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

I. The Film

Actress Maria Lease
In Ed Wood's final decade on earth, he toiled primarily in the shadowy world of adult magazines, sleaze paperbacks, and sex films. While the full extent of his work in this milieu is not yet known and may never be, we do know that Ed was regularly penning screenplays for softcore sex films throughout the 1960 and 1970s. He was, for instance, the go-to screenwriter for sexploiteur Stephen C. Apostolof and freelanced for many others.

One film from this period commonly attributed to Ed Wood is Excited, listed on the IMDb as having been released in 1970. The scant credits there name the director as Gary Graver, under the alias "Akdov Telmig," with Edward D. Wood, Jr. as the screenwriter. The sole credited cast member is sexploitation regular Maria Lease, who in later years worked on mainstream films and TV shows as a script supervisor. (Such professionals were once quaintly credited as "script girls.") Her credits there include the John Cusack cult comedy Better Off Dead (1985), plus popular series like The White Shadow and Hill Street Blues.

But other information about Excited remains scarce. The IMDb merely describes the film as being "about two girls and their erotic adventures." The credited production company, G&J Production, has no other films to its name. And that's about all we currently have to go on. None of Eddie's existing resumes include Excited, though the title is dutifully indexed at The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Gary Graver was a prolific filmmaker with over 200 directorial credits, principally exploitation titles. Gary worked in softcore films, then in hardcore under the pseudonym "Robert McCallum," and finally in direct-to-video T&A features with titles like Bikini Traffic School (1998). While his directing credits trail off in the late '90s, he continued working as a cinematographer for the rest of his life. If Excited is indeed Graver's work, it would be one of his earliest directorial efforts. He would go on to be one of the most heralded directors in porn, even being enshrined in the Adult Video News Hall of Fame.

Orson Welles and Gary Graver
Despite all that, Gary is chiefly remembered today for his lengthy association with Ed Wood's idol, eccentric auteur Orson Welles. The two collaborated on various projects from 1970 until Welles' death in 1985, with Graver even serving as Welles' cinematographer on the long-unfinished project The Other Side of the Wind. Graver passed in 2006, twelve years before Other Side was finally released.

Among Gary Graver's other early sex films was an arty-for-its-time short entitled How to Undress in Front of Your Husband (1970). If that title sounds familiar, it was recycled from a 1937 short directed by Dwain Esper, an exploitation legend and a charter member of the cadre of motion picture exhibitors known as the 40 Thieves. While there is no evidence to suggest Ed Wood was involved in Graver's How to Undress, the script is credited to one "Sarah Titwillow," an obvious pseudonym. (It is not surprising to learn that "she" has no other credits.)

How to Undress' listed director, once again, is "Adkov Telmig," a sly reversal of "vodka gimlet." This same alias remains closely associated with Ed Wood. While Eddie's libation of choice was cheap Imperial Whiskey, numerous witnesses in Nightmare of Ecstasy, including Paul Marco, Peter Coe, and Bernie Bloom, remember him downing plenty of vodka as well. "He drank vodka because it didn't smell," recalled Bloom. In the case of How to Undress in Front of Your Husband, however, "Adkov Telmig" is Gary Graver.

Which isn't to say Ed Wood never appropriated that pseudonym. He used a very similar one -- "Adkon Telmig" -- when he wrote the screenplay for the 1969 softcore sexploitation feature One Million AC/DC, directed by Ed De Priest. De Priest recalled Eddie vividly in an interview posted at The Rialto Report:
"Ed lived in a little two-bedroom stucco house off Lankershim in North Hollywood. I remember the front yard was full of weeds; it hadn’t been watered in 10 years. We went in and talked to him, and he was very enthusiastic about writing a caveman script. He thought that was the greatest idea going, and so we agreed on $400. We met him on a Thursday and picked up the script for One Million AC/DC (1969) on a Monday."
In that interview, De Priest initially recollects making Excited himself, suggesting that Graver, with whom he often partnered, likely wrote the screenplay. But later in the same interview, he avers that Graver was responsible for making Excited. Either way, there's no mention of Ed Wood's involvement in the film.

II. The Trailer

Seemingly a lost film, Excited disappeared after a few years on the grindhouse/drive-in circuit and has never been made available for home viewing. Mere days ago, however, I stumbled upon the film's trailer on the still-available ninth volume of Twisted Sex, Something Weird Video's incredible series of trailer compilations. Nearly three minutes in length and with color so faded you could mistake it for black-and-white, the Excited trailer indicates that this film was a fairly typical sleaze affair with some roughie overtones. Think: depraved guys snarling at pretty young ladies, tying them up, and whipping them. That kind of stuff.

Images from the Excited trailer.

The trailer's narration includes the same vaguely disturbing tagline as the poster and associated promo art: "Beyond human sexual responsibility." It also includes a stretch of recited ballyhoo reminiscent of the Ed Wood-narrated trailer for Steve Apostolof's Fugitive Girls (1974). To wit: "Perverted. Beautiful. Sick. Weird. Sensitive. Honest. Exciting. Beyond human sexual responsibility." Beyond that, though, there are no further clues in the promo as to the credits for this movie.

The American Film Institute's catalog of films from 1961-1970 sheds a little more light on Excited and the people who made it. The movie is indexed no fewer than five times in this volume. There are three credited participants: Les Harper, Paul Fantini, and the aforementioned Adkov Telmig. Harper and Fantini are presumably actors, though I'm unable to find performers with these names who fit this precise bill. Excited is also included in two intriguing categories that hint as to the film's content: "Voyeurism" and "Group Sex." And the AFI has the film's year of release as 1969 rather than 1970.

III. Go-To-Market

Excited was likely shot in late 1968. Newspaper ads for runs of the film begin in early 1969. The film headlined at first before being demoted to a supporting feature on double and even triple bills. Here's a typical ad for Excited taken from the December 4, 1970 edition of The Columbia Record.

A vintage newspaper ad for Excited from 1970.

Here, we see that Excited is part of a tempting triple bill at the Sunset Drive-In in Columbia, South Carolina, along with Gunrunner, aka Gun Runners. This is another title that should be familiar to Ed Wood fans, since it's one that Eddie did list on his resume as a screenplay he wrote. Muddying the waters a bit, there appear to be at least three films with similar titles from this era. Was this Eddie's Gunrunners?

An excerpt from one of Ed Wood's resumes.

IV. Eddie or Not?

This is admittedly a lot to digest. So how does it all add up? Most importantly, was Ed Wood the screenwriter of Excited?

Here's what I think, based on my knowledge of this era and these kinds of movies.

Excited most likely hit screens in 1969, was written by Gary Graver, and directed by either Graver or Ed DePriest. It would have been one of numerous films Graver and DePriest partnered in making during these years. In fact, Excited was distributed by DePriest's Canyon Films, as was One Million AC/DC. We'll likely never know for sure who screenwriter "Adkov Telmig" was in this case, and any subsequent surmise that it was Ed Wood has no basis in documented fact, since that pseudonym is not always indicative of Eddie's involvement in a project.

But what do you think? Could Excited be another lost Wood classic waiting to be rediscovered?