Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part 8 by Greg Dziawer

Connecting some weird, weird dots this week.

It's been years now since I first began spotting the same pair of distinctive Chinese Guardian Lions in numerous films related to Edward D. Wood, Jr. Not only do these statuettes show up in two of the adult features Ed directed, Necromania (1971) and The Young Marrieds (1972), they also appear in literally dozens of silent 8mm adult loops that Ed likely worked on during the first half of the 1970s.

Here there be lions: Dunn in Bride of the Monster.
But these lions aren't limited to Ed's pornographic work. A little while back, for instance, I also noticed them in Bride of the Monster (1955), standing guard in both Kelton and Capt. Robbins' offices. In the film, these two offices are edited to seem like they're adjacent to one another. But since these interiors were shot in a studio and the statues look identical in both rooms, I believe the same lions were used to dress both sets. (I'd recommend watching the colorized version of Bride of the Monster to see them most clearly.)

Since Bride was shot at Ted Allan Studios in Hollywood in October 1954, these humble sets are seemingly far removed in time and space from Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. where the loops and adult features were lensed. Is it possible these are the exact same lions? I find the visual evidence inconclusive, as there are many styles of Guardian Lions with subtle variations, and the lions in Bride are hard to see clearly. They certainly look very similar and the size is about a match. 

The fact that there are any Guardian Lions whatsoever in Ed Wood's movies is nonetheless intriguing. And, come to think of it, Ted and Hal's studios were both in Hollywood, just a few miles apart. The films themselves were separated in time by little more than a decade and a half. A blip, really. Now add Ed Wood's presence to the mix, and it really makes you wonder.

Just little more than a week ago, I was Googling Wood regular Lyle Talbot, and found him credited in a 1959 sponsored short called The Road to Better Living, made at the behest of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Intrigued by that title, I decided to investigate further. Lionizing (har har) mortgage bankers, this film at times seems perilously close to canonizing them. When I shared it with the proprietor of this blog, he referred to it perfectly and perhaps not uncoincidentally as "mortgage porn."

The film is a treatise on the mortgage banking industry and how it has helped to build America. Talbot is top-billed in The Road to Better Living, essaying a key role as public, I mean banker, Jim Chandler. Talbot brings the same level of earnest empathy to the character he employed as Inspector Warren in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953). The film's final line, delivered by the narrator, has a familiar ring: "Together, with men like Jim Chandler, we are steadily building our own road to better living, now and for the future." May God help us.

I'm not suggesting that Ed Wood had anything to do with The Road to Better Living. The film was shot in Hollywood by Jerry Fairbanks, a prolific producer of polished industrial films. What is interesting, though, is that in the film's very opening shot, as narrator Art Gilmore takes his seat, we get a clear shot of a Guardian Lion on the shelf in the left background. When we return to Gilmore periodically throughout the film, he is in medium close-up and we only see partial shots of the lion's bottom half. It's my surmise that this is the female lion, representing nurture, but it's hard to tell from this side view. 

Two shots of the lion in Better Living.

Lion at Grauman's.
Fittingly, the lions symbolically represent wealth and prosperity. If you study the shots of the lions in Bride with those in Better Living, you will notice how strikingly similar they look. Could the very same prop have shown up here five years later? I don't know what set it was shot on, but undoubtedly we are somewhere in Hollywood. Ted Allan's studio, worth noting, was primarily used in low-budget features and documentaries. 

Could this, in fact, be the same pair of lions throughout, or just curious clusters of coincidence? We may never learn the truth, but—who knows?— we just might! I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled and share any lionspotting right here!

Speaking of which, reader Bob Blackburn commented via Facebook:
You made me think of the two guardian [lion] statues outside of Mann's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, [which] used to be Grauman's, about oh, maybe a half mile from [Ed Wood's apartment at] 6383 Yucca, and I wouldn't be surprised that Eddie might not have wandered down there when folks were getting their handprints or whatever done, or maybe to see the tourists and dream of someday getting his handprints in the cement forecourt.
That places the lions ubiquitously in his everyday world throughout his adult life, so he would have recognized them on the sets of Bride and the adult loops and features as more than decoration, but emblematic of Hollywood aspirations.

Extra: While you have your detective hat on, studying the lions, take a peek at this sponsored short, an epic about salt. Yes, you read that right. And while you are watching it, listen carefully to the narrator. Is that an uncredited Lyle Talbot?