Sunday, January 31, 2016

This Seinfeld/Dennis the Menace crossover might be the only important thing I've ever done

A portly, balding man named George who is constantly ranting about everything in his life? A freeloading, wisecracking neighbor who is forever showing up, uninvited, at inconvenient times? A focus on the mundane, minute details of daily life in America? Yes, in all these ways (and probably no others), Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace is a precursor to Seinfeld. Ketcham's creation started as -- and still exists as -- a daily newspaper comic, but from 1959 to 1963, it was also a live-action sitcom, starring Jay North in the title role. The "Kramer is basically a grown-up Dennis" thing was my starting-off point for this crossover parody, which takes its dialogue directly from a real-life Dennis Sunday strip and its visuals directly from a real-life Seinfeld episode. As this mashup shows, Dennis Mitchell was the original "pop-in guy." By the way, when you read this, I'd like you to do so out loud in your best Jason Alexander impression. Really bite down on words like "computers" and "fence."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another 'Dennis the Menace' was in need of a rewrite

Nothing much to report here, folks. Today's Dennis the Menace panel was especially stupid, even by the generous standards of that long-running feature, so I thought I'd give it a little rewrite. Originally, I thought I might have a hand reaching out from the snow, but then I decided it was funnier if he was just gesturing at nothing. By the way, not to brag overmuch, but I was just awarded with "Comment of the Week" at Josh Fruhlinger's Comics Curmudgeon blog. Good old Mary Worth came through for me again.

And here's a Hagar the Horrible rewrite for good measure:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My thoughts on 'Buddy Buddy' (1981): Billy Wilder's last film

Lemmon, Matthau, and Wilder: All together for the last time.

A poster for the film.
Call me morbid if you must, but today I decided to watch the final film directed by the legendary Billy Wilder (1906-2002). Its name is Buddy Buddy, and it's a farcical 1981 dark comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. To say the very least, the movie's reputation is not good. How not good? Roger Ebert started his one-and-a-half-star review thusly: "This movie is appalling." He ended his one-and-a-half-star review thusly: "Buddy Buddy is incompetent. And that is the saddest word I can think of to describe it." In between those two statements are 443 more words disparaging Buddy Buddy.

Even Wilder himself, the film's director and co-writer, disowned it, claiming the project was foisted on him by the studio, MGM. "This wasn't a picture I would have chosen." Though I've seen many of Wilder's classics (Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, Double Indemnity, The Apartment, and more), I'd never really even heard of Buddy Buddy until yesterday. That's when I accidentally stumbled on this 2012 quote from Quentin Tarantino:
I’m really well versed on a lot of directors’ careers, you know, and when you look at those last five films when they were past it, when they were too old, and they’re really out of touch with the times, whether it be William Wyler and The Liberation of L.B. Jones or Billy Wilder with Fedora and then Buddy Buddy or whatever the hell. To me, it’s all about my filmography, and I want to go out with a terrific filmography."
So for Tarantino, Buddy Buddy was a cautionary tale, something to avoid. Even though Billy Wilder lived 20 more years, he never directed another movie after this one. For whatever reason, that piqued my curiosity. What the hell could Buddy Buddy be about? I checked the cast list on IMDb and saw the names of  Lemmon and Matthau. That made sense. They worked with Wilder on The Fortune Cookie, and Matthau even won an Oscar for that. The next highest billed person in the cast is Paula Prentiss, an actress about whom I have no opinion whatsoever. Easily the most intriguing person in the cast, however, is Polish-born madman Klaus Kinski. What in the blue hell was he doing in this movie? I decided to find out.

Buddy Buddy was never released on DVD, the only Lemmon/Matthau film not to receive that minimal honor, but the whole thing has been uploaded to YouTube, so I watched it that way. I can now report, in good conscience, that Buddy Buddy is honestly not that bad. It is far from essential, but it is also far from appalling or incompetent, especially if you don't judge it against Wilder's most famous films. Lower your expectations until they barely reach your ankles, and the movie is even kinda, sorta fun. Occasionally.

The setup is solid, and it should be. Buddy Buddy is based on a popular 1973 French comedy called A Pain in the Ass, which has been remade a total of four times already! I won't waste your time with details, but Matthau plays a contract killer who just wants to complete one more job and then retire to a tropical paradise. He's already killed two key witnesses from an upcoming mob trial, and there's just one more to go. The problem is, Matthau's only opportunity to kill the third witness will be to shoot him, sniper-style, from a hotel window across from a courthouse. So he checks into that hotel and waits for his one and only chance.

But the guy in the room next to him, a whiny, neurotic TV censor played by Jack Lemmon, is suicidal and hysterical as his second marriage falls apart, and Lemmon's antics are drawing a lot of unwanted attention to that particular floor of the hotel. Matthau has no choice but to pretend to be Lemmon's friend and become involved in sorting out his personal problems. Eventually, Lemmon's soon-to-be-ex-wife (Prentiss) and her current lover, a sex clinic quack (Kinski), are drawn into the chaos. Along the way, water pipes are broken (messily), a baby is born (cleanly), a laundry chute is utilized as an escape route, and Matthau has Thorazine injected into his ass at a most inconvenient time. It's that kind of picture.

Roger Ebert's review claims that the movie has absolutely no laughs, but I'll dispute his accounting practices. I counted at least two, maybe three laughs during my own viewing. For the most part, the movie is less a total disaster than it is a souffle that fails to rise. That's what we have here: a flat souffle. Despite the profanity and a smattering of sexual semi-candor, Buddy Buddy seems like a cheap made-for-TV movie or maybe a sitcom minus the laugh track. Wilder's direction neither helps nor hurts. He doesn't do anything to enhance the comedy, but he doesn't impede it either. Buddy Buddy doesn't blow any punchlines; it's just that the punchlines were never that good to begin with.

Wilder claimed the script was a rush job, written under pressure with I.A.L. Diamond. That I can believe. Diamond and Wilder wrote a string of memorable comedies together, including Some Like It Hot, but this feels like a shaky, sketchy -- though salvageable -- first draft. A lot of the supporting characters, like the clueless cops (including Ed Begley, Jr.) and nervous hotel employees, feel like placeholders, as if Diamond and Wilder were planning to flesh out those roles "a little later" but never got around to it. As it is, they stand around with nothing much to do.

By and large, the movie is drab and flat. A lot of that is due to the fact that the majority of Buddy Buddy takes place in Matthau's dumpy hotel room. The place is just ugly enough to be displeasing to the eye, but not quite ugly enough to be interesting. The whole movie, except for the ending, is very beige and blah from a visual standpoint. I'm very sorry to report that Lalo Schifrin's slightly cheesy score does not help, even though Schifrin has composed a lot of great music for other movies and TV shows.

A lot of Buddy Buddy feels like a mish-mash of different eras. The film takes place in 1981, but Matthau's character seems to have beamed in from the Eisenhower era, and the same goes for Dana Elcar's grousing police captain. I might have set the whole thing in the 1950s and shot it in black-and-white. It would have meant losing the hippie couple (don't ask), but trust me, that's no great loss. It would have also meant losing the "zany" sex clinic where Kinski works (ditto), but that's no great loss either. And losing the color would have been a massive improvement.

If there's a reason to see Buddy Buddy, other than as a historical curiosity, it's to watch Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau do what they do so well together. There's a reason why these two were cast as friends, enemies, and frenemies in films for decades. They're a perfect duo. Lemmon pleads and wheedles and dithers and pesters and overshares. Matthau grumbles and mumbles and seethes and cringes and lies. The movie is like a feature-length version of the irresistible force paradox, with Lemmon as the irresistible force and Matthau as the immovable object.

Would the movie have worked better with a more serious actor like Clint Eastwood in the role of the killer, as Billy Wilder later suggested? I don't know. Maybe. You can only judge the movie that was made, not the one that wasn't made. Personally, I was glad to see the Matthau-Lemmon chemistry was basically intact during the Reagan years. Maybe they weren't at their peak, but they weren't far off it either.

Fans of The Simpsons might get a kick out of this movie, since Lemmon plays a bumbling, accident-prone sad sack very much like that show's Gil Gunderson character. Jack is in full-on "Gil" mode here. The best way to approach Buddy Buddy, in the end, is to imagine what it would be like if Gil were roommates with Fat Tony. Doesn't that sound at least a little funny?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Can You Take Me Back: A look at an intriguing Beatles song snippet

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in 1968.

In September 1968, Paul McCartney couldn't have gone back where he came from even if he'd wanted to. For one thing, his band, The Beatles, was in the middle of recording the double-LP popularly known as The White Album at Abbey Road Studios in London. But something even bigger—or at least affecting a greater number of peoplewas happening in England at the time.  The country was in the midst of torrential rains that made travel into and out of London difficult to impossible.

The south of England was especially hard hit. London was isolated by rainwater, an island within an island. Liverpool might as well have been ten million miles away: The roads and rails leading out of London were briefly closed that month. Though they claimed no lives, the dismal rains of that month have garnered the title of "The Great Flood of 1968."

An example of the 1968 flooding in England.
Dreary English weather seeps into the Beatles' catalog now and again. They had a whole song called "Rain." (Sample lyrics: "When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads. They might as well be dead when the rain comes.") On Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Paul sang of "fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering." And John's "I Am the Walrus" wittily devotes its bridge to the British gloom: "Sitting in an English garden, waiting for the sun. If the sun don't come, you get a tan from standing in the English rain." From songs like "Good Day Sunshine" and "Here Comes the Sun," one senses that The Beatles were grateful for every precious ray of sunlight they could get in England.

The historical records indicate that the Great Flood peaked on September 16, 1968, a Monday, when Paul McCartney, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr convened at Abbey Road's famed Studio Two for an after-hours White Album session. George Harrison's absence that day has gone unexplained, but the three assembled musicians recorded 67 takes of a new McCartney composition called "I Will." Why this simple, sparse pop tune required so many takes remains a mystery, but Paul was still fiddling with the lyrics well into the night.

Actually, the session didn't even start until 7:00pm. It concluded at 3:00am. So it was a typical workingman's eight-hour day; it was just a weird eight hours. This being his own composition, Paul handled lead vocals as well as the acoustic guitar parts and some "vocal bass." John and Ringo split the percussion duties—the latter on bongos, the former on maracas and cymbals. Some Beatle discographies imply that this was a Paul-only, completely solo recording, but this does not appear to have been the case. At the tail end of the session, John got the idea to briefly parody "The Fool on the Hill" by overdubbing a few seconds of a recorder (probably played by Paul) onto his self-referential "Glass Onion." Otherwise, "I Will" was the only real accomplishment of the evening.

It was Paul's nature to improvise little song snippets between takes, and this particular session yielded several such examples. "Los Paranoias" was a staple of bootlegs long before being officially released on Anthology 3. Paul also took a stab at something called "The Way You Look Tonight," a slight but sweet variation on the Jerome Kern standard, as filtered through "I Will." Nice stuff, really. But the real keeper of the night was an off-the-cuff number called "Can You Take Me Back?" The entire improvisation, in its uncut form, runs two minutes. About 30 seconds near the end were eventually included on The White Album, linking "Cry Baby Cry" with "Revolution 9." The full recording is worth your time, though.

The complete recording demonstrates that John and Ringo were obviously and audibly present for the session, with John even shouting out a lyrical prompt ("Are you happy here, honey?") to Paul, who runs with it. There even emerges something of a vague narrative: a woman, having been unhappily transplanted from her birthplace to a new location, is pleading with her husband or lover to take her back home.

The song seems to have its roots in American blues music. The characters in the song could be migrant workers who moved out West during the Great Depression to escape the dust storms that ravaged the plains in the 1930s, only to find California inhospitable to newcomers. Paul plays both the man and the woman, but the latter dominates, thus explaining Paul's high-pitched voice. But there is no indication that her wish will come true; she seems to be hopelessly stranded in this purgatory or limbo. Her famous question goes unanswered.

Musically, the song reminds me a lot of a Depression-era blues number called "Can I Do It For You?" by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe. It, too, is structured as a dialogue between a plaintive man and an inconsolable woman.

The Memphis Minnie recording dates back to 1930, but it was revived and retitled in 1965 as "Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)" by Donovan, a countryman of The Beatles. "Hey Gyp" was first released as a B-side but was promoted to the status of A-side the very next year. Another group of English rockers, Eric Burdon and the Animals, covered "Hey Gyp" in 1966. So Paul McCartney would definitely have been aware of the song in some form. Who knows? He may have heard the original recording somewhere.

Britain was in the grip of a full-on blues revival in the mid-to-late-1960s. The phenomenon of white Englishmen copying African-American music became so prevalent by 1968 that The Bonzo Dog Band recorded a satirical song called "Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?" in spiteful response. The de facto face of the British blues scene, Eric Clapton, contributed a guitar solo to another White Album track, George's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," while John's "Yer Blues" is either his contribution to or his parody of the Brit blues subgenre.

"Can You Take Me Back?" is less obvious or overt than that. The British blues scene was dominated by strident electric guitars, while Paul's song is humble and acoustic, hearkening back to the lean, spare blues sound of the 1930s, as heard on the recordings of Skip James, Memphis Minnie, and others.

Another factor setting Paul's song apart is that it is based on the pentatonic or five-tone scale. You can play the melody just using the black keys of a piano keyboard. Ebony and ebony living together in perfect harmony. For reasons I can't quite explain, five-tone songs have a mysterious quality to them. What is it about those five wonderful notes that makes them sound so good together? Maybe a musicologist could reduce it down to an equation. In any event, the result is both haunting and haunted, memorable enough to have been sampled by Danger Mouse on his remix treatment of Jay-Z's "My 1st Song" from 2004's The Grey Album.

"Can You Take Me Back?" is one of those great little accidents in The Beatles' catalog, a track so modest and brief it doesn't even warrant being listed on the LP sleeve, yet as memorable as any of the full-length compositions surrounding it. I can remember first hearing The White Album via a third-generation dubbed cassette and thinking that I was hearing something secretive and magical in those 28 seconds of music, as if Paul McCartney had hidden this little song snippet deep within the recesses of the album for me to find.

Listening to it now, I imagine The Beatles slogging away through another endless recording session, trying to keep the creative juices flowing as the rain outside refuses to yield. Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever. Never seeing no one nice again. Can you take me back, my honey, can you take me back? Back to where I once belonged?

Friday, January 22, 2016

An artist has created composite sketches of some famous literary characters

Book version vs. Movie version: Different depictions of famous characters

When a reader immerses himself in a book, he essentially plays all the parts in a story—which makes it difficult for any cinematic adaptation to live up to its source material. The reader is the director, cinematographer, editor, costumer, and production designer. What movie or performance can compete with that? Over at his blog, The Composites, however, an artist and filmmaker named Brian J. Davis is taking some of those same words and transforming them into actual pictures, specifically composite sketches that look like the images of suspects and missing persons circulated by the police, and posting them on a biweekly basis. What does Stephen King’s telekinetic teen, Carrie White, really look like? According to Davis, this:

An artist's depiction of Carrie White.

So not exactly like Sissy Spacek, but not a million miles away either. Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s gory Western novel, Blood Meridian, have been awaiting a film adaptation for years. Until that happens, however, here is Brian J. Davis’ rendition of the book’s mysterious antagonist, the powerful, ruthless, and hairless Judge Holden.

"He says he will never die."

According to the Composites blog, Davis created these literal-minded, unsentimental, black-and-white images “using a commercially available law enforcement composite sketch software and descriptions of literary characters.” For those wondering how these police sketches match up (or fail to match up) with actual movie portrayals of these characters, Sara Barnes has a nice collection of side-by-side comparisons at My Modern Met. There, one will find Marla Singer, Jack Torrance, Norman Bates, Count Dracula, and Frankenstein’s monster, among others. Barnes begins her list, however, with Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen: On the page and on the stage.

Not bad, right? One amusing sketch, however, shows that if the makers of The Great Gatsby were really true to the vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the character of Daisy Buchanan might have looked a lot like a grownup version of Nick’s Angela Anaconda, minus the freckles.

Am I tho only one who remembers Angela Anaconda?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A loving mock obituary for Animal of 'The Muppet Show'

Funeral for a Muppet.

The last few weeks have been absolutely brutal on rock icons of the 1970s, claiming the lives of Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, and Glenn Frey in short succession. These deaths, grouped by an accident of history, have taken a toll on music fans worldwide and have resulted in any number of tributes and public displays of grief. An Irish satire site called Waterford Whispers News has responded to these unhappy recent headlines by crafting an obituary for another prominent ‘70s musician: unkempt Muppet Show drummer Animal, who has kept time for The Electric Mayhem since his debut in 1975. According to this article, the pink-furred percussionist died at the too-young age of 66 from a condition called “threadbaring syndrome.” Given the fate of such similarly “wild” rock drummers as Keith Moon and John Bonham, Animal was surprisingly long-lived in his profession.

Despite being about a puppet, the obituary is generally written with great sensitivity, as Animal’s fellow Muppets offer their sincere, heartfelt thoughts about their departed friend and costar. The members of the Mayhem are said to have posted a remembrance at their Facebook page. Even that notorious cut-up, Fozzie, keeps it serious here. In remembering Animal’s behavior on the set of Muppets: Most Wanted, Fozzie says, “Although he had already been diagnosed with threadbaring syndrome, you would never have known he was sick.” So that was Animal: a professional to the last. Only at the very end of the obituary, with an incomprehensible statement from the Swedish Chef, does the article become overtly jokey in nature. Silly as all this seems, the Animal obit is a chance to reflect on the sad truth that rock stars are human and, therefore, as mortal as anyone. Muppets, on the other hand, can truly live forever. Animal is already on his already on his second performer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Paperback Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood is sometimes credited with writing The Adult Version of Dracula.

The Strange Case of The Adult Version of Dracula

Like a version.
Calga, one of many imprints of Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publications, launched its The Adult Version Of... line of sexed-up versions of classic books in early 1970. Consisting of thinly-veiled adaptations of unique literary works, this series basically pilfered the original source material, adding unlikely but entertaining sex scenes. (My favorite addition to The Adult Version of Dracula: Jonathan Harker violating Lucy's corpse, which he then documents in his diary!)

The series was nicely overviewed here, with no mention of Ed Wood's involvement. In David C. Hayes' indispensable Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the eighth title in the series, The Adult Version of Dracula, is listed as a possible "non-canonical" Wood work: "Who other than Ed Wood was qualified to write this?" Hayes contends that the book's text "does not lend itself to positively identify Wood as its author, but the constraints of the project probably wouldn't lend itself to Wood's usual brand of fancy."

Philip Frey's also-indispensable The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr. site carries over the attribution, albeit more cautiously, noting that other sources indicate the author as Hal Kantor. The Cornell Library site also lists the book under Ed Wood's name in its list of holdings of Ed's work.

Following suit, online booksellers and auction posts have frequently insinuated Ed's involvement in the book. A current listing for Dracula at Amazon has a going price of $65, and though Ed is not mentioned, that inflated price is likely influenced by all of the speculation about his participation. I fortunately scored a copy on Ebay just a little while back for $20 bucks, even though that seller did mention the possible Ed connection.

But is it Eddie or not? Here are some excerpts to help you decide:

Her eyes closed and her hair plastered to her sweat-soaked forehead. She was leaning back on her arms, and the muscles trembled as they supported the weight of her upper torso. She kept moving her ass, and all the while the seep of her juices flowed over my finger and into my cupped hand. 
"Mouth," she suddenly cried. "I want your mouth!"  
3 May. Bistritz: A piece of ass is a piece of ass—be it in England or here in Transylvania. 
I don't know why I did it – some strange lustful power seemed to have hold of me – but I couldn't help myself. It was something I had to do. This last time... 
Slowly I began to undue her burial gown.

The writing style throughout lacks the distinctive touches that make Ed's work uniquely recognizable, and despite the themes, the presence of Ed's beloved Dracula and the publisher, it doesn't feel like Ed (as Hayes had noted). Building off of a famous literary work seems an unlikely endeavor for Ed, who was more inclined to feed pages into the IBM Executive and let it rip in myriad, inebriate directions. Eliding narrative development, the sometimes-offbeat syntax, the "winks" in which Ed inserts his pet motifs and obsessions... all missing. This version of Dracula is classically well-written, and its author does an admirable job of melding the sex scenes into the original text.

Another Hal Kantor paperback.
Copyright records indicate Jan Fowler, credited on a number of Calga and Pendulum titles circa 1970, is a pseudonym of Hal Kantor's (no author is credited on Dracula). Kantor was prolific in the world of adult paperbacks during its Golden Era, writing for a variety of publishers in addition to Pendulum/Calga. For Pad Library in 1967 (the same year Ed published a number of titles at Pad, including Devil Girls and his incendiary Watts duology), Kantor published titles including Gay Peeper and Passion Isn't Always Purple. Interestingly, Kantor often used his own name, but not at Pendulum/Calga. (Was he moonlighting?)

Gallery Press' (another Pendulum imprint) Monster Sex Tales, Vo1. 1, No. 1, from 1972 contained three stories by Ed, and two stories by Kantor excerpted from The Adult Version of Frankenstein. Not to be confused with Hal Kanter, who wrote several Bob Hope comedies, plus Elvis' Blue Hawaii, and – into his 80s – numerous Academy Awards telecasts, this Hal Kantor eventually broke away from adult paperbacks and into the mainstream, penning Blown Away in 1981 and The Big Stopper in 1982. Copyright records credit The Adult Version of Dracula to Hal Kantor.

The first eight titles in the series were copyrighted in early 1970 (in January and March respectively), distributed among three authors. The back page of Dracula lists a whopping 28 titles in the series ("adult versions of the world's standards"), but after this first chunk, Calga largely abandoned the series, ultimately publishing only 13 titles.

For the record, here is the full list of 28 titles, in the order listed. White Fang and Swiss Family Robinson unfortunately, are among those that never made it to print, though others are equally as intriguing to imagine. Would Robinson Crusoe have continually fantasized about sex, apart from certainly buggering Friday and being buggered himself by pirates?

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Frankenstein
  • The Three Musketeers
  • Dracula
  • A Jack London Trilogy (The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, White Fang)
  • The Escapades of Cleopatra
  • The Escapades of Julius Caesar
  • The Escapades of Achilles
  • The Escapades of Hercules
  • The Escapades of Spartacus
  • The Escapades of Ulysses
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Treasure Island
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Don Quixote
  • Gulliver's Travels
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Moby Dick
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Tales of Horror by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
  • Two Years Before the Mast

The titles that were published by Calga are in the CP-800 series, running 801 through 813. Calga ran a concurrent series (the 900 series, Everything You Wanted to See and Read About...) based upon the TK Peters source material (basis for dozens upon dozens of Pendulum/Calga/SECS Press titles in the early 70's). Those books carried hardcore photos on the right-hand facing pages. It's speculation, but that alone makes me think the Peters books were better sellers, so the publisher focused there and largely dropped The Adult Version Of... series after releasing the first 8 titles. The Peters books carried price tags sometimes four times that of The Adult Version Of... series, hence higher margins. They also contain less than half the text, so could be churned out more quickly. And Bernie Bloom paid his staff magazine writers a bonus of a mere hundred bucks for works based upon the Peters source.

Though The Adult Version Of... series was abandoned, a few of the additional projected titles may have already been in the pipeline (but are far more scarce than the first 8 nowadays, and I have yet to CP-811), and were copyrighted in late 1971. The graphic drawing style of the covers of the first 8 was abandoned for a far less distinctive style, and The Adult Version Of... moniker slightly altered.

The three authors responsible for adapting all 13 released titles were Kantor (Frankenstein: “The monster’s prick was as long as a forearm and as thick as a wrist and the fist-sized head slammed against the young scientist’s mouth.”), Robin Eagle and Terrea Lea. Some were released uncredited, the rest under a variety of pseudonyms, as follows:

  • CP-801: The Adult Version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, adapted by Terry Stacy, pseudonym of Terrea Lea
  • CP-802: The Adult Version of Frankenstein, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)
  • CP-803: The Adult Version of Robin Hood, adapted by Robert Elgin, pseudonym of Robin Eagle
  • CP-804: The Adult Version of The 3 Musketeers, adapted by John Farrel, pseudonym of Terrea Lea
  • CP-805: The Adult Version of The Escapades of Caesar, by Terrea Lea (uncredited)
  • CP-806: The Adult Version of The Escapades of Cleopatra, by Terrea Lea (uncredited)
  • CP-807: The Adult Version of The Sea Wolf, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)
  • CP-808: The Adult Version of Dracula, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)
  • CP-809: The Sex Life of Ulysses, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)
  • CP-810: The Sex Life of Hercules, by Robin Eagle (uncredited)
  • CP-812: The Adult Sexual Version of The Count of Monte Cristo, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)
  • CP-813: The Adult Sexual Version of Around the World in 80 Days, by Hal Kantor (uncredited)

For those who are interested in exploring this series further, there is a gallery of Adult Version paperback covers at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr here.

Since that's a lot to swallow, let's summarize the main points: The Adult Version of Dracula, sometimes mentioned as being written by Ed, was actually written by prolific paperback author Hal Kantor, who wrote most of Calga's Adult Versions series. And, sadly, this wonderful series only ran for 13 of a projected 28 titles, none of them written by Ed. That said, there was a lot of cross-pollination (read: cutting and pasting) and collaboration in the Pendulum offices at the time. Ed, nonetheless, mentioned none of these titles on his resume, nor were any copyrighted in his name.

In future episodes of Ed Wood Wednesdays, we'll delve further into Ed's paperbacks, as well as identifying more of his associates at Pendulum.    

Friday, January 15, 2016

The book that inspired 'Taxi Driver' is actually a lot closer to 'Ziggy'

Arthur Bremer in 1972: This man thinks he's about to become famous.

Arthur Bremer's book.
Arthur Bremer, now 65, barely qualifies as famous in 2016. Start typing his name into Google, and the search engine will come up with about a dozen other, more popular autocomplete suggestions first: Arthur Bowen, Arthur Blank, Arthur Berzinsh, Arthur Brown, Arthur Boorman, etc., etc.

There is a bitter irony in all of this, since few people have gone to such drastic lengths to become well-known as Bremer did. Way back in 1972, when he was just a 21-year-old ex-busboy from Milwaukee with a high school education, Arthur Bremer shot and permanently paralyzed George Wallace, the notorious segregationist Alabama governor who was then noisily campaigning for the White House. Bremer had originally wanted to assassinate incumbent president Richard Nixon but had settled for Wallace when his preferred target proved unreachable.

None of this was done out of political malice; the mildly conservative Bremer simply thought the act would gain him historical immortality. His thinking was not unlike that displayed in Jessica Delfino’s 2006 satirical song, “I Wanna Be Famous.” Like the deluded young lady in that song, Arthur Bremer thought his name would forever be attached to that of a famous person, the way John Wilkes Booth's is to Abraham Lincoln or Lee Harvey Oswald's is to John F. Kennedy. Bremer's writings show him to be fixated on famous assassins, including Sirhan Sirhan.

"Maybe I won't be a star," go the lyrics of Delfino's song, "but I'll at least be famous."

For a few years in the mid-to-late 1970s, it looked like Arthur Bremer's extreme gamble had sort of paid off. His handwritten journal, recovered from his car after his arrest, was published by Harper's Magazine Press in 1973 under the title An Assassin's Diary, complete with a heady, sympathetic introduction by writer Harding Lemay, who largely portrays the young would-be assassin as the redheaded stepchild of our empty American culture.

Pop culture referenced him, too. Bremer was name-checked by Divine in John Waters' Female Trouble in 1974, for instance. Divine's character, Dawn Davenport, claims that she "bought the gun that Bremer used to shoot Wallace." The actual revolver was auctioned off in late 2014. Peter Gabriel wrote a song about him called "Family Snapshot," which ended up on the same self-titled album as "Biko" and "Games Without Frontiers" in 1980. And most famously, in 1976, Arthur Bremer and his diary served as the partial inspiration for Taxi Driver, written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese.

But that was all decades ago. The Watergate break-in, which led to the resignation of Richard Nixon from the presidency, proved to be the immortal, history-changing story to emerge from the 1972 election, not the Wallace assassination attempt.

Today, as George Wallace's own name ebbs further into the past, Arthur Bremer has been demoted to a historical footnote. By 1991, when the conversation on Mystery Science Theater 3000 briefly turned to the subject of political assassins during the Cave Dwellers episode, host Joel Hodgson had some genuine difficulty even recalling Bremer’s name, tentatively referring to him as “Arthur Bremmel.” After 35 nearly incident-free years in a Maryland prison, Arthur Herman Bremer was released to minimal fanfare and a near-total lack of outrage in 2007. An Assassin's Diary, once a hot item, has been out of print for years.

Much of this can be attributed to a total lack of charisma on Arthur Bremer's part. Scorsese nerds will be able to find numerous parallels between An Assassin's Diary and Taxi Driver, including some uncomfortable run-ins with Secret Service agents, but Arthur Bremer has very little in common with Travis Bickle, the cabbie-turned-vigilante played by Robert De Niro. Bickle is a dark, tortured anti-hero with strong, albeit misguided, principles. His stint in Vietnam gives him an intriguing backstory. And the diary he keeps during the movie has flashes of poetry within it.

Bremer, on the other hand, is just kind of a clueless, hapless dork, closer in spirit to De Niro’s fame-obsessed Rupert Pupkin character from The King of Comedy. He's an utter nobody trying to become a somebody in the worst way possible.

Arthur Bremer and Radar O'Reilly.
Today, despite its foreboding title, An Assassin's Diary does not provide chilling insight into the twisted mind of a would-be killer. Instead, it reads like a very, very dark comic novel about a guy who's in way over his head. The author's spelling, dialogue, grammar, and punctuation are all atrocious, making the diary seem like a kid's sloppy homework. In his mug shot from the period, Bremer strongly resembles actor Gary Burghoff as timid, mild-mannered "Radar" O'Reilly from M*A*S*H.

More than anything, the deluded young man's diary is highly reminiscent of Tom Wilson's Ziggy, a comic strip that debuted in June 1971, less than a year before the bungled assassination attempt. To put it frankly, Arthur Bremer is the Ziggy of political assassins: a luckless, ineffectual doofus who receives nothing but shabby treatment from the world. That is, when the world bothers to notice him at all.

Like Ziggy, An Assassin's Diary is largely devoted to the title character's poor customer service experiences at various sub-par businesses: hotels, restaurants, and auto mechanics. Because this is a young man's journal and not a family-oriented comic strip, Bremer's misadventures also include an unsatisfying trip to a massage parlor, which he visits after seeing an ad in Screw magazine.

Bremer followed Nixon and Wallace on the campaign trail in the unhappy spring of '72, waiting for his perfect opportunity to strike, and the miserable road trip proved to be a protracted comedy of errors. In his diary entry for April 21, 1972, for instance, Bremer talks about what happened one night when he pulled into one service station and then another to get a tire patched:
A high school kid and his girl were there talking quietly. Kid seemed disturbed that someone would pull into his station, a big name place like the first, and disburbe his romance. He didn't have the patches! 
"If a service station doesn't have the patches who does?" 
"I don't know". 
"Maybe I should try a negligy store". 
He walked back to his girl in silence.
Previously, on April 19, Bremer had written of his unmistakably Ziggy­-esque experience aboard an overcrowded airplane.
A fat boring sheltered slob of a theology student talked non-stop with an equally sheltered & fasinated (always smiling) high school student. I waited 30 minutes for dinner & when I got it, last in the whole plane, we had turbilence & the "fasten seat belts" sign went on. Impossible to do with the dinner table down. I hurreyed & drank down half my coffee before it spilled over my pants. Got away with only a tie stain and an everlasting preduice against theology students & capacity plane trips.
Like Tom Wilson's bald-headed cartoon everyman, the aspiring assassin is plenty incompetent all on his own, without any assistance from others. In those pre-Google Maps, pre-GPS days of the early 1970s, Bremer had to find campaign rallies and whistle stops by himself, and An Assassin's Diary shows him to be perhaps the world's crummiest navigator. He spends a lot of his time hopelessly lost, sometimes even having to ask his hated foes, policemen and Secret Service agents (whom he refers to as "the SS"), for help.

And the guy is all thumbs when handling firearms. Once, in preparation for a border crossing into Canada, he secrets a gun so deeply within the bowels of his car that it cannot be retrieved again. And the book's arguable comic high point occurs when, while holed up in his depressing little apartment, he accidentally fires a very noisy shot he then pathetically tries to cover by turning the television to a war movie. Only the apathy of the landlady saves him.

That's one of the great, unintentional lessons of An Assassin's Diary: Arthur Bremer, hopeless though he is, catches America napping on the job. The young man's strange, jittery behavior should have set off alarm bells and possibly gotten him arrested at any number of points along his journey, way before he got close enough to George Wallace to fire a shot. But it seems that nobody was paying this schmuck the least bit of interest.

The book's pathetic postscript reveals that virtually no one had bothered to get to know him. What did Arthur Bremer's few acquaintances recall of the suddenly famous man? "Somebody else remembered," reports the epilogue, "that his mother had refused to let him try out for the high school football team." Apparently, the only way people had to define him was by negation. He was the guy who didn't play football in high school. Some legacy.

Had anyone actually taken a few minutes to get to know Arthur Bremer, they'd have met a young fellow who, while no Rhodes scholar, was capable of some piquant commentary about the emptiness of our culture. At one point in An Assassin's Diary, apropos of nothing, he criticizes Diana Ross for selling out to please white audiences. Elsewhere, he rants about the unfairness of American vending machines not taking Canadian coins. He routinely mocks hippies for the uselessness of their protests and demonstrations. He gives politicians, policemen, and other authority figures no respect either, casually referring to Nixon as "Nixy-boy."
Poster for ZPG.
And he even does a little amateur movie reviewing, too, making the decision to switch his target from Nixon to Wallace while watching Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, "fantasizing myself as the Alek on the screen come to real life." True to Bremer’s virginal nature, he’s more concerned with “the old ultra violence” in the film than he is with “the old in out.” He praises Michael Campus' now-forgotten sci-fi film Z.P.G. as a movie that "really hit home with people playing with dolls, paste-food, super-smog, etc." But he says that Otto Preminger's Such Good Friends is "probaly the worst picture he ever made" and "as bad as Vixen by Russ Mayer. Dog shit with a plastic flower in it."

In his humbler moments, Bremer sends a few zingers in his own direction, too. His tone throughout the book swings wildly from self-aggrandizement to self-abasement. Sometimes, he thinks he’s writing a book for the ages; other times, he seems to realize that he isn’t. He knows, for instance, that downgrading his target from Richard Nixon to George Wallace means that his story is much less newsworthy and may even be ignored by the foreign press entirely. And although he considers his diary to be an important historical document, he's often unsure what to put in it. 
"Funny," he writes at one such juncture, "I've got nothing to say. Have I ever said anything?" This from a man who, at an earlier point in his manuscript, expected his words to be as carefully scrutinized as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

History, as we now know, had other ideas about that. Now retirement age and basically forgotten by the country he tried so hard to impress, Arthur Bremer is out of prison and on probation until 2025. During that time, he is expressly forbidden from venturing anywhere near an elected official. That's probably for the best, even today. Back in 2005, when John Waters reprinted the Female Trouble script as part of a book, he gave his fans a little update on Bremer's condition: "According to a friend who was in jail with him for decades, 'he's still nutty as a fruitcake.'"

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

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

The one, the only, the original: Uschi Digard.

An intriguing ad.
I was surfing a few weeks ago on Tom Brinkmann's awesome site, when I stumbled upon a page scan of a magazine advertisement.

Right off the bat, I noticed Neola Graf straddling Uschi Digard's knee while kissing her nipple. And, of course, the title The Only House in Town jumped out at me. Taking a closer look, it quickly dawned on me that this was a mail-order advertisement pitching two loops culled from Ed Wood's feature The Only House in Town. The ad appeared in Daring Films, Vol. 5, No. 3 (from 1970, a Golden State News publication, the former employer of Ed and Bernie Bloom through early '68).

Although some claim Necromania was the first film produced by Cinema Classics, the nascent film arm of Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Press (where Ed then worked as magazine staff writer churning out sex fiction and articles) run by Noel Bloom, Bernie's son, House actually came first. The IMDb now lists House as 1970, and Necromania as 1971. Sources concur that the latter was shot in 1970, during a heatwave, indicating summer. (It was a record high 105 degrees in Ontario, CA in late August 1970.)

In his review of House in Cult Movies No. 36 (2001), Rudolph Grey notes that House was, "shot a short time after Wood’s January 1970 Take It Out In Trade." And it premiered in June, 1970. House was the first Cinema Classics venture, despite Charles Anderson's quote in Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy suggesting otherwise: “Necromania came about because Pendulum wanted a feature movie. Right away, Ed said, 'I can do it. You want Gone With The Wind?'"

Cult Movies magazine.
In that same Cult Movies review of House, Grey noted: "A prerequisite seems to have been extended footage of simulated sex, as the producing company also sold 200 foot reels of 8mm film from their features via mail order." And sure enough, I came across an ad for two of those titles: Lesbian Love and 4 Girls & 3 Men Orgy. The math is right: "7 Bodies Inside," as the ad claims. The former loop is, presumably, a softcore sapphic scene with Uschi and Neola (mind-boggling, indeed). It's listed on Uschi's IMDb page, her name the sole credit with no other identifying details. And I've yet to come across it. Please comment if you have.

But now we know: Lesbian Love is a silent 8mm loop (sold mail-order on regular or super 8mm, in black-and-white or color). Excerpted from Ed's feature The Only House In Town. Starring Uschi Digard and Neola Graf. Softcore. Shot by Ted Gorley.

Ad for The Pleasures Of A Woman.
Neola Graf (aka Neola Graef, Joyce Adams, Malta, Bolivia Tiernan, and Olivia Tiernan) worked frequently with Uschi. In Nick Millard's The Pleasures Of A Woman, Neola is the girl that Lynn Harris fantasizes about as she fucks Uschi.

The same ad hawks a second (utterly unrecorded) loop (also 200", a standard loop length running roughly seven minutes): 4 Girls & 3 Men Orgy. That adds up to seven bodies, and the faux-credits (presumably, as I've yet to see House) list seven names. Three of those seven, all female, have been identified: Uschi Digard, Neola Graf and Lynn Harris. One of the unknown males in House appeared on the cover of Golden State News' Orgy #1 (1971), flanked on the left by an unknown brunette who appeared in a scene in Take It Out In Trade.

4 Girls & 3 Men Orgy, 1970, distributed mail-order on regular and super 8mm in black-and-white or color. Excerpted from The Only House In Town, written and directed by Ed Wood (as one of his great noms de porn: Flint Holloway). Produced by Cinema Classics. Shot by Ted Gorley.

The synopsis, taken from press material, directly quotes these loop titles:
Synopsis: “Unspeakable Sex Acts...Blazing Sex Orgies, Lesbian Love, Using Each Other’s Bodies Shamelessly... Watch & Enjoy The Sex Urges Thunder Through Their Blood...Enjoy 4 sex crazed women & their 3 male partners using each others bodies so shamelessly. Lots of Hot adult action!”
Putting two and two together, I noticed the title Sex Orgy in Uschi's filmography (again, her credit is the sole detail outside of a telling aka), and clicked on it thinking it may be the second loop in this advertisement. Well, as it turned out, it's yet another loop derived from The Only House In Town. The giveaway is the aka listed there: Blazing Sex Orgies. That corresponds to to the synopsis.

Blazing Sex Orgies, excerpted from The Only House In Town. Written and directed by Ed Wood. Shot by Ted Gorley. Starring Uschi Digard. Based on all of that, we can reasonably assume that there's a few more loop titles lurking in the synopsis. Unspeakable Sex Acts or Sex Urges, perhaps Lynn Harris appeared in many Ed-related titles, from Love Feast and Nympho Cycler to Take It Out In Trade and The Cocktail Hostesses.

The Only House In Town just made a surprise appearance on DVD. According to the Amazon shipping tracker, I'll get it tomorrow.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Let's fix 'The Lockhorns' today, huh?

(left to right) Their version; my version.

Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn hate each other, and their marriage is a miserable sham. They sublimate in various ways: Leroy drinks, Loretta shops. They both use words to wound each other. That's the way it is now. That's the way it was back in 1968, when The Lockhorns debuted. That's the way it will be when the newspaper industry completely vanishes in six or seven months. (I kid. The ol' gal will last at least another year and a half.) I thought a panel from today's strip was actually pretty great from an art standpoint, but the "joke" -- a really lame, forced pun on the word "thesaurus" -- ruined it. So I got rid of the joke and turned it into a quiet, contemplative moment: Leroy and Loretta wordlessly, sadly eying one another in a bookstore. For some reason, I like it even better when the image is flipped horizontally.

Peak Lockhorns.

And just for good measure, I created a little four-panel vignette using this artwork.

Sometimes, emotional cruelty needs no words.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

When interviewing 'Star Wars' superfans goes very wrong

Amanda Avery shoots the camera a look during her interview with this model builder.

I don't know why, exactly, but I've been watching a lot of YouTube videos about Star Wars toys and the people who collect them lately. I don't collect Star Wars memorabilia myself; in fact, I try not to collect anything these days. It eats up money, and I don't have the space for it anyway. I'm not even a Star Wars fanatic. I grew up with the movies and still enjoy them, but they're not essential to my life. I even waited a whole week before seeing The Force Awakens. In recent years, I've become deeply ambivalent towards so-called "geek" or "fanboy" culture in general. I don't go to conventions or do any sort of model making or cosplay. I've been called a nerd many times in my life, but I don't identify with real nerds, the ones who know all the trivia and have pristine collections of mint-on-card action figures. I can't keep up with those guys and don't want to try.

So why do I watch Star Wars toy videos? For one, I love to hear people patiently explain things to me, as long as it's not about anything serious. Nothing about the news or health or finances. Just silly stuff. That's why I frequently watch product reviews for as-seen-on-TV gadgets I would never think of purchasing. It doesn't matter if I really care about the subject, just as long as the host or narrator cares about it. And that's what you get with Star Wars collectors. They can talk on and on, usually in a very calm and zen-like manner, about the various figures, playsets, and vehicles in their possession. A particular favorite of mine is Micahc6v8, who seems to have gone AWOL a couple of years ago. Those videos were my gateway drug into the world of Star Wars fandom on YouTube. Another great channel is The Budget Jedi, where the host only collects less-expensive, more-recent figures and builds homemade dioramas to display them. These clips are extremely soothing to me.

But sometimes, it can all go wrong. As proof, I just discovered a video in which a young woman named Amanda Avery interviews a Star Wars superfan who has built a gigantic, movie-accurate model of the Death Star in his North Carolina garage. To say the least, there is a profound disconnect between these two people. This plays like an extremely subtle but devastating Saturday Night Live skit, something that cringe-loving weirdo Kyle Mooney might have cooked up for the coveted "ten to one" slot. I can find no evidence that this was staged or scripted. For all I know, it's genuine. The model builder seems to take no joy whatsoever in his creation, and the hostess cannot help but roll her eyes at the camera throughout the conversation. What's more amazing is that this was the second attempt at filming a conversation between these two people. I repeat: This was Take 2. Amanda Avery is pilloried in the comments, but I think some viewers will sympathize with her. In a way, I sympathize with both of these people.

Anyway, I don't want to oversell this. Just watch. Thanks.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Since the latest fad is hiding pandas in pictures of things...

Even history's grimmest moments can be enlivened by the addition of a panda bear.

Here is a picture of the Nuremberg Trials with an adorable panda hidden in it somewhere. Can you find the cuddly rascal, hidden among the war criminals, guards, and jurors? Since the Internet is demanding pictures with hidden pandas, I thought I'd oblige before the fad had completely worn out its welcome. Is this what you wanted? Another hidden panda picture? Well, here you go. I hope you're satisfied. Happy new year, by the way.