Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Holiday Sampler by Greg Dziawer

Don't say we never got you anything. We got you this.

As the holidays approach and we gather with loved ones to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, let's whet our appetites with some vintage newspaper clippings related to Edward D. Wood, Jr. and his incredible cast of repertory players. These are just some interesting tidbits I've uncovered while doing research for upcoming articles.

Let's dig in, shall we?

I. Valda Hansen and her pollen pills

Valda's ad from 1984.
Although she appeared in only one of Ed Wood's films, playing the fraudulent White Ghost in 1959's Night of the Ghouls, flaxen-haired starlet Valda Hansen is still remembered fondly as one of Eddie's inner circle of performers. She's a memorable interview subject in Rudolph Gray's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992) as well as the documentary Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion (1992). Valda's disctinctive but sporadic appearances in exploitation films like Wam Bam Thank You Spaceman (1975) sputtered out by the mid-'70s, so I was suitably surprised when I stumbled upon her in a 1984 print ad for Pollitabs. This mysterious product, still available today, was a pollen-based (get it?) nutritional supplement endorsed by none other than Valda herself and superstar gymnast Mary Lou Retton, then America's sweetheart after her gold medal performance at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Julianne McNamara, another gold medal gymnast from the '84 games, is also cited in the ad copy.

The supplement ad is a fascinating little artifact of its era. Note, for instance, the North Hollywood address for ordering Pollitabs. This appears to be the same environs in which Valda resided throughout her adult life to the end, as well as the very same geography in which Ed Wood lived and an epicenter of the porn industry as it came into existence and flourished there in the 1970s.

Valda began modelling professionally right out of high school, perhaps even sooner, and appears to have continued doing so, at least locally, for decades. In the Pollitabs ad, which ran in the December 5, 1984 edition of the Indianapolis Jewish Post, she certainly appears to possess  the "energy" and "vitality" that the copy promises. Less than a decade later, however, still in her early 50s, Valda succumbed to cancer all too soon. 

II. Tor Johnson's tour of London

Tor Johnson in London, 1947.
Featured in three of Ed Wood's best-known films, including the aforementioned Night of the Ghouls, the bald, hulking professional-wrestler-cum-actor Tor Johnson remains one of the most beloved members of Ed's eccentric stock troupe. A Swedish immigrant, Tor began his wrestling career as a heavy, ironically dubbed "The Swedish Angel." In those early days, the wrestler did indeed possess hair, but it was long gone by the late 1940s. 

An odd little item from the June 28, 1947 edition of the Perth Mirror in Western Australia, depicts Tor wearing a comical beanie cap, plus a baggy suit, knee-length overcoat, and ludicrously undersized necktie. He towers over the gentleman standing next to him.

Headlined "Giant Goes To London," the clipping in question is a wire-service photo of the wrestler's visit to the British capital. The caption explains what he's doing there:
TOR JOHNSON, 30-stone [420-pound] "Man Mountain," who played the part of the great ape in the film "King Kong" 15 years ago, in playful mood on his arrival in London to take part in an International "catch-as-catch-can" wrestling contest at Harringay [sporting arena] next month. Johnson claims to be the strongest man in the world.
The caption writer has taken some liberty with the facts. According to the IMDb, Tor's known acting appearances date back only to 1934, the year after Kong Kong was released. Alas, though he may well have been "the strongest man in the world," Tor Johnson did not play the doomed ape in the RKO classic. The creature was instead bought to life through stop-motion animation.

Happily, Tor's 1947 appearance at Harringay was captured for posterity by newsreel cameras. The plummy Pathe narrator again refers to Tor as "King Kong" and repeats the wrestler's weight as 30-stone. The newsreel's claim that Tor was seven feet tall was an exaggeration of about nine inches. "The promoters [of the wrestling contest] evidently wanted to put over this farce as a serious sport," the narrator quips. "So far as we're concerned, it was one long series of laughs."

Tor did make an early, uncredited appearance in a 1936 Ronald Colman film called Under Two Flags, set amidst the French Foreign Legion. Glen or Glenda actor Captain DeZita, who was mostly going by the name Baron De Orgler at the time, would claim involvement in this same film as a consultant. DeZita frequently alleged—likely bullshit—to have been in the French Foreign Legion himself.

Tor Johnson died at the age 67 in 1971 and is buried in the San Fernando Valley, hub of the 1980s porn industry.

III. Dolores Fuller plays it safe

Ed Wood's live-in girlfriend as well as the co-star of his 1953 masterpiece Glen or Glenda, Dolores Fuller would break up with the idiosyncratic writer-director by the middle of the decade. Dolores' acting career, including occasional appearances in episodic television and films, had seemingly dried up by 1959. But she kept finding work as a print model, as in this ad sponsored by the National Safety Council. This picture ran in the Valentine's Day 1959 edition of the Boston Daily Record.

Dolores Fuller: "A cute Valentine herself."

"Valentine, I love you true—sure hope no one runs over you." True poetry. Appropriately, then, Dolores shifted careers shortly after this ad and became a professional songwriter herself. Within a few years, she was busy writing lyrics for hit songs by Elvis Presley. A frequent interviewee in documentaries and articles about Ed Wood, Dolores lived to be 88. She was buried in Las Vegas.

Happy Holidays, and don't choke on that Golden Turkey!