Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Pseudonym Odyssey by Greg Dziawer

Let us now explore the mystery that is Pete La Roche.

The cover of Late Date.
At the very least, the name Pete La Roche is now generally accepted as a pseudonym for Ed Wood, as scriptwriter of the 1959 nudie Western Revenge of the Virgins. Additional La Roche credits suspected to be Ed are centered in the world of the Western, including Outlaw Queen (1952) and Wetbacks (1956). La Roche also penned at least a few articles about the genre, including a piece profiling William S. Hart

None of this is new ground. Recently, eagle-eyed Woodologist Douglas North mentioned (in a Wood enthusiast/scholar forum) that he noticed the name Pete La Roche credited as author of a piece in Late Date, vol. 4 , no. 4 from 1967, a Parliament adult magazine. The fanciful title of that piece is tantalizing: "Flickers than Fanned the Flames." The appearance of La Roche's name in an adult magazine at that time and place, Ed just then embarking on a prolific career as a magazine staff writer, is even more intriguing.

Then, just a couple of days ago, I was scanning through some scans of vintage adult magazines, when all of a sudden the name Pete La Roche jumped out at me. The magazine is another Parliament title from 1967, Black Magic, containing La Roche's article "Hollywood's Sin-Inn." Its Hollywood Babylon tone, detailing the sins and debauchery of the stars, is highly atypical of Ed's work, but does connect to the Hart profile.

Is this Ed? We'll let the article speak for itself:

Hollywood's 'Sin Inn'
By Pete La Roche

(originally published in Black Magic, vol. 3, no. 4; Jan/Feb/Mar 1967;
American Art Agency/Parliament News)

The kooks and swingers of show biz really found a home at the dear, departed Garden of Allah, Hollywood's all-time hippest hostelry.

Black Magic, vol. 3, no. 4
     The group congregated about the lounging area by the pool fell silent.
     Then as soon as it was ascertained which cottage or villa of this, the renowned Garden of Allah, was the noisiest, it was invaded by the group . . . and the party was on.
     That was called the Game of Listening. And it set the tone for the most unique spot in all of old Hollywood, the fabled Garden of Allah—called home by more of the show biz and literary greats than any spot before or since.
     Here lived, loved, drank and fought a most impressive list of "names," headed by Robert Benchley, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, Tallulah Bankhead, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lili Damita, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Roland Young, Fanny Brice . . . a fair sampling of the greats that once made Hollywood The Magic Land of the Worshipped Idols.
     The Garden of Allah was the creation of the great silent-screen actress, Alla Nazimova, the first actress to be billed as a movie star. In 1921 she chose a spot "far out" on Sunset Boulevard (corner of Crescent Heights at what is now the start of the "Strip," and now occupied by a building and loan association) for her country home.
     At the height of her fame, Nazimova was a wealthy woman, and she built with a lavish hand in the tradition of the screen stars of that era.
     The vast swimming pool was made in the shape of the Black Sea.
     Her swank villa showed the influence of the Far East, and shrubs and plants from the South Seas gave the place an air of calm and ease.

   By 1926, the "Strip" was on its way, and Nazimova---having unwisely financed pictures that were heavily accented on "Art," and which were less than successful---decided to convert her home into a hotel.
     Thus began the legend of the Garden of Allah. Being semi-secluded yet handy to the studios, night clubs, bars and other way stations, it soon became the place where the movie crowd congregated. As the residents began to overflow the hotel, 30 cottages and villas were built. The most famous of the villas was Number 20, occupied by Robert Benchley. It was called the Bear Trap. Here there was 24-hour bar service, and if Benchley wasn't there, Charlie Butterworth or anyone who was handy did the honors.
     One Saturday night as the Garden was preparing for what promised to be quite an evening, Butterworth looked out of Benchley's window and said:
     "H-mmmm, looks like it's going to get drunk out tonight."
     One Sunday afternoon as the habitues were sitting around the pool, a man and woman—quite obviously tourists---barged in on them. The man shouted: "There they are! You wanted to see movie stars, well, take a look at them!" Then he grabbed his wife's arm and hustled her out.
     "Dammit," Benchley cried. "What the devil do they mean by letting normal people in here!"

   Benchley's quip to the contrary, many "normal" people resided at the Garden. During its years, it accommodated such talented persons as Paul Whiteman, writer Donald Odgen Stewart, organist Ethel Smith, Lucius Beebe, author Louis Bromfield, designer Milo Andersen, Gertrude Lawrence, Cole Porter and others, who used the Garden of Allah as a base to study, rehearse and create some fine music, literature and art.
     In its early days, it was the center of movie and social functions. Many of the elite used the Garden as a show place for weddings. Social clubs and other organizations held their dinners and meetings at the hotel, which had the added advantage of a liberal sprinkling of show greats on hand.
     Nazimova continued to live in one of the villas until she passed away in 1945. She was somewhat aloof and her privacy was respected. But she also was a gracious person, and while not given to the hail-fellow-well-met intermingling that the Garden was famous for, she visited and was well liked by all.
     As the "tone" of the Garden began to establish itself, more and more of the names that were to make Hollywood famous and even notorious, migrated to this unconventional spot.
     Errol Flynn moved in . . . and the action immediately stepped up. This was at the time when he was quite captivated with Lili Damita---and she was out to land Flynn. So she also moved to the Garden of Allah. She was tiny, very French, possessed of an unusual amount of fire, and (according to Flynn) was so proficient in the art of love-making that he wondered how anyone so young could have acquired such vast knowledge. He decided that being French, she had been born with it.
     Lili was violently jealous, and whenever she caught Errol with another woman, the war was on. In one free-for-all, she laid him out with a champagne bottle. Flynn woke up in the hospital.
     In the Game of Listening, Errol Flynn, during his occupancy, found himself the unwilling host in so many instances that a committee was formed to present him, as the all-time winner, with the Hark Award---a case of Scotch, which led to a two-day celebration.

   Director Eddie Goulding, a good friend of Flynn's who had been on the receiving end of the actor's practical jokes, waited for his chance at revenge. It came when Errol, engaged in a continual round of battles with Lili, told Goulding that he never wanted to see another fiery actress.
     Goulding waited until Flynn had a grueling week's work of filming They Died With Their Boots On. Then late one night, Goulding called Lupe Velez and told her that Flynn was madly in love with her and that she should immediately go over to see him.
     Flynn's phone rang at 1 A.M.---so insistently that he could not ignore it.
     "Fleen, dar-rling, why did you not tell me before of your lov? I am coming right over, dar-r-ling!"
     "No, no, Lupe. Please don't come over tonight. I'm very tired and I have to get up at six o'clock tomorrow morning."
     "Poor dar-rling' That is a shame, but I will fix that. I will be right over!"
     "No, no, ple---”
     The line was dead.
     Flynn recalled that it seemed only a matter of minutes before she was at the door. He let her in, and she made straight for his bedroom and began to undress. He stood there watching her, and suddenly he was not as tired as he had imagined.

   Some months later, feeling that his private life at the Garden was anything but that, Flynn rented a house on Lookout Mountain, overlooking Hollywood, and he and Lili moved in.
     One evening, a short time later, a group partying at the Bear Trap heard a great crash from up in the hills. Bogart held up a hand for silence.
     "Sounds," he said, "like Flynn's losing the Battle of The Little Big Horn for the second time!" The fame of the Garden of Allah and its inhabitants spread far and wide, and after a while the hired help was composed largely of aspiring actors and actresses, budding authors, would-be composers, seers, soothsayers and out-and-out con men.
     A bus boy who was taking a course in writing chose Robert Benchley for his target. Roland Young told him that Benchley had a great deal of influence with the editors of all the national magazines.
     In front of Benchley, the bus boy never spoke in a normal manner. At dinner, as soon as Benchley was through with a dish or a plate, he would dash up and say:
     "If it pleases you, sir, may I remove this plate from your presence?" Or, "I trust that all of us are rendering our most capable services."

   Then there was the chambermaid who left penned lyrics in Cole Porter's villa. A notable example was:
Why do I cry in the springtime,Why do I cry in the fall,
`Cause it breaks my heart,
Otis, mine,
That you don't love me at all!
     Paul Whiteman, with a serious face, told Porter that in the future he was going to carefully scan all of his work to make sure he didn't steal this talented person's lyrics.
     While the help lay siege to the Garden and its inhabitants, the place was haunted by out-of-work actors and actresses looking for roles.
     One notable instance concerned an actress who later became very famous (she still is, for that matter). Hearing that a certain producer was casting the role of a lady of questionable virtue, she barged in on the producer one evening---only to find that another actress had made the scene before her.
     In the verbal tilt that ensued, our heroine shouted, for all to hear, "That part was made for me! I was a bum long before she ever was!"
     Life was never dull at the Garden of Allah.
     As fame and riches---and possibly a desire for more privacy than the Garden afforded---overtook some of its inhabitants, they bought large homes and moved away. And for each one who moved out, there were a dozen waiting to get in. So through the years, the Garden of Allah continued to sport a list of famous guests that was never equaled by any other spot in Hollywood.

   Then the modernization mania that drives the Americans to tear down and obliterate symbols of its happier yesterdays, its touches of nostalgia and even moments of history, decreed that the Garden of Allah had to go. It was standing in the way of progress.
     During the last week of the Garden's existence, the "names" that had reason to tenderly, happily and even sadly remember it came to say goodbye. When it was time to go, they left with the feeling that an old friend was passing out of existence.
     It was the end of an era for Hollywood.
     The happy madness that had been the Garden of Allah was best defined by W. C. Fields. When asked by a pompous lady how anyone avoided D. T.'s at that awful place, Fields replied:
     "Avoid D. T.'s! Why, madam, it's practically a requirement for residence!"


UPDATE: This article has stirred up a healthy amount of debate on forums devoted to Ed Wood and to adult films, with some opining that "Hollywood's Sin Inn" seems like Wood's work and others suggesting the exact opposite. That is not surprising, since the entire, disputed canon of Pete La Roche has been a matter of disagreement and speculation among fans for years. Some prominent books about Wood, including The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood, skip over the La Roche work altogether. But how did the names Pete La Roche and Ed Wood become intertwined in the first place? Again, Wood expert Douglas North weighs in:
An Outlaw Queen poster.
 This is how I remember it. [The movies] Outlaw Queen and Wetbacks were listed under Ed's Apocrypha on [Philip R. Frey's] The Hunt For Edward D. Wood, Jr. website, with the legend "FA" for "Fan Attribution," just like the non-La Roche [film] Panty Girls. Later, I came across Revenge Of The Virgins at a video store that stocked a lot of Something Weird titles, and recognized the name Pete La Roche on the back of the DVD. I watched it and then told Phil about it and all the Ed connections.. After that, he added it to the apocrypha and changed the "FA" to "PL" on all those titles. Then some of those articles started to pop up like the William S. Hart story. And the trail went cold until you picked it up.
     [Dead 2 Rights] found the Col. Tim McCoy story credited to Glenn Shirley, a real person who could very well be Pete La Roche/Laroche, except that I can't find any evidence that Glenn Shirley ever wrote a screenplay. This is a guy who seemingly kept everything related to anything he ever wrote, and donated this massive archive to the National Cowboy Museum, but I couldn't find anything in there at all related to Wetbacks, Revenge Of The Virgins, or the film Outlaw Queen, though as Phil intriguingly discovered, Shirley did write a story called "Outlaw Queen," which doesn't seem to share anything with the film other than the title.. There's all sorts of other Western movie reviews, press material, and memorabilia in the Shirley collection, but nothing related to the La Roche films.
     And now Greg has found these articles La Roche wrote for "sexy" magazines in the late '60s, which further muddies the waters!
     As for the movies, the big thing that sticks out to me is they all seem to involve Ronnie Ashcroft in some capacity, not to mention several other Wood associates in the cast and crew. And I've always had a feeling Ed had some involvement with Virgins at least. I mean, a semi-nudie western with a killer female clan including Nona Carver? With Kenne Duncan narrating? Wetbacks, I'm not so sure.
     This is one of the things I obsess about. Is Ed the Pete La Roche who wrote those three movies? Is the Revenge Of The Virgins Pete La Roche the same Pete La Roche who wrote the articles, and is that guy Glenn Shirley?
Thank you, Douglas.

For the record, here is what The Hunt For Edward D. Wood, Jr. says about the matter:
Nona Carver
 The issue of Pete LaRoche is an interesting one. The name (and a variant, "Peter La Roche") appears on only three movies in the IMDb, all with some sort of connection to Ed. Outlaw Queen and Wetbacks both feature involvement by Ed's friend and protege, Ronnie Ashcroft (see The Astounding She-Monster). Revenge of the Virgins features narration by Ed's best friend Kenne Duncan, also features Nona Carver, whose only other work is Take It Out In Trade, and uses the same music used in The Beast of Yucca Flats, which stars Tor Johnson and features Conrad Brooks.
     All of this is quite interesting, of course, but doesn't really point directly to Ed. The only problem is, I can find absolutely no information about Pete LaRoche anywhere else. So, for now, my suspicion is that "Pete LaRoche" might just be Ed and his films will be listed here, with the most apocryphal of the apocryphal films.
POSTSCRIPT: Black Magic began its run in 1964. One of its early covers ended up being appropriated for the cover to Tom Brinkmann's 2008 book, Bad Mags Volume 1.

(left) Black Magic, vol. 3, no. 2; (right) Bad Mags Volume 1 by Tom Brinkmann.

Parliament magazines were published by the American Art Agency, a company founded by pulp-cover artist Milton Luros in the mid-1950s. Through the agency and its distribution arm, Parliament News, Luros headed what quickly became a publishing behemoth in the world of adult magazines, practically inventing the West Coast "slick." Subsequent practitioners of the art form Golden State News and Pendulum/Calga were known to feature Ed's short stories and articles, hundreds upon hundreds of them in the magazines of the latter publisher.

The sightings of the La Roche name writing for Parliament adds to the mystery surrounding the name/pseudonym, as it opens a window of possibility that Ed wrote for another of the major West Coast adult magazine publishers.

The same year as the La Roche article appeared in Black Magic, Milt Luros was charged with indecency. An annual income of $5 million was revealed, and Luros won on appeal, continuing on in the world of adult magazines for another thirty years. The incident reminds us, though, that at the dawning of widespread commercial pornography, Ed was involved in an activity still widely considered immoral, even borderline illegal. And he was paid, when he showed up for work, a couple hundred bucks a week.

BONUS: Here's a complete scan of the Pete La Roche article, along with a contents page from Black Magic magazine. Enjoy it in good health.