Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ed Wood extra: 'The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946' by James Pontolillo

What did you do in the war, Eddie?

Ed Wood: Portrait of the artist as a young man.
My learned colleague, Greg Dziawer, is still working on what should prove a fascinating article about an under-reported aspect of Ed Wood's career. Stay tuned for that next week. In the meantime, allow me to say a few words in support of an extraordinary new book called The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946 by James Pontolillo. This volume, just released and boasting a foreword by Mr. Dziawer himself, contains a thorough and scrupulously factual account of Ed Wood's experience in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, starting with his enlistment in May 1942 and following him all the way through the war and beyond. Pontolillo based the book on official U.S. government records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

To be sure, this is an unsentimental and unromantic book. Its sole aim is to let fans know what Eddie's military career was really like. In addition to a detailed chronology, The Unknown War also contains facsimiles of the documents that Pontolillo obtained from the National Personnel Records Center. The author does not spare the reader from details that might be upsetting or disillusioning. I will not spoil any of The Unknown War's many revelations, because I want you to read the book for yourself.

Why is this book important? Eddie's stint in the Marines was clearly a pivotal event in his life. He drew on his war experiences for years in his films, books, and short stories. In addition, it is clear from reading Rudolph Grey's Nightmare Of Ecstasy that Wood never tired of discussing his time in the service with family, friends, and professional associates. The filmmaker knowingly cultivated and propagated what Pontolillo calls "the Legend of Battle Eddie." The colorful details have become integral parts of the Wood mythos. But how much is actually true? Read The Unknown War and find out.

To my mind, there is no way to understand Ed Wood without taking his military experiences into account. There is no separating the man's life from his work. They are forever intertwined. Trying to avoid talking about Eddie's military record would be like trying to avoid talking about his alcoholism or his cross-dressing. It can't be done. At least we should be basing our judgments on accurate, truthful information. That is what James Pontolillo's book provides.

P.S. While reading The Unknown War, I could not help but be reminded of this scene from the Coen Brothers' 2001 film The Man Who Wasn't There. Enjoy.