Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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

Author James Pontolillo has been delving into Ed Wood's war record.

The work of a true Woodologist.
As we approach a new year, it seems as good an opportunity as any to introduce a new Odyssey. In the 2+ years that I have been writing articles here, my research has led me to cross paths with a number of folks who, like me, are more than just casual fans of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The most seriously afflicted of these people can even be affectionately termed Woodologists.

Just what does being a Woodologist entail? To my mind, it means possessing not only (1) an abiding interest in Ed, the man and his work, but moreso (2) a desire to learn more about Ed than we previously knew. Most critically, a Woodologist will (3) endeavor to take action upon that desire to learn more. People like Rudolph Grey, author of Nightmare of Ecstasy, and Joe Blevins, who started this very series way back in July 2013, are just a few folks you will surely recognize as Woodologists. I aspire to be one some day, and as I continue being privileged enough to meet many of them, I decided to introduce them here to the world as such.

First up, I am happy to introduce my friend, author and researcher James "Jimbo" Pontolillo, who has graciously agreed to be my first willing subject.

Before getting into James' answers to my 10 questions, however I must issue a spoiler alert for those who have yet to read Pontolillo's book The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946. While the following interview is short on details, the overarching direction of the work can be clearly inferred from James' answers nevertheless. Stop now and return here later if you plan to read it. I suggest you go over to Amazon and get yourself a copy. Containing Ed's full military record and a superb editorial apparatus throughout by Pontolillo, this is and will doubtless remain the foundational work regarding Ed's years in the military during WWII. For more on the book, you can read an overview here

10 Questions With James Pontolillo
The author as a young man.
1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater? 
No, I have not. Although I did briefly entertain the idea of writing my Ed Wood book while wearing an angora sweater. I went onto Ebay, and the variety of angora sweaters available was so overwhelming that I quickly dropped the idea. Probably for the best; sweaters don’t do much for my figure nowadays. Cross dressing is a slim, young guy’s game. I would just look like a scary extra from the movie Wigstock.

2. You expressed to me, before the publication of the book—and addressed your initial worries in the book itself—that sharing documentary proof of Ed's wartime activity might piss people off. Have you received any angry missives since publication?
Not yet. The Ed Wood community has been incredibly supportive so far. At worst, some people have said they are somewhat saddened by my deflation of the Ed Wood combat legend. But there is still plenty of time for angry responses. After all, my book has yet to crack the New York Times bestseller list. LOL. 
3. Why Ed Wood? 
I’ve always had an interest in idiosyncratic visionaries and extremists—people who chart a course way outside of the mainstream. You have to be someone special to decide to run far off the rails in a new, unusual, and interesting way. Eddie was nothing if not an idiosyncratic visionary. I first saw Plan 9 when I was a kid and knew nothing about Eddie. Years later, I discovered him through the Medved Brothers' Golden Turkey Awards book, and the rest is history. 
4. The book contains Ed's entire military record, from mundane to starling and new. What startled you most? 
Well, what was most startling was the night and day contrast between what he did during the war and what he claimed to have done during the war. The contrast could not be much starker. While I was expecting some of the received legend to be BS, I was not expecting it to be virtually complete BS. But when you look at his wartime story as a whole, it is understandable why he manufactured the legend that he did. 
5. If there is one mystery about Ed or his work that you would love to solve, what is it? 
Well, there is a certain scene that recurs in many of Ed’s short stories and novels. You know what I’m talking about—a very unusual type of reveal that occurs to the sound of a camera shutter going off. It is such a constant element of his work that I’m convinced it must be based on a personal experience. I’d really like to know the true story behind that scene. God, I hope that it’s not another one of his fanciful inventions.
6. You've also interrogated Ed's paperbacks with a combination of incredibly knowing discernment and predictive analytics, effectively answering questions about Ed's authorship. Beyond what he wrote, did you garner any insight into who he was? 
I read Eddie largely for sheer enjoyment without giving too much thought to what the text may be telling me about him. This is true for other authors that I am stuck on like Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, etc. When I read, I place myself inside the work. I don’t stand outside and try to examine it. 
7. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? 
You think I was born yesterday? I see what you are trying to do here. This is the low IQ version of the famous Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?" You are not going to lead me into a Rorschach dead end that easily. Let’s see how this grates your carrot. Let’s talk Ed Wood gematria. Coincidence or not, by full reduction gematria "Edward D. Wood Jr." equals: 
Dantes Inferno
Symbolic logic
Gender neutral
Screw magazine
Alien invasion
Drunk driver
Ruby slippers
8. What's next on your personal Woodology horizon? 
I have been collaborating with a renowned Woodologist on a revised and expanded reissue of David Hayes’ classic Muddled Mind. Not sure when that will come out, though. Other than that, I have no other Eddie projects going on. I’m actually in the midst of a writing break at the present time. After publishing four books in as many years, I am overdue for an extended research and writing break.  
9. You self-published The Unknown War on Amazon, among numerous other scholarly publications. Based upon those experiences, Universal Access or Penetration? 
When online print-on-demand publishers (Amazon, Lulu) tell you that their distribution network will increase your sales, don’t believe it. From a sales perspective, there is usually no substitute for releasing your book through established channels. The real advantage of POD is being your own boss and editor. For better or worse, you get to publish exactly what you want irrespective of commercial viability. However, if you manage to hit a popular vein and sell in any quantity, like the short-lived dino-porn fad on Amazon, the POD publishers pay much better royalties than traditional publishers. I haven’t answered the question yet, have I? Let’s go with Penetration. 
Belinda in cold cream.
10. Glen or Glenda? 
Definitely Glenda. After all, women’s clothes are designed for their comfort. Hats that give no obstruction to the blood flow, hats that do not crush the hair. Interesting thought, isn't it? Hell, back in the day I went to a Halloween party as Belinda Carlisle off the cover of the first Go-Go’s album. You know, wrapped in a bath towel with cold cream on my face. As far as I know, pictures (thankfully) do not exist! 

Special thanks to author James Pontolillo, for subjecting himself to our first 10 Questions. Check out more of his diverse and challenging work here.  I can definitely relate to his last answer. For Halloween 2005, two friends and I attended a party as the group TLC. I was T-Boz. When I was a much younger man, I briefly entertained a crush on Belinda Carlisle, during the savage and tumultuous throes of puberty.

Apart from those correspondences, my friend Jimbo and I initially connected via our shared love of Ed nearly two years ago. As we began talking, I mentioned that I was working on revising David Hayes' invaluable index, Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Thanks both to the internet and the increasing number of serious (and seriously obsessive) Ed Wood fans, knowledge about Ed's life and work have continued to expand four decades after his passing. David graciously invited me to update his index to reflect this newfound information.

While that revision continues to challenge me, Jimbo and I began talking about his interest in using text analysis to solve the problem of identifying exactly which books were written by Ed Wood. After a burst of amazingly creative and scientifically rigorous work, Jimbo—I initially called him the "Mad Scientist"—quickly submitted to me a series of such reports to supplement the index I was compiling. Now is not the time to get into his full methodology. Suffice it to say, Jimbo utilized four software text analysis tools as well as his own ridiculously big brain in the process. He deployed a battery of predictive analytics to Ed's known and suspected work, solving outstanding questions of authorship. This has helped me avoid mis-Ed-tributions while also making new discoveries.

James Pontolillo has been charting Ed Wood's work.

Additionally, he and I have dug deep into researching Ed's early years in Poughkeepsie, and it was Jimbo who first noted to me the common narrative element he mentions in his answer to Question #5. He and I have privately referred to this Wood-ian trope as "the boner in the face." If you've read your fair share of Ed's short stories and paperbacks, you know what we're talking about.

Although he says he is not currently and actively working on anything regarding Ed, I advise readers to stay tuned. A certain self-styled foreseer, a friend and associate of Ed's who more primitively employed predictive analytics of his own, might just be on Jimbo's periphery.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This is just a bunch of comics parodies and remixes, okay?

This book never existed, but don't you kind of remember it in bookstores anyway?

Look, I'll level with you. I was going through the images saved to my hard drive, deciding which ones to chuck, and I found some  comics parodies that I hadn't posted here yet. So I wanted to collect them in one big post before deleting them from my computer forever. That's what this post is. There's nothing else to this, so don't expect any incisive commentary.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Twelve by Greg Dziawer

Skulls and shackles figure into this week's article. Enjoy!

As supernaturalism of a wide variety crops up regularly in Ed Wood's films and writings, it stands to reason that it would also appear in the 8mm silent porn loops produced and distributed by Noel Bloom. Particularly if it were a loop with strong ties to Ed in other ways. This week, we submit a specimen for your consideration, certainly within the orbit of Ed's work, and suggesting his possible involvement.

When I first viewed the loop Sex & Magic, a number of things immediately jumped out at me, literally from all sides. The loop commences with the title spelled out in small plastic letters on an undersized pegboard. This is immediately recognizable as the same board used in just about every other Cinema Classics loop I've ever seen. Sometimes, as in this film, the board is filmed as part of a larger scene. At other times, shot in close-up, it is authoritative, the titles looking like an industrial grid of some sort, belying the nickel and dime nature of the actual prop.

This week's loop is quite a find.

The title board sits atop a table, a white skull to its right and shackles in front of it, hanging over the front edge of the table. The title and props quickly conspire to create intrigue. The skull, naturally, is the very same one that appears in Necromania and dozens of other Bloom-family loops. This identifies the set as Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd, where interior sets for Necromania were shot. The shackles, no doubt, were a prop easily found lying around. My friend Jack Descent had been at Guthu's studio at the time, and recalls that he had two soundstages on the ground floor of the facility, and two dungeon sets on the basement floor.

The altar, featuring two skulls, an inverted cross, and shackles.

The film opens with a medium shot: the same table, skull and shackles now joined by a second white skull and an inverted wooden cross. The cross, spray-painted a different color, also appears in Necromania. A blonde woman in a black leather dress enters from the right, a book in her hand. In close-up, as she leafs through the book, we see captioned hardcore photos on the right-hand facing pages and text on the left-hand pages, the images showing all variety of sex. I knew right away that this was a Pendulum/Calga illustrated sociosex paperback. As she places the book on the makeshift altar, we can briefly see that it is part of Calga's Everything You Wanted to See and Read series of six paperbacks, part of the larger Sexual Enlightenment Series credited to T.K. Peters. 

The second book in the series.
The first three entries in this series carried the title Everything You Wanted to See and Read About Love and Sex. That name is briefly visible here on the cover. I have Book Three, which has a red cover, but the one in this loop appears yellow. Book One and Book Two in the series I have not seen, but images of Book Two have an orange cover. Book One, unfortunately, I can find no trace of, save its copyright listing. Although the more appropriate pick at this altar may have been A Study in Sexual Practices and Black Magic, as we'll see, any T.K. Peters book will do the trick! 

In any event, the volume seen in Sex & Magic is either Everything You Wanted to See and Read About Love And Sex, Book One, or the film print I viewed is faded enough to distort the color and it's really Book Two. For the record, those paperbacks were penned by, respectively, William D. "Bill" Jones and Robin Eagle, who commonly used the pseudonym "Robert Elgin." Both books were filed for copyright on the same day: October 7, 1970. At that time, in addition to Jones and Eagle, the Pendulum magazine writing staff, who wrote these paperbacks for bonuses, also consisted of Leo Eaton and Ed Wood. Although Ed Wood did not write the Love and Sex book that appears here, he likely penned the photo captions in it. These captions remain consistent throughout two lengthy T.K. Peters series of illustrated sociosex paperbacks and contain enough stylistic signatures to surmise that Wood was their author.

But back to the film. After placing the book on the altar, the woman gets on her knees and bows and prays in front of it. The actress (as identified by an eagle-eyed viewer in a private forum) is Lynn Holmes, whose smattering of known credits includes the 1971 feature The Undergraduate, produced by Jack Descent from a script by Ed Wood. Holmes picks up the shackles and one skull and takes them into a bedroom with deep pink and fuzzy blankets not only on the bed, but even up the wall behind the bed where the headboard would normally be. Simply and cheaply, the set succeeds in creating an otherworldly atmosphere. She places the shackles and skull on the bed and steps back to conjure. As she does, her hand movements Lugosi-like, we cut to a close-up of the skull. It disappears, and in its place, a naked man appears, one hand shackled and chained to another shackle around his neck. While a simple effect, it works, again the sort of economy of means Ed was accustomed to employing.

Lynn Holmes in action: (a) Casting her spell; (b) Drinking from a wine glass.

She removes the shackles, and you can guess what happens next. After this carefully crafted build-up—relatively speaking, and largely superfluous given the intended audience—the two have sex in the usual manner, nothing very magical about it. 

Judging by the spartan sets and functional camerawork, this is certainly one of the Blooms' first-phase loops. And, as with many of these very early films, the female lead is given to overacting. The male is a near-total cipher, also purely functional. The actress' black leather boots remain on throughout. We are almost six minutes in before actual intercourse begins. We get little more than a minute, and just one position, before returning to oral sex and soon after the literal climax. He ejaculates into a wine glass, and she drinks from it, savoring it, the purpose of her ritual. (Otherwise we'd have gotten the typical facial.) She rises, and conjures again, turning him back into the white skull. She lies back and begins masturbating as she makes out with the skull.

The final title card of the film. Note the logo in the upper right corner.

We then cut to a title card reading The End in a fanciful font that anticipates some Swedish Erotica loops that were just around the corner. In the upper right sits the second and final logo used by Cinema Classics, Bloom's flagship series of loops, which ran for approximately 100 installments between 1969 and 1971. The series started as softcore but quickly transitioned into hardcore, just in advance of the hardcore feature industry. By the time the series ended in '71, other series had begun to appear and the Cinema Classics line disappeared for good. Sex & Magic is a later title in the Cinema Classics series, shot no earlier than late 1970. 

With this film, we are on the cusp of the second phase of loops, which not only feature the subtitles and signature artistic tropes of the series  but also include numerous items of set dressing recycled from Ed Wood's final two features as a writer director, Necromania and The Young Marrieds. Sex & Magic stands at the doorstep of Ed's more certain involvement in the loops. Could he have been on set, personally arranging the altar and providing stage directions from offscreen? We may never know for certain, but for me, the answer is a confident yes.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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

This week, Greg explores the loop Girl on a Bike.

NOTE: Hope you had a good Thanksgiving, dear readers. Ed Wood Wednesdays took a break last week for the holidays, but Greg Dziawer is back today with a brand new article about Ed Wood's work in pornographic loops in the 1970s. This week, he examines 1973's Girl on a Bike, featuring Margie Lanier of Fugitive Girls fameThe article is a bit too NSFW for the blog, so it's been posted over at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. You can read it here. Enjoy! - J.B. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Dziawer Odyssey, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

This week, a particular book caught Greg's eye.

The book as it appears in School Girl.
Last night, I was scanning through some 8mm silent loops from the early '70s, loops I had seen before and that had connections to Ed Wood if not his direct involvement. It seems like I've spent the better part of 2017 poring over loops in the target zone, trying to piece together Ed's possible contributions. 

It was while watching School Girl, the third loop in the long-running Swedish Erotica series—the first 19 believed to have been made by Ed, and certainly subtitled by his hand—that I had a flash of recognition as the onscreen couple sat in bed doing homework. Of course, the sitting and the homework didn't last long, a typically flimsy narrative conceit always immediately leading to sex.

What I noticed was the book on the bed. As they paged through it, it dawned on me that I had seen a similar book before in the loop Incest. Like School Girl, it carries a number of signatures shared by the larger family of loops produced by Noel Bloom. 

Though I don't know if there is any documented proof, I agree with the general consensus that Ed Wood made (or at least contributed to) the earliest Swedish Erotica loops. These short films can be identified by a number of stylistic signatures. But I've also seen these same signatures in hundreds of other non-Swedish loops, none of which to my knowledge has ever been definitively ascribed to Ed.

That's the larger, perhaps quixotic and even completely wrongheaded endeavor in this series: interrogating the larger of family of loops to find the telling intersections. And it's in those intersections, too many to suggest mere coincidence, that I've concluded Ed Wood worked on hundreds of loops in a variety of capacities.

I'll refer obsessive Woodologists to the details from my previous Odysseys and Orbits, all of which you can find here. Below are my basic findings in summa, some taken from the public record, some derived solely from my own inferences:

  • Edward D. Wood, Jr. worked in some capacity for the notorious Swedish Erotica series for a period in the early 1970s.
  • Wood wrote subtitles for numerous loop series that, like Swedish Erotica, were produced and distributed by Noel Bloom.
  • He wrote various promotional texts for these loops, too, including box cover and catalog insert summaries.
  • The set decorations for these loops draw from the same common pool of bric a brac: wall hangings, pillows, blankets, lamps, nightstands, etc. Some of these same items turn up in the final two feature films Ed is known to have directed, Necromania and The Young Marrieds.
  • I know more than a few experts who also feel strongly that Wood was involved in decorating the sets of these pornographic loops, and there's even the notion out there that he may have edited them, too.

The book as it appears in Incest.
Back to that book. When I checked the loop Incest, sure enough, the same book appeared immediately. It's obvious from the size of the book and also the view of the spine. In School Girl, you can see the finger-grips on the edge of it, as well as gilt edging, earmarking it as a dictionary or encyclopedia. Well, the actors in the movie must have been studying vocabulary, because in Incest, we see that it is indeed a dictionary. We get a close up of the page on which the word "incest" is defined, just before Rick Cassidy laughs and casually tosses the book to the corner of the couch.

While there are numerous other correspondences between these two loops and the larger family of loops, this was a nice little moment for me. The sort of moment that rewards patience and continues to spur me on. I'm sure I'll see that book again, now that my eyes are open to it, and when I do, you'll hear all about right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Plan 9 Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood's name has long been synonymous with "turkey."

The First "Worst" 
When the Medved Brothers, Harry and Michael, released their book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (1978), coauthored with Randy Dreyfuss, it contained nary a mention of Ed Wood or any of his movies. In the Medveds' follow-up, The Golden Turkey Awards (1980), that all changed dramatically: Ed seemingly appearing from nowhere to be dubbed the Worst Director of All Time and Plan 9 from Outer Space the Worst Film Ever. Thus, the story goes, began the film's—and its producer/writer/director's— reassessment as "so bad it's good" cult object.

Of course, by 1980, Ed had passed. While certainly aware of the negative reviews of Plan 9 that appeared during his lifetime, he couldn't have imagined the film becoming revered—and for that very reason—within just a few short years of his death. Plan 9 had enjoyed nearly two decades of afterlife in TV syndication before reaching this dubious pinnacle. By the time the first Medved book asked readers to submit their nominations for the Worst Film Ever, receiving 3,000 votes, with Plan 9 from Outer Space the winner, a small following had begun to emerge, shaping the "worst" viewpoint.

This attitude hardly originated with the notorious Medved book. If we dial it back a few years, in soon-to-be-director Joe Dante's serial column "The Frankenstein TV Movieguide" from Castle of Frankenstein magazine (specifically issue 22 from 1974), we see that the "so bad it's good" viewpoint is already fully developed. Dante's capsule review of Plan 9 is delirious, deeming the film an "unalloyed delight," owing to its "rank amateurishness" and incompetence. Ed is a name "to conjure with." Effusively, Dante ends the review: "Wow." Still, he steers clear of the "worst" moniker. 

On the index page for that issue of Castle of Frankenstein, the listing for the article mentions two films beginning with the letter P: Psycho and—you guessed it!—Plan 9 from Outer Space. Already, in 1974, the film had begun its reassessment. This prompts some questions:
  1. Just how far back can we go to find the "worst" root? 
  2. Is it really a reassessment? 
To which I would answer:
  1. All the way back. 
  2. No, Plan 9 was assessed in this same manner right from the beginning. 
Ad for an early showing of Plan 9.
When I found an ad for a showing of Plan 9 in the November 8, 1959 edition of The Sarasota News, I was happy to see the movie playing on a quadruple bill mere months after its initial widespread distribution. One of the Big "Space-O-Rama" showings that night at the Siesta Drive-In, Plan 9 was the only film to play twice on that sprawling bill. 

I immediately spotted the lengthy "special note" included in the ad, which turned out to be penned by one of the film's two associate producers: Hugh Thomas, Jr. Like co-producer J. Edward Reynolds, Thomas  was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention of Beverly Hills.

Thomas appears in Plan 9 as as the taller and thinner of two gravediggers, with Reynolds as his stockier companion. He's credited as the movie's sole producer in the ad. His note is simply amazing. Unique details include the mention of another film "we" produced entitled The Peacemaker. Thomas is surely speaking of the low-budget religious propaganda Western from 1956. The word "we" likely refers to Reynolds specifically or to the church generally. In that film, although Thomas and Reynolds were uncredited, they successfully managed to Trojan horse their religious views. Not so with Plan 9, and perhaps that partly explains Thomas' startling decision to run down the film in print, in fact right in an ad for a showing of the film. 
Special note about "PLAN NINE" . . . Some months ago we called to your attention we had spent a few years (And numerous dollars) in Hollywood having a fling at making pictures. Our first effort was "THE PEACEMAKER" which we played back in June. Well, now comes another one in "PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE". Not only did I produce it, I had a hand in developing the thin story, and I am even in the darn thing. If you'll study the above ad you will see two grave diggers, that's me on the right. I don't want to be misleading, so I'll just tell you in all honest that the picture stinks!!! It's strictly from corn. There have probably been worse pictures made; but I haven't seen one yet. Anyway, I had a lot of fun making it and you will have more of the same watching yours truly making a vain attempt to copy Marlon Brando, etc. Come down and have a big belly laugh on and at . . . Hugh Thomas, Jr.

The reference to an earlier message from "some months ago" suggests that this note was repurposed from some communication between Thomas and his church. The would-be producer also indicates that the church went to Hollywood expressly with the intent to make films. 

Although he remains gregarious overall, Thomas flatly states that the film "stinks." And, yes, for likely the first time in print, he says the magic words: "There have probably been worse pictures made; but I haven't seen one yet."

Echoing these sentiments, it certainly wouldn't be the last time.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part Five by Greg Dziawer

Wed Woods: Ed Wood's parents, Edward and Lillian, tied the knot in 1923.

Save the Date

Submitted for your approval: an item from the Saturday, December 1, 1923 evening edition of The Kingston Daily Freeman.

Married on a Wednesday: Ed Wood's parents.
Miss Lillian Charlotte Phillips, daughter of Mrs. F.J. Phillips of 10 Columbia street, Poughkeepsie, and Edward Davis Wood, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Wood of Stone Ridge, Wednesday evening, were married at the parsonage of the Hedding Methodist Church. The ceremony was performed at 7:30 o'clock by the pastor, the Rev. George H. Chesebro. The bride wore a gown of gray satin with over dress of canton crepe, a blue hat with gray trimmings and her flowers were white roses. Miss Ina Wright attended the bride as bridesmaid. She wore a blue cantou crepe gown with hat to match and carried pink roses. Philip Depew was best man. Following the ceremony, a reception was held at the home of the bride which was attended by about twenty-four guests, relatives and intimate friends of the couple. The couple have received a number of wedding gifts. After a wedding trip, they will make their home at 10 Columbia street, Poughkeepsie.

That modest announcement details the matrimony of Edward Davis Wood, Sr, and Lillian C. Phillips. They are—you are quite right—the parents of Edward Davis Wood, Jr, born 93 years ago in Poughkeepsie, New York, on October 10, 1924.

Kingston, New York, was 20 miles or so north of Poughkeepsie, just over the Hudson on the western side. The article no doubt appeared here owing to this area, West by northwest of P'oK across the river and over the bridge, being the patriarchal ancestral home of the Wood family after settling in Ulster County on the west side. His maternal ancestors hailed from the east side of the river, just north of Poughkeepsie. Ulster was known for its fertile farmland and rich limestone quarries. 

Poughkeepsie was an early urban center as Dutch settlers flocked there, as they did a generation before in Ulster County (the first explorers having landing there in the 1640s), and west across the Catskills and north into Quebec. As early as 1680, Dutch immigrant land barons were granted deeds from Native Americans, and in 1692, the first house was built in Poughkeepsie, just on the the edge of the river on the east side of town, half a dozen or so blocks north of the home in which Ed's parents first resided. 

I had previously mentioned that Ed's parents were married in 1922. Seeing this article, that was clearly wrong; they were not married until 1923. Within mere months, Eddie was conceived, likely at the residence mentioned in the article, 10 Columbia Street. Columbia ran and runs perpendicular to the river, and—I don't know if this is the building that stood there or not—the street corner today crossing a narrow street, with a narrow sidewalk on the residential side toward the river, in a vicinity sparsely populated by homes. On the southeast edge of P'oK is the exclusive Hudson Pointe, now (houses selling in the range of $300-400K, the corner of 10 Columbia St in front and to the right of the development's entry sign, looking across the river). 

In late 1923, when the young married Woods moved in with Frances, Eddie's maternal grandmother, the river was a stone's throw away. I haven't ascertained, just yet, exactly where Eddie's parents were living when he was born in late 1924. Half a dozen years later, Ed, his younger brother Howard (commonly known as William) and his parents were still living with the mother-in-law (Frances J. Phillips) at 44 Conklin Street. Until he joined the Marines and left Poughkeepsie in the spring of 1942, Ed and his family moved around—half a dozen or so addresses—within a narrowly circumscribed radius of a dozen or so blocks. Over time, doubtless impacted by the Great Depression, his family resided in increasingly spartan digs. 

Ed's maternal great-grandfather Samuel Phillips married his great-grandmother, Martha Emory. The Phillips side of the family hailed from the east side of the Hudson, just north of Poughkeepsie, where his mother Lillian is now buried. 

Eddie's maternal grandfather Frank Phillips, born in 1871, married Frances, his maternal grandmother. Ed's mother Lillian Charlotte Phillips was born in 1901. The reputed influencer of his transvestism, she lived until 1989. 

The marriage announcement incorrectly names Eddie's paternal grandfather Byron as "Bryan," married to Emily. Byron passed in 1925, so it's unlikely Eddie had any remembrance beyond family photographs and anecdotes. 

10 Columbia Street (as seen in this interactive map) was, in 1923, half a dozen or so blocks south, closer to the river than any other residence of Ed's in P'oK, of the soon-to-be-constructed Mid-Hudson Bridge. Columbia runs right into Franklin St, moving east, the oft-cited place of Ed's upbringing. 

When Ed was born, the beginning of the Mid-Hudson bridge project was 6 months away, and not completed until 1930. Ed's ancestral roots, lying tantalizing close just across the river, remained remote as his consciousness dawned. South of Albany, in 1923, there was no vehicular crossing of the Hudson.

Far to the west, Hollywood must have seemed a long way off.
Additional images for this week's article, including the original marriage announcement for Eddie's parents, are available at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Oh my god, I've been watching SNL wrong my whole life.

David Koechner and Mark McKinney as the Fops on Saturday Night Live

The cast of SNL in the early 1980s. Eddie Murphy in foreground.
My parents weren't lenient about everything, but they were very understanding about letting me stay up late and watch TV as long as I didn't have school the next day. In the summers during my elementary school years, for instance, I got to watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and even Late Night With David Letterman. I had the same privilege on Friday nights during the school year, so it really bothered me that Dave's show originally only ran from Monday to Thursday, ceding its place on the NBC schedule to Friday Night Videos once a week. But I still saw plenty of after-hours talk shows back then. By junior high, I was already writing my own Top 10 lists. So thanks for that, Mom and Dad.

As near as I can figure, I must have started watching Saturday Night Live when I was 8 or 9. It was the early 1980s. Dick Ebersole was running the show then, and Eddie Murphy was the star attraction. I've been a faithful SNL viewer ever since, regardless of the show's quality. Whether it's good, bad, or (most likely) mediocre, I'm there for every new episode. I'll keep watching SNL until either it expires or I do.

So what? Well, I've come to realize that my way of watching SNL is actually all wrong and directly in opposition to the wishes of the show's creator, Lorne Michaels. Except on those rare nights when the cast and crew are firing on all cylinders, Saturday Night Live  can be a chore to watch. With commercials, it's 90 minutes long -- almost the length of a feature film -- and most weeks, you can feel every minute of that. The musical guests are often of little interest to me, so I wind up muting them. When the show isn't hosted by a comedian, the opening monologue is often torturous, too.

Even the sketches -- the jewels in the show's crown -- can be painful. We've all heard the stories about how cast members and writers compete ferociously to get their sketches on the air, and yet SNL often feels like it's desperately filling up time with any material it has available. Many sketches follow a pattern I call "ever-escalating variations." This means that the performers do different versions of the same basic joke over and over for five minutes, only making the central joke slightly more intense with each repetition. SNL studio audiences have become so familiar with this formula that, occasionally, they won't laugh at a joke until it's repeated. They're waiting for the pattern to emerge. Over four decades, essentially, the show has trained them how to watch sketches.

This problem is more noticeable in the sketches that involve recurring characters. From the Coneheads to Stefon, SNL has had many, many, many, many such characters over the years. They're the lifeblood of the series. And each of these characters generally has his or her own catchphrases and signature routines that become well-known to viewers. A classic SNL recurring character typically does the same exact things in the same exact order in each appearance. Even if you love the character, it can get a bit boring for the every-episode viewer like myself because you can predict exactly what this person is going to do well in advance.

But here is where I've been screwing up. Check out this 2013 interview with comedian Mark McKinney, who served as a writer on SNL in the 1980s and came back as a cast member in the 1990s. This guy knows what he's talking about from an insider's perspective. And here's what he says about Lorne Michaels and recurring characters:
"Lorne pointed out, and I think this is absolutely true, that even if you have big fans who are really into your show, they'll probably only see every second one. Or sometimes every third one. So that's the logic, at least on SNL I know, about why they sort of repeat characters."
So there you have it, folks. Straight from the source. I've been watching SNL incorrectly for decades. Lorne wants you to watch every second or third episode. Maybe you're not even supposed to watch all 90 minutes each week. I've noticed that, the Sunday after a new episode airs, there are highlight videos all over YouTube and the rest of the internet. And, generally, it's only two or three sketches that get any real attention out of any given show.

SNL usually is well-served by judicious editing, i.e. cutting away all the filler and getting to the handful of funny sketches. The earliest episodes of the show -- with Belushi, Aykroyd, etc. -- were just a little bit before my time, but I saw highlights from this era through a half-hour syndicated series (called, I believe, The Best of Saturday Night and masterminded by Lorne himself) that played both on a local affiliate and, later, on Nick at Nite. I loved it. It wasn't until years later that I finally saw full-length episodes with the original cast. I thought it would be even better, but I realized I greatly preferred the condensed half-hour editions. Even "classic" SNL had a lot of dead time.

The weird thing is, I probably won't change the way I watch SNL, even if it prevents me from fully enjoying the show. I'll still be there for every new episode, and I'll still watch from beginning to end each time. Sorry, Lorne.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part 16 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood in 1969, when life was slow and oh so mellow.

Note to Readers: Normally, Greg sends me his articles by e-mail, which is my preferred method of correspondence. This week, however, he chose to send me a mysterious envelope filled with random scraps of paper, most of them badly stained and wrinkled. After considerable detective work and one particularly productive seance, I have managed to assemble these scraps into their proper order as Greg intended. Together, they form a comprehensive index of all the magazines produced by Pendulum Publishing in 1968 and 1969. Please enjoy. - J.B.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Some thoughts on Ed Wood's 93rd birthday

Happy, happy birthday, Eddie!

Edward Davis Wood, Jr. would have turned 93 today. That is, if his alcohol-drenched heart hadn't given out in December 1978. The Bible promises us "threescore years and ten" (Psalms 90:10). So Eddie got about three-quarters of what he was due. Was he cheated? I dunno. Hard to say. He didn't exactly treat his body like a temple. More like a distillery. And, besides, he packed a lot of living into his 54 years. I mean, I never made any movies with Bela Lugosi. Did you? My mother only lived to 46, and I'd sure as hell rather have her alive today than Ed Wood.

Eddie became an interest of mine about 25 years ago, thanks largely to Danny Peary's Cult Movies and a well-timed movie marathon. He didn't become my taskmaster until four years ago when I started Ed Wood Wednesdays.  I can say that this series has more or less cured me of my need to know more about the director of Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I don't know all there is to know, and I'm a long way from seeing all there is to see and reading all there is to read. But I know enough. And I've seen and read more than enough. I'm sure there are 80 bazillion more porn films of his I could watch from the 1970s. But I don't wanna. Once you've seen 12 or 13 of those, you've seen 'em all. They're not sexy. Just kinda sad. And gross. And then sad some more. I'd rather sit through more of his Westerns than more of his pornos. At least some of the people in the Westerns look like they're getting fresh air and exercise. (That old sourpuss Kenne Duncan being a perennial exception.)

A lifelong drunk, a mediocre Marine, and a prodigious wife-beater, Ed Wood was no hero. He's certainly not my hero. I even flinch a bit at being called an Ed Wood fan, because that implies that I'm either a delusional idiot who thinks Eddie's movies are unassailable masterpieces or a smirking hipster making snide jokes about an unfortunate dead man. I've tried not to be either.

So if I'm not a fan, what am I? I'm a person who admires aspects of Ed Wood's work and thinks his life holds some -- though not infinite -- fascination. He's not without talent, you know. There are moments of genuine horror, humor, pathos, drama, and even wisdom in his works. Those who write him off as a clueless hack -- and that's almost everybody -- are mistaken. I'd say he was a better writer than he was a filmmaker, though he brought a lot of enthusiasm and inventiveness to those early movies of his. In a lot of ways, my experience with Ed Wood peaked with that film festival in 1992. I've been chasing that high ever since.

Eddie's been in the news quite a bit this year. For one thing, actor Martin Landau, who played Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), died at the age of 89 this July and got a gratifying amount of news coverage. Meanwhile, James Franco's new film The Disaster Artist, chronicling the making of Tommy Wiseau's The Room, has been garnering many, many, many comparisons to Ed Wood. (Trust me on this; all these reviews wind up in my inbox.) And then there was that semi-disastrous recent screening of Take It Out in Trade at Fantastic Fest. I don't even want to get into it, but this garnered a lot of negative press. There was a flurry of statements and think pieces and accusations. To be honest, I barely followed it due to lack of interest. But if there's no such thing as bad publicity, then 2017 has been a pretty decent year for Ed Wood.


There's no real point to this article. Sorry about that. But I hadn't written anything for this blog for a while, and it was Ed Wood's birthday, and I decided to use that as an opportunity to vent a little. Don't let my lack of enthusiasm get to you. Greg Dziawer has enough enthusiasm for ten people, and I'm sure he's got plenty of articles lined up. Ed Wood Wednesdays could not be in better hands. Here's his latest.

Happy birthday, Ed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

Let's mess with Judge Parker a little today, huh?

Ah, now that dialogue seems a little more natural.

Retired magistrate Alan Parker (no relation to the director) is rarely seen in Judge Parker, the long-running comic strip that bears his name. Most of the stories these days revolve around handsome, wealthy, arrogant lawyer Sam Driver and occasionally around Alan's dull lookalike son, Randy, who is also a judge. But today, the original Judge Parker himself is center stage in Judge Parker. And it feels all wrong.

To be honest, I read the strip every day and can't really follow it worth a damn. Lately, it's been on some kind of spy kick. Randy is married to April, a secret agent (?) who is being double-crossed by the CIA or something and had to abandon her husband without warning. See that baby Alan is holding up there? That's Randy and April's newborn daughter (or at least I think so). Don't know her name, sorry. Let's call her Cinnamon Bun. Alan has been taking care of Cinnamon Bun while his daughter-in-law is busy with spy stuff. I think April is in custody and is telling her side of the story to the media. And, all the while, Alan has been -- for reasons I cannot explain -- way more knowledgeable about all of this than most of the other characters. So now Alan's wife Katherine is mad at him.

Got all that? Good, 'cause I don't. If you need to know, over at The Comics Curmudgeon, guest blogger Uncle Lumpy has given us an excellent rundown of the characters in Judge Parker.

Today's strip finds Alan and Katherine at home, embroiled in a spat. But it's more like half a spat, because Alan is perfectly oblivious while his wife is increasingly irritated. This kind of marital dynamic seems less suited to Judge Parker and more suited to Bunny Hoest's unkillable domestic comedy The Lockhorns. So I decided to take Alan and Katherine out and put Leroy and Loretta in.

You're welcome, I guess.

P.S. - The next Judge Parker strip also reminded me of another beloved pop culture character.

John Banner, you are missed.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fun in the sun with Mark Trail! (and a veritable panoply of high-larious comix!)

So I guess Mark is just nude to the waist.

How's the week been treating you? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Well, however it's been going, prepare for it to get just a little better. I have a whole new selection of fractured funnies to share with you. If you'll direct your eyes slightly upward, for instance, you'll see my latest Mark Trail adventure.

And here's one featuring that little dickhole dickens, Dennis the Menace:

Fundamentalists say the darnedest things.

Speaking of Dennis the Menace, here are a couple of parodies of a recent panel. I decided to remove Dennis and replace him with another, more appropriate character.

Corporate synergy FTW!

Another variation, one that possibly goes too far:

So Dennis is probably dead in this scenario.

For a change of pace, here's another edition of Family Circus Minus The Family. Isn't this peaceful and serene? I know the kitchen has two doors that hinge in incompatible directions, but try to look past that.

No malapropisms have ever been uttered here.

And finally, just for giggles, here's my attempt at constructing a typical newspaper comics page.

And no ink stains on your fingers either!

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Dziawer Odyssey, Part Five by Greg Dziawer

Jacques Descent (left) and Greg are worn out after a long day in the editing room.

Vacation (?) Time 
I'm on a much-needed vacation this week, but we like to mix obsession and pleasure around here, so rest assured that my vacation will pay dividends at Ed Wood Wednesdays in the weeks to come. 
A Descent classic.
I'm with my friend Jack Descent (aka Jacques Descent), Ed's associate and friend from days of yore, when I was a wee infant. Serious Woodologists will recognize Jack as the cinematographer and producer of the fabled, gone-missing, Wood-starring-and-scripted Operation Redlight, as well as producer of the Ed-scripted The Undergraduate. 
Jack and I are furiously at work on the post-production of a never-completed film from 1974 that Jack shot and co-produced (with no direct involvement from Ed). We are also finding time to delve into Jack's work and friendship with Ed. In addition to the two titles noted above, Jack purchased an additional three screenplays from Ed that sadly were never produced. 
And there might just even be some never-before-shared info to come on the loops, right here in future Ed Wood Wednesdays.