Thursday, April 30, 2020

Never mind the bollocks, here's New Age Miracles: The Remix EP

John Anderson hosts New Age Miracles: Fact or Fiction.

Originally released in 1989, New Age Miracles: Fact or Fraud is a low-budget, made-for-video documentary about the various tricks and schemes used by New Age practitioners in order to con gullible people into joining their movement. It is hosted by an oddly-coiffed man named John Anderson, who wears a cream-colored sport jacket over a turquoise turtleneck. With his thick beard and dramatic eyebrows, Anderson is quite an imposing figure, especially when he's eating pieces of a shattered lightbulb or having a strongman break a cement block over his chest.

Other than Anderson himself, the most intriguing aspect of New Age Miracles: Fact or Fraud is its incredibly catchy background music. Recently, the hosts of the weekly YouTube series VCR Party Live screened a montage of clips from New Age Miracles and challenged viewers to do their own remixes. Well, that's the kind of challenge I could not resist. Here, then, is a modest EP I assembled yesterday in a fit of boredom. I hope you enjoy it. The songs are very short, so the entire EP is less than five minutes long.



Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Poughkeepsie Odyssey, Part 7 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood returned to his hometown after the war with a play tucked under his arm.

Exactly who was Major J.C. Foxworthy, USMCR (Ret.) and how did he become partners in the movie business with fellow ex-Marine Edward D. Wood, Jr. in the late 1950s? In last week's article, Joe Blevins discussed the working relationship between Wood and Foxworthy, revealing a passel of previously unknown details about the latter. As there noted, the pair co-scripted an unrealized film to be titled Trial by Terror, and Foxworthy was credited as Executive Producer on Wood's supremely weird 1959 feature Night of the Ghouls. As to how the two gentlemen connected, Joe opined: "My guess is that Wood and Foxworthy bonded over their shared Marine past, with Eddie no doubt greatly embellishing his own, modest war record."

In fact, the two men's creative partnership stretched back well over a decade, when Eddie was still serving in the military and Foxworthy was only a Captain. An August 18, 1946 article in the Poughkeepsie Journal indicates that Foxworthy played the role of a Captain in Eddie's military-themed stage play Casual Company, described as a "farce in three acts." A surviving program from that time indicates that Foxworthy's character was called Captain J. Sleepingwell Gutter and that he and the other thespians were known collectively as The Sad Sacks. The program also indicates that Eddie co-wrote the play with one Harry J. Kone.

A Casual Company program with Foxworthy's name in the cast.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Of Raisins and Rebellion"

(from left to right) Anson Williams, Donny Most, Marion Ross, Ron Howard, and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

Since Happy Days is a forty-plus-year-old sitcom about people living sixty years ago, it can be difficult sometimes to judge the manners and mores of the characters. They're playing by different rules than we are now. It's not really fair to expect them to conform to the values of today.

I think a lot of viewers have a problem with that, not just with this one show but with all popular culture from the past. "Why can't they be more like us?" we wonder. "Why can't they believe the same things we believe and espouse all of our views? Are they cruel and hateful or just ignorant?" Personally, I feel that morality and philosophy evolve over time, which is only natural. Furthermore, values will continue to change, meaning that the people of the future will probably judge us to be the cruel, hateful, and ignorant ones.

I'm bringing up all of these things because the episode we're covering on the These Days Are Ours podcast this week is "Marion Rebels," which first aired on February 1, 1977. The plot concerns Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross), a wife and mother in 1950s Wisconsin. In the episode, she becomes bored and frustrated with her role as a homemaker and expresses a desire to work outside the house, enraging her husband Howard (Tom Bosley). In defiance, Marion takes a job as a waitress at Arnold's, a local drive-in restaurant and teen hangout frequented by her children, Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran).

Seen with modern-day eyes -- 2020 vision, if you will -- "Marion Rebels" is hardly a feminist broadside. You could say that Marion is just going from one servile role to another. But she's operating within a very different system than we are. To me, it's interesting to see how a woman of the 1950s tries to redefine herself while living in a very constrictive society. Anyway, we talk about all of this stuff and much more on this week's episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Have a listen!


Thursday, April 23, 2020

The ineffable, overwhelming ennui of Patience and Prudence

Prudence and Patience McIntyre seem thrilled to talk about their glory days.

Some Patience and Prudence merchandise.
Imagine being a former child star, famous for something over which you had almost no control. You didn't ask to be in the spotlight. It just sort of happened. Would you take pride in your former glory or would those years seem foreign and distant to you, as if your experiences had happened to someone else?

Los Angeles-born sisters Patience and Prudence McIntyre know this situation all too well. In the summer of 1956, when they were 14 and 11 respectively, their father Mark briefly turned them into a successful recording duo. He was a musician himself, having worked with Frank Sinatra, and he thought his daughters' eerily pristine harmonizing -- imagine cheerier versions of the Grady sisters from The Shining -- could catch on with the general public. He was right. Under the name Patience and Prudence, the girls scored two novelty hits in 1956: "Tonight You Belong to Me" and "Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now." Despite numerous efforts, no other hits were forthcoming. The McIntyre sisters kept trying to recapture their initial success off and on through 1964, but the public was simply not interested. By the time of The Beatles, Patience & Prudence had been largely forgotten.

After that, the sisters moved on with their lives, their brush with fame a distant memory. But nostalgia-meister supreme Dick Clark, longtime emcee of American Bandstand, remembered them! In 1978, during a prime time special called Good Old Days, Clark aired a brief but fascinating interview with the McIntyre sisters. The mise-en-scène is astonishing here. The sisters, both in their 30s by this point, are seated in a lovely Hollywood garden, looking as though they are posing for an Impressionist painting. They both wear loose-fitting, satiny blouses -- Prudence's in tangerine, Patience's in lavender. And they both look utterly, supremely bored.

Patience, the older sister, speaks first and with perfect diction: "Making two hit records didn't really mean much to us, because we didn't work for it. We didn't want to be performers. And it's like anything else in life. If you work hard for it, then it's an achievement. But it was just an accident, and it's almost like a dream now."

Then it's Prudence's turn to speak. Looking as though she's fighting the urge to take a nap, she gives us an update on her sibling: "Patience was a marketing executive, and now she's writing a biography." To my knowledge, no book has emerged from either of the sisters in the ensuing 42 years.

"Pru married a great guy," Patience responds, "who's a cinematographer. But he was a recording artist, too. He was with [the garage rock band] The Standells in the '60s. And they live here in Hollywood." You probably know The Standells for their 1965 single "Dirty Water," now a sports anthem. They also guested on The Munsters.

"Probably one of the very few people in this world who has a gold record that's a 78," Prudence says of her husband, making her sister laugh.

And that's it. That's the entire interview. Most people would probably say that this clip is nothing special, and they'd be right. However, I could not help but be intrigued by the aloof demeanor of the McIntyres in this clip and their utter indifference to their own past. Their total lack of nostalgia works against everything Dick Clark is trying to create with this special. Every once in a while, I will revisit this (badly preserved) clip in the hopes that it will inspire me to write a short story or something. So far, it hasn't. But don't these ladies seem like they could be characters in a Christopher Guest movie?



P.S. - Patience and Prudence do not have a deep catalog of material to explore, but if you like their two hits, I'd recommend The Best of Patience and Prudence from Collectors' Choice Music. The duo's songs tend to be catchy, witty, and well-produced. I'm especially fond of "The Money Tree" and "Very Nice is Bali Bali." Even the 1964 stuff is listenable. They tried to add British Invasion-style guitars to their sound, though this gambit fooled no one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 100: "Trial by Terror" (1958)

Ed Wood wrote Trial by Terror with the mysterious Maj. J.C. Foxworthy.

"Piranhas -- What a way to die."
-Ed Wood's Trial by Terror (1958)

A flattering credit for Major Foxworthy.
Ed Wood must have been quite the salesman in his day. From the '40s to the '70s, he had a surprising amount of luck getting others to underwrite his movie projects. Crawford John Thomas, George Weiss, J. Edward Reynolds, Hugh Tomas, Jr., Anthony Cardoza, Bernie and Noel Bloom -- they were all persuaded to go into the Ed Wood business, despite any proven track record of financial success on Eddie's part. This aspect of his career is central to the 1994 biopic Ed Wood, in which Eddie is depicted as a consummate pitchman always ready to go into a sales spiel. During those fundraising parties at the Brown Derby, he acts like a shady used car dealer.

One of the least known of Eddie's backers is Major John Carlisle Foxworthy, with whom Ed formed a short-lived company called Atomic Productions in 1958. Wood and Foxworthy had high hopes for Atomic. According to Rudolph Grey's 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the two had "plans to film 18 low-budget pictures over the next three years." Unfortunately, the only film to result from this partnership was 1959's Night of the Ghouls (aka Revenge of the Dead), which seemingly vanished after a preview screening and went more or less unreleased until the 1980s. Among Atomic's unrealized projects was a 1958 film called Trial by Terror.

My guess is that Wood and Foxworthy bonded over their shared Marine past, with Eddie no doubt greatly embellishing his own, modest war record. In Night of the Ghouls, Foxworthy is prominently, flatteringly billed as "Major J.C. Foxworthy (U.S.M.C.R. Ret.)" in the main title sequence. Ed loved to talk about his days in the Marines, and he used his supposedly heroic past to make business connections. That's how he connected with producer-director Joe Robertson, with whom Ed made three films in the late '60s and early '70s. "[Ed] was in the Marine Corps," Robertson told interviewer Ted Newsom. "I was in the Marine Corps. And so we had a certain empathy. We felt for each other on that portion of it. Semper fi. And we talked a lot. And he was quite decorated. And then I got friendly with him." Foxworthy probably got the same or similar treatment from Wood.

Of Foxworthy himself, some online records say that he was born to George Wallingford Foxworthy and Ruth Power in Mt. Carmel, a community in Fleming County, Kentucky on November 5, 1907. Foxworthy married a woman named Bertha Schuldheisz on March 28, 1937. By 1943, Foxworthy was living in Long Beach, California. An article from the October 29, 1943 edition of the Long Beach Independent reports that Foxworthy, then 35, had recently graduated from Reserve Officer training in Quantico, VA after serving nine years in the Marines and would now be reassigned to a specialist school or combat unit. The article mentions his wife Bertha but no children.

A news article from 1943 about John Carlisle Foxworthy.

Foxworthy's own draft card, seemingly filled out by the man himself, gives his birth year as 1905 and his wife's name as Margaret, though it is misspelled as "Margret." The name Margaret does appear as his spouse in another online ancestry record. The draft card also has him employed by the Credit Bureau of Long Beach, which doesn't necessarily jibe with him being in the Marines for nine years. But it's possible he was a reservist for most of that time and was only called up to active duty during the war.

J.C. Foxworthy's draft card, circa 1940.

Foxworthy's credit from Night of the Ghouls specifies he's retired from the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Furthermore, he is listed on page 53 of a document called Register of Retired Commissioned and Warrant Officers, Regular and Reserve, of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, published July 1, 1968. His name is also included in a 1957 publication called Combined Lineal List of Officers on Active Duty in the Marine Corps. So maybe he had just retired from the Marines when he teamed up with Eddie. His retirement must've happened between 1957 and 1968.

Is it possible that there were two Marines named John Carlisle Foxworthy who were both born in Kentucky in the early 1900s and who both moved to Long Beach in the 1940s? One was born in 1905 and married Bertha, while the other was born in 1907 and married Margaret? Or vice versa? For what it's worth, the 1940 census has John and Margaret living together in Long Beach. John is 34, Margaret is 28. He was born in Kentucky, she in Colorado. He was a salesman manager for a collection agency, while she was a secretary and stenographer for a real estate agency. She'd completed four years of college; he'd completed one.

By 1971, Foxworthy had headed south. He was living in Chula Vista and dabbling in real estate. An article in the December 2, 1971 edition of the Chula Vista Star-News reported that Foxworthy had leased some land from the San Diego Gas and Electric Co. with the intention of growing Christmas trees. To protect his trees, Foxworthy had fenced off the property with barbed wire, leading to a dispute with a neighboring property owner. About a year later, John Carlisle Foxworthy died on December 29, 1972 in San Diego, California. The California Death Index and the U.S. Social Security Death Index agree on the date of his demise, though they disagree on his birth year. California says 1907; Social Security says 1905.

Here are my conclusions about Major John Carlisle Foxworthy: I think these records all refer to the same man, even if the details are slightly inconsistent. The broad details are the same from one source to the next. He was born in the 1900s in Fleming County, Kentucky. In the mid-1930s, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve and stayed with it until the late 1950s, when he retired as an officer. Along the way, he moved to Long Beach and got married but had no children. He likely served in World War II and Korea. After leaving the military, he was looking for investment opportunities, and fellow ex-Marine Ed Wood sweet talked him into starting a film production company. Almost nothing came of it. Eventually, he relocated to the San Diego area and tried other business venture and died in his mid-60s.

Title page for the Trial by Terror script.
But let's get back to Trial by Terror, that unproduced script from 1958. Nightmare of Ecstasy is vague about this one, filing it under "Unrealized Projects" and describing it as "one of a series of horror films for Atomic Productions which Wood was to have directed." In reality, despite its title, Terror is not a horror script but more of a jungle adventure story. It is credited to "Edward D. Wood, Jr. and John Carlisle." Apparently, John wasn't comfortable putting his last name on this one, though by Eddie's standards this is quite a respectable offering.

There are those who praise Bride of the Monster (1955) and Jail Bait (1954), both cowritten with Alex Gordon, because they are among Ed Wood's most "normal," coherent films, the ones most like "real" movies in the Wood canon. Perhaps Eddie needed a coauthor, they argue, to keep from lapsing into surrealism, fetishism, and absurdism. Such commentators will find more corroborating evidence in Trial by Terror, which could have been made into a competent, believable B-movie. I can see this one playing the drive-in circuit for years, probably as part of a double or triple bill, without attracting undue attention. But this is still Eddie's work, and you'll find plenty of overripe dialogue, shameless use of stock footage, and abundant narrative confusion, as well as a highly memorable final twist.

At heart, Trial by Terror is the story of five thieves who hijack an armored car, kill three guards, and take off with $1 million in a small airplane, only to crash in the South American jungle, apparently in Peru or Ecuador. Our main character is Duke, the ringleader of the operation and the only one with the necessary survival skills. Duke's principal rival within the group is short-tempered, hot-headed Mark. Mark's unhappy wife Game (yes, she's called Game) tags along, generally serving as a damsel in distress and occasionally flirting with Duke. Plus there are two nondescript, ancillary characters, Larry and Lance, who serve no particular function to the narrative. Can you guess which two characters die first?

The Peruvian (or Ecuadorian) jungle is full of hazards: alligators, anacondas, piranhas, quicksand, and headhunting Jivaro tribesmen. As you'd expect, our thieves run into all of these problems, and there are the requisite internal tensions as well, especially within the Duke/Mark/Game love triangle. Since the movie begins with these folks committing the robbery and killing the security guards without conscience or remorse, we don't really hold out too much hope for their eventual deliverance. In a 1950s B-movie, these tainted characters have only two possible fates: death or imprisonment. "Getting away with it" is not an option. Without spoiling the ending, I will say that the characters in Trial by Terror get what's coming to them, and Ed doesn't leave any "jungle movie" cliches unused.

A Jivaro shrunken head.
As for the gators, anacondas, and other beasties, Ed Wood fully intended to use stock footage and plenty of it. The designation "STOCK" is used throughout Trial by Terror. A good 30% of this movie would have been scratchy B&W nature footage, with the rest probably shot on small interior sets or in the wilder-looking sections of Griffith Park. Although Eddie probably intended to direct Trial by Terror himself, he does leave open the possibility of selling the script to someone else. The stage directions indicate that certain scenes, including a musical performance and a fistfight, are left "to the discretion of the director." Keep in mind that 1958 was the year that another Wood-scripted jungle film, The Bride and the Beast, was directed by Adrian Weiss.

I mentioned some narrative confusion. Like Glen or Glenda (1953), Trial by Terror has an abundance of framing devices, narrators, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Ostensibly, this is the story of the five thieves, and we spend most of our time with them. But it's presented as a case file that an insurance investigator named Lake McCall is telling to Mr. Marrow, the boss at the Ace Armored Car Co. As McCall describes his investigation, he recounts traveling to South America and dealing with a buffoonish local official named Captain Callio. Callio, in turn, introduces McCall to a Jivaro tribesman who has been arrested for murder and is awaiting execution. It is the Jivaro who fills McCall in on the details of the five thieves and what happened to them. Occasionally, Ed remembers to include cutaways in which the Jivaro silently watches the thieves from the bushes.

This script's nested structure reminds me a little of Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, in which we learn about the diabolical ivory trader Kurtz only third-hand. It's possible that this book was on Eddie's mind, too, when he wrote Trial by Terror. The insurance investigator, meanwhile, seems analogous to Tom Keene's Tucson Kid character from Crossroad Avenger (1953). While an insurance investigator may seem an unlikely hero to us, remember that there was a popular, long-running radio show called Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar from 1949 to 1962. And don't forget NBC's mystery series Banacek (1972-1974) with George Peppard. Also, the Lake McCall character allows Wood to frame this story as a police procedural, as he was wont to do.

The real joy of Trial by Terror is in its hard-boiled dialogue, all of which sounds like it comes directly from pulp novels and men's magazines. Tough guy Mark, especially, has some colorful turns of phrase, sounding like a wannabe James Cagney. Here's an argument he has with Game.
GAME: You just wait -- you'll get yours. 
MARK: I ain't much for waiting. 
GAME: Maybe that's your trouble. 
MARK: Maybe you want to get knocked across the dam. 
GAME: Forget it. 
MARK: That's what I'm figuring on doing.
Isn't that beautiful? And there's plenty more where that came from. Everybody in Trial by Terror talks that way. Even if this movie is never made -- and at this point, it probably shouldn't be -- the script would make for an incredible live reading, providing that the actors don't try to ham it up too much or oversell the campiness of it.

I am grateful to Bob Blackburn for having forwarded me a copy of this script. In my recent analysis of the Plan 9 from Outer Space script, I complained that I hadn't read too many of Eddie's screenplays because I didn't have access to them, so Bob quickly sent me Trial by Terror. When I asked where he had gotten it, he responded:
"Well, I am pretty sure I got it from the guy who for a short while was selling bootleg copies of a couple of Ed's scripts -- this and 7 Rue Pigalle, The Vampire's Tomb, and The Ghoul Goes West or at least a couple of those. I actually bought one, then messaged him after I got it to let him know I was one of Kathy's heirs, and he got all apologetic, wasn't aware there were any, etc., and said he'd be happy to send me a copy of the others he had, which was like two. Of course, these are all copies of copies. He never did say how or where he got them, and he said he would stop selling them, which he did, and I thanked him for being honest and doing that, and as far as I know he hasn't."
Bob added that David C. Hayes, author of Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (2001), had once contacted him about Trial by Terror. Hayes' plan was to turn the script into a graphic novel, which might work nicely for this material. Unsure about the ownership of the script, Bob registered it under his own name with the WGA, filling out the forms and paying the $20 fee. "I have a two-year registration and can renew it," Bob explains, "which I'm sure I will do. I didn't copyright it yet with the Library of Congress."

I don't know what, if any, future Trial by Terror may have. I don't think it would be a good idea to turn it into a film at this point, since the result would probably be a self-conscious, faux-camp parody. A graphic novel seems like a better bet, providing the material is presented in as serious and straightforward a manner as possible. Any winking to the audience would be disastrous. I could also imagine Trial working as a radio drama, which would eliminate the need for stock footage. Really, though, the best possible outcome would be for this and other unproduced Wood scripts to be published in book form. That way, fans could reenact this thrilling jungle saga and other adventures in their own homes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Glory Fades, Richie Dribbles"

Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) prepares to lose the big game in "A Shot in the Dark."

During its fourth season, when it topped the A.C. Nielsen ratings, Happy Days focused increasingly on the character of Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli. The ultra-cool, motorcycle-riding mechanic, as played by Henry Winkler, captured America's imagination and became a pop culture phenomenon whose influence was felt far beyond the show. Kids imitated him on the playground, and there was a plethora of Fonzie merchandise on store shelves. It was Fonzie who almost single-handedly saved the show from cancellation after its rocky second season, and the producers rewarded Henry Winkler with more airtime than ever before. The third season saw the gregarious greaser move into the suburban Cunningham house, while the fourth season was essentially The Fonzie and Friends Show, starting with the epic "Fonzie Loves Pinky" three-parter.

As a result of these changes, the show's original protagonist, nerdy high school kid Richie Cunningham, became more of a supporting character and a foil to the Fonz. He was still important to the series, but he didn't excite the audience the way Fonzie did. Eventually, actor Ron Howard became tired of being Fonzie's "goody two shoes" sidekick and left the series for a prosperous directing career. In the eyes of many fans, Happy Days never quite recovered from Howard's departure.

But even during the Fonzie-crazed fourth season, there was still room for the occasional Richie story. Case in point: "A Shot in the Dark," in which the red-headed honor student becomes an unlikely star on the Jefferson High basketball team, only to have the newfound glory go to his head. That's the episode my co-host Peter and I are reviewing on this week's brand new installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. We hope you'll give it a listen.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 19 by Greg Dziawer

Jean Nieto strikes a seductive pose in this pinup pic.

The incomparable Jean Nieto in 1958.
Last week, I shared with you a couple of high school yearbook photographs of a strikingly attractive young lady who would soon find herself performing in a film now generally believed to be written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. This week, I'm finally revealing her identity and taking a stab at the very first index of her work across various media.

By the late 1950s, in the wake of Hugh Hefner's Playboy, the men's magazine quickly became a pop culture staple. Similar mags proliferated on newsstands, their raison d'etre images of naked women. While these sorts of magazines had existed all the way back to the 19th century, only now were they readily available for mass consumption. 

A similar seismic shift was simultaneously occurring in films. The distribution of burlesque strip shorts via mail had begun in the early 1940s, if not earlier, and the films would become increasingly graphic and explicitly sexual over time. Hardcore shorts were also made back then, but seeing one was unlikely unless you were a lodge member, where these so-called "smokers" were commonly screened. As for feature films, female nudity penetrated the cultural landscape via foreign art films. Finally, losing all pretext, a new type of motion picture called the nudie cutie appeared. Russ Meyer's The Immoral Mr. Teas from 1959 is generally considered the prototype, a smashing success whose appeal largely existed in the exhibition of voluptuous unclad women. 

In the early summer of 1957, a young lady graduated from Burbank High School in Los Angeles, California. In the wake of the Great Depression, Burbank established itself as the hub of the Hollywood film industry. The Oscar-winning classic Casablanca (1942) was shot there. The population remained almost entirely Caucasian, and that young lady was one of the few students of Mexican descent who attended BHS.

Her name was Jean Nieto, and it could not have been long after high school that she began her career as a performer, dancer, and model. In the short span of a few years, she toured under the name Ramona Rogers as an exotic dancer, dubbed The "Wow!" Girl. An ad for her act appeared in the June 21, 1959 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At that time, Jean/Ramona was appearing at the Rivoli Theater, which was demolished in 1970

An advertisement for one of Jean's personal appearances in 1959.

Jean also shot photo features for men's magazines, and her short films were advertised in those same mags, along with sets of nude photos. In 1959, she landed a small role in the nudie Western Revenge of the Virgins. The screenplay for Virgins is credited to Pete La Roche, with the general consensus—and I concur—that it was penned by Edward D. Wood, Jr. 

After 1960, Jean Nieto's work on stage and film and in print appears to cease. She certainly wasn't the first young lady who entered the adult entertainment business, only to disappear from it just as quickly. Did she get married and raise a family? Did she descend to the streets and addiction? We will likely never know, but given her charisma, beauty, and poise, I'd bet Jeanie led a successful and fulfilling life. We hope she is still with us, healthy and happy. 

What we do know is that she left behind a clutch of films and photos, indexed below. And for that, I'm grateful.

Jean Nieto aka Ramona Rogers


Feature Film:
  • Revenge of the Virgins (1959) - Directed by Pete Perry. With Charles Veltmann, Jr., Henry Darrow, and Nona Carver. Narrated by Kenne Duncan. As one of the Golden Horde, the topless natives are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Jean is the last credited of the six girls of the Horde, as Ramona Rogers. It's her sole film credit.

Short Films:
NOTE: These short films were made circa 1959 and exhibited in peepshow arcade machines and sold via mail order. In them, Jean often dons a pair of gold earrings that are dead ringers for the pair she wore in her high school graduation photo.
The logo for the Candlelight series.
  • White S7 - The Starlight series of peepshow/mail order shorts remain clouded in obscurity. When they were made, and by whom, is unknown. Due to the volume and ubiquity of these films, with many hundreds of them still extant, eagle-eyed vintage sex film aficionados have identified enough girls to place these shorts on the West Coast. Those same ID's have aided in pinpointing the approximate time-frame in which these shorts were released. An amazing series, in color and at the forefront of full frontal nudity, Starlight titles often included title cards with an ornamental logo alongside an index number and a first name for the featured girl. Sometimes, less often than not, the model's actual first name would be used. An additional signatory image was that of a statue of a female nude on her knees, stretching back in a near-impossible fashion.That image often appeared on title cards and as a blink-and-you'll-miss-it insert at the halfway point in the shorts. Candlelight was another series related to Starlight. While White S7 is untitled in its surviving form, its alpha-numeric index number places it within the orbit of Starlight-related loops. Jean is breathtaking here, getting fully out of bra and panties on a characteristic motel room bed. Beautifully shot in almost-entirely medium and full closeups, in color.
  • CA7 - A "softer" cut of White S7, minus full frontal nudity.
  • Bab W50 - Jean stares into your eyes and hypnotizes you, in this lengthy-for-its-era short. Lasting almost 11 minutes, it appears on volume #198 of Something Weird's Nudie Cuties "Peepland" compilation series, a sprawling collection of sex film shorts largely pre-dating the 1970s and the depiction of hardcore. The setting is another motel room. In lovely color, and, yes, there's full frontal nudity. 
  • Jeanie T51 - Surviving in a eye-catchingly colorful print, we remain in Starlight-territory, given the statue's appearance on the title card. Occasionally, models in these films were credited under their actual first names. Here, for instance, Jean is listed as Jeanie, suggesting that was her nickname. More states of undress and pantyhose madness, with Jeanie fittingly appearing by candlelight, and this time it looks to be shot on a film set.
  • Connie W51 - Jean in the shower, first in merely a corset and ultimately fully nude. She's clearly teasing the cameraman here—lucky him—making him an unseen part of the action. This was a typical element in the best of the Starlight-related shorts, taking them beyond mere voyeurism. 

Some title cards for Jean Nieto shorts.

  • Untitled/unknown short - Included on Something Weird Video's Nudie Cuties Volume #122, Jean here appears in (faded) color. The brief three-minute short remains relatively chaste— T&A only, minus any full frontal nudity. Jean writhes around on a bed, smiling into the camera as it pans up and down and back and forth across her body. 
  • Untitled/unknown short - Perhaps one of the last of Jean's extant, identified shorts. Jean appears slightly older physically and sapped of her typically bright energy. In B&W, this is the first short on the compilation Nudie Cuties Volume #54.

Men's Magazine Pictorials:
  • Sheer - vol. 1, no. 7 (1959) (also cover model)
  • Spice - vol. 1, no. 5 (1960)
  • Scamp - September 1960 (photography by Del Hayden)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Zen and the Delicate Art of Coin Snatching"

Charles Galioto guest stars on Happy Days as the cousin of Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler).

Have I been doing everything possible to promote These Days Are Ours, my weekly podcast about the classic sitcom Happy Days? Maybe not. I post about the show frequently on Twitter and Facebook, and the podcast has its own Twitter account, but I haven't written about the show that often on this blog. Well, I decided to change that this week.

The premise of These Days Are Ours is simple. Each week, my co-host Peter and I review an episode of Happy Days. We're currently making our way through Season 4. New episodes are posted every Tuesday morning at thesedaysareours.libsyn.com. It is completely free to download and listen. If you're not that familiar with Happy Days or if you don't remember a particular episode, don't worry. We start each podcast by going over the plot of the episode we're reviewing. After that, we delve into the cultural references, music, and fashion choices, while also telling you if we think a Happy Days installment is worth your time or not. And, thanks to some judicious editing, we get all this done in about half an hour. Here's our latest podcast.



This week, the episode up for review is "The Book of Records" from January 18, 1977. It's an unusual one, since it's built around a guest appearance by a non-actor, specifically a high schooler from New York named Charles Galioto, briefly well-known for catching coins off his elbow. Charlie didn't do any more acting than this one sitcom appearance, but he did appear on a few talk shows in his day, doing his famous coin tricks. Here he is on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson back in 1976. My guess is that the producers of Happy Days saw Charlie chatting with Johnny and thought he would be perfect for their show.

Ed Wood Extra: Keith Crocker on the Ed Wood loops

At 13, Keith Crocker saw a John Holmes loop that changed his life.

NOTE: Recently, film archivist and lecturer Keith Crocker contacted me and asked if he could write a few articles for this site about the career of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Naturally, I said yes. This is the first of those articles. In it, he reflects on Ed's pornographic loops from the 1970s and how those films have affected him personally. Hope you enjoy. - J.B. 

Guest author Keith Crocker
This series is all about archaeology. As fans of Edward D. Wood, Jr., we're looking to fill in information about Eddie's so-called "missing years." Those of us in the know realize that there actually were no missing years in the man's life, just years when he was working under pseudonyms and on the fly. In fact, when Wood was in the worst stages of alcoholism in the 1970s, he was still remarkably one of the most consistently employed men working in adult publications. He brought that skill with him into the world of 8mm porn loops.

In previous articles, Joe Blevins and Greg Dziawer have gone to great lengths to prove that Ed Wood may be the man to have laid down the foundation of the pornographic loop. These loops were short adult films you could watch in the privacy of your own home or even see at an arcade featuring peep shows that you'd watch in a booth for the price of a quarter. And that means lots and lots of people over the long years have seen these films. 

After reading Joe's article about Ed Wood's involvement with the first 19 entries in the long-running Swedish Erotica series, and this claim having some validation by Conrad Brooks in Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), I set about compiling as many as possible 8mm loops in which Ed may have been involved in some way or another. I released those films via Cinefear Video, a "buy demand" DVD business I've been involved with for 30 years. I was very lucky to find that the bulk of the said loops were in a collection of films I'd had in my possession since the late 2000s.

You already know where Joe, Greg, and I stand in relation to those Ed Wood loops, the consensus being that Ed not only wrote the subtitles and box cover summaries but also directed them. I've based my argument on the staging of these films. I could go so far as to say choreography, since Ed claimed to have studied under Martha Graham. Believe it or not, this odd choreography would remain a signature of these films long after Ed's involvement.

But the big question really is: what importance did these 8mm films really have? In other words, what impact did they have on the viewing public? A while back, Greg asked if I would share my experience of having seen a silent Swedish Erotica film back in 1978. I was only 13 years old then, and it was the first pornographic film I had ever seen. I will share this experience in the hopes that it will highlight just how difficult it actually was to obtain pornography back then. Furthermore, this story illustrates the long-term impact Ed Wood had on this series, even when he was no longer involved at all.

Keith Crocker's epic first film!
I've loved films all my life. In the late 1970s, a family friend gave me the long-term loan of a Super 8mm camera. This would fulfill my obsession of wanting to be a filmmaker, which I pursued vigorously. In fact, in 1978, I made my first 20-minute Super 8mm spectacle, a film called Dracula is Alive and Well and Living in Hewlett. (Hewlett was the Long Island, NY town where I grew up.) By 1978, I also had my first Super8/8mm dual projector. It was an Argus 866Z and it was a cheap, all plastic projector, affordable to just about everyone. Because I had this projector, it was not unusual that folks would find film reels in their house often belonging to grandparents and would bring them to me for screenings.

One early spring afternoon, my older brother and his friend showed up with a Super 8mm film in a bold and audaciously colored box that boasted the Swedish Erotica logo. The silent film on the inside of this box was called "Shower Beauty." The stars were John C. Holmes and Kitty Shayne. The copyright on the box claimed 1978. It was fresh product. I was 13 years old. I had seen nudie magazines, but I had never seen hardcore pornography. My eyes were about to be opened like never before. And Lord say a prayer for my future girlfriends. Life was never going to be the same.

Kitty Shayne, goddess. 
The plot synopsis on the box boasted: "John Holmes does his girlfriend a favor by mending her plumbing. And he is repaid when his cock finds heaven in her voluptuous body." Short and sweet. Far less evocative than when Ed was writing out the descriptions of the earlier Swedish Erotica shorts. Also, the action in the film tells a different story. For one thing, even though Holmes isn't in a plumber's uniform, it's evident he's there to repair something. When water from the pipe he is fixing gets him wet, he seems annoyed and looks to see what the problem is. He enters through a floor door, which takes him right into the bathroom. Miss Shayne is showering up. He watches her like he's never seen her before. Once Holmes enters the bathroom, Shayne tries to conceal herself. She is clearly not his girlfriend. As usual, Holmes charms her right into the bedroom. This, naturally, leads to the expected fucking and sucking, culminating with one of Holmes' trademark load-on-the-face shots.

Bear in mind that, throughout the whole loop, there's an odd choreography in the way the actors are staged. Not only does the film maximize the limited space in which the scene is shot, but it also adds an odd grace and greater presence to two performers who more than likely lacked grace and presence in any sort of manner. To me, at 13 years old, Kitty Shayne seemed like a Greek goddess. Her body seemed beyond attainable. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest as the film unfolded.

And what can I say about Holmes that hasn’t already been said? He was larger than life, both in endowment and in size. His hair was in a 'fro, a style he had been wearing regularly during the later half of the '70s. There was something suave about him, yet he was an everyday male. Hence, the reasons for his broad appeal. The five-inch film reel played itself out in less than 15 minutes. My innocence (phase one) was gone.

Okay, let's take a look at the landscape here. Videotape was just beginning to emerge. It was beyond affordability. I wouldn’t have my first Betamax until the summer of 1983. Though we lived on Long Island, for some odd reason my brother had picked the film up in an adult bookstore on Staten Island. What he and his friend were doing in Staten Island, I haven't a clue. Don't ask, don't tell. But here's the real interesting thing: my brother had the option of returning this film, paying only an additional $20 and getting another. And he could continue to do this. And he did, for a while anyhow. It was a form of rental. Yes, that’s right, they were renting Super 8mm porn, long before the video boom of the 1980s!

This little Swedish Erotica flick got a lot of play. I had to run it for friends continually, and it even sneaked into some late night projection for my brother's girlfriends. (I came from a big family of six children, three brothers and two sisters.) I remember the girlfriends laughing and covering their eyes during specific scenes, all while the underage projectionist continued to run the film. Yes, this would go over like a lead balloon in today's environment. I'm thankful I grew up in the '70s, dysfunction be damned.

The chicks were a lot cooler back then, too. Some of the old hippie nonsense was still kicking around. In 1979, I got my first tongue kiss from a topless dancer, and my whole body tingled. By 1981, I had my first girlfriend and I could play out what I learned from that Super 8mm film in real time. My apologies for being so open. I'm older and nostalgic, but I also really believe in painting a vivid portrait so you can see and feel what I went through at the time. If I gave you anything less, I'd be cheating you.

The legendary John Holmes
So what does all of this have to do with Ed Wood? Without Wood’s involvement with Swedish Erotica, we would never have had the style that we associate with California-shot porn. New York porn in 1973 was nothing like this. It was just grimy and cheap—shot in one room and usually from one camera angle. Wood was given the opportunity to up the artfulness, and in the first 19 Swedish Erotica loops, he did just that. His impact on the loop series was so strong that the franchise was unable to turn away from the template he had laid down. In those early films, Wood experimented with different genres, including a Western scenario and a supernatural scenario. He also opened up the scope of the common loop, doing outdoor shooting, utilizing gorgeous houses and locations, and trying even to give you narrative in the short time that the loop allowed. This film, "Shower Beauty," was one of Ed’s cinematic grandchildren. And it starred his cinematic son John Holmes. Holmes' career was in many ways founded by Wood. Six degrees of separation but all roads do indeed lead back to Rome.

Within about eight months of my first seeing this loop, Ed Wood, Jr. would die on December 10, 1978. I remember hearing of his passing. I knew who he was. Anyone who owned Heroes of the Horrors, a 1975 book by Calvin Thomas Beck, knew who Wood was because the Bela Lugosi chapter ended with a reference to Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) being Bela Lugosi's final film. I had yet to see a Wood film, though. I wouldn’t have that opportunity until I had a video machine and I could rent Plan 9, Bride of the Monster (1955), and Glen or Glenda (1953).

In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine that Ed Wood had any type of involvement in that dirty little movie that ran through my projector. Of interest, I wouldn't even attempt to suggest Wood had a hand in the loop I had seen. I know of no 8mm version, and I know of no subtitles being available for this film. (Greg Dziawer, please correct me if I'm wrong.) Yet Eddie's influence is so clearly there, and for this to have been my first viewing of a pornographic film, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Some things are just meant to happen, I guess.

Anyhow, I do hope this painted a portrait of what it was like accessing pornography long before the internet. Next time I contribute, I'll be discussing my VHS print of Glen or Glenda under the title of I Led Two Lives. I'll be comparing it to the existing DVD of Glen or Glenda and looking for any differences print-wise. Archaeologists never give up!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Remembering Mort Drucker (1929-2020)

Mort Drucker in his studio, surrounded by his own work

My gateway drug to MAD.
Mort Drucker, who has died at 91, turned me into a true art lover at the age of 11. I'd accompany my mother every Saturday morning to the local Hamady grocery store, and I'd always stop by the newsstand to linger over the latest issue of MAD without ever buying it. I remember putting down an issue very quickly because it contained an article called "The MAD Nasty Files," and I was so dumb I thought "nasty" was a profanity. That's what comes from a Catholic upbringing.

Well, somewhere along the line, my mother must have broken down and purchased a MAD Super Special for me without my knowing it. (For the uninitiated, Super Specials were the double-thick issues containing reruns of vintage material.) On Christmas morning 1986, I was shocked and delighted to find the Summer '86 edition of More Trash from MAD rolled up in my stocking. What a gift! Inside were articles illustrated by lots of great cartoonists, all destined to become heroes of mine. Here, in one place, I discovered: the shaggy, dot-eyed creations of Paul Coker; the squiggly line drawings of Sergio Aragones; the bulbous-nosed, pop-eyed buffoons of Don Martin; etc. But uppermost in my estimation were the baroque, evocative drawings of caricaturist Mort Drucker, who mainly worked on MAD's famous movie satires.

More Trash from MAD happens to contain two of Mort's all-time greatest articles: an epic 10-page  parody of Superman II (1980) called "Superduperman II" and a masterful spoof of the TV sitcom Archie Bunker's Place (1979-83) called "Starchie Bonker's Place or A Christmas Carol O'Conner." I studied those pages with a devotion normally devoted to holy books. What impressed me most was Drucker's commitment to capturing the personalities, moods, and expressions of his subjects -- not just the stars but also the supporting and background players.

Take that "Starchie Bonker" article (originally printed in January 1982) as an example. It's one thing to draw an instantly recognizable Carroll O'Connor, among the most familiar faces on TV at that time, but it's quite another to give readers perfect representations of Anne Meara, Allan Melvin, and Martin Balsam. That was Mort's commitment to quality. I should mention that this particular article is also brilliantly scripted by  Arnie Kogen, a real-life TV writer who worked for Carol Burnett and Bob Newhart and who knew the television business from the inside out.

An excerpt from "Starchie Bonker's Place" drawn by Mort Drucker

Well, after that Christmas, I became an avid reader of MAD -- both new issues and back issues. I spent many hours poring over Mort's material, from the sea of Italian-American faces at the wedding in "The Odd Father" (December 1972) to the masterful two-page spread from "Flopeye" (September 1981) in which the characters from the animated Popeye cartoons stood aside their live-action counterparts. Finding the book Familiar Faces: The Art of Mort Drucker (1988) by David Duncan was another major leap forward in my peculiar scholarship. Digging back into the archives, I learned that Mort's style evolved over the years. I got a kick out of his funky-looking '60s stuff, like "Bats-Man" (September 1966) with its elongated, cadaverous Alan Napier.

A panel from 1966's "Bats-Man."

I was hardly alone in my admiration of Mort Drucker. I'd wager a generation of cartoonists grew up wanting to draw like him. I still have thick portfolios of my failed attempts. I may never get good at art, but I'll never stop trying, and that's largely because of Mort. The man's influence reached beyond cartoonists and wannabe cartoonists. The Coen Brothers, those masters of the deadpan bizarre, have acknowledged Drucker as an inspiration for the look of their movies. I can also remember, years ago, seeing a panel of comedians on some talk show. Wish I could remember the title. Somehow, the topic of conversation turned to depictions of sexy women in comics. One panelist brought up Mort's drawings of Jacqueline Bisset in a parody of The Deep called "The Dip" (April 1978). Several of the other comics on the show also recalled that article and the effect it'd had on them.

Jacqueline Bisset as drawn by Mort Drucker.

Somehow, it always felt odd to me when other people like the Coens or those TV comedians would mention Mort Drucker's name. I'd somehow gotten the crazy notion that Mort's work was my own private discovery. Maybe I even dreamed that Mort's articles were intended just for me alone. Who else was scrutinizing those MAD panels, trying to find little background details? But I think a lot of people were. MAD tends to inspire that brand of solitary devotion. Mort's work belongs to the world, just as the work of every great artist belongs to the world. And I don't hesitate to call Mort a great artist. It's just that his best work happened to appear on cheap butcher's paper rather than on gallery walls.

I realize I have not even begun to summarize Mort Drucker's career or legacy. I've not even mentioned his work outside of MAD -- his movie posters, advertisements, comics, etc. But this was intended as a mere reminiscence of how Mort's work personally affected me. I hope that, if you were also a fan, it rekindled some memories.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 18 by Greg Dziawer

Think you can name this mystery starlet?

High school days.
Let's play a game. I'll think of someone with a connection to Edward D. Wood, Jr., and you try to guess who it is. Sound good?

We have a wide variety of candidates to consider here. After all, among the multitude of creative talents who crossed paths with Eddie during his three tumultuous decades in Hollywood, some are instantly recognizable cult icons, including CriswellVampira, and Tor Johnson. Legends all. Most were like Ed, though, working on the fringes of the industry in near-anonymity. While Ed's obscurity evolved into a beyond-the-grave infamy, others in his orbit have been all but forgotten by time.

One of those obscure performers intrigued me, though her connection to Ed was both fleeting and speculative. We can safely say that "maybe" she worked with Ed. I happened to find her high school graduation photo, showing a pert, smiling brunette with a sensible hairdo and outfit. You wouldn't guess there was anything even vaguely scandalous in her future. Something about this rather benign image captured my imagination and made me want to know more.

Another photo revealed that this young lady was in her school's Spanish Club. It's a typical yearbook group shot: a lot of awkward Caucasian kids, some wearing sombreros, grinning for the camera. A couple of wisenheimers in the back row clutch a poster advertising the Plaza de Toros de Madrid. Our girl stands off to the right, looking perhaps a bit more self-satisfied and confident than her peers. Perhaps she did or said something noteworthy right before the photo was taken. Indeed, a few other members of the club seem to be looking her way. They, like me, want to know, "Who's that girl?"

One of the people in this Spanish Club will eventually work with Ed Wood.

Any ideas yet?

Well, I'm feeling charitable, so I'll give you a few additional hints about our mystery woman:
  • She stripped under a stage name, dubbed The Wow Girl.
  • Her sole feature film credit is a movie Ed is believed to have scripted.
  • She appeared in some explicit-for-their-era peepshow arcade shorts (or loops), as well as some skin mag photo features.

Do you know who she is?

Join us here in one week to find out. The next installment in this series will feature the first-ever published index of her work across various media.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Clown, for Christ's Sake: The curious career of Rev. Floyd T. Shaffer (UPDATED)

A tabloid article about Floyd Shaffer, the religious clown.

Floyd Shaffer's first book.
The Reverend Floyd T. Shaffer was looking for a new way to reach his congregation in 1969. How could he possibly get through to his practical, sensible flock during that tumultuous age of Vietnam, Woodstock, and Manson? The unlikely answer was by donning a fright wig, floppy shoes, and a round, red, rubber nose.

Though he may not have invented the form, Floyd Shaffer became, for a time, perhaps the most prominent and beloved proponent and practitioner of religious clowning in America. Born circa 1930 in the Detroit area, the kindly and gentle Shaffer was a devout, deeply sincere Lutheran minister whose career trajectory took him from Michigan to Maryland to Ohio. In fact, Shaffer experienced his greatest period of productivity and prominence in the Buckeye State during the Reagan-Bush years. But to appreciate this man's story in full, we must travel back to the Age of Aquarius.

Destined to become a literal Holy Fool, Floyd Shaffer started upon his unusual path in the late 1960s in Columbia, Maryland, where he preached God's word at the still-existent Abiding Savior Lutheran Church. It was at Abiding Savior that Shaffer first introduced costumed clowning into his ministry and encouraged others to follow his example. According to fellow religious clown John Garrett, Floyd was aligning himself with a liturgical tradition stretching back to the Middle Ages, when so-called "holy interrupters" would lighten the mood of formal services with their comedic outbursts. Although a keen student of clowning history, Shaffer was more likely influenced by the counterculture of his own time. Clowning and mime were art forms beloved by hippies, who also had a penchant for face-painting and the donning of colorful, garish clothing. Back in 1969, a preacher dressed as a clown could almost be considered edgy or hip.

In those early years, Shaffer and his ilk were not always welcome among mainstream Christians. The soft-voiced pastor related to his followers the story of his disastrous appearance at a 1970s youth conference held at Houston's famed Astrodome. There, Shaffer and his fellow beneficent buffoons were regarded with extreme skepticism. Thinking the clowns were blasphemous, the other conference attendees derided and, in some cases, attacked Shaffer's troupe. Arlene Trapp, an original acolyte of Shaffer, recalled being "treated like Jesus, kicked at, hit, and mocked."

Still in all, Shaffer's tomfoolery-based evangelism must have yielded positive results in those early days, because he kept at it. In 1974, still based in Columbia, he founded Faith and Fantasy, a nondenominational clown ministry popular enough to have lasted into the 1990s, though its alumni remember it as a loosely-affiliated "non-organization" whose members were never keen on rules. During these years, determined to spread the message of Christ through the techniques of Emmett Kelly and Marcel Marceau, Shaffer and his followers performed their wordless, mime-based act at weekly Lutheran services and also visited numerous hospitals and nursing homes, where they found an appreciative, if captive, audience for their antics.

By 1981, having relocated to Ohio, Floyd Shaffer was well-known enough to attract the attention of the popular press. In August of that year, the black-and-white tabloid Weekly World News ran a profile of Shaffer with the headline "Preacher clowns for God to fill the pews." While essentially flattering to the clown minister, the article also described him as "wacky" and "bizarre."

The Christian Science Monitor followed suit in September with a slightly more dignified article by Stewart McBride headlined "Holy fools rush in." More wide-ranging than the Weekly World News piece, McBride's article looks at different examples of clown ministry from across the United States. In this context, rather than the isolated kook portrayed in the tabloid, Floyd Shaffer is part of a vital, burgeoning movement. The Monitor still recognized Shaffer as a pioneer, however, calling him "one of the first clergymen to perform a Sunday service in whiteface and clown costume" and declaring that "hundreds have followed in his suit of many colors."

The cover of the infamous video.
A few years after these articles introduced the Christian clown phenomenon to a national audience, Floyd Shaffer began writing a series of guidebooks about the topic dearest to his heart. If I Were a Clown and Clown Ministry appeared in 1984. Clown Ministry Skits for All Seasons followed in 1990. Of these, it is Clown Ministry that brought Shaffer a sort of late-blooming, ironic notoriety. The book was accompanied by a 92-minute instructional video that, decades later, was widely excerpted and mocked (shades of the unhappy Astrodome experience!) on video-sharing sites like eBaum's World, Daily Motion, and YouTube.

That was how I first became acquainted with Floyd Shaffer and Clown Ministry. In February 2011, comedians and avid thrift store scavengers Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher used clips from Shaffer's 1984 video in an episode of their web series, The Found Footage Show, which they originally produced for the A.V. Club website. They said they found the VHS tape at a church rummage sale. "This one was intended for budding Christian clowns who wanted to start their own clown ministry," explained Prueher. "I've never understood the connection between Christianity and clowning, and this video certainly didn't help." To which Pickett added: "Really, this video is the best argument against putting your grandparents into a nursing home."

For those whose curiosity has been piqued, the entire Clown Ministry video is now available for viewing on YouTube. In these 92 minutes, Floyd Shaffer walks us through the history and purpose of Christian clowning, demonstrates how to properly apply clown makeup, and even lets us tag along on a typical nursing home visit. It is this last aspect of the video that has attracted the most attention and ridicule over the years, as the elderly patients here seem bewildered and frightened, rather than delighted, by the antics of Shaffer and company.



Floyd Shaffer today
"The clown has no age," Shaffer optimistically told the Weekly World News in 1981. Mankind, however, is not immune from the ravages of time. Now 85 years old and comfortably retired since at least 2006, Floyd Shaffer has returned to his home state of Michigan, where he lives with his wife in Saginaw. The couple have two grown children. Though no longer clowning, Floyd Shaffer is still a loyal follower of the Lutheran faith.

The man's longstanding influence on the world of Christian clowning remains undeniable. In a September 2013 article on the World Clown Association website, Janet "Jellybean" Tucker recalled how seeing Shaffer changed her life; "It was in 1979 or 1980 at a Clown, Mime, Puppet, Dance Ministry Workshop in Oberlin, Ohio, and I saw Floyd Shaffer do a bit on feeding the hungry where his clown ate gobs of popcorn but offered it to a hungry person one kernel at a time. I began reading the Bible through different eyes and began to see the Bible characters as real people."

Obviously, despite the snickering of the internet, Shaffer's message got through to some viewers. As recently as April 2015, Christine Fontaine, a religious-minded mime in Northfield, Massachusetts, contacted Floyd by phone to seek his advice and counsel on how to proceed with her work. The two talked for an hour. As always, Floyd Shaffer remained committed to clowning for Christ.

UPDATE FOR 2020: Amazingly, some more vintage footage of Floyd Shaffer has surfaced! In addition to touring with their collection of offbeat videos, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher also have a weekly YouTube series called VCR Party Live. In a recent "quarantine" edition of the show, the hosts interviewed film archivist Skip Elsheimer, who specializes in educational and industrial films. One of the clips Elsheimer showed during this visit depicts Floyd, both as himself and in costume, doing some Christian clowning.

After Pickett described the clip as "clown communion," Elsheimer responded: "That one, I can't remember. The title just suddenly left my brain. That one I got recently, and that one I have not shown online anywhere." He went on to say he didn't know where this film was originally shown. "I think this is too scary for Sunday school class." Pickett and Prueher note that the film is dour and that the clowns in it do not seem happy.

Floyd Shaffer appears as himself and as a clown in a newly-discovered film from the 1970s.

Scored with incongruous ragtime piano, the footage seems to date back to the 1970s when Shaffer was working with the Faith and Fantasy troupe in Columbia, Maryland. It may have been made as a record of what their performances were like back then. The movie begins with shots of a congregation in a mid-sized church. Floyd himself, with a full head of curly hair, enters the room in traditional vestments. A slight smile passes over Floyd's face as he stands behind the altar, and through the magic of editing, he transforms into a clown, complete with a red nose and a derby hat. The parishioners are understandably shocked and confused, though some kids giggle.

Floyd opens a gift box and retrieves a card that says FOR THE CONGREGATION. (This may be the title of the film.) The box also contains a pile of severe-looking nails. Shaffer takes one of these nails and hands it to another clown who has joined him at the front of the church. He presses it firmly into the second clown's palm, as if this is communion, and the nail is a wafer. He performs this same service for a third clown, and a title card reading "Communion" appears onscreen.

Floyd pulls a heavy wooden crucifix from a red box, then places bread and wine on the altar. After that, he fills a metal bowl with water from a jar. He takes the bowl over to a small group of clowns and has them place their hands in the water. They dry their hands. Shaffer then solemnly raises the loaf of bread and the wooden crucifix in front of him.  He places the bread on the cross as if the bread itself were Jesus being crucified, but then he breaks off a hunk of it from the bottom. Shaffer then mimes pouring invisible blood from the crucifix into a bottle already filled with wine. He and the other clowns silently, seriously eat the bread and drink the wine as the film fades to black.

The relevant portion of the video begins at about the 28:25 mark. Enjoy.



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