projects, like The Lawless Rider, Final Curtain, and The Sun Was Setting. That's some Ph.D-level, Advanced Wood-ian Studies material there, folks. Who knew that publicity photos from these productions even existed anymore?

The auction people, by the way, want us to know that Lot #3026 is "accompanied by several letters of provenance from notable figures, including Maila Nurmi (Vampira), Wood's biographer Rudolph Grey, David Ward, and Dennis Phelps." Not being familiar with the memorabilia biz, I'll admit that I did not immediately know what a "letter of provenance" is. Based on my limited understanding of the subject matter, though, I'll surmise that it's basically a letter attesting to the authenticity of an item.

The bidding on Lot #3026 begins on March 12, 2015. That's tomorrow, if you're reading this article the day it goes out. It continues for a week. The minimum opening bid, as you already know, is $2500. Yes, I will be bidding on this.  Don't worry. I have no chance of winning. Bob Blackburn says that the final price should be in the $30,000 range. That's a little rich for my blood. Hell, that's a lot rich for my blood. Thirty-thousand smackeroos. That's a chunk of change.

I can't help but shake my head at the bitter irony of this. After all, this entire auction is possible because Ed Wood was so profoundly broke he couldn't afford his North Hollywood storage unit anymore. If Eddie were around today, there's no way he hope to buy back his old suitcases full of faded memories. There's no way I can buy them back, either, but I'm going to make a token effort nonetheless. For loyalty's sake.

A taste of Lot #3027, the second best thing in the auction.
Incidentally, if there's no way you can possibly afford Lot #3026, there are a number of less expensive items that are being auctioned off separately and that may be in your (and my) price range, including vintage one-sheets for Glen or Glenda? (under the title I Led 2 Lives), Plan 9, Bride and the Beast, The Sinister Urge, Jail Bait, and a collection of eleven of Eddie's sexploitation films (including Love Feast, Beach Bunnies, Drop Out Wife, and others). The minimum bids on these are generally $200 apiece, though Plan 9 is starting at $300, presumably because it's Ed's most famous creation.

Additionally, there are some Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster lobby cards up for bids, too, plus three of Vampira's excellent self portraits (in black and white with red accents). RR Auction is also including under the "Ed Wood" category some titles that have only a little bit to do with Eddie, including Mesa of Lost Women, The Unearthly, and Beast of Yucca Flats.

By far, the most interesting item other than the already-legendary Lot #3026, however, is #3027 Signed Ed Wood Program and Script. Starting bid: $300. What you get here is a program for The Blackguard Returns, a 1949 play in which Ed portrayed a sheriff, and a script for 1959's Night of the Ghouls. Why these items should be paired, I do not know, but they are accompanied by a "four-page scrapbook" from actor Don Nagel, who was a regular in Wood's films during the 1950s.

The auction is shaping up to be the single biggest Ed Wood-related story of 2015, just as the release of Blood Splatters Quickly and the new DVDs from Alpha Blue Archives and After Hours Cinema were the most important developments of 2014. As evidence, I point you to this excited article by John W. Barry from Ed Wood's hometown paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal. It includes some exultant comments by RR Auction's vice president, Bobby Livingston, who says that the sale offers "a peek into who Ed Wood was" and calls the auction "one of the most incredible things I've ever seen." Local Ed Wood fans are also interviewed in Barry's article, including Joe Mendillo, who is part of the effort to raise $30,000 to build a statue of Edward D. Wood, Jr. in Poughkeepsie. He sees the auction as a good thing. "The more enthusiasm," states Mendillo, "the more likely Poughkeepsie will get its statue."

It's understandable that some of Ed Wood's fans were hoping that the auction would remain fairly obscure. Fewer bidders mean lower prices, after all. But it now appears that the toothpaste is well out of the tube on this one.

Get your checkbooks ready.