Wednesday, April 13, 2016

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

You can't spell Swedish Erotica without Ed.

"A couple of times I had to let [Ed] go, 'cause the drinking got too much. And he'd call me up and say, 'Pappy, pappy, I need you.' And I said, 'Are you straightened out now?' 'I've straightened out now, I swear.' I said, 'Okay, come on back to work.'"
-Bernie Bloom, Nightmare of Ecstasy

"How many times did I plead with Ed to stay with Bernie and a regular guaranteed paycheck? He tested Bernie too many times. When Bernie fired him, it broke his heart."
-Kathy Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy
Just when was Ed's last job that provided a regular paycheck? When was he last fired by adult magazine publisher Bernie Bloom? Despite the invaluable anecdotes in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., specific dates regarding Ed's life and work are increasingly difficult to pin down as the 1970s wore on.

What we do know is that Ed left Golden State News, a prolific West Coast adult slick magazine distributor and publisher, along with its general manager, Bernie Bloom, circa 1967-68. Bernie incorporated Pendulum Publishers, Inc., his own publishing company, the East Coast arm of adult mag mogul (and later convicted murderer) Michael Thevis, in 1968. Although the interpretation of events presented in Nightmare is open to debate, the common wisdom and reasonable inference until now is that Ed was last fired by Bloom in roughly 1973-74. His outpouring of hundreds and hundreds of short stories and articles across the Pendulum-family of magazines, including Pendulum, Calga, Gallery Press, and its unincorporated imprints SECS Press and Edusex, slows to a trickle then, and subsequent Pendulum-family magazines that contain Ed stories are most often reprints.

Through his remaining years, Ed's known work becomes increasingly sporadic. But in the suitcase Ed packed and carried away from the Yucca Flats apartment – his last and final eviction mere days prior to his death – he inadvertently left behind one final clue about his work in the last few years of his life: a stack of 1977-78 paystubs from Art Publishers, Inc. (No TurboTax in those days.)

Ed Wood's final paystubs from 4-6-78 and 3-30-78.

The stubs substantiate that, contrary to popular belief, Ed received a regular paycheck right into the final year of his life. Week by week, they document that Ed was on the payroll, starting in March 1977. Although the stubs don't list the amount of hours he worked per pay period, it's reasonable to infer that he worked hourly and received roughly five bucks an hour for starters, that rate seemingly going up slightly over time. Minimum wage in California was a paltry $2.30 in 1977, rising to $2.65 in 1978. Although Uncle Sam did not dip into the last partial check, deductions on all previous show him to be a characteristically greedy tax collector, on average taking roughly 20% in total deductions from an already meager paycheck. The stubs also indicate that Ed worked highly variable hours, rarely a full week, buttressing Kathy's statement that Ed tested Bernie with his unpredictability.

But wait. Bernie? Who was Ed working for at this Art Publishers, Inc., and what exactly was he doing there?

It Came From North Hollywood!
A mysterious and unknown credit, whose source is unknown to me, appears in the bibliography section of Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: a book titled Swedish House. David C. Hayes' Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. refers to it as The Swedish House and gives the year of publication as 1978. (Plug: Muddled Mind will be revised by yours truly, Greg Dziawer, with an anticipated street date before the end of this year.) That book has yet to turn up, and it won't. Swedish House was not a paperback, but a paperback imprint. The line was a part of Art Publishers' magazine/book endeavors under the umbrella of the prolific and now-legendary Swedish Erotica.

Swedish Erotica did not, of course, hail from Sweden. Far from it. The moniker was merely equating Scandinavia with sex, as was customary in American pornography at the time, even a decade after the infamy of I Am Curious (Yellow). It came from North Hollywood.

Consensus now has Ed responsible for the initial Swedish Erotica loops, as the Cinema Classics loops morphed into that series. As any self-disrespecting porn fan knows, the Swedish Erotica loops remain one of the most prolific and popular loop series of all time. As you regular readers may have guessed without even knowing the details in advance, Cinema Classics was the film arm of Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing. Bernie's son, Noel, became involved in the films and ultimately headed Caballero Control Corp., a porn behemoth in its own right. Cinema Classics, incidentally, funded, among other loops and films, late-era Ed features The Only House in Town and Necromania. The line diversified into magazines and even a small number of paperbacks, which by 1977 was a dwindling adult medium, most often pilfering the loops for images, and adding text to accompany the images or expanding upon the narratives and incidents occurring in the loops.

So what we have here is a failure to communicate the essential details of Ed's later work. Bernie Bloom, clearly compassionate toward Ed even as he benefited from Ed's lightning-fast production of pictorial texts, short stories and articles, appears to have sporadically kept Ed on his payroll right into the last year of his life.

To summarize:
  • Art Publishers, Inc. was responsible for Swedish Erotica magazines and, to an increasingly lesser extent, paperbacks under the Swedish House imprint, efficiently making use of the loops as source material.
  • Ed had a regular paying gig, a veritable office job (perhaps still at the Pendulum office on W Pico Boulevard), close to the end of his life. Another interesting Kathy Wood quote from Nightmare of Ecstasy: "About two or three months, maybe a month before he died, he'd sleep upstairs at Bernie's, and he got ticks."

And by inference:
  • Thirteen months is an eon of productivity for a writer as quick on the keys as Ed.
  • The next frontier of Woodology is begun!

Special thanks to the late Kathy Everett Wood and to Bob Blackburn, now co-heir of the Wood estate, for acting as the caretakers of Ed Wood's legacy. It was Kathy who held onto the suitcase that Eddie owned at the very end of his life, one of the few possessions he managed to save when he was evicted from his Yucca St. apartment. After Kathy's death, Bob inherited it. To paraphrase Bela Lugosi, the stubs in that last suitcase really tell da story!

To examine more of Ed Wood's paycheck stubs, as well as a few of his receipts, please visit the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.  You'll find a wide selection of them there, all provided by the ever-generous Bob Blackburn.