Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas Holiday Yuletide Comics Roundup Spectacular!!

No, that's not Paulie Walnuts! It's Mary Worth!

Christmas is mere days away, and I have nothing to give you except some comics parodies. Try not to look disappointed. It's been a lean year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, The Wood Loop Orbit, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

'Tis the season... for smut!

"Come and trim my Christmas tree with some decorations bought at Tiffany." 
-"Santa Baby" (1953) by Eartha Kitt

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 17 by Greg Dziawer

Things are getting a little nutty this week.

NOTE:
In a 1978 interview, filmmaker Fred Olen Ray asked Edward D. Wood, Jr. if he had repeated any shots of Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Eddie proudly answered, "I have never duplicated a scene!" 
Never, Eddie? That's quite a claim. Unlike Ed Wood, I'm not above copping to a little recycling. Today, for instance, I'm reusing the introduction from an article I did back in October about a silent, subtitled 8mm loop called "Super Stud" (1973), the first entry in the Pussycat Films series. The intro happens to fit the film I'm discussing this week. I've merely changed the loop title and volume number. - G.D.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 93: Let's badly colorize "Jail Bait" (1954)

Tampering with a classic.

NOTE: Let's be real here. It's Thanksgiving week. People are out of town or busy with relatives. It's very unlikely that anyone is even reading this article right now. So let's do something goofy and fun and meaningless. In other words, don't take this seriously. - J.B.
Always a bridesmaid.
When it comes to Ed Wood's filmography, three films tend to get all the attention: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Glen or Glenda (1953), and Bride of the Monster (1955). They're the first of Ed's movies I saw back in 1992. They're also the ones depicted in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994). Not surprisingly, these are the titles that have been released the most times in the most formats for home viewing. In short, these are the three films that people know, even if that's pretty much all they know about Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Which means that Eddie's other films, including the 1954 crime drama Jail Bait, tend to get short shrift. Thanks to a company called Legend Films, Plan 9, Glenda, and Bride have all been released in computer-colorized form. While the colorization process deviates from the original intentions of the director and cinematographer, it also manages to bring out some background details that viewers might otherwise ignore. It also allows the films to reach viewers who might be averse to watching a black-and-white film.

To be honest, Jail Bait is probably never going to get the colorization treatment. It's nowhere near as popular as the other three films—Burton's biopic just skips right over it—and that sleazy, salacious title will probably keep many viewers away, even though it refers to a gun. Plus, there's that troubling, outdated blackface sequence featuring comedian Cotton Watts. Not to mention that there's no cross-dressing, nor any sci-fi or horror elements in the script. There's a lot working against Jail Bait.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed-Tribution Odyssey, Part Five by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood has been dubiously connected to the 1970 film Excited.


"I like it when somebody gets excited about something." 
- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 92: "Drag It Out" (1971)

Ed Wood gets the opportunity to interview himself in "Drag It Out."

While working as a writer in the 1960s and '70s, Edward D. Wood, Jr. produced both fiction and nonfiction in staggering quantities. Books, stories, and even whole novels came flying from his typewriter in those booze-soaked years. He didn't have the luxury of spending weeks or months on a manuscript. He really needed the money, and the only way he knew to survive was by being hyper-prolific and making one sale after another. In a way, this is one of the strengths of his writing; there's a feverish immediacy to his hastily-written prose. There's nothing careful or cautious about it.

Writer Leo Eaton.
But the relentless pace meant that Ed didn't have time for such niceties as research. When tasked with producing nonfiction, he often relied heavily on his own memories and imagination. Or, to put it more bluntly, he just made stuff up and passed it off as the truth. It's likely that his editors didn't much care, as long as Ed's text wasn't blatantly plagiarized or recycled. Leo Eaton, who worked alongside Eddie at Pendulum Publishing in Los Angeles in the early '70s, remembered that some of Ed's coworkers did get fired for such things. Here's his version of those events:
While we liked the extra money from writing the books, none of us (except maybe Ed) liked the idea of spending our free time writing them, especially since people only bought them for the pictures. Before I joined Pendulum, the younger writers had developed a unique short-cut, dipping into the files for magazine articles that had been written a year or more before, collecting seven or eight together, then rewriting the first paragraph of each to fit a new generic title. Such a "new" manuscript was then sent straight down to typesetting. I think the record for 'writing' a 'new' non-fiction book was an hour. Eight hundred bucks is certainly good pay for an hour's work! Ed used to disapprove strongly and always wrote his manuscripts completely, although he too culled heavily from the [preexisting] T. K. Peters [sex research] material. Apparently the scam was discovered some months after I'd left Pendulum, and at least one of my fellow writers was fired.

So Ed Wood was nominally more honest than the other employees at Pendulum. But his scruples didn't prevent him from churning out completely bogus articles like the one that is our focus today. What this story lacks in veracity, it more than makes up for in entertainment value.

The story: "Drag It Out," originally published in Hit & Fun (Calga, June/July 1971). Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: A reporter from Hit & Fun magazine interviews a transvestite named Shirley. First though, the article dispels some myths about cross-dressers. Not all transvestites are homosexuals, for instance. In fact, the "true" transvestite is heterosexual, and many are married to women. The "most fluent" transvestites try to find employment in places where they can wear female attire every day. The modern cross-dresser is also much more convincing than the drag queens of old, thanks in part to better quality wigs, allowing them to venture into the world with confidence.

As for Shirley, he only wears female clothing and has been doing so for as long as he can remember. When he was a child, his mother used to make him try on girls' clothing, which he loved, and he grew to detest wearing male attire. Shirley admits that wearing women's clothing plays a big part in his masturbation rituals; this is true for all transvestites. Shirley's wife is actually very supportive of her husband's lifestyle, except when she's been drinking.

In general, Shirley's "deviant" lifestyle causes him little grief, though he regrets that the public at large does not truly understand transvestites. Shirley is not homosexual, but he is accepting of homosexuals because they were among the few who tolerated cross-dressing in the bad old days when it was illegal for men to wear women's clothing in public. Today he lives without fear. Since his female attire is so convincing, he can even shop for nightgowns and "dainties" without the salespeople ever suspecting a thing. On the rare occasion when he is "spotted" by a keen-eyed cashier, he simply finds it amusing.

Wood trademarks: Cross-dressing (cf. Glen or Glenda, "A Piece of Class," Killer in Drag, much more); "lovely" (cf. "Cease to Exist," "Insatiable," "Trade Secrets"); character named Shirley (cf. Orgy of the Dead, Necromania, "Insatiable," "The Hooker"); angora sweater (cf ."Try, Try Again," "Once Upon a Gargoyle," "Hitchhike to Hell"); emphasis on color pink (cf. "2 X Double," "The Gory Details"); transvestites are not homosexuals (cf. Glen or Glenda); laws regarding cross-dressing (cf. Glen or Glenda); nighties and negligees (cf. "Tears on Her Pillow," "Insatiable," "Return of the Vampire"); whiskey (cf. "Never Fall Backwards," "Howl of the Werewolf"); dealing with salespeople when you're a transvestite (cf. Glen or Glenda); marital discord (cf. "The Wave Off," "Scream Your Bloody Head Off"); "ma'an" (cf. "The Devil and the Deep Blue-Eyed Blonde").

Excerpt: "No one really understands us, or our position. They accept us, some seriously, and some as a sort of joke or to introduce to friends as a 'see what I have here' sort of freak. But no one really understands what’s down deep inside."

Reflections: I think it's significant that Ed Wood gave his own drag name, Shirley, to both male and female characters in his fictional works. But all of these characters have something in common: attractiveness. The women named Shirley in Eddie's films, stories, and books are always paragons of beauty, irresistible to men. Every female Shirley is a knockout. But what of his male Shirleys, like the one in this story? Well, they're always the most authentically feminine drag queens in the world. Here is how "Drag It Out" begins:
The lovely creature sitting before the Hit & Fun Magazine Interviewer wore a pink angora sweater topping a basically yellow and red plaid mini-skirt. Nylon panty hose dipped down into calf high, pink boots with a four inch heel. The hair was blonde and fell below shoulder length. Pink lipstick rounded out the lips which centered below a small straight nose and enhanced the dark mascaraed eyes.
"And of course it will never snag!"
Only after all this buildup does Eddie reveal that Shirley has "a full grown penis and testicles." Up to this point, we're supposed to believe Shirley is not only a female but a perfect female!

It's well known that Ed used to go out in public dressed as Shirley in the 1960s and '70s. But the real-life Shirley was not much like the fictional one from "Drag It Out." I keep coming back to comments made by director Joe Robertson, who socialized with Eddie and cast him in three different movies between 1969 and 1971. In Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Robertson describes Shirley as "a 45-year-old bar hooker" and "the grossest thing in the world." He also points out that Eddie couldn't walk in heels and that his wig was always "on crooked." Robertson made similar statements to filmmaker Ted Newsom, criticizing Shirley's "horrible" outdated dress, ill-fitting wig, and patchy makeup. The fictional Shirley, then, was Eddie's ideal, the kind of cross-dresser he wanted to be or wished he could have been.

It's also interesting to me that, as late as 1971, Ed Wood was still incorporating numerous ideas he'd already used in 1953's Glen or Glenda. That early film remains the Rosetta Stone for deciphering much of Eddie's subsequent work. Once again, Ed trots out the story of the boy whose mother dressed him in drag and, knowingly or unknowingly, introduced him to the joys of transvestism. He talks, too, of the brave men who risked arrest by daring to enter the street while in female attire. And, finally, he describes what it's like for a man to buy women's clothing in a department store. If only Eddie had lived to see the era of online commerce, he could have had lacy peignoirs delivered right to his doorstep in a plain brown box. No interactions with nosy sales clerks required!

What's most notable about "Drag It Out" is its overall positive, optimistic tone. It comes from an era of Ed's life that most observers would describe as dark or even bleak, and yet the mood of the article is upbeat and hopeful, with Ed marveling at the progress cross-dressers have made, both legally and cosmetically. The author certainly had his sour, cynical side—it emerges in many of the grungy, violent stories collected in Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever—but "Drag It Out" shows that Eddie never totally lost touch with the can-do dreamer he'd once been.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Major book announcement!

Director Stephen C. Apostolof and his children on the set.

For the last couple of years, Jordan Todorov and I have been working on a comprehensive, fully-illustrated biography of Bulgarian-born sexploitation director Stephen C. Apostolof (1928-2005), the man behind Orgy of the Dead, Fugitive Girls, and much more. Along the way, we've had the total cooperation of the Apostolof family and access to Stephen's personal archives. You may know Steve Apostolof from his collaborations with Ed Wood, but there's a lot more to the story than that.

And now, our book, Dad Made Dirty Movies: The Erotic World of Stephen C. Apostolof, is finally available for pre-order from McFarland. It's also available for pre-order from Amazon, and I especially hope you click that Amazon link because you'll see the promotional blurb I wrote for this book however many months ago. I must've been pretty hyped up on caffeine that day.

In all seriousness, this book has been a real labor of love for Jordan and for me, and we're very anxious for Dad Made Dirty Movies to reach bookstores and readers everywhere!

A spooktacular comics roundup, part 2

Enjoy never sleeping again.

Before you go out trick-or-treating, I invite you to cleanse your palette with some seasonally appropriate comic strip parodies.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 91: The long uphill road of 'Dames and Dreams' (2019)

Palmistry is a major part of the newly-restored Dames and Dreams.

Every movie that manages to be completed, released, and distributed represents a triumph for its creators, no matter how it's ultimately received at the box office or by critics. Let's face it, most movies never get past the "brainstorming" or "daydreaming" stage, i.e. "Hey, here's an idea that might make for a good film." Some of these half-formed notions eventually get written into actual screenplays. And, of those screenplays, only a percentage ever make it in front of cameras.

Two directors commiserate in Ed Wood.
Once a screenplay enters the production phase, the potential hazards increase exponentially. Money could run out or be withdrawn. Locations could become unavailable. The weather could refuse to cooperate. Cast or crew members could prove unreliable or unsuited to the project. Props could malfunction. Sets could topple over. Or maybe, once the project is already underway, everyone involved might realize this wasn't such a great idea for a film after all.

As the old hymn says, "Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come." Only the heartiest of movies survive the stressful and expensive production process.

And the brutal winnowing-down only continues from there. After shooting is done, a film might stall in the post-production phase when the existing footage is processed, edited, scored, color corrected, etc. Even after all those hurdles, a completed movie might still never reach its intended audience due to a lack of distribution and/or advertising. What good is a movie if there's no easy way for people to see it? Or if they never even hear about it?

Edward D. Wood, Jr. knew about all these dangers, toils, and snares. He had projects that never got past the "intriguing notion" phase (such as his unmade Mickey Cohen biopic), ones that languished as screenplays (The Basketballers, Rue Pigalle, and probably dozens of others), films that fell apart during production or post-production (Hellborn), and films that struggled to be released even after they were completed (Night of the Ghouls). Even Ed Wood's inaugural project, Crossroads of Laredo (1948), was itself a miscarriage, destined to remain unreleased until long after Ed's death. The filmmaker's longest-gestating project, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, only became a film in 1998, two decades after Ed Wood's death, and even then had trouble getting distribution and reaching audiences.

But Ed Wood was hardly alone in this respect. His compatriots in the film business, most of them working well outside of the studio system, all had their share of headaches and setbacks in getting their movies completed and released. Hollywood is a tough town sometimes. In their introduction to the Ed Wood (1994) screenplay book, writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski discussed the completely fictional scene in which Eddie meets his hero, Orson Welles:
"The juxtaposition was ludicrous and thematically pleasing: both men were scrambling to raise money, shooting films haphazardly in pieces, and having their work recut by others. The greatest film-maker in the world and the worst film-maker in the world had landed in the same boat; they had identical problems."
A neglected '70s classic finally released!
My colleague Greg Dziawer has just survived a crash course in completing and releasing a motion picture. Since late 2016, Greg has been intimately involved in finishing a softcore movie that producer Jacques Descent began all the way back in June 1974. Jacques, who collaborated with Ed Wood on multiple projects, died in June 2018, but Greg continued with the project as a tribute to his departed friend.

Now, happily, that film is finally available on Blu-ray under the title Dames and Dreams from Darkside Releasing. You can buy the film and watch a trailer here. Darkside is offering the film on its own or bundled with a Herschell Gordon Lewis documentary called Bloodmania. The Dames disc also includes an audio commentary and some bonus footage, plus a booklet containing Jacques Descent's final interview. As for the film itself, Darkside luridly proclaims:
"The men are pawns and the women only look innocent! Four wild, willing and wanton ladies are read their fortunes at a swinging ´70s Hollywood revel. They tangle in every way with cons, cheats and corrupt cops, brandishing sex as their weapon. When reality ends, their bared fantasies are just beginning. Hot girls and supercool ’70s backdrops erupt in an orgy of danger and sexual intrigue in this lost exploitation artifact, unseen in and now fully restored after nearly half a century."
So, after all this rigmarole, how is Dames and Dreams? I'm happy to report that the film is quite enjoyable, especially for those who are already into movies of this vintage and genre. Keep your expectations at a realistic level. This is a modestly budgeted mid-1970s sexploitation film. That should tell you what you need to know regarding the quality of the acting and the overall production value. Those in search of heart-rending drama or eye-popping special effects should look elsewhere.

That said, Dames and Dreams is in remarkably pristine condition, a testament to how well the original elements from 1974 were preserved over the decades. This movie both looks and sounds great. The colors are vibrant, and the dialogue is nice and crisp. It's a shame the film never made it out of post-production the year it was actually filmed, because it would have been a very salable item back then. I've sat through numerous hardcore and softcore sex films from this era, and few are in such good shape as this one.

Dames and Dreams is a priceless keepsake of its era, a real throwback to the days of ABBA, Gerald Ford, and streaking. (Note: The film does not actually include Gerald Ford streaking with ABBA. But it could.) Adult film aficionados will love seeing the legendary Serena at the beginning of her career, while Ed Wood experts can enjoy spotting actresses Marjorie Lanier and Tallie Cochrane, both of Fugitive Girls (1974) fame. Prolific character actor George "Buck" Flower, best known for his recurring role as a bum in the Back to the Future franchise, also turns up here as a smuggler.

Based on Greg's earlier descriptions of the film, not to mention the word "dreams" in the title, I thought the movie might be a random, plotless jumble of footage. Greg also mentioned that he and the restoration team had added establishing shots to the existing footage, including a few clips taken from Fugitive Girls. I worried, then, that Jacques Descent and his crew had not gotten the footage they needed back in 1974, and so we'd be watching a patchwork job or a very rough draft of what the movie could have been.

All of these fears proved unfounded. Thanks to some skillful editing, Dames and Dreams is quite coherent and easy to follow. The film is structured around a very of-its-time cocktail party (the aforementioned "swinging '70s Hollywood revel") where a palm reader (Toni Telo) is solemnly predicting the futures of various guests. The film periodically cuts away to dream/fantasy sequences based on the psychic's predictions, but it always returns to the framing device of the party.  As a viewer, I never felt lost or disoriented.

Toni Telo reads the palm of April Showers in Dames and Dreams.

This is, at heart, an anthology film, telling a handful of short stories rather than one long one. An especially savvy decision was to parcel each of the individual fantasies out a few minutes at a time rather than all at once. We get to sample Story A, then move on to Story B, then back to Story A again. That editing strategy allows Dames and Dreams to avoid the clunky start-and-stop rhythm of many anthology films. It also lets the actors appear throughout the entire running time, rather than having their footage confined to just one part of the movie.

The individual stories themselves are a lot of fun. My favorite is probably the one about the counterfeiter, since it involves an absolutely daffy series of double and triple crosses. In another part of the movie, Margie Lanier, the guileless ingenue of Fugitive Girls, gets to play a very different role as part of a diamond heist subplot with an extremely wacky, wonky gimmick. Between these two stories, there's almost enough action-oriented crime material here, complete with violence and bloodshed, to market Dames and Dreams as a softcore precursor to Pulp Fiction (1994). This is the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino would have loved to have discovered during his days as a video store clerk.

I was also extremely intrigued by the story of a young redhead (Brandi Saunders) who wakes up the morning after a party and finds a strange man asleep in her bathroom. She soon shares this news with her roommate (Tallie Cochrane), leading to some amorous entanglements. This plot bears remarkable similarities to the pilot of the hit ABC sitcom Three's Company. Granted, that show did not premiere until 1977, but it took its central premise from the 1973 British series Man About the House. Maybe this is all one big cosmic coincidence, but classic sitcom fans will no doubt do a double take during this portion of Dames and Dreams.

A vintage Pioneer tape recorder.

Beyond that, this movie is an invaluable time capsule of 1974. I could not help but focus on various background details in the film that really evoke the era in which it was made. When some characters drove past LAX, for instance, I noticed the signs for all the defunct and obscure airlines. Remember Eastern? How about Varig? The original National Airlines, the one that closed in 1980? Elsewhere in the movie, there's a huge box of Cheer detergent, just like the kind your mother probably used when you were a kid. There's also a great, clunky-looking Pioneer tape recorder that gets a satisfying amount of screen time. Naturally, Dames and Dreams gives us a generous sampling of mid-1970s hairstyles, fashions, and furnishings, all of it beautifully rendered on film.

I even learned a little bit about the Los Angeles Municipal Code. In one scene, Serena brazenly rides her bike past a tree with a "NO BIKE RIDING" sign on it. The fine print on the sign specifies "L.A.M.C. 63.51," so I decided to delve further into this. And what I found was, uh, enlightening. It turns out this section of the code gets very specific, and it goes far beyond bike riding.

No natal cleft, eh?

By the way, there is no evidence to suggest that Edward D. Wood, Jr. had any direct involvement with this film, though he would have known many of the people who worked on it. Nevertheless, the movie has a distinctly Wood-ian feel at times. In particular, there's a subplot about a woman who claims to have been raped so that she can lure another woman into bed with her. As a prelude to making love, these two ladies rant about men and what bastards they can be. That's very typical of Eddie's film scripts and short stories of the time. And then there's a fellow who protests, "What do I look like? Spinach?" That's a classic Wood line, even if someone else wrote it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 90: "Return of the Vampire" (circa 1973)


A classic Lugosi role, post-Dracula.
Movie trivia experts love to quote the statistic that Bela Lugosi only played Dracula twice onscreen -- once in the original Dracula (1931) and again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), both for Universal. But, in truth, Lugosi played variations on Dracula for decades. He was so identified with the character that it's almost impossible not to see elements of the Count in every role he played subsequently, including his three assignments for Edward D. Wood, Jr. Supposedly, the script for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) refers to Lugosi's Ghoul Man as "the Dracula character." I can neither confirm nor deny this, since I've never seen the Plan 9 script.

One of Lugosi's most memorable post-Dracula films is 1943's The Return of the Vampire, a Columbia production directed by journeyman Lew Landers. Set in England, as was most of Dracula, this atmospheric horror classic has Lugosi as a very Drac-like vampire named Armand Tesla, who assumes the identity of scientist Dr. Hugo Bruckner. Note that Lugosi's characters in Glen or Glenda (1953) and Bride of the Monster (1955) are both scientists, one a little cranky and the other outright mad. Armand Tesla also has a werewolf henchman, which may have given Ed Wood some ideas when he wrote Orgy of the Dead (1965).

As it happens, The Return of the Vampire shares its title with one of Ed Wood's short stories from the 1970s. Although this particular tale was not included in Blood Splatters Quickly (2014) or Angora Fever (2019), it would have fit in easily in either anthology, and it's a perfect Wood tale for the Halloween season.

The story: "Return of the Vampire," originally published in Fantastic Annual (Gallery Press, circa 1973). Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: A woman named Mina lives in a gloomy coastal mansion with her ailing husband Jonathan. She inherited the place from her friend Lucy, but she wants to move for her husband's benefit. Jonathan had been committed to an institution and was only allowed to leave under the condition that Mina marry him and become his caretaker. She loves Jonathan but admits he is not doing well here and is even too weak to make love to her.

One stormy night, Mina decides to seduce Jonathan by wearing her sexiest nightgown. At first, he is cold and unresponsive, but soon he warms up and starts making passionate love to her. Suddenly, Jonathan and Mina have anal sex for the first time, which Mina finds both painful and pleasurable. Afterwards, she hears Jonathan moving around the bedroom and getting dressed, but she has no idea where he could be going. While Mina wonders about what has happened to Jonathan, a vampire appears in the bedroom and rapes her. This is the same brutish, screeching creature that Jonathan had described when he was in the institution.

Still reeling from this experience, Mina goes to the tomb below the mansion to search for Jonathan. She finds him there, making love to the deceased Lucy! To Mina's horror, Lucy comes back to life and sinks her fangs into Jonathan's neck. Mina knows her husband is lost to her now and awaits the next appearance of the vampire.

Wood trademarks: Character names from Bram Stoker's Dracula, including Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy (cf. "Exotic Loves of the Vampire"); sheer nightgown (cf. Glen or Glenda); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation); man unable to perform sexually (cf. Necromania); preoccupation with bodily temperatures, both hot and cold (cf. many stories in Angora Fever); tombs and musty odors (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space); tongues and tonguing (cf. another common motif in Angora Fever); pubic region (cf. "Witches of Amau Ra"); cocktails (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, many stories in Angora Fever); "dork" (cf. "Kiss the Pain Away"); "body juices" (cf. "Trade Secrets"); vampire holding his cape "far out on either side" (cf. Plan 9); necrophilia (cf. "Cease to Exist," "Invasion of the Sleeping Flesh"); the word "conventional" and its connotations (cf. Necromania).

Excerpt: "I waited not a moment. I didn't bother to even seek out my negligee which must have fallen to the floor… I didn't bother to wrap the shreds of my torn nightgown around my naked body and indeed the bodice was completely torn beyond repair. I simply let the material hang as I raced out of the bedroom and into the sitting room where darkness once more was the center of attraction."

Reflections: Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood (1994) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, generating a fair amount of press coverage. That film ends with captions telling us what happened to the major characters, including Ed Wood himself. Eddie, we are informed, descended into "alcoholism and monster nudie films" before dying in 1978. Stephen C. Apostolof, director of Orgy of the Dead, took umbrage at that line, but I think it was the gentlest possible way of describing the back half of Eddie's career.

Moreover, the descriptor "monster nudie" is as good a summary of Ed Wood's aesthetic as any, especially when it comes to his short stories. Eddie loved to write erotic stories infused with elements borrowed from classic Universal horror movies and Gothic literature. In "Return of the Vampire," he really pours on the atmospheric details, e.g. the ominous storm outside, the inhospitable landscape, the unwelcoming mansion, etc. Give or take the graphic anal sex scenes, this is a story to read on a rainy October night.

But can we say that Eddie only reluctantly included the sexy parts when he would have preferred to write straightforward, non-pornographic Gothic horror? Eh, I don't think so. Eddie's sex scenes, here and elsewhere, do not seem obligatory, desultory, or perfunctory. On the contrary, Ed writes these with a lot of enthusiasm, and he works his own desires into the text whenever possible. In this story, for instance, there is a lot of attention paid to nighties and negligees, and Mina makes sure to tell us how "sheer" her nightgown is. Wood's fans will immediately be reminded of the notorious "department store" scene from Glen or Glenda, in which the hero(ine) goes shopping for sheer nighties and manages to horrify the snooty lady behind the counter.

So, then, "Return of the Vampire" can be described as a synthesis of Ed Wood's interests and passions. In short, this story is Ed Wood!
     

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Time for a spooktacular Halloween comics roundup!

These people are not trick-or-treaters! Do not open your door to them!

The frost is on the pumpkin, the leaves are on the ground, and the kids are all back in school having their spirits broken. That's right, fall is underway! And I have such a limited imagination that I can't think of a better way to celebrate autumn than with another comics roundup! So let's rake some comics into a big pile and then dive in!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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

The infamous Circus Liquor sign in North Hollywood.

I confess that I've become obsessed with Ed Wood in recent years. It wasn't always so. Like a lot of other cultural omnivores with offbeat tastes, I was well aware and highly appreciative of Ed's work for decades. In fact, I'd long thought of Eddie's debut feature Glen or Glenda (1953) as one of the most unique and wonderful films ever made. Unexpectedly, almost five years ago, I found myself swept up into an obsession with Wood and his career. Over time, I'd learn a great deal more about Ed than is contained in the popular myth. I'd soon meet other dedicated Woodologists. I continue to find them an incredibly creative and talented bunch of genuinely great people. 

This week, it's my privilege to ask ten questions of cartoonist, animator, illustrator, and painter Milton Knight. An amazingly talented artist, Milt is also a certified Woodologist, one who is consumed by ephemeral details in Ed Wood's films and who delights in finding fresh insights into Ed and his work. Milton is exploring some heretofore unknown aspects of Woodology, and I wanted to know more about his process.

10 Questions With Milton Knight


Artist and Ed Wood fan Milton Knight.
1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater?

No. I like to wear turtlenecks, though, and love women in them.

2. You recently identified dancer/stripper/burlesque performer Bebe Hughes (aka Bebe Hughs, Bebe Barton, and several other names) in the alleged insert footage from Glen or Glenda reputed to have been shot by W. Merle Connell. She is ubiquitous in Something Weird Video's Nudie Cuties series. Tell us how you identified her and anything else you know about Bebe.

I’ve long followed cheesecake and pinup stuff, and she appeared [in] a lot [of it]. It might have been from Nightmare of Ecstasy that I learned her name. She’s in many of the Connell productions, the shorts, the burlesque and exploitation features. Also in some shorts produced for private viewing by William H. Door, credited by her first name. Never undressed; I've only seen one nude modeling shot of the "artistic" type. She was apparently regarded as the cute comedienne, always pulling faces and doing mincing little walks. I'm wondering if she had a connection because of her husband. Someone involved with Wood was quoted as saying he played the intruder who ravishes her on a couch in the nightmare sequence put into Glen or Glenda. By the way, she is [credited as] "Bebe Berto" in [Connell's] Test Tube Babies (1948).

3. I know you possess an affinity—to put it mildly—for the character Sheila the Fence in the Wood-scripted The Violent Years (1956). What's your attraction to her, and what else do you know about the actress who portrayed her, Lee Constant?

Wood had a thing for female criminals hanging around in their loungewear, waiting for the bell to ring with the next plot development, e.g. Jail Bait, The Violent Years, The Sinister Urge. It really was a lazy kind of storytelling, looking forward to television, but also sexy and incongruous. All the thrills of a criminal life, in ladylike leisure with a cocktail in her hand. So many questions left unanswered and unasked.

I know nothing about Lee Constant herself, whose only film this apparently was. It's possible she specialized in radio, as did Barbara Weeks, the portrayer of Paula’s mom. I was surprised to learn Constant was the wife of Timothy Farrell, the big bad in Wood’s Jail Bait. I like to imagine him in an onscreen criminal teaming with his real-life wife, baiting, berating, and out-"Shaddap!!"-ing each other. 
Author's note: I was also surprised to hear that Lee Constant was married to Timothy Farrell. When I expressed my happiness to Milt, he double-checked this factoid with other Woodologists and learned it was not so. But the truth is equally superb: Tim's wife Shirley appeared in The Violent Years!
4. Why Ed Wood?

It didn’t happen because I sought him out. In the '80s, I was familiar with the iconography of his horror films but had not been seduced. Friends introduced me to the series of Sleazemania tapes [from Rhino Video], and I kinda got hooked. There was something sinister about the exploitation films. I had doubted stuff so crude could be legally distributed as movies. 

Wood strikes me as a director guilelessly willing to drop his heart on the chopping block. Glen or Glenda was exploitation, but was obviously, even tragically, sincere. And, as has been noted by others, the extraterrestrial guy in Plan 9 is speaking the bitter truth regarding the arms race and "stupid minds," and it's the sterling example of the establishment that silences him with a fist. Wood's leads tend to be vulnerable, sensitive, and, when angered, even petulant. With Wood, there aren’t billions of dollars to hide behind. In many cases, [his characters] say things that people don't dare say.

"Athletic soft porn."
5. Scalli's Gym is a Quality Studios set we both know well, Quality being the cramped Santa Monica Blvd. soundstage where Ed Wood filmed parts of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Please take us there.

A mainstay of W. Merle Connell productions was athletic soft porn—sturdy women bending and stretching, ogled from provocative camera angles. The dingy, chintzy gymnasium sets [at Quality] were used and reused for pseudo-educational cheesecake (The Body Beautiful), burlesque comedy (What Happened to Tom in the Ladies' Gym), and serving in crime features as wholesome fronts shielding evil activities [such as] bookmaking, sports "fixing," and drug pushing, as in The Devil's Sleep and Racket Girls, two films starring Timothy Farrell as the infamous hustler Umberto Scalli. (The third was Dance Hall Racket.) Farrell was probably the most charismatic of the exploitation regulars and always more personable as the villain than in his preachy, law-abiding doctor and reporter roles. 

Dens of crime such as Scalli's Gym and Scalli's Dance Hall were never convincing of menace, however, and were simply a device to provide audiences with the vicarious pleasure of watching characters drink, neck, and get stoned.

6. If there is one mystery about Ed Wood or his work that you would love to solve, what is it?

Not that it would make a major change in my life, but I'd like to know what happened in the lives of the minor players like Harry Keatan, and the actress who played Mary, the exploited Hollywood hopeful in The Sinister Urge.

7. You lived at 5637 Strohm Ave in Hollywood, a mere stone's throw away from two of Ed's residences. He and his wife Kathy were living at 5617 ½ Strohm in late 1972, and they'd lived at 1627 Strohm in 1964. Tell us about that location.

It was actually in North Hollywood, a then unglamorous city in the San Fernando Valley. The section was bland, industrial, but centrally located for film work. The main strip was Burbank Blvd., which had an array of staple businesses: restaurants, used car dealers, sound studios. Buildings over one story tall were few. There still is the "landmark" Circus Liquor [on Vineland Ave.], with its towering neon clown. On the side streets were small and probably inexpensive houses.

5617 Strohm Ave. as it looked in 2018.

From 1991 to 1998, I rented an apartment at the end of a block, near a power station. Dumpy, relaxed. Mostly families with kids. The downside was that it was right under the flight pattern of Burbank Airport. I was on the second floor, and the place shook every five minutes. A few houses down was what I only recently learned had been one of Wood's rentals in the 1970s. During my stay in the neighborhood, it was the pleasant, unobtrusive little place it had probably been twenty years earlier. It isn’t clear to me whether the Wood couple lived in the main or the rear house. Kathy remembered the landlord as living in the rear, but one of Ed's business letters claims that as his address. I believe it was the same house that had a little sale going in the front one afternoon. Didn't get much.

8. You are an accomplished artist and cartoonist, possessing a style rooted in early classic American animation. What's the connection to Ed Wood, and how has he influenced your work, if at all?

The kind of leering, "Pssst… hey!" storytelling. The softcore, high-heeled, red-lipped eroticism.

Two of Milton Knight's paintings. At right is his self-portrait.

9. I have come to believe that Ed was involved in burlesque films in the early '50s in ways we may never know. You know this milieu intimately. What's your take?

There was the W. Merle Connell/Quality Studios connection, and a majority of the burlesque features were photographed by Wood’s favorite [cinematographer], William C. Thompson. Wood may well have been lurking around, writing extra material, but wouldn't have made a great creative dent because these features were, by and large, filmed revues. Dancers and ready made comic bits. Few had plots or clever setups, and never anything as grandly esoteric as Orgy of the Dead.

10. Glen or Glenda?

Absolutely touching.

A poster for Milton Knight's show.
Many thanks to Milton Knight! Check out his incredible work here and here. And if you are in the vicinity of Bloomington, Indiana, his next gallery show Motion and Emotion is little more than a week away.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg takes us on a trivial pursuit.

It's time once again to turn our attention to Woodologists, i.e. those super-devoted Ed Wood experts who transcend mere fandom. In the past, I've quizzed author James Pontolillo and filmmaker Keith Crocker. This week, though, the person I want to quiz is you! 
That's right. I want to see how much you know about Edward D. Wood, Jr. and his various personal and professional associates. See if you can answer the following ten questions. If you can, you're seriously obsessed!



So how'd you do? Was this a breeze or were you utterly baffled? 
BONUS QUESTION: For which group did Eddie briefly serve as a chaplain after the war? 
I'll answer these questions and many more you never thought to ask in future installments of this series.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sure, let's do a comics roundup! What's the worst that could happen?

Let's just jump into it.

As another summer fades into autumn, blah blah blah... here are some comics. Is it mostly Mary Worth again? Yeah, probably.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 89: "That's Show Biz" (1972)

These are the movies that saved Hollywood, according to Ed Wood.

Hot Flicks magazine from 1972.
During his troubled and abbreviated life, Edward D. Wood, Jr. did the best he could to document his own career as a writer and filmmaker. He was proud of the work he did in those fields and kept updating his resumes with his accomplishments. When Eddie died at the age of 54 in December 1978, he'd only recently been evicted from his final apartment and was unable to keep many of his mementos from 30 years in show business.

Fortunately, since then, Ed's loyal fans have undertaken the responsibility of documenting this man's unique and fascinating life. Some of those fans congregate regularly on a Facebook forum moderated by Bob Blackburn, who befriended Ed's widow Kathy and became co-heir to Ed Wood's estate. Joining this forum has given me access to material I never would have known about otherwise.

Recently, for instance, punk musician and longtime Ed Wood fan Howie Pyro shared an interesting article that Eddie wrote in the early 1970s. Let's take a closer look.

The story: "That's Show Biz," originally published in Hot Flicks, vol. 1, no. 1 (1972) from Gallery Press. According to Bob Blackburn, Ed's resume lists this story as being written in 1971.

Synopsis: The motion picture business has come a long way in just 70 years, and the early pioneers of the medium would be shocked by what's happening on the big screen today. The public lost interest in movies after World War II, and theaters started shutting down. Things got worse in the 1950s when television came of age. People could see big stars in their own homes for free, so they no longer felt the desire to go to movie theaters.

In the 1960s, film production costs kept rising, resulting in higher ticket prices at the theater. Kids could no longer afford to go to the movies. Then pressure groups started complaining about the amount of violence in motion pictures. Meanwhile, viewers with their own projectors began to show 8mm movies at home. Theaters would have to do something bold to survive, so they decided to defy the censors and exhibit movies with nudity and sex. It would generate controversy, but it was worth the risk. Eventually, movies contained full-frontal nudity and "hard-core sex acts."

Movie theaters are once again thriving, thanks to these sexy films. Will it last? Who knows? Naturally, children are not allowed to see these explicit new movies, but they'll eventually grow up and, with luck, become the next generation of ticket-buyers.

Wood trademarks: Hollywood history (cf. Hollywood Rat Race); history of sex in films (cf. "What Would We Have Done Without Them?"); mention of classic cowboy stars Tom Mix and Buck Jones (two of Eddie's real-life heroes); random use of italics (cf. "Filth is the Name for a Tramp," "Cease to Exist"); ellipses (Eddie's favorite... punctuation).

Excerpt: "Nudity hit the screen in all its glorious body exposing delights. Slight nudity had been seen from time to time in foreign films and those theatres which showed such things were about the only ones who were surviving during those disasterous [sic] years for Hollywood."

Reflections: Edward D. Wood, Jr. always loved movies and grew up wanting to be part of the film industry. I believe that, if he'd had his druthers, he'd have made old-fashioned Westerns with white-hatted heroes and black-hatted villains. Either that, or Gothic horror films in the Universal tradition. The simple cowboy pictures and spooky Dracula derivatives that Ed preferred were already falling out of favor by the time he arrived in California in the late 1940s, however, so he made films that were more in sync with the public's tastes. For most of the '50s, this meant science-fiction (Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster) and crime drama (Jail Bait, The Violent Years).

By the mid-1960s, however, Eddie's film career had bottomed out, and the only work he could get was in sexploitation and, eventually, outright pornography. That's where he'd stay for the rest of his life. While this would be a crushing blow to any ambitious artist, Ed Wood tried at least to put a positive spin on the situation. In "That's Show Biz," Ed semi-seriously argues that the nudie flick has saved Hollywood. "Perhaps this second breath for the movie business," he writes, "will be enough to cure the cancer which so nearly devoured it during the last twenty years." So there you have it. Porn cures cancer. Kind of makes you look at the industry with more respect.

Ed Wood wrote quite a bit of nonfiction over the years, much of it for publisher Bernie Bloom. Bernie would hire Ed to write short stories for his mags and stroke books, but he also used nonfiction articles like "That's Show Biz" to pad out his publications. A lot of these articles are what I'd call capsule histories or pocket histories of topics related to sex, movies, crime, the occult, etc. The college articles I reviewed a few weeks ago are good examples. Eddie rarely includes specific dates or facts in these articles, and he uses real names only sparingly. My supposition, then, is that he did these with zero research and instead relied on his own memories.

Did anyone even read these articles back in the 1970s? People just bought these magazines for the pictures, right? Well, Hot Flicks, vol, 1, no. 1 carries a cover price of $4. That's nearly $25 in today's money. This was not a cheap product. So the porn connoisseur might want to get his money's worth out of this issue by reading every bit of text it contained.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 88: "Set To Go Off" (1970)

This week, Ed Wood gives us his subtle, nuanced take on the Vietnam War.

Bob Hope and Raquel Welch in Vietnam, 1967.
More than any other issue, the Vietnam War is responsible for the social divide known as the generation gap in the 1960s and '70s. Sure, young people had differences with their parents over lots of things—sex, drugs, music, art, fashion, hairstyles, race relations, etc. But none of those had the sheer, visceral impact of the war.

Young male baby boomers were being drafted into the military to fight and die in Southeast Asia, and they naturally began to rebel against a war they neither condoned nor even understood. The politicians sending them to Vietnam belonged to the older generation, the one that had survived the Great Depression in the 1930s and fought World War II in the 1940s. America's parents tended to side with the politicians. They'd gone to war, so why shouldn't their sons do the same? How was this new war different? No protest, no matter how vehement, could make them understand.

When I think of Vietnam and the generation gap, I can't help remembering an interview that author Richard Zoglin did with NPR's Terry Gross in 2014. Zoglin appeared on Fresh Air to discuss his biography of comedian Bob Hope, and the conversation turned to Hope's stalwart support of the Vietnam War. The author explained:
Bob had done his work [entertaining the troops] in World War II and then started up again in 1948, doing some Christmas shows for the troops. He did that through the '50s. When Vietnam came along, it was a routine. It was a yearly thing. At Christmas, he would go overseas, and his specials would be televised. Again, he was like maybe a lot of people from that generation. He was from the World War II generation. He could not conceive of a war that the United States wouldn't pursue to victory, that wouldn't be backed by everyone, the way it was in World War II.
Compare that to the sardonic lyrics of "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag," a 1965 protest song by Country Joe and the Fish, a psychedelic rock group popular among the youth of the era. This tune, a mock recruitment anthem, became especially legendary after the band performed it at Woodstock in 1969. Sentiments like these assuredly kept Country Joe and the Fish from ever being booked on a Bob Hope Christmas special.

Well, come on all of you, big strong men 
Uncle Sam needs your help again
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun

And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it's five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain't no time to wonder why
Whoopee! We're all gonna die!

Edward Davis Wood, Jr. was decidedly of the older generation. He was born in 1924, lived through the Depression, joined the Marines at the age of 17, and served his country during World War II. Though he greatly exaggerated his heroism, he was extremely proud of his military service and would speak of it often for the rest of his life. It's very doubtful that he would have had any sympathy for protesters or draft dodgers. Note that some of the characters in The Class Reunion (1972) speak with disdain about antiwar demonstrators. ("Nothing like those street apes ever happened when we were their age!")

War and the military are semi-common themes in Ed Wood's creative work, going back at least as far as his late '40s play The Casual Company. Among his short stories, we find "No Atheists in the Grave" (1971) and "The Wave Off" (1971), which both include mentions of combat but avoid naming Vietnam specifically. Jeff Trent, the square-jawed pilot of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), is another proud ex-Marine. And then there is Alan from Glen or Glenda (1953), who is drafted into the Army during World War II and serves successfully but whose penchant for cross-dressing makes him feel alienated from his fellow soldiers.

It's sometimes difficult to discern Ed Wood's true feelings about warfare. His magnum opus, Plan 9, is essentially a parable about the dangers of nuclear weapons. Eros the alien warns us that the human race will eventually build a bomb powerful enough to destroy the entire universe. (Jeff Trent responds, in typical caveman style, by punching Eros square in the jaw.) On the other hand, in Hollywood Rat Race, Ed refers to the atomic bomb as a "magnificent undertaking" and applauds the "many people of many trades" who helped build it.

Until Operation Redlight (1969) resurfaces, we may never get the definitive Ed Wood statement on the Vietnam War. Perhaps until then, we can draw some conclusions from a truly bizarre and outrageous short story published in 1970 and set explicitly during the Vietnam conflict. I'll warn you now that this is an ugly story with some very unpleasant racial and sexual themes. Only its cartoonish absurdity keeps it from being truly offensive.

The story: "Set To Go Off," originally published in Illustrated Case Histories, vol. 1, no. 3, November/December 1970. Credited to "Jacques Rippee." Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

De Palma's Casualties of War .
Synopsis: Wally Armbruster is an excellent soldier, even though he does things his own way and doesn't really feel like he belongs in the Army. One day, in Cambodia, Wally and his buddy Thomson are surveying a small village that consists of only a few huts. There, they find a pretty Vietnamese girl of about 16, whom Wally immediately identifies as a member of the Viet Cong. Thomson suggests taking her prisoner, but Wally wants to have sex with her first. While Thomson notes that the girl seems terrified, Wally insists the young woman is "set to go off."

Wally undresses, and the Vietnamese girl initially tries to fight him off before resigning herself to her fate of being raped by the American soldier. She says she is the last living member of her family; all the others were killed by the Americans. Wally asks her why she didn't clear out of the village when she had the chance. "Stayed for you," she answers. When Wally finally penetrates her, he realizes too late that the girl has turned herself into a human landmine.

Wood trademarks: Warfare (cf. "The Wave Off," "No Atheists in the Grave"); war brides (cf. "Tank Town Chippie"); basic training (cf. Glen or Glenda); ridiculous sexual slang (in this case, calling a woman's vagina a "wazoo"); euphemism for penis (in this case, "his staff"); mention of bobcat (cf. Plan 9); ludicrous twist ending (cf. many stories in Angora Fever and Blood Splatters Quickly); feeling a sudden cold sensation throughout one's body (cf. Orgy of the Dead); wordplay (numerous puns on "peace" and "piece").

Excerpt: "He looked down. There was a ragged pile of shredded flesh and splintered bones where the lower half of his body had been. His blood mingled with the blood of the girl. He turned and saw her. The look of horror was frozen on her dead face."

Reflections: I cannot claim to understand what was going on in Ed Wood's mind when he was writing these short stories half a century ago. All I really know about Eddie's creative process is that he wrote extremely quickly, often while eating, drinking, watching TV, and carrying on various conversations with friends. My guess is that he came up with the ending of "Set To Go Off" first and worked backwards from there. The entire reason this story exists is to unleash that ghoulish and improbable final twist.

But how do you get to an ending like that? One interpretation of "Set To Go Off"—and the one that bodes best for Ed Wood—is that this is simply a story about sin and punishment. Eddie is playing God and doling out some cosmic justice to arrogant rapist Wally Armbruster, who ignores the warnings of his buddy Thomson. Wally gets what he has coming to him, while Thomson (a possible nod to William C. Thompson?) survives unscathed. The end. Nothing more to it.

If that were the case, however, why would Eddie go out of his way to set up Wally Armbruster as "one hell of a good man in a fight" and "a true innocent"? The soldier's combat-readiness has nothing to do with the story, and Wally is anything but innocent by the end of it. Ed even includes an itemized description of Wally's clothes and tells us that this man "never felt like a soldier." These details help to humanize the character and make him seem more three-dimensional. The story is told in the third person, but Wally is definitely our viewpoint character until the very end, when he literally gets the last laugh. Does Eddie want us to sympathize with this guy?

Is it possible that "Set To Go Off" is actually an antiwar story, showing us that the conflict has brought out the absolute worst in these soldiers? It's not difficult, after all, to see parallels between Eddie's short story and Brian De Palma's controversial 1989 film Casualties of War, in which some American soldiers kidnap and rape a Vietnamese girl. Eddie is not coy about calling this a rape story. He even has Wally say to his victim, "Never saw a girl this scared to get raped." But Wally also insists that the girl "wanted" this to happen. Does Eddie agree with him or not?

In the end, "Set To Go Off" is one of the more upsetting and disturbing stories in the Wood canon, and it showcases the darkest corners of Ed's imagination. We're a long way from Glenda or Plan 9 here, even if the story does share themes with those movies. If we are to understand this man fully, we cannot ignore stories like this one, as much as we might want to.