Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Glen or Glenda Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

The Christine Jorgensen case brought Ed Wood some publicity in 1953.

Christine Jorgensen in 1953.
Back in 2016, I shared with you an interesting wire service story about Ed Wood's debut feature Glen or Glenda. Written by prolific UPI staffer Aline Mosby, this piece explained how Wood's film—which it referred to as I Changed My Sex—shrewdly capitalized on the sensational saga of trans woman Christine Jorgensen. The article was syndicated to papers across (most of) the country on February 19-20, 1953, just a few days after Jorgensen's attention-grabbing return to the United States.

Arriving by jet from Copenhagen, Jorgensen had touched down at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in Queens on February 13. Mere months prior, on December 1, 1952, the Daily News had run this blaring headline: EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. And, with that, Christine Jorgensen became the most famous person in the world to have ever undergone sexual reassignment surgery. The native New Yorker's transformation, in fact, would take another year to be complete. For his inaugural directing gig, Edward D. Wood, Jr. utilized the real life Jorgensen drama as a jumping-off point for his highly unique and extremely personal one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Glen or Glenda.

While I was certain at the time that Mosby's article was the earliest public ink ever devoted to Wood's film, I recently found another that had been published only two days earlier. This one had been penned by Los Angeles Times drama critic Edwin Schallert, father of the incredibly prolific and beloved character actor William Schallert. In Edwin's column on February 17, 1953, we read:

That veteran portrayer of mysterious scoundrels and what-not, Bela Lugosi, will soon be visible on the screen again in a weird science fiction subject titled "Transvestite," which concerns the transformation of men into women in their apparel and other outward manifestations but which does not deal with any sex issue. It's sponsor, Edward D. Wood Jr., declares it has no relation to a case much spotlighted in the news. Lugosi will be the mastermind in the science phase of the picture, which is said to incorporate much symbolism. Others in the cast are Dolores Fuller, whose fiance falls under the Lugosi influence, while Lyle Talbot will be seen as a police inspector and Tim Farrell as a psychiatrist. Roles of the victims are minor. The film is being finished at the Jack Miles studio.
Was Lugosi filmed at Jack Miles Studio?
For such a relatively short blurb, there's a lot to mull over here. 

Edwin Schallert, for instance, refers to Wood's film as Transvestite rather than I Changed My Sex. Although he got to press first, Schallert presumably wrote his column sometime after Aline Mosby had written hers—certainly not by much, likely a few days. The evidence of this is that Schallert states that the film was "being finished at the Jack Miles studio." Mosby, on the other hand, had trailed the production to W. Merle Connell's Quality Studios in Hollywood, where we know the bulk of the interiors for Glen or Glenda were shot. 

Some sources claim that Bela Lugosi's sequences were filmed separately at Jack Miles' Los Angeles studio. If so, it's fair to assume that these scenes were shot last. In her 2009 autobiography A Fuller Life, Dolores Fuller notes that Glen or Glenda was "shot in only five days with no budget." Under those circumstances, it's not difficult to imagine that Wood and company simply moved from Quality Studios to the Jack Miles studio because the latter location possessed the right set for Lugosi's scenes.

It's also interesting to note that, as in the Mosby article, the science-fiction aspect of the production is foregrounded in the Schallert column, and there's a deliberate statement to distance the film from Christine Jorgensen. In Schallert's article, the subject is so obvious that she is not even mentioned by name. My favorite statement, though—and we are doubtless reading Ed's thoughts and/or words throughout both of these articles—is that the film "does not deal with a sex issue." 

For its part, the IMDb notes the film's shooting locations as both the Quality and Jack Miles Studios, along with the Columbia/Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood. Incidentally, Jack's studio is also credited in the Wood-scripted The Violent Years from 1956, and Miles himself is credited for "settings" or as art director or production designer, depending on the source, for Glen or Glenda

Christine at the Silver Slipper
Jorgensen was frequently in the news throughout December 1952, right through the winter of 1953. On the same day as the Schallert article, she appeared in a syndicated photo feature, which noted that she had "changed her sex." And on February 25, 1953, Oakland Tribune staffer Wood Soanes lifted from the Mosby article, adding fresh details, including producer George Weiss being one of Poverty Row's most successful producers and agent Al Rosen offering Christine Jorgensen the lead in the film. A charming piece, it appears to have resulted from talking to Weiss, himself, sans Eddie. 

I've always wondered if the tale of Jorgensen being offered the lead in Glen or Glenda were apocryphal. This article suggests it wasn't. Connecting the dots, we'll surmise that Weiss himself offered the property to Rosen, who had initiated a seemingly failed attempt to represent Jorgensen in the States within less than two weeks of the BLONDE BEAUTY headline that had started it all. Why do I think this? A syndicated article on December 11, 1952 notes that: 
[Jorgensen] confirmed she had received an offer to star in a new Hollywood version of the comedy "Mary Had A Little," planned by producer Al Rosen. Although Christine denied she already had signed to appear in the picture and make personal stage appearances with it, her Danish manager, Blicher Hansen, indicated the one-time soldier had signed other American contracts. 
Mary Had a Little..., if the same film, was finally made—without Jorgensen—in the UK in 1961. As for Christine herself, she continued on in the entertainment industry but never became the star she had hoped. 

Likewise Ed Wood. A year or so after shooting Glen or Glenda, Ed landed Bela Lugosi a live burlesque gig at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas. Ironically, this precluded Lugosi from appearing in Wood's next feature, The Hidden Face (better known as Jail Bait). According to Dolores Fuller, Eddie immediately began filming that crime drama as soon as the funding came through. The role intended for Lugosi was instead essayed by the mind-bogglingly prolific Herbert Rawlinson, a former leading man from the silent era, in what would prove to be his final role.

Despite Eddie's claim of Glen or Glenda having no relation to the Christine Jorgensen story, Wood and Jorgensen have been entangled ever since, their careers intersecting in various ways. In December of 1955, for instance, Jorgensen appeared in her own live show at—you guessed it—the Silver Slipper. And in the 1960s, she would be a subject of writer Carlson Wade, whose work is commonly mis-Ed-tributed to our Eddie. Continuing to conflate the transgendered with transvestites, Jorgensen even appeared in drag stage shows with legendary cross-dresser T.C. Jones, who had been "cast" by Ed in his screenplay for the never-filmed 7 Rue Pigalle.

Alas, these are subjects for other odysseys on other days.

Left: T.C. Jones. Right: A poster for Mary Had a Little... (1961).
There's a generous selection of newspaper clippings about Christine Jorgensen and Glen or Glenda at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.