Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part 5 by Greg Dziawer

Angel Scott poses in front of 6383 Yucca St. in late 2019.

As I continue obsessing over Edward D. Wood, Jr., my research has led me to cross paths with a number of folks who, like me, are more than just casual fans of the writer-director. The most seriously afflicted of these people can even be affectionately termed Woodologists.

Being a Woodologist means possessing not only an abiding interest in Ed's life and work but also a desire to learn more about Ed than we previously knew. Most critically, a Woodologist will take action to learn more.

I first encountered Angel Scott in a private Ed Wood forum on Facebook. She self-describes as a fan of Ed—both his films and his writings—and is interested in learning more about Ed as a person. She humbly admits that she has no educational background in film or the arts but enjoys studying these subjects in her free time.

Angel is also a pastor/chaplain to people of different faith backgrounds, especially those at end of life. "I knew I would work with end of life from early on," she told me. "I didn't choose it. God planted me there. And I at times find joy. Sadness. Laughter. I get to meet some really cool people."

She made the pilgrimage to Hollywood late last year to visit locations associated with Ed and is currently writing a book about him.

10 Questions with Angel Scott

1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater?

I have no memory of ever wearing an angora sweater. The thought never even crossed my mind. Do they still make them?

2. Why Ed Wood?

Because I drank several stouts while watching Glen or Glenda for the first time. One of the people I was watching it with really drew my attention to Ed's message of loving the hell out of transvestites who struggle with their identity. It came to me to write about Glen or Glenda from a perspective no one has: theology. Everyone talks about his golden era of movie-making or his pornography. Only Rudolph Grey has tried to learn about the man himself. And no one has bothered to look into his faith.The story must be told.

3. You recently took a trip to Hollywood and saw numerous locations related to Ed. Tell us a little bit about your trip.

My trip to Hollywood was primarily to connect with the physical geography of Hollywood and Ed's haunts. I wanted to walk a mile—[which] ended up being closer to 12—in his shoes while I did some research among the Baptists, who a couple of generations ago partnered with Ed to make Grave Robbers From Outer Space in an effort to further the preaching of the Gospel. Perhaps an unsung gem of Ed's legacy is the irrefutable fact the business deal between Wood and Reynolds is single handedly responsible for making most of Ed Wood's company part of the communion of saints. They were baptized in the Baptist Church and claimed as Christ's own. I visited their graves and ate Yucca Street donuts and have never felt more hope for the life to come.

While in Hollywood, Angel Scott visited some historic Wood-related sites. (Photos by Angel Scott.)

4. Most Woodologists have a Holy Grail or two among Ed's lost or extant works. What are yours?

I like lost things. Saving Grace: The Last Lash is my Holy Grail of Ed's writings. Given the time period it is purported to be written, this book is either the best of Ed's theological writings or it is a book on BDSM he wrote while thinking of Lash LaRue from the old Westerns. I think either is possible. He was experiencing profound despair and had serious concerns about death and God and all those things people do when they think they are going to die soon. The book is also purported to be written during Ed's pornography days so anything is possible. The former would be closer to what Kathy Wood describes in Nightmare of Ecstasy:

Kathy Wood discusses Saving Grace.

I also know there are written items of Ed's out there, in some form, that have never really been documented until now. Some of which deal with spiritual and religious matters. I hope my book will offer some insight into these works and into the man who wrote them.

5. Speaking of religion, Ed's is not something that has been widely written about or researched. I know this is an area of particular interest to you. What have you discovered?

I think Ed learned the difference between religion and the promises of God. His struggles in this world were always with the morals of the culture around him. I have discovered Ed had a very well developed spirituality and understanding of the Christian faith, apart from morals. I have also discovered his time with the Baptists was both a blessing and curse in regards to his faith. I found out Ed's memorial service was a very traditional Christian service, which one might not have expected. I even traced the origin of one of the prayers used by Rev. David De Mering to a Methodist (Ed's childhood faith) hymnal. Ed lived the typical Christian life of extremes and conflict. He was a sinner, and that isn't a bad thing. At the end of his life he needs what we all need: resurrection from the dead. I look forward to joining him and all the saints on the Last Day.

6. If there is one mystery related to Ed Wood that you would like to solve, what is it?

I don't have a concrete answer for this. I find the process of organic unfolding to be a sacred part of this journey. Looking into Ed Wood, his life, and his work has an impact on me and shows me things that are beyond description. As a writer, I prefer not to get my hopes up and simply be surprised at what I find and how each thing leads to something different. For example, Ed Wood led me to Lee Marvin, who also liked angora sweaters, which turned me on to a new way of thinking about specific pieces of Ed's life such as how a drunk transvestite could write amazing pieces on prayer and faith and have them published in skin magazines. See the Bible passage Numbers 22:1-38.

7. Ed was, like all of us, a complicated and imperfect person. On the basis of his known biographical details, I know there are aspects of his character that you find challenging. Please share your thoughts.

The challenge for me is to be drawn into defending him and his life. I would rather call his life what it was. The fact Ed led a pretty fantastic and difficult life doesn't mean he is a god like some have made him out to be. Deifying Ed Wood actually takes away from what he has to offer as a man and artist.

8. You shared with methank you!the text of one of Criswell's earliest books. Please highlight a few other works you've found interesting while researching Ed's closest associates.

I have always wondered at Criswell's relationship with Mae West. There is much research to be done there but that will have to wait for another book.

Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ
I think Lugosi is probably the most interesting to me because he was an immigrant and had a successful career before he came to Hollywood. I am looking right now into his work in Passion plays where he portrayed Christ. We find a similar theme in Ed's own life when he posed for 3D Christmas cards in 1953 or so. I also learned a lot about Ed's alcoholism from studying Lugosi and how actors and directors cope with the adrenaline and high of making a film and the crash of disappointment of waiting for "another film."

Since my struggle with Ed is his glorification, reading [Robert] Cremer's biography on Lugosi [The Man Behind the Cape] showed me the hard feelings and grief still floating around for Bela. Lots of anger perhaps misdirected at Ed. Cremer's book is a must read for anyone checking out Ed Wood. But take the chapters about Lugosi and Ed with some compassion because Ed did right by Lugosi even if Ed's actions served his own agenda and dreams.

Also, [James Pontilillo's] Unknown War of Edward D Wood, Jr. since so much stock has been placed in what is printed in Nightmare of Ecstasy. All Wood fans should read NOE and watch the film Ed Wood, but also read later sources and documentaries that go beyond the "worst director" angle and try to do serious work toward restoring Ed's corpus and writing his biography. Rudy Grey did a great thing putting NOE out there. I have two copies because I referenced one copy nearly to death. Any biographer does his or her best to tell the personal truth and be accurate when telling the story of someone's life. If we have learned anything it is Ed Wood was a hell of a bullshitter and it is time for a sequel to NOE even if Rudy doesn't write it. If we don't act soon we will lose important information.

I hope to learn more about Steve Apostolof because he was a close associate to Ed yet he didn't attend Ed's funeral or memorial service. There is something important there. Steve is also a saint in Christ along with Ed, Criswell, Tor, Bela, Conrad, Maila, and others. I hope Christopher [Apostolof] finally had a chance to bury his father. I look forward to Ed Wood Wednesdays' own Joe Blevins and his co-written book on Steve Apostolof. I want to shout out to Al Doshna to encourage him to write his book on Conrad Brooks.

9. You've found a possible source from which Glen or Glenda takes inspiration. That's tremendously exciting. Please tell us the details!

Poster for I Am Suzanne
Ed was a movie-goer as a young man in Poughkeepsie. This was during the late '20s early '30s. Whether just catching a show or as an employed usher and ticket taker he watched serials and the features. This time is known as the Pre Code Era of Hollywood. During this time the Catholic Church was trying very hard to censor movies, yet it seemed to encourage the studios to produce more racy films. This would have a huge impact on Ed's movies, especially how he wrote.

Most of my work is focused on Ed's influences. Glen or Glenda is a straight-up Hays Code film even though he was working as an independent filmmaker at the time. The apparent conflict of Glen and how his transvestism is resolved by the end follows the Hays and Production Code model very closely. The model is: shocking scenario to advance plot followed by moral rectification. We know this because Ed still liked to dress in women's clothing but Glen is "cured" and leads what was then considered a typical life with Barbara.

While researching the Pre Code era I stumbled upon a description of the movie I Am Suzanne (1933) starring Lilian Harvey. It is a very clean film about a famous dancer who falls in love with a struggling puppeteer. The final show was written by the puppeteer in the hopes of showing his now ex-girlfriend their art mediums are not exclusive to one another. Here is some familiar-sounding dialogue:

Toni: I'm getting ready a new show of my own. 
Theater Manager: Maybe I can use it. What's it like? If it's as good as your other ideas, I'll make you famous all over the world. 
Toni: I don't care what the world thinks of me, I know what I think of the world. That's what I'm working on now. A puppet number that'll show the world what it is. It'll show people are nothing but puppets. Flesh and blood filled with conceit, treachery, jealousy; thinking they are their own masters when all the time they're on strings controlled by a big fat devil who makes them dance. 
Theater Manager: Hey can you put on a number like that with puppets? 
Toni: Course we can. It will be the biggest thing we've ever done and the truest. We'll go broke but we're going to do it. 
Theater Manager: You won't go broke, I'll use it. 
Toni: Your audience won't stand for anything serious. 
Theater Manager: Well, serious for you, but they'll think it's funny. I mean they like being made fun of. 
Toni: Ah, I see. 
Theater Manager: We'll make it a great combination number. Look here. You have this devil of yours pull the strings. Make the puppet of Suzanne dance, see? Then we clear the stage and Suzanne herself comes and does a dance just like it.

So far we have at least two correlations to Glen or Glenda. The first correlation is the pulling the strings. Lugosi's character of God or Creator in Glen or Glenda is shown saying, "Pull the strings!" three times. On one occasion God/Creator says, "Pull the strings. Dance to that which one is created for" and is given the blocking to act like a divine puppet master over all humanity. Eventually, even Glen dances his dance right into a church to marry Barbara. See, no mistake has been made, only a man saying he is right when he does wrong. Glen was bound in his conscience and was set free but the journey was difficult.

Another similarity between the two films is the fever or anxiety dream sequence. In both films the title character is harassed for something they have done. Suzanne destroyed her puppet and her relationship with her fiancé and Glen for having a sexual identity crisis in the wake of revealing his cross-dressing to his fiancé. In both dreams the fiancé is antagonistic and against the person who presumably loves the other in real life. The finger wagging and being driven to the ground by the judgement of a kangaroo court is another feature of the dream shared between the two movies.

The similarities continue with the final dance number in I Am Suzanne, described by her fiancé in the previous scene. In the marionette show Satan shouts, "I pull the strings!" at each sinful puppet. During the parade of puppets a mannish woman puppet declares herself: "A woman alas by Nature's plan. But I like to dress up like a man." Perhaps just a reference to Marlene Dietrich.

It is Satan who pulls the strings and makes these behaviors what they are. According to Glen or Glenda, it is Nature who makes mistakes but as the movie unfolds we find out there is a supernatural power at work, the devil played by Captain De Zita. Being silent about his cross-dressing invites the devil into Glen's relationship with Barbara. The introduction of the devil means Lugosi is playing his arch enemy, God.

God was never a character in I Am Suzanne, but Satan plays the enemy of peace and harmony in the world and the many relationships experienced there. Lugosi's role as God is entirely Wood's creation, God personified. We assume because Lugosi is the actor that this Creator is the bad guy and the force of evil, a throwback to his horror movies. A curse he lived with nearly his entire career. Suzanne must slay her own demon, but Glen has a divine helper and a very forgiving fiancé. In order to cut the strings pulled by the devil, Glen has to confess to Barbara so peace can enter their union. After wedding bells the couple dashes off in a Nash Rambler on a sunny afternoon. This is God's will being done.

I Am Suzanne had a small, limited release because of the censorship issues of the day. The censoring boards pulled the string on I Am Suzanne. There is no evidence at this time the film was ever reconsidered for release once the Production Code Administration (PCA) was established and had teeth to enforce the code. If it had been reconsidered it would have likely found its way to a list of acceptable movies and given the seal of approval. If Ed saw the film, which with the number of correspondences is likely, he likely saw it as youngster in Poughkeepsie.

We can say Ed's influence was definitely Pre Code when Hollywood was experimenting with the taboo. Like all of Ed's work I think we can filter the script and say, "This is definite Ed" and "This is from somewhere else." Transvestism is authentic Ed and how he modified dialogue and visuals from this older film will take more time to dissect but I believe I have found the source for Lugosi's not-at-all incoherent or random line: "Pull the strings." Ed was an artist and on a tight budget and rarely added things he thought were superfluous. Now if we only knew where the "big green dragon" comes from, too.

Now that your hopes are up, here is the link to the film of which only two surviving prints are known.

10. Speaking of which, Glen or Glenda?

I think it would have been fun to go to a drag party with Ed. There is no Glen or Glenda. I want the muddled Ed, angora and all. If we look close enough we will see Ed struggled with binaries, with good and evil. He couldn't get past right and wrong. I say both/and.

Many thanks to Angel Scott for sharing these unique perspectives on Ed and his work and for dissecting I Am Suzanne as a possible influence for Glen or Glenda.