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.

The August 1946 article claimed Casual Company to be Ed Wood's first "completed" play and indicated that he'd finished it in April 1945. The farce, it said, was inspired by Ed's time in a real-life casual company as a personnel clerk at the Naval Special hospital in Beaumont, California. Foxworthy was then the commander at Beaumont and, therefore, would likely have known the true details of Ed's military service. Here is the article—a relatively lengthy piece—in its entirety.

Article from The Poughkeepsie Journal, August 18, 1946.

You can read it all for yourself, but I'd like to highlight some particulars, offer a few editorial comments, and submit a few related articles and advertisements to "really tell da story."

At this point, having just come back home to Poughkeepsie after the war, Ed seemingly had yet to begin his myth-making. In later years, he would reputedly tell tales of graduating from high school and fighting in the Pacific. The article accurately recounts his exit from school after two and a half years to enlist in the Marines. It also has him returning from "service" and not "battle." The article does claim that Ed was "with the Marines when they hit the Tarawa and Kwajalien [sic] beachheads" and that he "was wounded during the latter engagement." Part of the Marshall Islands, Kwajalein Atoll seems to have vanished from Eddie's war stories over time, with Kathy Wood and Joe Robertson remembering only Tarawa and Nanumea in their Nightmare of Ecstasy interviews. 

Edward Wood Sr, a veteran of WWI, had been the second commander of the Vail-Wolff VFW Post #170, and Ed's mother Lillian was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, the Cootiettes. Perhaps owing to his family's local standing in military veteran affairs, Ed served upon his return to Poughkeepsie as the chaplain for the Butland-Johnson detachment, Marine Corps League, noted as the play's sponsor for its upcoming shows. It's all detailed in this September 27, 1946 Poughkeepsie Journal article.

An article from the September 27, 1946 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Wood was also listed as a delegate of the detachment at the league's state convention, held in New York City from July 19 through July 21, 1946. A Poughkeepsie Journal article from June 30, 1946 mentions Eddie's plans to stage Casual Company. You may need to click this one to see it at full size.

An article from the June 30, 1946 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Ed's activities with the Butland-Johnson detachment are also mentioned in this October 18, 1946 article from the Poughkeepsie Journal, which also plugs some upcoming Casual Company performances. The article mentions that the play "has been presented for civilian and service audiences on the West Coast." Whether or not those audiences enjoyed it is left to the reader's imagination.

An article from the October 18, 1946 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The 1994 biopic Ed Wood opens in the late 1940s in Hollywood, with Eddie directing his friends in an ill-fated staging of The (sic) Casual Company at a small theater. The sparsely attended play is then panned by a local theater critic, deflating the cast's morale. By the time Ed arrived in Hollywood, however, the play had already been performed innumerable times, first while Eddie was still in the service and then when he returned home to Poughkeepsie after the war. These successful stagings show that the play was not a complete and utter failure. In fact, as the August 1946 article indicates, Foxworthy was still staging the play himself in Alaska after the war! ("Captain Foxworthy is now presenting the play in Alaska where he is on duty with a Marine detachment.")

Besides the aforementioned Poughkeepsie performances, Casual Company was also staged in Castle Point, a small hamlet south of Poughkeepsie. Both communities are in Dutchess County, NY, on the east side of the Hudson River. Casual Company played in Castle Point on October 18, 1946. This performance was given a rather perfunctory write-up by Edward Corwin in the October 27, 1946 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

An article from the October 27, 1946 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal.

The same week Casual Company played Castle Point, it played twice at Poughkeepsie High School, Ed's alma mater! The tickets cost a buck fifty, and the performances were directed by Eddie himself, the dropout having seized his school's auditorium. In the cast was George Keseg, one of Ed's closest childhood friends. Years earlier, the pair dropped out of school to enlist together. Ed had been inspired to do so by a fireside chat by fellow-Hudson Valley native President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Ads for Casual Company in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Top row: Oct. 13 and 18. Bottom row: Oct. 19 and 24.

As mentioned in the August 1946 article, Ed was in the process of novelizing The Inconsiderate Corpse, another play he had presumably written during his time in the Marines. The article does not mention that Ed also turned Casual Company into a novel, so perhaps that book was written later. No copy of the theatrical script has surfaced yet, but given all of those performances in multiple states, there has got to be a copy in a trunk in an attic somewhere! 

The slim Casual Company novel, more accurately called a novella, was eventually serialized in four parts in Cult Movies magazine in 1994. That publication dated the manuscript 1948, lending credence to the theory that it was written a few years after the original play. We'll cover that long-lost novelization and share more about Casual Company's failed Hollywood performance in future installments of this series.

Note: The September 27,1946 article reproduced above was included in the amazing and true book detailing Ed's military years, The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946 by James Pontolillo. No serious Ed Wood fan's shelf should be without it.