Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ed Wood extra: On his 94th birthday, the state of the Ed Wood union is strong

Ed Wood as Alecia in Take It Out in Trade (1970).

Not many of us live to be 94, and Ed Wood didn't even come close. His heart conked out after decades of alcohol abuse when he was 54. So, yes, in a couple of months, we'll be observing the 40th anniversary of his untimely though hardly unexpected passing. He died in poverty and obscurity, mourned by his long-suffering wife Kathy and a handful of longtime friends and professional associates.

Eddie's posthumous career famously took off only two years after he died and has ebbed and flowed in terms of popularity ever since, arguably peaking in the 1990s with the publication of Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) and the release of Tim Burton's star-studded biopic Ed Wood (1994). Those events sparked a series of new VHS and DVD editions of Ed's most famous movies. Even a handful of his books came back into print. But Nightmare and Ed Wood came out over two decades ago. How is the Ed Wood cult holding up in 2018?

Ladies and gentlemen, I can safely report that the state of the Ed Wood union is strong. While the last couple of years have witnessed the deaths of such Wood associates as Conrad Brooks, Jacques Descent, and David Ward, they have also witnessed lavish Blu-ray reissues of Wood-scripted films like Orgy of the Dead (1965), The Violent Years (1956), and Fugitive Girls (1974). Ed's own Take It Out in Trade (1970) is finally due to be issued on DVD and Blu-ray this November, nearly half a century after its original release.

Ed Wood-related books continue to pour in as well. Four years ago, Wood superfan Bob Blackburn oversaw the publication of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. And now, he is completing work on two further anthologies of Eddie's many, many short stories from the 1960s and '70s. Other quintessential Wood volumes from recent years include two books by Gary D. Rhodes and Tom Weaver: Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster (2015) and Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Screenplays (2016). The definitive critical tome on Ed's movies remains Rob Craig's Ed Wood, Mad Genius (2009), but more are being written, such as The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (2015) by Andrew J. Rausch and Charles E. Pratt, Jr.  And then there is James Pontolillo's The Unknown War of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (2017), which sets the record straight on Eddie's war record once and for all.

But what has really changed since the 1990s is the rise of the internet, which has made researching Ed's life and work so much easier. Thanks to Google, Amazon, YouTube, Ebay, etc., Eddie's fans have more access to films, stories, and articles related to the notorious writer-director than ever before. And the advent of social media has allowed his fans, including me, to exchange information and insights about Ed Wood in a way that would have been impossible a few decades ago.

When I first became interested in the Wood cult in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was difficult to find even Eddie's most famous films, like Glen or Glenda (1953) or Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). No more. Now I have copies of those films and dozens more at my disposal. What has changed? Technology.

Nearly every week, Greg Dziawer knocks me out with some fantastic new discovery he has made in his truly painstaking research into Ed Wood's life and career. While Nightmare of Ecstasy remains a valuable source of information, one in which I am still making new discoveries, Grey's patchwork biography is now profoundly out of date and becomes more so with each passing year, as new information continues to trickle in.

When Ed and Kathy Wood were evicted, penniless, from their Yucca St. apartment in Los Angeles a few weeks before Christmas in 1978, it would seem like Eddie's legacy was in danger of being erased entirely. Four decades later, that legacy has never been more thoroughly documented.