Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

The man on the right is Ed Wood's drinking buddy Bill Morey.
Last week, I shared some memories of Ed Wood by film producer Jacques Descent. "Jack," as I called him, sadly passed earlier this year. In 1969, he co-produced and shot the still-missing Operation Redlight, an intriguing softcore sexploitation film starring and written by Ed. It was seemingly never distributed in its original form, although Jack recollected that about three years after its completion, a crew member who had worked on Redlight and who was still in his employ reported the he'd seen the film playing theatrically in a hardcore version, complete with explicit pornographic inserts.

Just this last weekend, I finally had the stomach to begin going through the cache of personal artifacts Jack gave me. Two items popped up, both of which made me reflect again about Operation Redlight, a true holy grail for Wood obsessives.

Item 1:

Arri zoom lens, 1967. Note the inscription: "Descent & Co. Hollywood."

I had seen this photo of a zoom lens before on Jack's personal website, now down since his passing but thankfully preserved by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Next to the tiny image on the site, the object is described: "Zoom lens for Arri Motion Picture film camera." It's listed in a section of the site called "Patents, Trademarks, Innovations," a timeline of Jack's career as an inventor. The lens, in fact, is the first item on the list and is given a date of 1967. Although an inscription on the item is evident in the photo, the image on the site lacked enough detail to make out the words.

An excerpt from Jack Descent's website.

Coming across the original photo gave me a new perspective on the lens. The inscription clearly reads "Descent and Co. Hollywood." As I thought about this for a moment, realizing the year was 1967, it dawned on me that this could have very well been the lens with which Jack shot Operation Redlight. In the absence of the film, I confess that this arcane possibility fascinates me more than it probably should.

Item 2:

A page from Jack Descent's scrapbook with an article about The Rockhound.

I'd already seen numerous newspaper clippings about the thwarted TV series The Rockhound. Like Operation Redlight, this was produced and shot by Jack, perhaps using that same unique zoom lens. As with Redlight, The Rockhound was directed by Don Doyle. Only the 1967 pilot ever seems to have aired. The proposed 30-minute docu-series about amateur geology would have been hosted by actor and real-life rock enthusiast Bill Morey.

When I came across a single page torn from an old scrapbook, I quickly noted that it contained a Rockhound article I had never seen before. The accompanying photo, showing Morey posing with crew members in front of the offices of Southern Utah Outdoor News, particularly amazed me.

But what does this have to do with Ed Wood, you may wonder? Well, at some point in the late 1960s, Bill Morey introduced Ed Wood to Jack Descent. This meeting is what eventually led to Operation Redlight. More significantly, Bill Morey is a colorful character in the Ed Wood saga who has remained invisible until now, as far as I can find. Morey is not mentioned at all, for instance, in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992). Jack described Bill and Eddie as "drinking buddies" and said that, whenever Ed stopped by Jack's studio/lab in Hollywood to try to sell him a script, he was with Bill.

Although the Rockhound series never aired, Morey played the character one last time in Desert Gems (aka 4 Days to Live), a 1973 feature film aimed at children. Shot and produced once again by Jack Descent, Gems was filmed in 35mm in the Mojave Desert. In it, the Rockhound partners with a shaman in a race against time to save a child's life. Improbable as it may sound, the film was based on a true story, no kidding (minus the Rockhound, of course).

Jack Descent (left) with director Deke Miles during the filming of Desert Gems.

Sadly, though all the necessary footage was shot, Desert Gems never made it into post-production. Little else is known of Bill Morey or of his friendship with Ed Wood, beyond what Jack shared with me. I was tickled to find this scrapbook news clipping, as it includes the first photo I had ever seen of Bill.

It was also the first photo I'd ever seen of Gerald Sylvain, a childhood friend of Jack's from Montreal who made the trek with him to Hollywood in the mid-1960s; and of Will French, an associate of Jack's. They worked on many films together, and Jack always remembered Will fondly.

The newspaper clipping revealed another cool detail: the Rockhound had a vehicle of his own. He was presumably going to drive it from town to town, episode to episode, as he searched for precious minerals and other valuable artifacts. The fact that he and his crew found a dinosaur bone, as noted in the newspaper caption, is simply awesome.

Alas, neither the lens nor the complete scrapbook were among Jack's personal effects. But there are more artifacts and stories to come about Operation Redlight as we piece together our knowledge of that mysterious film, bit by ephemeral bit.

Special thanks to my friend Jack Descent. You are missed.