Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood in the early 1970s, around the time of The Only House in Town.

On DVD at last!
The low-budget softcore sex film The Only House in Town—generally thought to have been written and directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr.—remained something of a holy grail to his fans until it was released on DVD by Films Around the World in late 2015. Prior to that bare-bones disc, the film had been surreptitiously seen by a handful of hardcore Woodologists, thanks to a shoddy, time-coded bootleg copy that had been passed around for years.

After a nearly decade-long dry spell as a filmmaker, Ed Wood made his return to the director's chair in January 1970 for the sex comedy Take It Out in Trade. Along with NecromaniaThe Only House in Town was made in the aftermath of that unlikely comeback. Shot in mere days on 16mm, it is a freewheeling (read: all but totally lacking post-production) and nearly plotless feature financed by Noel Bloom's production company Cinema Classics. Noel's father, Pendulum Publishers honcho Bernie Bloom, was a patriarchal figure in Eddie's orbit at the time as well as his steadiest employer. In addition to its theatrical engagements, starting in 1971, The Only House in Town was chopped into pieces to make some 8mm home-market loops, which in turn were advertised in Pendulum's adult magazines

As it turned out, 1971 was a pivotal year in the evolution of the sex film as a mass cultural object. The Only House in Town played a near-invisible part in that story, though Ed's involvement would go unmentioned. His name is nowhere to be found in the credits, and his connection to the film was not widely reported until Rudolph Grey's biography Nightmare of Ecstasy in 1992.

Below are three Only House in Town ads from 1971. The first is from the July 23 edition of The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY). The second is from the February 6 edition of The Journal Herald (Dayton, OH). And the third is from the August 18 edition of The Journal Times (Racine, WI).

Three ads for The Only House in Town from 1971.

And here's an ad from the September 4, 1971 edition of The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI). Looks like the movie was getting five screenings a day at the Globe Art Theatre.

"The very best in adult films."

This ad from the April 15, 1971 edition of The Amarillo Globe Times (Amarillo, TX) is interesting because The Only House in Town is paired with a film whose title is so scandalous it cannot even be printed. It also looks like the movie played at several locations in the Mini Vue Adult Cinema chain.

"A Most Unusual Kind of House."

This one comes to us from the February 25, 1972 edition of The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA). The New Glen Art was actually in nearby Decatur. Not a trace remains of it today. It's all dry cleaners and strip malls in this area now.

Compared to 8mm films, 16mm films were a luxury.

Securing playdates across America well into 1972 and beyond, The Only House in Town was but one of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of sex films in theaters at that time. As these vintage newspaper clippings attest, it largely occupied the bottom half of double bills, paired with films that are now forgotten. It, too, would likely be forgotten today if not for Ed's purported involvement. With its quasi-hippie characters, it paired well with films like Fred Baker's Events (1970) that attempted to capture the then-current zeitgeist of sexual permissiveness and open mindedness. The following ad appeared in the April 9, 1971 edition of The Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM). This is another Mini Vue location.

Balling it up in Albuquerque. I've heard it's strictly a 9:00 town.

The intersections between Baker and Wood are another matter for another day. (Hint: they involve both Lenny Bruce and Martha Graham!) Meanwhile, The Only House in Town maintained a steady drip of theatrical bookings between 1971 and 1973. The film's relative ubiquity is somewhat surprising. It's not difficult to imagine an extremely modest movie like this disappearing, little-seen, into the ether. The film's original marketing campaign was low-key but prolific. The existing newspaper ads display only the most basic promotional ballyhoo ("It's very, very wild"), but they do attest to the fact that this film was indeed playing in theaters across the country.

Here's another ad, this time from the March 14, 1971 edition of The Santa Fe New Mexican Sun (Santa Fe, NM).

Don't worry about Karen. She's much better now.

In fact, The Only House in Town kept getting theatrical showings on a regular basis right into the summer of 1973. Incredibly, in mid-June of that year, it played on a double bill with Necromania at the now-demolished Strand Theatre in Manchester, New Hampshire. Here's a clipping from the June 14, 1973 edition of The Nashua Telegraph.

A dollar off on Mondays, ladies.

By that time, thanks to the success of films like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, hardcore features had rapidly gained a foothold in the marketplace. We know that both Necromania and Take It Out in Trade existed in both softcore and hardcore versions. Furthermore, the AWOL, Wood-scripted Operation Redlight (1969) was shot softcore, but a crew member told the film's cinematographer/co-producer Jack Descent that he saw that film with hardcore inserts circa 1972.

It makes me wonder. Could The Only House in Town also have hardcore inserts?