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.