Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Glen or Glenda Odyssey, Part 6 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi on the Glen or Glenda set in 1953.

John Stanley and friend
Though he would eventually be dubbed "the Leonard Maltin of horror" by no less an expert than Fangoria, B-movie scholar John Stanley actually began his career as an entertainment writer at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1961, a gig that lasted 31 years. In 1979, he landed a job that would change the course of his career when he became the second and final host of a Saturday night horror show called Creature Features on Oakland's Channel 2, KTVU.

Unlike nearly all horror hosts before and since—Zacherle, Ghoulardi, Elvira, etc.—Stanley adopted no outlandish theatrical on-air persona. He didn't wear a cape or emerge from a coffin each week. Instead, he simply hosted Creature Features as himself and actually discussed the films he was showing. Stanley remained with the series, a consistent ratings winner in the Bay Area, until it ended in 1984.

In the summer of 1982, in the middle of Stanley's stint on KTVU, Paramount Pictures launched an unsuccessful wide release of Edward D. Wood, Jr's magnum opus, the amazing Glen or Glenda (1953). With a few notable exceptions, most reviews at the time were unenthusiastic. Mainstream critics relegated Glenda to the "bad movie" cult that had emerged a few years earlier, following the publication of The Golden Turkey Awards by Harry and Michael Medved.

Meanwhile, John Stanley had written a book of his own. Borrowing its title from the TV show, his Creature Features Movie Guide from 1981 was a compendium of capsule reviews of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror films. In it, Stanley originally dismissed Glen or Glenda as "pure hokum":

John Stanley's 1981 review of Glen or Glenda.

"Rave of the century," as Bill Murray would say in Ed Wood (1994).

Note that this review includes the colorful historical detail that Bela Lugosi "refused to perform retakes for fear he would burn himself with the chemical props he was handling." This anecdote made it into Ed Wood as well, though in that film it supposedly happened on the set of Bride of the Atom. In Ed's own version of the events, as quoted in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (page 40), such incidents happened on both Glenda and Bride. However, Stanley's assertion that Glen or Glenda disappeared entirely after its initial release is patently false. Under various titles, the film was receiving playdates into the 1960s.

But John Stanley's opinion of Glen or Glenda evolved over time. For the third revised edition of his Movie Guide in 1988, he offered a more positive viewpoint than he had in 1981. While this review does admit that "occasionally Wood makes a salient point in building empathy for the transvestites," it still displays the rather smarmy overall tone of the Creature Features Movie Guide.

John Stanley's 1988 review of the film.

Between publishing those two capsule reviews, Stanley also wrote a lengthy article about Glen or Glenda for the San Francisco Chronicle on May 3, 1987. While the seeds of the 1988 review are all here, the smarmy tone is absent. While this article was not the first to laud Glenda for its idiosyncrasies rather than lambaste it for its ineptitude, it nevertheless remains one of the more glowing tributes to appear in print during that era. Its factual inaccuracies can be excused, given the then-nascent state of Woodology. Here is the article in its entirety. Please CLICK on these images to see them at full size.

Stanley's article, part one.

Stanley's article, part two.

Stanley's article, part three.

It's worth noting that, in listing some of Eddie's adult paperbacks, Stanley includes one that seems to have disappeared: the intriguingly titled Fall of the Balcony of Usher. There are several reports of a Wood short story with this title. According to Bob Blackburn, however, Ed Wood's own 1978 writing resume lists a paperback novel called The Fall of the Balcony Usher, published by Pendulum from its Georgia office. For some reason, Stanley mistakenly has Wood writing these novels immediately after World War II, even before he started making movies.

Whatever its critical reputation, Glen or Glenda lives on. For this obsessive, it only gets better over time. The film is indeed "dazzling," "complex," and "unique," as Stanley noted over 30 years ago. If you haven't seen it in a while, get to it. And if you've never seen it, I envy you your first time.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

'Mary Worth' and the shameful ballad of Tommy

Lower that eyebrow, mister!

This has truly been the summer of Tommy. Can there be any doubt? The last few months have simply been dominated by the saga of this sandy-haired ex-meth addict, as depicted in Karen Moy's syndicated comic strip Mary Worth.

I'm sure you've been following Tommy's adventures as closely as I have, but for you few stragglers out there, let me get you up to speed. Tommy is the twentysomething son of Iris Beedle, an attractive, blonde, fortysomething divorcee who lives in the same condo complex as Mary Worth. Iris used to date another of Mary's neighbors, pudgy, befuddled advice columnist Wilbur Weston. They broke up. It was a whole thing. Iris is with a younger, more successful guy named Zak now. And Wilbur? Well, Wilbur takes a lot of long walks these days.

Meanwhile, Iris has had her hands full with her fully grown, live-at-home son. Up to this point, Tommy's been what you'd call a ne'er-do-well. He ne'er does well. How often does he do well? Ne'er. He's been in jail on drug charges before, and he recently got addicted to Vicodin after literally attempting to move one piece of furniture. This guy is one end table away from perdition.

Anyway, Tommy's clean now and working at a supermarket, where he met his current girlfriend Brandy. Problem is, Brandy is sickened by the very mention of drugs or alcohol due to traumatic events in her own family, so Tommy's been afraid to 'fess up about his extremely sketchy past. The last few months have shown Tommy grappling with this problem, and I've been there to document it every step of the way.

Some of this I already covered in my last Mary Worth post just a month ago, but I've done so many more since that they warranted another post. As Tommy's story finally reaches its conclusion this weekend, let's look back on a summer of great memories. (NOTE: Click on the images to see them at full size. I can't promise it'll be worth it, but the text will be more legible.)

Since this is Mary Worth, Tommy went right to the source for help. It did not go well.

That's how I like my jokes: cheap.

Their conversation got intense.

And under those sweatpants? Nothing but support hose, baby.

Tommy, being a good Catholic boy, then took his problems right to the confessional, where I imagined that his old nemesis, Wilbur, was there to greet him.

Sorry, Wilbur, but that's Frasier Crane's line.

But it turned out Tommy was talking to a genuine priest. Talking a little too much to be honest.

Don't judge. Priests need their rest, too.

Tommy eventually had an epiphany, which I turned into a cheap pop culture reference.

Props to Allison Hayes, y'all!

Tommy's confession seemed like it would never end.

I don't even know if that's a priest he's talking to anymore.

Tommy emerged from his confession haunted by voices, one of which I imaged to be Zak.

How does he get his stubble so perfect?

Like Wilbur before him, Tommy decided to go on a walk/vision quest.

I'm pretty sure Dorothy can hook you up with those pills, Tommy.

He eventually decided to spill his guts to Brandy, but the words didn't come easily.

Even Shatner might balk at that pause.

They went out running, which I spruced up with a cameo by Jay Johnston from Mr. Show.

Not pictured: Champion the Drinker.

Tommy made some pretty shocking confessions that day.

Brandy's father was into really long pauses, too.

We learned a lot about Tommy's own past.

Side note: doesn't Ivan Drago look great with long hair?

Brandy took the news very well, as you'd expect.

Her last words to him were "Meep! Meep!"

Meanwhile, Mary and Iris had a very odd, stilted conversation about Tommy.

One of these images is slightly retouched.

Eventually, Tommy and Brandy got things sorted out and spent a nice afternoon on the beach. An afternoon I decided to make just a little nicer.

Next problem: Tommy's Faberge egg addiction.

Iris was so proud of her son. Despite the evidence.

And you thought Iris was the only cougar in this family?

And now, Tommy and Brandy have a wonderful future in front of them, with no problems on the horizon. Well, maybe one problem on the horizon.

That's it, kids. Carpe diem. Carpe that diem all night long.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ed Wood extra: A smattering of Ed Wood fan art

Four of my portraits of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

A typical early cartoon (1989)
I used to draw an awful lot as a kid. That's not surprising, since I've been obsessed with comics and cartoons since well before I can remember. My only real "instruction," though, was in grade school. At my alma mater, Springview Elementary in Flushing, MI, we'd spend a couple of hours each week in the art room with a glum, mustachioed guy named Mr. Barnes. My strongest memories were of him yelling at me for leaning back in my chair too far. I never studied artwork formally after that.

But on my own, I'd create little homemade comics and cartoons, strictly for my own amusement. I started with established characters like Popeye, Garfield, and Hagar the Horrible. (For some reason, I was always writing gags that involved quick-drying cement.) But by the time I was 11, I was creating my own characters, eventually including Iffy the Troll, Margin Man, and Vernal Q. Equinox, plus a monstrous rock band called The Apple Scruffs, who allegedly killed a fan at every show.

Sometimes, I'd pass my work around in class. Among my earliest "hits" was a series called Moscow Vice, a Russia-set parody of Miami Vice with two burly Bolshevik cops named Crockski and Tubbnik. I also got a strong response with The Melties, a comic strip about a family made of drippy candle wax. Every Melties plot was the same: the family would try to do something (play baseball, have a picnic), but they'd melt in the sun and end up as puddles of goo on the ground.

I kept drawing into my teens and beyond, never keeping a sketchbook but scrawling on whatever random bits of paper came into my hands. Most of my work was in pencil or ballpoint pen on notebook paper, but I'd write on napkins, gum wrappers, the backs of form letters, etc. It was more of a nervous tic than anything else. I drew pictures instead of biting my nails.

By then, most of my drawings were caricatures of famous people—actors, musicians, historical figures—and modeled after photos. I subscribed to Rolling Stone in the '90s and always did drawings of the celebs in there, generally rock stars. But I'd draw my own weird little monsters and grotesque human figures as well. To this day, I have two thick binders of this material.

As you might expect, I did some Ed Wood-related drawings over the years, and I'd like to share them with you today. First up are caricatures of Johnny Depp and Martin Landau as their characters from Ed Wood. Also included here is a little picture of the real Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931). The Lugosi pic was done on a different piece of paper and then cut out.

Johnny Depp and Martin Landau: (inset) Bela Lugosi

Next up are two portraits of Edward D. Wood, Jr. himself, done completely separately but based on the same photograph from Glen or Glenda, as published in Nightmare of Ecstasy. The one on the left is in color, though I used a very messy charcoal pencil for the black background and immediately regretted it.

Two views of Ed Wood from Glen or Glenda.

My most ambitious example of Ed Wood fan art is this wonky triptych based on that much-circulated headshot of Eddie in his theater days. These portraits were done completely separately on different pieces of notebook paper, then taped together. I believe these were done in the 2000s when I was commuting to Chicago from the 'burbs by train. Those Metra trips leave plenty of time for nonsense like this.

An Ed Wood triptych

That about does it for the hand-drawn stuff. These days, I do most of my artwork digitally. It's still just as crude and wobbly as ever, but I don't get ink or graphite on my hands anymore. Plus I can tweak it and try to make it better. Some of this stuff I've already posted on the blog, but I thought I'd put it all in one place. Here's a mischievous Eddie as Mr. Murphy in The Love Feast (1969).

Eddie in The Love Feast.

In a similar vein, here is Eddie in Mrs. Stone's Thing (1970), squinting at the camera through his makeup.

Ed Wood in Mrs. Stone's Thing.

And here is bulldog-faced Duke Moore in Night of the Ghouls (1959). As you can see, this one is a bit more cartoony and distorted. I once thought of creating brand new artwork for every article in the Ed Wood Wednesdays series, but that proved impractical.

Duke Moore in Night of the Ghouls

Here's another actor portrait: craggy, ill-tempered James Craig in Venus Flytrap (aka The Revenge of Dr. X) (1970).

James Craig in Venus Flytrap.

My most recent portraits of Ed Wood include this regal purple one, again based on the same photo from Glen or Glenda. I must be really drawn to that picture, huh?

Ed Wood in Glen or Glenda.

And, last but not least, here's Ed as Alecia in Take it Out in Trade (1970). I hope you've enjoyed this little gallery of Ed Wood fan art. Crude as these are, these sketches and portraits are a testament to my longstanding fascination with Eddie and his movies.

A portrait of Ed Wood from my "blue" period.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 69: The hero's journey of 'Ed Wood' (1994)

If the hero has a thousand faces, does one of those faces belong to Ed Wood?

"A man doesn't live his life in three acts." That's what Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote in their introduction to the published screenplay of Ed Wood (1994), the Tim Burton-directed biopic of filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. And it's true. People's real lives don't fit the familiar template of movies, television, and theater.

And so, the writer of a biopic must take the existing facts of a person's life and arrange them into that familiar three-act structure in order to create a satisfying narrative for the audience. This generally involves cherry picking certain events that fit the plot, rearranging the timeline significantly, deleting any facts that are irrelevant to the central story arc, and even flat out inventing scenes and characters that have no basis in fact whatsoever. To a certain extent, Alexander and Karaszewski did all of these things in crafting the screenplay for Ed Wood.

But this article is not about grading Ed Wood on its historical accuracy. Instead, I'd like to examine the framework upon which the film's story is built.


Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi together in 1953.
Though its exact timeline is hazy at best, Ed Wood mainly takes place over the course of about four years in the early-to-mid-1950s—let's say 1953 to 1957—when Ed (Johnny Depp) was making low budget exploitation movies with aging, ailing Hungarian film star Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Ed was at the beginning of his film career; Bela was at the end of his. Three famous/infamous films emerged from this unlikely creative partnership: Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957/1959). Burton's biopic concentrates exclusively on those three films, skipping over non-Lugosi projects like Jail Bait (1954) and The Violent Years (1956).

In that introduction, Alexander and Karaszewski further explain how they turned Rudolph Grey's patchwork biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy:The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992), into a manageable, coherent screen story. "As we examined the Ed/Bela relationship, an obvious three-act structure popped out. Page 10, they meet. End of act one, Ed makes his first film, using Bela's name. Act two, they struggle. End of act two, Bela dies. Act three, Ed has to figure out how to keep going, though Bela is gone."

After revisiting Burton's finished film and making my own outline of its major events, I'll agree that Ed Wood basically follows that "obvious three-act structure" the screenwriters have described, though I'd say the death of Bela Lugosi falls about midway through act three, not at the end of act two. In fact, I'd call Bela's death the third act twist.

As I see it, each of the film's three acts—and they're about equal in running time—is devoted to the making of a specific movie. The first act is about Glen or Glenda and ends with Ed and his cast and crew completing principal photography on that film. The second act is about Bride of the Atom (aka Bride of the Monster) and ends with the wrap party at the meat packing plant, during which Eddie's longtime girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) leaves him in a rage. Act three deals with the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space, and the crisis is not how Ed keeps going without Lugosi but rather how he keeps going without Dolores.


Campbell's seminal work.
My main motivation for writing this analysis of Ed Wood was to compare the movie to the so-called "hero's journey" or monomyth as outlined by literature professor Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). In this landmark study, the author examines heroic myths throughout history and finds certain common thematic elements that have transcended time and distance. In particular, Campbell divides the hero's journey into three main sections or acts: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Along the way, there are 17 distinct episodes, beginning with the "Call to Adventure" and concluding with the "Freedom to Live."

Campbell was neither the first nor the last scholar to identify and list the characteristics of mythology, and his findings have met with some skepticism from academics in the intervening years. Some critics have found his categories too vague or unhelpful. Nevertheless, Campbell's book remains a popular starting point for examining heroic stories. One major point in Campbell's favor is that George Lucas' mega-popular Star Wars (1977) was heavily influenced and shaped by The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

I highly doubt that Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were thinking of Joseph Campbell or the hero's journey when they were crafting the screenplay of Ed Wood. Nevertheless, the script they created bears a strong resemblance to the hero's journey. And, believe it or not, there are story elements common to both Ed Wood and Star Wars.


In this part of the story, says Campbell, the hero is first depicted living a normal life before receiving some vital information that disrupts his routine. At the beginning of Ed Wood, Eddie's life consists of staging plays with his friends by night and working as a gofer at Universal Studios by day. An early scene has poor Eddie schlepping palm trees from one end of the backlot to the other, all while taking abuse from cranky Mr. Kravitz (Biff Yeager). Eddie's Call to Adventure arrives when he learns that producer George Weiss (Mike Starr) is making a movie based on the Christine Jorgensen story. This is the information that disrupts Ed Wood's life forever. From this point on, Ed is an aspiring filmmaker, regardless of the consequences to his personal life or finances.

According to Campbell, the next step in the journey is the Refusal of the Call, when the hero initially refuses to take action due to insecurity or other obligations. In Ed Wood, we see that Ed has numerous moments of self-doubt. "What if I just don't got it?" he asks Dolores. Essentially, then, Ed has already refused the call before he even gets it! Ed has another "refusal of the call" scene in the second act, when Mr. Feldman (Stanley DeSantis) at Warner Bros. calls Glen or Glenda the worst movie he ever saw. Ed's response is to go home and sulk. Dolores has to cheer him up.

The mentor and his protegee: Bela and Ed.
Another important step in the hero's journey is Meeting the Mentor. That's when the protagonist, having fully committed to the quest, encounters a supernatural guide or helper. In Ed Wood, this is clearly Bela Lugosi. Bela may be a mere human—and an enfeebled one at that—but there is some mystical aura around him. The first time we see him, trying out coffins at the Hollywood Mortuary, he seems capable of rising from the dead. And when he and Eddie watch Vampira (Lisa Marie) on TV, Bela seems to cast a spell on the horror hostess from afar. ("How do you do that?" asks an astonished Eddie.)

Campbell also points out that the mentor frequently gives the hero a talisman or artifact that will help him later in his quest. In Ed Wood, it's the silent footage of Bela that Eddie will use in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Eddie doesn't receive the magical talisman until the third act, but it does help him complete his ultimate quest.

Eddie has a second, lesser mentor in the unnamed Old Crusty Man (Carmen Filpi) who works at Universal with him. In act one, this old man—apparently a projectionist—shows Eddie some stock footage. Eddie will later use that same stock footage in Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed's friendship with the projectionist both presages and parallels Ed's friendship with Bela.

The next episodes in the traditional hero's journey have the protagonist Crossing the First Threshold and then venturing into the Belly of the Whale. For Campbell, crossing the threshold means leaving the old, safe world behind and entering a new, dangerous world where the rules are unknown. In Eddie's story, this is the world of low-budget filmmaking. Ed crosses the first threshold when he starts shooting Glen or Glenda. Even this is a trial. On the initial day of shooting, he and his aggrieved crew have to run from the cops because they don't have a permit.

Campbell asserts that the hero has to undergo a metamorphosis during the first act of the story and may encounter a minor setback along the way. And that's exactly what happens in Ed Wood. At the beginning of the movie, Ed attempts to hide his transvestism from Dolores. He is nervous when Dolores says she is missing her favorite sweater, for instance. But in order to get Glen or Glenda made, Ed has to be more open about his cross dressing. He reveals his secret first to George and then to Dolores. This is his "belly of the whale" moment.

There is a pivotal scene in which Dolores finally reads Eddie's autobiographical script for Glen or Glenda. While she is busy reading in one room, Ed changes into women's clothing in another. When Dolores exits the bedroom, she sees her boyfriend in full drag for the first time. This is Eddie's metamorphosis. As Campbell predicted, it presents a minor setback: Dolores cringes at Ed's transvestism. But he convinces her to make the movie despite her qualms. They continue to argue on the set, but Ed completes the movie anyway.

And so act one ends with Eddie (temporarily) in triumph.


Gottlieb's book.
My favorite description of the three-act structure is one I first encountered in Carl Gottlieb's behind-the-scenes book The 'Jaws' Log (1975). "In Act One," Gottlieb writes, "you get a guy up in a tree. In Act Two, you throw rocks at him. In Act Three, you get him down again." So the middle of a story is when the author throws rocks (i.e. problems or obstacles) at the hero. And that's what happens to Eddie in the middle passages of Ed Wood. It's one hassle after another for him as he struggles to get Bride of the Atom/Bride of the Monster completed.

Likewise, Joseph Campbell talks about the hero's Road of Trials. The hero undergoes a battery of tests and often fails them. But these failures are crucial to the character's ultimate transformation. He learns from his mistakes and becomes better. Incidentally, these tests often occur in threes.

Eddie already started venturing down the Road of Trials in act one. In dealing with the cantankerous George Weiss, Eddie proves his strength, endurance, and cunning. Fittingly, Ed has three major face-to-face showdowns (plus a couple of telephone calls) with George. When they first meet, George rejects him for being inexperienced. Then, Ed returns with the promise of delivering Bela Lugosi, a recognizable star, to the production. He thus gets the job. Finally, Ed and George argue about the film's title, script, and overall content. Despite George's objections, Eddie turns Glen or Glenda into a personal passion project.

Eddie's initiation continues in act two. After his rejection by Mr. Feldman, Ed almost gives up on his dream of directing movies. But then he embarks upon a new adventure: raising the money for Bride of the Atom. Again there are three separate tests, two of which Eddie fails. There's a fundraiser at the Brown Derby that garners no money. There's a second fundraiser at the Derby that goes even worse. And, finally, Eddie has a successful meeting with Old Man McCoy (Rance Howard), and the movie is thus financed.

Loretta King: Ed Wood's temptress?
Campbell next identifies two steps he calls The Meeting with the Goddess and The Woman as Temptress. The closest thing this film has to a goddess figure is Kathy O'Hara (Patricia Arquette), the sweet-natured, accepting woman who will become Eddie's wife. In my outline of Ed Wood, however, Eddie and Kathy don't meet until the third act. It is significant, however, that they meet when Ed is at a pretty low ebb in his life. While Bela endures the horrible agony of morphine withdrawal at the hospital, Ed waits nervously in the lobby. Kathy, who represents the life force, is visiting her father at the same hospital. Winning Kathy's love is a major victory for Ed in the latter stages of the film.

In her own way, Dolores is a goddess figure, too. The first time we see her, in fact, she is portraying an angel in Eddie's play-within-a-movie The Casual Company, and she offers two soldiers a bird of peace. And it is Dolores' idea for Eddie to become an independent filmmaker and raise the money for Bride of the Atom himself.

Who is our Temptress? One obvious answer is actress Loretta King (Juliet Landau), whom Eddie meets in a bar. Eddie does not seem to desire Loretta sexually; he just thinks she has money that he can use to make his movie. Arguably the sleaziest thing Eddie does in Ed Wood is give the prime role of reporter Janet Lawton in Bride of the Atom to Loretta rather than to his faithful girlfriend Dolores. Eddie is generally loyal to those close to him, and this is the one time he willfully betrays someone in his inner circle for money.

But the Temptress does not always have to be a woman or even a human being. It could be anything that lures the hero away from his true path or calling. I believe that, for Ed Wood, that was alcohol. Eddie's drinking problem is downplayed in the script and further downplayed in the finished film, but it remains a significant motif in Ed Wood nevertheless. And, yes, there are three major scenes—one per act—in which Ed goes to a bar to drink alone and forget his troubles. The first occurs after his unsuccessful meeting with George Weiss. The second occurs after a failed fundraiser at the Brown Derby. And the third occurs when Eddie storms off the set of Plan 9 in an artistic fit.

We move on now to what Joseph Campbell calls the Atonement with the Father. Here, smack dab in the middle of the story, the protagonist must confront the person who holds the ultimate power in his life. Often, this is a father or father figure. So who holds the power in Eddie's life? The answer is likely Bela Lugosi, since Ed pins all of his own career hopes on his connection to Bela. The atonement phase calls for the hero to undergo an initiation at the hands of the father. And, in a sense, this does occur between Ed and Bela. In addition to the scene in which these two men watch Vampira together, there are two separate scenes in which a desperate and drug-addled Bela summons Ed to his home in the middle of the night.

Ed emerges from both of these sad and scary meetings with a newfound resolve to help Bela in whatever way he can. The first time, Ed's strategy is to find Bela some work, so Ed meets with Mr. Feldman at Warner Bros. in order to land a motion picture contract. The second time, Ed's strategy is to check Bela into rehab for his morphine addiction.


Ed receives guidance from Orson Welles.
The third act of Ed Wood is a series of peaks and valleys for the title character, ultimately ending in triumph. Eddie begins the final stage of the movie in one of his glum moods. Bride is complete, but Dolores has left him and Vampira won't go out with him. Worse yet, his mentor and hero Bela Lugosi is at an all-time low, suicidal and hopelessly addicted to morphine. But Ed's life will soon turn around when he meets Kathy Everett O'Hara, his eventual wife.

During this stage of his life, Eddie will also make the movie for which he is best known: Plan 9 from Outer Space. But before making his signature movie, Ed will lose both his mentor and (briefly) his will to make movies at all. Weary of battling with Plan 9's bossy Baptist investors, Ed nearly gives up on the project and on himself.

In the Ed Wood screenplay book, Alexander and Karaszewski talk about building the film's final act around Plan 9. It would not have been their first choice. "In a perfect world," they write, "Glen or Glenda would have been Ed Wood's final film—the man cranks out numerous silly monster movies, before learning his lesson, turning to personal honest film-making, and creating his autobiographical valedictory masterpiece. But unfortunately, Glen or Glenda came first. So we had to turn Plan 9 from Outer Space into a climax." They do this by: (1) turning the well-meaning Baptists into villains, and (2) inventing a completely wild third act fantasy scene we will discuss anon.

Joseph Campbell talks about the hero reaching his Apotheosis, a point of revelation at which he receives the knowledge that will help him complete the most difficult part of the journey. After storming off the Plan 9 set in full drag, Ed has his moment of clarity at the Musso & Frank Grill, where he downs Imperial whiskey in an attempt to numb himself into a stupor. It is at this point he meets his hero Orson Welles (Vincent D'Onofrio), who just happens to be there that afternoon. The screenwriters dub this the script's "one major fib." (I'd say there are others. But, again, that's not what this article is about.)

After explaining his own woes in making Touch of Evil and his aborted Don Quixote, Orson gives Ed a necessary pep talk about how, even with all the hassles, "visions are worth fighting for." Newly invigorated, Ed returns to the shabby set of Plan 9 and finishes the picture. This is, in Campbell's terms, the Ultimate Boon. It's the culmination of the hero's quest. Earlier in the film, Eddie said he would make "the ultimate Ed Wood movie, no compromises," and now he's done it!

Ed crosses the return threshold. 
There is a definite moment in Burton's film that corresponds to Campbell's Crossing of the Return Threshold. This is the point at which the hero takes the wisdom he has attained and applies it to his own life. For Eddie, the wisdom came from that inspirational talk with Orson Welles, and he begins to apply it the second he steps into Quality Studios, where Plan 9 is being filmed. "You can't compromise an artist's vision," he tells the Baptists. He later adds, "This movie's gonna be famous! But only if you shut up and let me do it my way!"

It is here that Ed Wood begins to stray somewhat from the template of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Or maybe I'm just interpreting Campbell incorrectly; I'm not a scholar of mythology in any way. Still in all, I don't see anything like a Refusal of the Return in this movie. According to Campbell, that's the point at which the hero has attained the Ultimate Boon yet is reluctant to share it with his fellow man. Whether the boon is Plan 9 itself or just the magical Lugosi footage ("the acorn that will grow a great oak"), Ed is always eager to share it. He has that moment of self-doubt in the third act, but after his meeting with Orson Welles, he quickly returns to the studio.

Campbell also discusses an episode he terms The Magic Flight, in which the hero has to make a daring escape with the boon because it is an object jealously guarded by the gods. Again, nothing like that happens during the making of Plan 9 in the third act of Ed Wood. But it does make a pretty good description of the sequence late in the second act when Ed steals a rubber octopus from a warehouse at Republic Studios in order to complete Bride of the Monster. Ed assembles a small crew to assist him with this daring heist, including two of his most bizarre and memorable actors: TV psychic Criswell (Jeffrey Jones) and wrestler Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele). Tor and Cris are interesting sidekicks for Eddie because they seem to come directly from mythology: one a giant, the other a seer or oracle.

Ed Wood and five of his magnificent seven.
Alexander and Karaszewski talk about how Ed assembles "his Magnificent Seven" as the story progresses, i.e. the oddballs and misfits with whom he makes his most famous movies. Not only will these folks give memorable performances, they'll help him in whatever way they can off the set as well. This includes the aforementioned octopus heist and a sequence in Act Three in which the Plan 9 actors all allow themselves to be baptized in a swimming pool at the behest of the Baptists. Campbell has accounted for this with an aspect of the hero's journey he calls the Rescue from Without. Essentially, this means that the hero needs guides or helpers during his quest. And Eddie needs all the help he can get. In Act Three, for instance, he and his pals, including Kathy and Bela, attend a showing of Bride of the Monster that devolves into a riot. While Eddie helps shepherd his friends through the angry crowd, it is Kathy who bravely throws herself in front of a passing taxi to secure their escape.

What is left for our hero to do? He's left his old life behind, embarked upon an exciting but dangerous new one, met with his mentor, survived numerous tests, and finally achieved his goal. Well, Campbell says that the epic hero must now become the Master of Two Worlds, meaning that he has achieved a balance between the material and the spiritual. Now, as anyone with a passing knowledge of Ed Wood's real life can tell you, this man never really mastered any world, let alone two at a time. He floundered as an artist and as a human being. Even Ed Wood's closing narration admits that Eddie "kept struggling in Hollywood, but mainstream success eluded him."

But at the end of Burton's biopic, Eddie does seem to have achieved a balance between his career and his personal life. As he exits the Plan 9 premiere on a rainy night, completely contented, he proposes marriage to Kathy, and the two drive toward Las Vegas. Campbell says that our hero has now attained the Freedom to Live, meaning he no longer fears death and can live for the moment without ruing past mistakes or dreading future calamities. This describes Ed perfectly. His decision to drive to Vegas with Kathy, for instance, is completely spontaneous. Never mind that he's still broke or that it's pouring rain. "It'll probably stop by the time we get to the desert," Ed optimistically tells Kathy. "Heck, it'll probably stop by the time we get around the corner. Let's go." That is freedom to live in its purest form.


Luke's humdrum life on Tatooine.
Earlier in this article, I said that Ed Wood shared plot points with Star Wars, arguably the most famous film to follow the monomyth template as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero of a Thousand Faces. Obviously, these two films are nothing alike in terms of tone or appearance. But there are vague parallels, especially if you think of Eddie as the equivalent of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). At the start of Star Wars, Luke leads a dull existence, living and working on the Tatooine "moisture farm" of his aunt and uncle. His day-to-day life is a bit like Eddie's at Universal Studios. Luke and Ed are both young men doing mundane, thankless chores while dreaming of something bigger and wondering if they're up for the challenge.

Ed and Luke both embark upon exciting quests, but even before they get started, they consult with wizened old gurus. For Luke, it's Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness); for Ed, it's Bela Lugosi. Bela, like Obi-Wan, is far removed from his glory days. "Now, no one gives two fucks for Bela," he tells Ed. "I haven't worked in four years. This business, this town, it chews you up, then spits you out. I'm just an ex-bogeyman." Compare that to Obi-Wan's wistful line from Star Wars: "Obi-Wan. Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time." More dignified, sure, but a similar sentiment. Note, too, that neither Obi-Wan nor Bela survives the journey, but Luke and Ed keep their memories alive.

Luke Skywalker has to assemble a team of colorful misfits, including two bickering droids, an orphaned princess, an inarticulate Wookiee, and a hotshot smuggler, in order to complete his mission of blowing up the enemies' space station, the Death Star. Ed's goal, making a handful of B-movies, is more modest, but he assembles his own team of misfits for the job. How appropriate that Luke meets two pivotal members of his team, Han (Harrison Ford) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew), at a bar. Eddie spends a lot of time in bars, too, and probably would not be out of place at the Mos Eisley cantina.

Star Wars famously ends with its cadre of heroes, including Luke, receiving medals for bravery in front of an appreciative audience of Rebel soldiers, officers, and pilots who have gathered in a large hall. Ed Wood gives its hero and his friends a big, official ceremony in the form of a lavish (and totally fictional) premiere for Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Burton, like George Lucas before him, makes sure to get closeups of his main characters basking in the glory of the moment.

That's really the beauty of the hero's journey. If you back far enough away from any given story, you see how it resembles so many others. Even films as wildly dissimilar as Star Wars and Ed Wood can start to look like first cousins.

BONUS: In writing this article, I prepared a complete outline of Ed Wood (1994). You can read through that entire document here.

Ed Wood extra: An outline of 'Ed Wood' (1994)

Johnny Depp and Martin Landau in Ed Wood (1994).

Today's article about Ed Wood (1994) took a fair amount of preparation. Before I could really even get started on it, I found I had to make an outline of the entire film. (The finished movie, that is, not the screenplay.) Just to give you a peek into the creative process, I thought I'd post the entire document here. This gives you some idea of how I broke down Ed Wood into various scenes and episodes, and you can see what made it into the article and what didn't. Enjoy. WARNING: SUPER NERDY AND BORING STUFF AHEAD.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Journey to the dark, dank heart of my 1980s sticker collection

"The mummy's ready for his mystical journey!"

Where were you during the sticker craze of 1982-83? Me, I was attending Springview Elementary School in Flushing, MI. And, yes, like a lot of kids my age, I got caught up in the fad. There was even a store called Happyland at the local mall that sold pretty much nothing but stickers. For a few months there, that store was the center of the kid universe. Then it went away and no one even noticed.

Recently, I discovered my old sticker album from those days. Well, to call it an "album" is being generous. As you'll see, it's just a bunch of loose pages of typing paper crudely stapled together. But it's an excellent indicator of my tastes during the early Reagan years. I was obsessed with cartoons, comics, video games, and movies. Other than my near-total lack of interest in video games other than Tetris these days, very little has changed in the last 35 years.

Anyway, out of some misplaced nostalgia, I've decided to scan the entire thing so that we can all peruse it together. I think it provides valuable insight into who I was back then and what pop culture was like. Page 1, for instance, is dominated by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), but there's a little Pac-Man thrown in there, too. I guess that ghost is supposed to be Inky, but he's the wrong shade of blue. Or maybe he's just a pixelated Fry Guy from McDonald's.

E.T. and Pac-Man stickers

I don't claim to have had great taste as a kid. My love of cartoons and comics knew no bounds, as evidenced by these stickers representing Ziggy and The Smurfs. Hey, I wish I could say I was a 7-year-old hipster, browsing through record store shelves for the latest Plasmatics and Husker Du albums. But it's not true. I read Ziggy and watched The Smurfs. Come at me, bro. It should be noted that all the stickers on this page are puffy stickers. Those were the best kind for some reason.

Ziggy and Smurfs stickers

If cartoons and video games were great on their own, then surely the combination of the two was doubly intoxicating. Which brings me to my utter fascination with Nintendo's Popeye arcade game from 1983. Oh, did I love this game, but I only got to play it at the local roller skating rink. And I was lousy at it, which meant my quarters were soon gone. You have to understand that Popeye himself was my favorite cartoon character, and I consumed as much Popeye media as I could back then. Bonus: these stickers are made from some kind of felt-like material. They're still soft and fuzzy all these decades later.

Also on this page: the wizard mascot from Mystiks, which were these weird, animal-shaped stickers filled with some kind of color-changing oil. If I remember correctly, these were sold only one at a time rather than on pages. It was kind of a big deal to get one of these. The flat, unchanging wizard stickers just came free with the sticker you were actually buying. Sadly, this album does not contain any of the oil-filled Mystiks. Just this lone wizard. "I'm a sticker too!" he pleads. Yeah, right. Go to bed, old man.

Popeye video game stickers.

Did I tell you my love of Popeye was intense back in 1982? I have at least three pages of these stickers, featuring Popeye, Wimpy, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, and Bluto. I only scanned one page, though, because the other two are just copies of these same designs. I must have gotten a pack of these.

Popeye stickers

And it's right back to the video games. These are some awesome Donkey Kong puffy stickers. The main sticker even has googly eyes. Who knew Mario was on his way to one of the mightiest franchises in video game history? And who's that woman he's rescuing? Peach? Daisy? Nope. It's Pauline. And this wasn't her last game by a long shot. But, sticker people, she was a brunette, not a blonde.

Donkey Kong stickers

This sticker album also shows how I was growing and maturing in those days. It may be a stretch to call Masters of the Universe more "grown-up" fare, but remember that just a few pages back, we were dealing with Ziggy and The Smurfs. This is a fairly lame representation of the franchise: the logo, Man-At-Arms, He-Man, Skeletor, Beast Man, and two crummy weapons. Barely enough to fill up a page. Ultimately, though, it's stuff like Masters of the Universe that would lure me away from stickers.

Masters of the Universe stickers

Would you believe it? More puffy stickers based on a video game. Go figure. Bet you didn't see that twist coming. These are from Q*bert, another game I only played at the local roller rink. (The joint had a real catchy name, too: Roller Skating. That was the name.) But how often did I get there? A couple of class trips per year? Maybe a birthday party?

Q*bert stickers

Pac-Man, on the other hand, was everywhere. Grocery stores and pizza parlors had Pac-Man cabinets. There was a Pac-Man TV show in 1982-83. We even had a miniature Pac-Man home version. He had a level of ubiquity that Q*bert couldn't touch. These stickers specifically say "Pac-Family." There was no game with that title, but Pac was a family man on his show. (These designs are a little different, though.) And what have we here? More googly eyes!

There are a few randos in here as well: a hockey player, a rocket ship, plus a couple of stray Muppets. The Fozzie sticker makes no sense. It's Halloween, obviously, and he's dressed as a clown. Which tracks, I guess. But he's talking to a pumpkin-headed ghost who looks just like him. And he's saying, "Halloween sure is fun!" like it's some kind of secret. Shrug. (By the way, that "HOT SHOT" scratch 'n' sniff sticker used to smell like cinnamon. Now it just smells like paper. Time, time, time. See what's become of me.)

Pac-Man and Muppets stickers

This next page is sparse but very indicative of its time. It contains three large stickers depicting video games of the era (from top to bottom): Centipede, Frogger, and Defender. I never played Defender even once, and Centipede hurt my hand. You played that one with a track ball, and your skin would always get trapped between the ball and the arcade cabinet. Ouch! Maybe that's why I stuck this one to the page upside-down. Frogger, on the other hand, I played a lot. It's a game I still think about because I live near a very busy street, and crossing it on foot is tricky. My strategy is to make it to the center island and from there to the other side. I don't just play Frogger now; I live it.

Centipede, Frogger, and Defender stickers.

Not much to say about this next page. It's mostly just more randos, including your standard-issue Terrifying Clown from the Depths of Hell™. The one licensed character on this page is Snoopy. The only thing really remarkable about these stickers is that they're (mostly) the shiny, reflective kind. Those were sort of neat, I guess. Not as neat as Masters of the Universe or Popeye, but still kind of eye-catching. I honestly don't get the stickers down at the bottom. They're a bunch of strange props: an old-timey phone, a boiling cauldron, a piggy bank. Your guess is as good as mine. Probably better.

Random shiny stickers

More of the dregs here, I'm afraid. Fairly generic-looking aliens and spaceships. Snoozers. I do like the idea of giving a child a "Pretty Bright!" sticker, though. "Hey, kid, you're fairly intelligent! Not a genius by any means but certainly adequate!" At the bottom of the page are these strange "Penny Power" stickers. I have no idea what these are or where they came from. Google didn't tell me jack squat.

Aliens and Penny Power stickers

Oh, but things turn around in a big way here! Even by the age of 7 or 8, I was already a nerd for old-timey, long-dead comedians like Abbott & Costello and W.C. Fields. So I can remember being ecstatic with happiness at finding these Laurel & Hardy puffy stickers at a drug store one afternoon. Curiously, these designs are based on a 1966 animated series from Hanna Barbera. I can't say as I ever saw that show, but I do remember Stan and Ollie turning up on Scooby-Doo. Also on this page: more Penny Power nonsense, plus Felix the Cat, a panda bear, "I Love My Dog" (we always had dogs in my family), and a now-dormant peppermint scratch 'n' sniff.

Laurel & Hardy stickers, plus Felix the Cat and more!

And now, the end is near, and so I face... Hello Kitty. Look, back then, I was a sticker junkie. I'd take whatever I could get. Even Sanrio stuff. Remember Happyland? That place was like Sanrio Heaven. It's only natural that some of that stuff would filter into my collection. Maybe the American flag helps balance it out. There's some more interesting stuff on this, the final page of my little sticker album. See that Smurfs sticker down there, for instance? It's another scratch 'n' sniff, but this one actually still smells like peanut butter. I'm not kidding. Don't believe me? Smell your screen.

You might notice some Hi-C/Return of the Jedi stickers, too. Turns out this was part of a whole promotion. I somehow wound up with arguably two of the lamer stickers in this collection. Wonder what happened to the rest? Anyway, thank you for taking this voyage with me down Memory Lane. You have a real nice rest of your day.

Hello Kitty and Return of the Jedi stickers