Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ed Wood Extra: To those we lost in 2017

Rance Howard, Martin Landau, Conrad Brooks, David Ward, and Steve Apostolof.

Before we get too far into 2018, I thought it only proper that we should acknowledge a few of those who died in 2017, specifically those whose lives intersected in some way with that of Ed Wood. Sadly, the number of people who knew Eddie or who worked with him directly is getting smaller and smaller each year. And even Tim Burton's Ed Wood is now 24 years old, if you can believe it, and a number of cast and crew members from that biopic have since died. In brief, 2017 took a hell of a toll on the Ed Wood community. It was nice, I suppose, to have some new books and BluRay releases, but they're a poor substitute for these extraordinary people.

Let's deal with the Burton film first. Two of the principal cast members of Ed Wood passed away in 2017. The one who got the lion's share of the headlines, naturally, was Martin Landau, who died at the advanced age of 89 on July 15 of last year. A native New Yorker whose career in film and television spanned an astonishing 64 years, Landau finally won an Oscar in 1995 for his portrayal of a cranky, crumbling Bela Lugosi, turning to Ed Wood for employment and companionship in his final years. Aided by Rick Baker's award-winning makeup, Landau managed to bring new insight and vulnerability to the much-imitated and caricatured Lugosi. Whenever I see Bela in a movie -- whether it's one of Wood's movies or not -- I think of Landau.

Departing our realm, too, was character actor Rance Howard, who played straight-shooting moneyman Donald McCoy in Ed Wood. (He wants Eddie's movie to end with a "sky full of smoke" and gazes up dreamily as he imagines the glorious destruction.) Father of Clint and Ron Howard, Rance was one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood, appearing in nearly 300 movies and television shows starting in the mid-1950s. He had an honest face and a slight Oklahoma drawl that served him well in dozens upon dozens of roles. Rance worked so often and with so many people, in fact, he comes much closer than Kevin Bacon to being the center of the Hollywood universe. Rance Howard died on November 25, 2017. He, too, was 89.

Perhaps the most significant Wood-related death of 2017 was of actor turned filmmaker Conrad "Connie" Brooks, who died just last month at the age of 86. An irreplaceable link to the past, Brooks was truly the last surviving member of Eddie's inner circle, having appeared in Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, The Sinister Urge, and Jail Bait. Since Eddie's personal and professional lives were so intricately intertwined, Conrad Brooks can safely be called one of Ed's cronies. Who knows how many more movies they would have made together if there were but world enough and time, not to mention cash? A staple of documentaries about Wood, always popping up to talk about his departed pal, Brooks was a B-movie lifer. Even without Eddie, the incorrigible, garrulous Connie appeared in dozens of low-budget flicks (as well as Burton's Ed Wood) and eventually wrote and directed a few of his own.

Attention should also be paid to the passing of stage and screen actor David Ward, who died in August at the age of 84. He'd been a resident of a Los Angeles nursing home for years, and Ed Wood superfan Bob Blackburn stayed in contact with him and visited him frequently until the end of his life. Ward was another of Wood's Hollywood cronies, especially during Eddie's boozy final years in the 1970s, though the two didn't really work on many movies together. Ward was also a personal friend of Bulgarian-born filmmaker Stephen C. Apostolof and made cameos in at least two of Apostolof's movies, The Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife, both scripted by Eddie. And Ed had other plans for David, including an adaptation of his short story "To Kill a Saturday Night," that never came to pass. The David Ward saga is an incredible one, inspiring the unproduced screenplay Edward Ford, which I thoroughly discussed here.

Speaking of Apostolof, the late filmmaker's oldest son Steve Apostolof died unexpectedly after a brief illness in Simi Valley, CA at the age of 60 on November 19, 2017. Like all of Apostolof's children, Steve made numerous visits to his father's sets and even made an onscreen appearance in 1978's Hot Ice, canonically the last film Ed Wood ever worked on. (Eddie was credited as an assistant director and was slated to make a cameo but was too drunk to do so.) In addition, Steve was one of the interviewees in Jordan Todorov's documentary Dad Made Dirty Movies. He took great amusement in his father's colorful career and helped keep the Wood-Apostolof legend alive by sharing his stories of those bygone days of the 1960s and '70s.

Rest in peace, one and all.