Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 13 by Greg Dziawer

The witching hour is now at hand, gentle reader!

Jack's studio/lab, Cinema 35.
"I have a sorrow streak for him," said late producer Jacques "Jack" Descent of Edward D. Wood, Jr. "I have always admired the outcast."

I first became friends with Jack about three years ago. In April 2016, six months into our friendship, I asked him to write a remembrance of Eddie, with whom he worked on several movie projects. Jack proved to be a valuable source of information about Ed Wood's years in the adult film industry.

Descent's name is one that devoted Wood fans should recognize. A French-Canadian transplant, Jack was running his own combination film studio and lab in the 1960s in North Hollywood, just as hardcore porn was achieving mainstream popularity. Into the 1970s, he printed 8mm adult loops for the under-the-counter/sex shop/home market, working for such interesting characters as Noel Bloom, son of Ed's loyal patron and publisher Bernie Bloom, and Mickey Zaffarano, the purported mob kingpin of '70s porn distribution. In fact, Jack unreservedly described Mickey as "a friend."

Meanwhile, Eddie was also toiling in the porno film business back then, writing subtitles and box cover summaries for those silent loops and likely directing and/or editing at least some of them. He even appeared on camera in an infamous loop called The Jailer, a fact that merited mention in Rudolph Grey's seminal 1992 text, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. And an examination of the loop proves beyond doubt that Ed was there, a sombrero on his head and a dildo in his hand.

But I digress. 

The seeds of Eddie's association with Jack Descent go back to 1965. Born and raised in the rural outskirts of Montreal, Jack Descent arrived in Hollywood (via Detroit) and opened a camera shop on Santa Monica Blvd. that year. It was there he met a would-be actor and amateur geologist named Bill Morley. This would prove a crucial encounter in a number of ways.

Within a few years, Jack was making inroads into the film industry. As a producer and cinematographer, he shot a television pilot in 1967. Intended as a half-hour documentary series, The Rock Hound, as essayed by Bill Morley, was to explore the southwestern United States as an emissary of the then-popular fad of amateur geology. The pilot episode ultimately reached the airwaves, and the series was picked up, albeit by a rival network. But Rock Hound ended before it ever really got started. Tragically, a plane carrying the crew and footage for the series crashed.

News clippings about The Rock Hound. Click to see at full size.

Later, back in Hollywood, Bill Morley stopped by the Cinema 35 Center, Jack's then-newly-opened studio/lab, located in what had been a vast automotive repair complex, complete with two drive bays in front. This time, Bill brought a friend with him: Eddie Wood, by then a fortysomething writer of lurid paperbacks.

Jack's memory of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is one that differs substantially from the tragicomic, frankly derisive image that the cult filmmaker has maintained for decades. Gregarious, empathetic, and without judgment, Jack remembered Eddie as a friend and associate, terms of admiration and affection in an industry normally short on both.

It's easy enough to think of Eddie as merely a clownish drunk, stumbling around in a too-tight girdle and white vinyl boots, penning pornography, his Hollywood dreams dashed. But Jack Descent provided a different perspective on a man he knew over the course of nearly a decade. In all, Jack told me that he purchased five screenplays from Ed Wood. One of those scripts was turned into the still-missing Operation Redlight (1969). This film is something of a holy grail, since in addition to writing the screenplay, Ed also acted in the film—sometimes in drag, sometimes in a silk dressing gown—as Madame Bruce Hammerford (aka "Momma"), an on the-lam adult novelist who winds up running a brothel in Vietnam.

For a time, Jack told me, Ed Wood lived in an apartment not far from the Cinema 35 Center on Hollywood and Western. Ed and Bill Morley stopped by the place often, and Jack guessed them to be drinking buddies. For a time, the angora sweater Ed had donned in Operation Redlight hung in the front office at Cinema 35.

From April 2016, here are some of Jack's recollections of Ed:
Jacques Descent (1937-2018)
Finding, listing another book, story, film, does not make much difference nor does it change what we know about Ed Wood. Enough has been said, written and produced about Ed. We get the picture. 
I met and knew a different man than what is described in most all articles and bios about Ed. He was more subtle with me and was always trying to project himself in my presence as an honorable talent with achievement, as if he wanted to tell me that he had done great things and the seeming trash around him was merely a means of survival. Undoubtedly, he was a terrible businessman. 
Was he prolific in his writing? Of course! I have never met anyone like him, and he could not have fooled me by taking credit for work he had not genuinely done. When an idea for a story or a script evolved, or simply was talked over with Ed, and with the issuance of a $250 check as a 50% deposit for a 60 to 70 pages script, it would result in me receiving a well-prepared piece of writing within a week with Ed looking for the next $250. 
I feel I owe it to Ed to tell how I perceived him and how I really believe he was an incredibly talented person and had he received proper guidance and management he might have taken a much different course. I liked Ed and I liked his professionalism. Whatever we did, he was always punctual, well-mannered and always knew his stuff. That probably made it easier since he had written most of it. In productions he would listen to comments and suggestions, and he always wanted to please. I never heard him raise his voice at anyone. 
While he sometimes enjoyed the limelight in the trash business, he knew that he deserved and could do much better work if given the opportunity. He deserved more and better.

Jack and I spoke often of Ed in the years before he passed. He told me that Ed signed over the rights to Mama's Diary, the paperback novel upon which Operation Redlight was based, by signing an actual copy of the book. (Incidentally, that book is an exceedingly rare item these days. Try to find a copy yourself.) And Jack told me much more that I'll share with you in future installments of this series.