Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 60.5: A roundup of Wood news!

The cover of a soon-to-be-released book about Ed Wood's movies.

NOTE: It had been my intention today to present my findings on Mrs. Stone's Thing (1970), an extraordinary film whose cast features Mr. Edward D. Wood, Jr. However, some heavier-than-expected work commitments have forced me to reschedule that posting. Rather than shortchange Mrs. Stone's Thing with a sloppy or incomplete analysis, I have decided to postpone that article one week. It will appear in this space on May 20, 2015. In the meantime, I have accumulated a few bits of Ed Wood-related news which I wanted to present to you. Please enjoy. - J.B.

Try as he might, our boy Eddie just can't stay out of the news for long. You might think that it would be easy keeping up with a guy who's been dead since December 1978, but that's just not the case with Mr. Edward Davis Wood, Jr. You see, dear readers, Eddie's is a restless spirit which the afterlife simply cannot contain. That's the only explanation I can offer for the man's remarkably busy post-death career. The actress Valda Hansen, who sexily starred in Eddie's 1959 classic Night of the Ghouls, repeatedly claimed that she had felt the ghostly presence of Ed Wood in her life and that Eddie had appeared to her in her dreams long after his demise. While he was alive, Eddie repeatedly wrote stories and scripts about supposedly "dead" people who enjoy no solace in their own graves. The female narrator of "The Night the Banshee Cried" is summoned back to our world, for instance, to haunt the grounds near her ancestral family home. The protagonist of "Into My Grave," on the other hand, is able to give us a blow-by-blow description of his funeral as it happens. The dancers in Orgy of the Dead, all purportedly deceased, are condemned to thrust and gyrate for all eternity in order to please Criswell, Emperor of the Dark World. The scam artists in the aforementioned Night of the Ghouls are so adept at pretending to contact dead people that they inadvertently manage to attract some of the genuine articles. And, of course, Plan 9 from Outer Space has its trio of shambling human zombies in the thrall of some snooty space aliens. Death, then, is rarely "the end" in an Ed Wood story.

I don't wish to give the impression that there is a geyser or deluge or downpour of Wood news to share. It's more like a slow, steady trickle which never quite ends. If you have a slightly leaky roof and you leave an empty bucket on the floor beneath the source of the seepage, the water will accumulate deliberately, drop by drop. After a while, when the bucket is full or half-full, you can dump it out and start over again. That's basically how I deal with the Ed Wood-related news items which accrue in my e-mail inbox: I let them build up for a while, then dump 'em out all at once.

To wit:

I. A new book about Ed Wood is on its way.

A body of work: These are among the films covered in The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood.

The big news, obviously, is the imminent release of a brand-spanking-new, career-spanning critical study of the films of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (Bear Manor Media) by Andrew J. Rausch and Charles E. Pratt, Jr. is scheduled to ship on June 15, 2015. That's just over a month away, folks! Ted Newsom, the director of the Wood documentary Look Back in Angora and the genial host of the Big Box of Wood DVD collection, provides the book's foreword. The cost is about $35 for the hardcover edition and $25 for the paperback. Tonally, this looks to be rather less formal and academic than Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius from 2009, but the general scope of the new book seems to be about the same as Craig's. The focus is on Ed's canonical feature films as a director and writer. The book's Amazon page states that the authors will be "providing in-depth looks at the 29 existing films written and/or directed by Wood." While Craig's book is largely quite serious, this one claims to be "hilarious and reverential." We'll see. I'd certainly be curious to learn which movies constitute "the 29 existing films" in the eyes of Messrs. Rausch and Pratt, since I'd put the total at around 40.

In any event, The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood is a book long in the making. I first heard about this project way back in January 2014, when Andrew Rausch was a guest on the Projection Booth podcast for an episode devoted to Orgy of the Dead. Rausch's subsequent health problems have likely delayed the release of Cinematic Misadventures, and for a while I thought the book had just vanished into the ether, but now it looks like it's really going to happen. I can't wait to read it. Here, for the curious, is Bear Manor's official description:
Coming June 2015! 
Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), a critically acclaimed film starring Johnny Depp that earned two Academy Awards, only told part of the fascinating story of the strange American screenwriter, director, producer, actor, author, and film editor. Now, authors Andrew J. Rausch and Charles E. Pratt Jr. unreel the unreal back stories of the much-maligned “Worst Filmmaker of All Time” and his 29 films that sometimes outshone Wood’s off screen shenanigans.

In the 1950s, audiences cringed at Glen or Glenda, Jail Bait with Steve Reeves, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space with Bela Lugosi, The Violent Years, and Night of the Ghouls. In the 1960s, moviegoers winced at The Sinister Urge and Orgy of the Dead. Though his films sometimes shocked the delicate sensibilities of post-war audiences, modern moviegoers often love the good, bad, and ugly movie millstones.
The authors share a passion for all things Ed Wood and wanted to explore, deplore, and implore the always unvarnished facts about the born loser, who continually defied odds to achieve each scrap of success in Hollywood. Wood refused to allow his dreams to die, despite the seemingly-insurmountable hurdles he faced in life and with his own lack of talent, yet he found a way to continue making movies. Discover his daring deeds in detail, from the crowd favorites to the more obscure nudie films that Wood made late in life. 
Illustrated. 293 pages, 42 chapters, and 10 interviews with a variety of people involved with Ed Wood films.
Rausch, incidentally, is the author of such books as Dirty Talk: Conversations with Porn Stars (2015) and The Godfather of Gore Speaks: Herschell Gordon Lewis Discusses His Films (2012). Wood fans, however, will likely take note of another intriguing title in Rausch's back catalog. In 2008, he co-wrote Gary Graver's Making Movies with Orson Welles: A Memoir. Welles, of course, was Eddie's role model and hero, as memorably depicted in Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Graver, on the other hand, directed the Wood-scripted (and still missing) Excited in 1970 and may have been the cinematographer on One Million AC/DC in 1969. That makes him one of the few people who worked with both Ed Wood and Orson Welles! A fascinating figure, this Gary Graver, and one definitely deserving of further study. Meanwhile, though I may be looking in the wrong places, I cannot find any other books by Charles E. Pratt, Jr.

II. So what happened to Ed's possessions after that auction?

Anyone who has been following the Ed Wood Wednesdays series will know all about the recent auction of Eddie's personal belongings which took place in Boston back in March. I was very excited about it at the time, especially the prospect of bidding on Ed's monogrammed trunk from the 1950s. Apart from some old movie posters and lobby cards, however, I didn't win anything from that particular sale. Too rich for my blood, as they say. But who did end up with that stuff? Well, I was contacted recently by Jason Insalaco, the grand-nephew of Plan 9 actor Paul Marco. Jason is the one who helped restore Ed Wood's Final Curtain pilot from 1957, which makes him a saint in the field of Wood-ology. In his e-mail to me, Jason wrote: "I recently purchased Ed's personal items, including many items from western star Kenne Duncan that Ed inherited." He also sent me a link to a very neat Los Angeles Magazine article about the auctioned items and how Jason was sorting through them, along with Ed Wood scripters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. And at the beginning of this month, Ed Wood's co-heir, Bob Blackburn, posted to an Ed Wood Facebook group about the items. Bob knows a lot more about this subject than I do, so I'll let him take over for a while:

A peek inside Ed Wood's suitcase.
Okay, so yesterday I met up with Jason Insalaco, a friend I have known for about 10 years or so. Jason is Paul Marco's grand nephew. Some of you may know that he and his friend found and restored a copy of  Final Curtain that was shown at the Slamdance Film Festival a couple of years ago. I brought him a CD of the current music in the Ed Wood musical, some of which I'd given him about four years ago when I first got involved with Rick Tell. So the basis of our get together was twofold. We hope to be able to work together in the future to display some of the items we both have related to Ed Wood. I have a few, and Jason, well, now he has the mother lode! Yep, it was he who won the trunk filled with Ed's personal items in the auction last month. he already has a ton of items from Paul, including Paul's working script for Bride of the Atom, yep, under the original title, as well as tons of photos. Now he has the trunk. He brought with him a few items to show me, one of Ed's scrapbooks with unpublished 8x10 B&W production photos from Grave Robbers [from Outer Space], also clippings and ads for [The] Violent Years, I Changed My Sex, etc., etc. It was/is amazing, and this is the tip of the iceberg. 
Ed Wood's personal letterhead.
I hope to get together with him with in a few weeks to see the collection in person. He said Ed was the executor of Kenne Duncan's estate and there's a lot of material from there, which he and I hope to take over to [actor and Wood associate] David Ward to show and get his thoughts and comments. There are a lot of photos that have never been published. He also showed me Ed's resume, which I only have a copy of. This was Ed's personal copy. He was surprised that the lot didn't go for more, as I would assume most of us were. But I know just from seeing the small amount that he brought me, that the overall value if sold separately would be close to that $20,000-$30,000 that the auction house thought it would sell for. Anyway, I asked him if I could mention his name on here, and he said that was okay. We hope to work together down the road. Would love to screen some of Ed's films here in L.A. and have a lobby exhibit, and also sell a few copies of Blood [Splatters Quickly], but I had to share as I was sooooooooooo excited that the trunk is with someone who has a connection to Ed through Paul Marco and who is now the owner of the largest collection of Ed Wood memorabilia in the world. I can say that because it's true. I hope we can get some pictures up here, and I would love to see if Joe Blevins might be able to see this and write about it. Anyway, there ya go. Will keep this group up to date on whatever I can regarding this goldmine.
Thanks for the news, Bob. We'll be waiting to see what eventuates from this.

III. Yes, the Plan 9 studio is for sale.

Interested in a real estate investment? This place is for sale if you want it.

Read all about it in L.A. Weekly. 

An interesting bit of Los Angeles real estate hit the market recently: 5628½ Santa Monica Boulevard. Back in the 1950s, this was the site of Quality Studios, a tiny little cheapjack soundstage where Ed Wood filmed portions of Glen or Glenda? and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Anyone who has seen the documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion (1992) will be instantly familiar with this particular spot, because the filmmakers visited it and brought actor Conrad Brooks along for the ride. It didn't look like much when Conrad visited back then: just a dark little room at the back of an alley with a broken cymbal on the floor. That last detail makes sense because, after its days as a movie studio were done, the building became a rehearsal space for rock bands. Musicians including the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Guns N' Roses are said to have played there. I don't know whether they did or they didn't. Conrad Brooks remembered that Quality Studios was next door to a bar called Gold Diggers. Remarkably, that extremely skeevy-looking establishment was still standing in 1992 and even seems to have survived to 2015. Such longevity!

I know that this will be terribly old news for anyone who is even vaguely interested in Edward D. Wood, Jr. You're probably all sick to death of this item by now. But you know what? I maintain an Ed Wood-themed blog, and this was sent to my inbox about half a dozen times, so I figured I had to include it here at least once. And now I have.

IV.  Here's an Ed Wood DVD set worth purchasing!

A good purchase for $10.
This is not "news" in the traditional sense, just an interesting little discovery I made last week. As if I don't have enough Ed Wood detritus in my life and in my apartment, I occasionally browse through Amazon looking for more of it. What can I say? It's a sickness. Recently, I decided to take a gamble on a two-disc DVD set from Passport Video called The Ed Wood Collection: A Salute to Incompetence. It carries a 2007 copyright, but I remember something very similar to it in the DVD bargain bins back in the late '90s or early 2000s. I never purchased it back then, but I decided I had to have it now. For some reason, Amazon's price has shot up very recently to the $30-$50 range, but I was able to get it for less than ten bucks (shipping included) on May 4, 2015. Anyway, it contains six films (Glen or Glenda? Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, Jail Bait, Night of the Ghouls, and The Violent Years), plus a little documentary featurette called The Ed Wood Story with Dolores Fuller, Johnny Depp, and Martin Landau. I haven't gotten around to viewing that quite yet, but I did make a cursory examination of the films themselves and was delighted with what I found. Though the transfers are just adequate and carry an "Ed Wood Collection" watermark in the corner, the Passport Video versions contain some material which I had not seen on other Ed Wood DVD sets. Namely:

  • Jail Bait is presented in the Rhino Video "Director's Cut," meaning that the minstrel show footage has been replaced by saucy striptease footage. According to Rhino, the burlesque sequence was "discovered when the long-lost negative was unearthed." All previous DVDs of Jail Bait that I've ever seen contain the Cotton Watts and Chick routine from Ron Ormond's Yes Sir, Mr. Bones (1951).
  • The Violent Years actually has a title sequence featuring a still shot of the girl gang. The Big Box of Wood version, the only one previously in my collection, skipped this altogether and started with the chalkboard scene. Score two for The Ed Wood Collection!
  • Most amazingly of all, the cut of Glen or Glenda? is not the censored, shortened version on the Wade Williams and Legend Films DVDs. I'll have to make a more thorough study of this DVD, but it seems to be the longer version I remember seeing back in the 1990s. Anyway, it passed my initial test. Whenever I get ahold of any digital copy of Glenda, either in disc form or streaming on the Internet, I immediately fast-forward to the first big scene with Timothy Farrell as Dr. Alton and Lyle Talbot as Inspector Warren. Then I wait for the part where Farrell says, "Yes, but I wonder if it rated the death warrant it received." In the longer version of the film, Farrell adds, "I don't think so." Meaning that he doesn't think a transvestite deserved to die. In the censored version, after Farrell says the words "death warrant it received," the film cuts immediately to Lyle Talbot saying, "Well, that's why I'm here today, doctor." Passport Video's version was the first DVD to pass my test.

And that, my friends, is all the Ed Wood news I have for now. The bucket is empty. Time to set it back down on the floor and let it fill up again.