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.