Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 21 by Greg Dziawer (with Joe Blevins)

Theodora "Tedi" Thurman during her days as Monitor's weather girl.

Of all the performers to work with Ed Wood during his 1950s heyday, few are more intriguing than Theodora "Tedi" Thurman (1923-2012). She appears in just one of Eddie's movies, playing sultry gun moll Loretta opposite Timothy Farrell's grouchy gangster Vic Brady in 1954's Jail Bait. This eye-catching supporting role was Tedi's lone feature film credit, but it's not her only claim to fame by any means. A striking beauty from Georgia, Tedi Thurman worked as a model and radio personality, gaining acclaim for her husky voice and statuesque looks.

In Rudolph Grey's 1992 book Nightmare of Ecstasy, Thurman remembered Ed Wood as "a very nice, gentle person" and says that she turned down a movie offer from Columbia Pictures in order to model for Vogue in Europe. Ultimately, she decided to forego a film career altogether because she'd heard horror stories about Hollywood. Timothy Farrrell, for one, was quite impressed by Thurman, describing her as "a hell of a good actress" to Grey. Farrell also reported that Thurman attracted lots of attention on the Jail Bait set, which is understandable.

This Jail Bait ad from the April 12, 1955 edition of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram prominently lists Theodora Thurman alongside Dolores Fuller, Lyle Talbot, and Steve Reeves. Interestingly, the ad copy implies that the girls in the film are the titular jail bait, while in the context of the script, that term refers to guns. Note, too, that the woman pictured in the ad is Mona McKinnon instead of Fuller or Thurman.

A 1955 newspaper ad for Jail Bait.

After her brief but memorable experience with Ed Wood, Thurman gained nationwide popularity by delivering sultry, flirtatious weather reports on the radio show Monitor from 1955 to 1961. On that acclaimed series, she was known as "Miss Monitor" and temporarily shared a recording booth with the beloved comedy team of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding. In the 2013 book Bob and Ray: Keener Than Most Persons by David Pollock, Thurman is described as "five-foot-seven, with cascading red hair." Elliott remembered that she had "a pleasant, slightly offbeat personality" and would sometimes bring in homemade hush puppies. The book also pointed out that Thurman pronounced the word "temperature" as "temper-toor" and was "an instant hit" with listeners. Her popularity extended to The Tonight Show, where she made several on-camera appearances during Jack Paar's troubled reign.

This October 11, 1957 article from The Boston Globe ruminates on Thurman's unusual fame.

Tedi Thurman was making $60,000 doing the weather in 1957.

Tedi Thurman never married, but the 1971 book Whatever Became Of... Third Series by Richard Lamparski states that "Miss Monitor" had "a stormy longtime relationship" with an older woman named Peggy Fears, who had performed in the Ziegfeld Follies in her youth and had eventually become a Broadway producer. Thurman fondly discussed her relationship with Fears in When Ocean Meets Sky, a 2003 documentary about the gay community at New York's Fire Island Pines.

Thurman and Fears had their share of difficult times, however, some of which wound up being reported by the press. The May 12, 1960 edition of New York's Daily News carried an article on page 4 about a violent argument between the lesbian lovers. Apparently in need of backup, Thurman called former college football player William Appel to the Park Ave. apartment she shared with Fears, and Appel ended up catching an assault charge from Fears. Notice how Theodora Thurman is euphemistically described as "a friend of Peggy's."

A domestic quarrel becomes a full-on brawl.

The Thurman/Fears clash must have been a major event in New York, because there was a longer, more elaborate story about it on page 32 of that same edition of the Daily News, this time with a byline by William Federici. In this article, Fears and Thurman are described as "girl roommates." The tone here is considerably more gossipy.

More information on the Fears/Thurman bout of 1960.

This was certainly an unusual and distressing episode in the memorable life of Theodora "Tedi" Thurman, probably one she wouldn't have wanted splashed across the pages of a newspaper. And the duo's wild days were far from over. The September 1, 1963 issue of The Fresno Bee reported that Thurman and Fears were arrested for drunk, disorderly conduct alongside openly gay comedienne Patsy Kelly, who first found fame in the 1930s as a sidekick to Thelma Todd.

Tedi and Peggy were arrested in 1963, alongside Patsy Kelly.

Before we leave our little scrapbook about Ms. Thurman, here's another item from the Daily News, this time the December 26, 1949 edition. Here, the "Manhattan fashion model" gives her thoughts on the wolfishness of married men.

Theodora gives her opinion on men.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Joanie and the Gigolo"

Erin Moran and Tim Dial on Happy Days.

By early 1978, Happy Days was deep into its fifth season and one of the most popular shows on television. Only its own spinoff, Laverne & Shirley, had (slightly) better ratings. It could be said that Happy Days really helped turn ABC around to the point where the network could compete for advertising dollars with the juggernaut CBS, home of M*A*S*H and All in the Family. And to think -- just a few years earlier, ABC had nearly cancelled Happy Days because it was getting trounced by CBS' Good Times on Tuesday nights. That had certainly changed by 1978!

Evidence of Fonziemania!!!
How did Happy Days go from death row to easy street? One word: Fonzie. At ABC's command, Happy Days shifted its focus to Henry Winkler's ultra-cool, womanizing mechanic, elevating him from supporting character to star. Happy Days essentially became The Fonzie Show. The episode titles from Season 5 reflect this change: "My Fair Fonzie," "Fonsillectomy," "Fonzie the Movie Star," "Fonzie the Rock Entrepreneur," etc. This strategy had worked well in Seasons 3 and 4, so the show stuck with it for Season 5. Why fix what ain't broken?

But how many consecutive scripts can you write about Fonzie? Apparently, even Happy Days had its limits, because in January 1978, the show started focusing on its other characters. Scripts that month included "Potsie Gets Pinned," "Grandpa's Visit," "Marion's Misgivings," "Richie Almost Dies," and the episode we're reviewing on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast this week, "Joanie's First Kiss." The plot has the youngest Cunningham (Erin Moran) going out on a date with handsome high school senior David O'Dooley (Tim Dial), causing anxiety for her father Howard (Tom Bosley) and overprotective brother Richie (Ron Howard). Keep in mind, Fonzie does not disappear during these episodes. The writers always give him something to do. (Fonzie and Richie have quite an amusing scene together in "Joanie's First Kiss," for instance, demonstrating self-defense on a date.) He just isn't the character driving the plot during these shows.

What did we think of "Joanie's First Kiss"? You can find out by listening to the latest episode of our podcast right here!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 109: Revealing your Ed Wood preferences

Ed Wood, surrounded by posters for his films.

Whenever I encounter some new or unfamiliar technology, my first reaction generally is to ask, "How can I make this about Ed Wood?" If it's a video-sharing site, for example, does it have Ed Wood-related clips? If it's a social media platform, are people using it to discuss the life and career of Ed Wood? If it's a database of information, is any of that information about (or applicable to) Eddie and his films? You may remember that, about a year ago, I used the Algorithmia website to colorize some scenes from Jail Bait (1954). That's the effect doing this series has had on me. Eddie has become the prism through which I see the world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "A Small Eternity with Anson and Lorrie!"

Real-life lovers Lorrie Mahaffey (left) and Anson Williams commiserate on Happy Days.

How did we ever get to a hundred episodes of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast? It all seems like a blur. My cohost first approached me about doing a Happy Days podcast in September 2018. My father had just died the previous month, and I was looking for something -- anything -- that would serve as a distraction from the grief, so I answered with three fateful words: "Sure. Why not?" In retrospect, this is very similar to how I got involved in the Stephen C. Apostolof book. People come to me with ridiculous projects, and I say yes to them because I can't think of a good reason to say no.

As it turns out, our 100th episode is a review of Season 5's "Potsie Gets Pinned," a lovey-dovey showcase for Anson Williams and his real-life girlfriend Lorrie Mahaffey. Anson and Lorrie had been going together for months by the time of this episode, and they got married shortly after it aired. (They divorced in 1986 after eight years of marriage and one child.) ABC was clearly trying to turn Anson and Lorrie into "a thing." The duo even got their own prime-time variety special in the grand tradition of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Captain & Tennille, and Mel and Susan Together. Unfortunately, there is so little on-camera chemistry between them that they might as well be brother and sister, a la Donny & Marie.

The plot of "Potsie Gets Pinned" has dim bulb Potsie (Wllliams) wanting to marry his new girlfriend Jenny (Mahaffey) after just one date. Fortunately, wise Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) convinces the overeager lad that, instead of rushing into marriage, Potsie should give Jenny his fraternity pin instead. Meanwhile, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his girlfriend Lori Beth (Lynda Goodfriend) find themselves squabbling, showing the difficulty of keeping a relationship together over the long haul. More than anything, this episode reminds me of that one MST3K short, Are You Ready for Marriage? (1950). That film also has two contrasting couples -- one racing recklessly toward marriage, the other taking their time to get to know each other, including occasional arguments.

You can hear our review of "Potsie Gets Pinned" below and you can find our 99 other episodes right here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 20 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg looks at a forgotten collaboration between Ed Wood and Conrad Brooks.

(top to bottom) Ed Wood,
Conrad Brooks, and Conrad's
brother Henry Bederski.
When we think of the performers who were a part of Ed Wood's orbit, a host of indelible personalities come immediately to mind. There's Vampira and Criswell. Tor Johnson. Timothy Farrell and Valda Hansen. And that's just to name a few of Eddie's supposed "stock players." In truth, Vampira and Valda Hansen each only appeared in one film directed by Ed, and Criswell and Farrell in only two apiece.
But there was one actor who appeared in all of Ed's first six films -- the "canon" for those dismissing his later work in adult films -- as a writer-director: Conrad Brooks (1931-2017). You'll remember him best as Jamie in Plan 9 from Outer Space, the cop who utters the memorable line, "It's tough to find something when you don't know what you're looking for." He pops up in multiple roles throughout Glen or Glenda. In Night of the Ghouls, he and Eddie get into a fistfight. 

I recently stumbled upon an interview with Brooks from the January 14, 2000 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. By this time, Brooks had become a regular at cult film conventions, meeting fans and signing autographs. He had also become a director in his own right, returning to his roots making low-budget schlock, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek. The article provides a nice overview of Brooks' life and work, apart from typical fallacies like the saucers in Plan 9 From Outer Space being hubcaps. However, one detail jumped out at me, reminding me that there's another Ed Wood film possibly out there that has largely slipped through the cracks.

In the article, Brooks notes that his brother Henry Bederski wrote a film called Range Revenge and details Ed taking the reins to direct it. Described as a "home-movie" Western and shot in Griffith Park, Range Revenge was made circa 1948, marking it as one of Ed's first filmic efforts after arriving in Hollywood. Brooks' IMDb page identifies it as a 15-minute short.

While the film is presumably gone, it must not remain forgotten!

Conrad Brooks also mentions Range Revenge in the 2011 documentary/interview Conrad Talks Hollywood, which you can check out at YouTube or stream for a pittance on Amazon Prime. Here's another worthwhile interview with Conrad.

Last but not least, my friend Al Doshna, associate producer of the superb 1995 documentary The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood. Jr., maintains a wonderful page dedicated to his close friend Conrad Brooks here

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Make Room for Daddy Issues"

Sitcom legend Danny Thomas (right) stops by Happy Days. Tom Bosley greets him.

Danny Thomas is so rightfully renowned for his philanthropic work, founding St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in 1962, that his incredible impact on American television may sometimes be overlooked. It shouldn't be. After years as a successful nightclub comic, with humor often built around his proud Lebanese heritage, Danny starred in the long-running family sitcom Make Room for Daddy aka The Danny Thomas Show (1953-1964), then produced such other classic series as The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show

When Happy Days finally brought Danny Thomas on as a guest star in January 1977, it was a way of the show acknowledging an important ancestor -- the founder of the feast, as it were. Garry Marshall, Jerry Paris, and Ron Howard all owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Danny Thomas. The resulting episode, Season's 5's "Grandpa's Visit," might as well have been called "Roots."

Make Room for Daddy has curiously disappeared from the airwaves in recent years, but I remember watching it on Nick at Nite back in the '90s. I think the appeal of the show was best summarized by TV critics Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik in their 1989 book Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows. Here's how they describe Danny Thomas' TV character, a comedian and family man named Danny Williams: "Now here's a situation comedy with a truly admirable and believable father figure. Hardworking. Intelligent. Dedicated to his wife and children. And he yells." That makes him an obvious predecessor to blustery Happy Days patriarch Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley).

Other 1950s TV dads -- think Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson, or Jim Anderson -- tend to be more even-tempered and reasonable. But Danny Williams yelled. Apparently, Danny Thomas was a lot like his sitcom character in real life, so there was a fair amount of hollering on the set of Make Room for Daddy. And it almost carried over to the set of The Andy Griffith Show as well. In an archival interview, Andy talked about his first day of filming: 
"That day, I didn't have much to say at all. [Writer] Artie Stander, Danny Thomas, and [producer] Sheldon Leonard yelled at one another all day. And I asked Sheldon if I could talk to him at the end of the day, and he walked me to the gate. I said, 'If this is what television is, I don't think I can handle it.'  He said, 'Andy, the star dictates what the attitude will be on the set.' He said, 'Danny likes to yell, so we all yell. If you don't wanna yell, nobody'll yell. That's the way it was."
So The Andy Griffith Show became a peaceful set with a calm, even-tempered dad character, while Danny Williams kept yelling. Besides Howard Cunningham, some of TV's great "yelling dad" characters include Fred Flintstone, Frank Costanza, Archie Bunker, and Homer Simpson. My own dad was a yeller, so I can relate. This American Life once did a whole story about the importance of yelling at your kids.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we review "Grandpa's Visit." Is this episode worthy of its iconic guest star? Listen and find out!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Glen or Glenda Odyssey, Part Seven by Greg Dziawer

Some images from the 2K restoration of Glen or Glenda (1953).

Edward D. Wood, Jr. passed away in late 1978, just as Glen or Glenda -- his debut feature as a writer, director, and star -- was making the rounds in a 25th anniversary re-release. Had Eddie lived only a little longer, he would have seen his most personal and arguably best work embraced by cult film fanatics. Nevertheless, Glenda would live on through various home video editions, fueling an already ardent fan base. And now, 42 years after Ed Wood's untimely death, yet another release of the film has emerged.

A new edition of an old favorite.
As the COVID-19 shutdowns began this spring, many businesses were forced to reimagine themselves. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, for instance, launched an on-demand streaming service featuring an incredible collection of cultish weirdness and oddball exploitation movies. Most enticingly, Alamo offers two seminal Ed Wood films, both of them restored by the dedicated folks at the American Genre Film Archive. One is the Wood-scripted juvenile delinquent melodrama The Violent Years (1956). The other is a 2K scan of a 35mm print of Glen or Glenda. This version of the film is the shortest one I've seen, clocking in at just a few seconds over an hour. The AGFA's website erroneously lists the runtime at 65 minutes, not including the opening logos for the Archive itself and Something Weird Video, which was presumably the source of the print.

This version of the film opens abruptly with the first lightning bolt and thunderclap. Missing are the usual credits and a chunk of Bela Lugosi's opening screed. A couple of minutes into the film, credits do finally emerge. The title card appears to be an ad for a film called Twisted Lives. This is not one of the many titles by which Glen or Glenda has been commonly known. Three further credit screens follow. One lists stars Bela Lugosi and Lyle Talbot. A second names producer George Weiss. The final screen gives directorial credit to Edward D. Wood, Jr. This particular version of the credits is unique to this print. It does not correspond to other Glenda releases I have seen in the past. The music that plays during the main title sequence is also unique to this release.

(left) An ad for Twisted Lives; (right) Detail from the closing credits.

The print AGFA used for the restoration is incomplete. Diehard Glen or Glenda fans will be very familiar with the film's lengthy nightmare sequence, padded out with supposed insert footage of strippers and bondage performers. While much of this sequence remains intact in the AGFA version, the whipping scenes are missing. This edition of Glenda finally wraps up with the same end credits we are accustomed to, indicating that this was a print distributed for the film's 25th anniversary.

Most importantly, we've never seen the film look this good. The level of clarity brings to light many startling things. At times, the depth, texture, and contrast of the images is jaw-dropping, especially for those of us who've seen Glen or Glenda countless times on VHS and DVD. Aficionados will appreciate the fluff and finery of angora more than ever, and they'll even see sweat drip profusely down Glen's face during the aforementioned nightmare. 

That's just a brief overview of what you can expect from this version of Glen or Glenda. Every serious fan of Ed Wood needs to see the film with this level of detail, despite the missing footage. It may not be the most complete version of Glen or Glenda on the market, but can we ever say for sure that a "definitive" version of this movie even exists?

You can buy or rent the stream at Alamo's on-demand streaming site here. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a Blu-ray release, although my friend and fellow Wood obsessive Mike Hickey told me that there's no current plan to release this version on disc. 

In the future, we'll dissect all of the extant versions of the film and meticulously compare them side by side. Come back for that, after you've checked out this gorgeous and unique new version of Glen or Glenda. And yeah, I am one of those Wood obsessives who not only think it Ed Wood's best film, but one of the most distinctive and compelling viewing experiences I've ever seen, dozens and dozens of times over.

P.S. Enjoy this gallery of screen captures from the new 2K restoration at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Richie Talks Trash"

Lynda Goodfriend, Ron Howard, and H.B. Haggerty on Happy Days.

Wrestler turned actor H.B. Haggerty
Lots of actors, both famous and otherwise, came through Happy Days over the course of 11 seasons, but few are as intriguing as H.B. Haggerty (1925-2004). Born Don Stansauk in Los Angeles, he was the child of immigrants -- a Lithuanian father and an Irish mother. He grew up poor, survived the Depression, and served with honor in World War 2, all before becoming a professional football player in the early 1950s. After a season with the Detroit Lions and two with the Green Bay Packers, Stansauk switched to professional wrestling. He originally fought under the rather unimpressive name Don Sparrow before finally taking on the alias H.B. Haggerty, with the initials standing for "Hard Boiled."

Haggerty wrestled for twenty years, establishing himself as a recognizable icon with his curly mustache, bald pate, and towering physique. By the time he finally stepped away from the squared circle in 1972, he'd already embarked upon a prosperous acting career. He made his screen debut in a November 1967 episode of Get Smart, and he'd go on to make dozens of film and TV appearances over the course of the next two decades. Naturally, he was typecast as thugs and tough guys, but this didn't seem to bother him in the slightest. Acting was certainly less punishing on his body than football or wrestling had been. 

Resembling an old timey circus strongman, Haggerty glowered and growled his way through such memorable films as The Muppet Movie (1979), Foxy Brown (1974), and even the musical Paint Your Wagon (1969), where he got to sing on a couple of numbers. As for TV credits, the former Don Stansauk appeared everywhere from action shows like Kung Fu and Adam-12 to sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show and Mr. Belvedere. And that's just scratching the surface. This guy was nearly impossible to miss on the small screen in the '70s and '80s. Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers, Love Boat, Starsky & Hutch -- he did it all.

In late 1977, H.B. Haggerty turned up in a Season 5 Happy Days episode called "Nose for News" as a threatening garbageman named Bruno who tells young journalist Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) to stop investigating any corruption in the Milwaukee Sanitation Department. And this wasn't H.B.'s only run-in with the Happy Days gang. Not by a long shot. He guested twice on the short-lived Happy Days spinoff Blansky's Beauties. Unsurprisingly, he played wrestlers in the films The One and Only (1978) with Henry Winkler and Million Dollar Mystery (1987) with Tom Bosley.

What did we think of H.B. Haggerty in "Nose for News"? You can find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.