Thursday, December 31, 2020

A whole year's worth of comics parodies and mashups!

A gloomy year demands a gloomy header image.

As recently as 2019, comic parodies were a regular feature on this blog. Then, without warning, they vanished altogether. What happened? Well, it's like this. Up until about December of last year, I was an active participant in a Facebook forum devoted to newspaper comics. I shared my various mashups and parodies there and then collected them into occasional blog posts here at Dead 2 Rights. When I gave up on the Facebook forum, I stopped doing comics-related posts on this blog, too.

But I never stopped reading newspaper comics or doing parodies of them. I just don't do them in such great quantities as I used to. Now it's late December, and I have a folder on my hard drive full to bursting with comics, so I thought I'd share them all at once. Sound good to you? Let's go.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Plan 9 Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

This is the week we compare Ed Wood with Fellini.

What a difference a decade makes. In the mid-1950s, Ed Wood would have had every reason to believe that ten years on he would still be racking up film credits as writer-producer-director. Still only 30 years old, he would soon shoot the film ultimately remembered as his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and he already had three feature films under his belt: Glen or Glenda (1953), Jailbait (1954) and Bride of the Monster (1955). While none of those films had garnered much notice, it was reasonable for Ed to think he had laid a solid foundation for a career. 

Flash forward a decade. Whatever the reason, Ed's film work now consisted of the occasional screenplay. The dreams of being a world-renowned auteur must have started to become remote as the reality settled in. By then, he was also writing adult paperbacks. And though he would return to the director's chair by the decade's end, it would be in the arena of sex films. 

Although all of Ed's early films would continue to play drive-ins for years, one in particular would become a staple of early TV syndication: Plan 9 from Outer Space. By 1965, it was airing regularly across the country. At least one writer had concluded that Plan 9 was one of the greatest films ever made and penned a guest column to that effect for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 17, 1965. 

Forst Lowery has high praise for Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I don't know if Forst Edgar Lowery (1920-1989) was a media critic or a fan of Ed's. Could he have somehow known him? How would Lowery know, for instance, that Plan 9 was previously titled Graverobbers from Outer Space or that Eddie owed "a debt to Fellini"? Given the level of praise heaped upon Ed in the column, and his own capacity for ballyhoo, it would seem plausible that Ed himself wrote this, if not for the misspelling of his last name. 

Poster for Fellini's 8 1/2.
Forst is a real person for sure, born in Minnesota on April 22, 1920, according to his draft card. And he wrote more than this one column, too! This page aggregates some studies he wrote (or cowrote) in the 1970s, focused upon the subject of sobriety testing and drunk driving. He was, in fact, a lifelong public safety official in Minneapolis, and by the '80s, served as the alcohol coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He could no doubt have made a case study of Ed Wood.

With Lowery's lofty comparisons to internationally acclaimed film directors like Fellini and Bergman, you'd be forgiven these days for thinking that the column was meant as parody or satire. But Lowery seems sincere, and his proposal for an "Edward D Woods Jr Film Festival" [sic] must have been one of the first of its kind. (I can find no evidence that any such festival took place.) He cites "a certain young critic," unnamed but writing in the Kansas Cinema Quarterly, who compared the film favorably to the arthouse classic Last Year at Marienbad (1961), so Mr. Lowery was not the only one to esteem Plan 9 so highly.

There's much more to savor in this piece, originally intended as program notes for the festival, but I'll leave it speak for itself. Do keep in mind one thing: Last Year at Marienbad was included in Harry Medved's The 50 Worst Films of All Time, the 1978 book that preceded (and made possible) The Golden Turkey Awards, which in turn was the book that made Ed Wood famous by declaring him the worst director of all time, a moniker that stuck.

There is, as they say, no accounting for taste.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 23 by Greg Dziawer

This week, we reflect on the career of actress Brandy Sanders, aka Brandi Saunders.

A few years ago, while completing the long-delayed post-production of the 1974 softcore sex film Dames & Dreams, I tried to identify as many members of the cast as I possibly could. Though some performers were instantly recognizable, there was one actress who seemed vaguely familiar but whom I couldn't exactly place. With her mane of vibrant red hair, arresting green eyes, freckled pale white skin, and formidable pout, she made quite an impression. She also sported a single tattoo: a plain outline of a small heart above her right pelvic bone. And while her role in Dames & Dreams was unlikely to earn her an Academy Award, she possessed solid comic timing and a wide range of evocative facial expressions. 

Brandy in The Swing Thing.
Flash forward a few months. I had identified much of the cast, but the name of this flame-haired actress still eluded me. By then, I was spending more and more of my time scanning through early '70s adult loops. I was (and still am) on a constant lookout for loops with subtitles and loops that were shot at cinematographer and talent agent Hal Guthu's small Hollywood studio, since such films are highly likely to have a connection to Edward D. Wood, Jr.

One day, as I quickly scanned through a very grainy black-and-white 8mm loop, I stopped and realized it was her, the actress from Dames & Dreams I had been trying to ID. That led me to a private forum where an astute expert identified her as one Brandy Sanders (aka Brandi or Brandy Saunders). Her scant IMDb page listed a mere three credits spread across the first half of the 1970s.

The hardcore feature The Swing Thing (1972) pairs her with, among others, the legendary John Holmes. She's credited there as Julia Mure, a possible hint to her real name. A softcore feature called Massage Parlor Wife (1975) pairs her, as does Dames & Dreams, with another adult film legend, Serena. Her final credit is another hardcore feature, Hollywood She-Wolves (1976), in which she essays the role of a mousy, voyeuristic secretary.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 23 by Greg Dziawer

This week, we explore Ed Wood's "blue" period.

The standard cover for this series.
The color blue triggers calming hormones in the brain, especially conducive to relaxation and study. But that's not how the Blue Film series of adult 8mm loops released in 1974 got its name. In fact, that title is a nod to the history of adult films. The archaic term "blue movie" isn't used much nowadays to describe pornography, but 1970s consumers would have known exactly what to expect from a series with that name. With each 200-foot reel costing $50 (nearly $300 in today's money), they'd better know what they were getting.

Confusingly to modern day aficionados, this series was known as both Blue Film and Blue Movies. The standard front covers of the boxes use the title Blue Movies as a kind of generic descriptor, while the back covers and index numbers use the Blue Film moniker instead. For instance, the short "Joint Connection" is designated as Blue Film No. 4. In August 2017, I deconstructed a loop from this series called "Tammy and the Doctor" (Blue Film No. 5). Back then, I noted the many correspondences between this film and entries from other West Coast loop series produced by Noel Bloom, son of publisher Bernie Bloom. The Blooms were, as you know by now, Ed Wood's most frequent employers during the 1970s.

One common element uniting these films is that they are silent with subtitles. It's my contention that those subtitles were often -- and perhaps always -- penned by Edward D. Wood, Jr. himself. A host of artistic tropes, ranging from editing to camerawork, also mark these series as being the work of the same creative principles. Eddie is generally accepted to have been one of those principles, directing the first 19 loops in the long-running Swedish Erotica series and even cameoing in the 1971 loop Prisoners Lovemaking (aka The Jailer)

Another hallmark of the earliest subtitled loops, including such series as Pussycat and Danish International Films, is that they feature common sets and set decorations. The interiors for these films were largely shot at talent agent/cinematographer Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. Many interiors in the earliest Swedish Erotica loops, produced in 1972 and possibly into 1973, were shot here as well. But by the time we arrive at the Blue Film series, which carries a 1974 copyright, interiors were being shot on actual locations rather than sets.

It is unknown if Ed Wood was involved in any way on set for the Blue Film series. But these films are subtitled, so it's safe to say Ed was a key contributor. He may have also written the box cover summaries. His textual signatures are at times noticeable across various loop series. This week, we present for your consideration all eleven Blue Film summaries. Eddie or not? You make the call.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 112: Ed Wood's death certificate

It's time to think about Ed Wood's death again.

December 10 is a date well known to Ed Wood's fans, since that's the anniversary of Eddie's untimely passing in 1978. Evicted from his grungy apartment at 6383 Yucca St. in Los Angeles, just weeks before Christmas, Ed and Kathy Wood hastily relocated to actor Peter Coe's apartment less than ten miles away at 5635 Laurel Canyon Blvd. in Valley Village, where Eddie expired in a back bedroom on a Sunday afternoon as the others were watching the Rams on TV. As with many celebrities who left this world too soon, Ed Wood's alcohol-fueled death at the age of 54 is a key part of his legend. Fans can't help but romanticize, sentimentalize, or even mythicize his tragic ending. The fact that he died penniless and obscure, only to become famous in death, makes him the Vincent Van Gogh of B-movies.

Eddie would have understood this phenomenon all too well. As I've written many times, death was one of Ed Wood's muses, possibly the main one, topping even sex, booze, and women's clothing. The Grim Reaper looms over Eddie's most famous movies, especially Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Orgy of the Dead (1965), both of which largely take place in cemeteries. Eddie's short stories and books are likewise rife with graveyards, tombstones, coffins, and corpses. Through his writing, Ed Wood frequently pondered how we die, what happens to our bodies after we die, and how we are remembered by those still living. As a quick primer, I refer you to the stories "Into My Grave" and "Epitaph for the Village Drunk."

In the primitive days before the internet, it was not so easy to dig up personal information about other people, even public figures like movie directors. So it was rather eye-opening when author Rudolph Grey included Eddie's full death certificate in the patchwork biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992). With his truly morbid imagination, Eddie would likely approve of his fans studying this grim document in detail. 

Ed Wood's death certificate.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "Mork Gives Fonzie the Finger"

Robin Williams (left) challenges Henry Winkler as Ron Howard looks on.

It's not often that you get to see a performer's entire career change in a half hour, but that's exactly what happens in the classic Happy Days episode "My Favorite Orkan." First airing on February 28, 1978 as part of the sitcom's fifth season, "Orkan" made a national sensation of guest star Robin Williams (1951-2014). Within the year, Robin would have his own spinoff, Mork & Mindy, which in turn led to decades of phenomenal success as an actor and comedian, including an Oscar win for 1997's Good Will Hunting. This one sitcom appearance changed the course of Robin's entire life.

However, Robin Williams was not exactly a showbiz rookie when he signed on to play a wisecracking alien on Happy Days. Born in Chicago, Robin relocated to California in the 1970s and was already making a name for himself on the West Coast comedy scene before this episode aired. He was a finalist, for instance, in the San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1976 and was a regular at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles during the same era as David Letterman and Jay Leno. He'd even been a regular on two short-lived sketch comedy series: The Richard Pryor Show (1977) and a revival of Laugh-In (1977-78). Nothing really hit, though, until "My Favorite Orkan" came along.

The episode had a famously rocky production history. It's important to point out that "My Favorite Orkan" was not conceived as a vehicle for Robin Williams or as a pilot for a potential spinoff. It was just supposed to be a single, self-contained episode of Happy Days. The story goes that producer Garry Marshall wanted to do an episode about space aliens in order to please his Star Wars-obsessed son, Scotty. Space aliens on Happy Days? This may seem like a wild departure from the show's initial mission statement, but let's remember that America was obsessed with flying saucers and UFOs in the 1950s. The topic was bound to come up eventually.

Unfortunately, the initial script by Happy Days mainstay Joe Glauberg had not gone over well at the initial table read. Cast member Anson Williams in particular had doubts about whether the episode would work. Those doubts were compounded when the actor initially cast as Mork didn't pan out. Some sources say character actor Richard Dimitri was fired after one day; other sources say comedian John Byner quit after one day. Either way, the episode didn't truly click until Robin Williams was cast and made the character his own, even improvising much of Mork's dialogue.

It is our great honor this week to review "My Favorite Orkan" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. And we have a special guest, Tina Carleton from Welcome to the Uncharted Territories. We certainly hope you'll join us, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part 22 by Greg Dziawer

After acting for Ed Wood, Conrad Brooks became a director.

There's no doubt that actor Conrad "Connie" Brooks (1931-2017) was a major player in the Ed Wood saga. Born Conrad Biedrzycki in Baltimore, he was a key member of the Wood repertory company in the 1950s, back when Eddie was making such classics as Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)Conrad's bald-pated brother, Henry Bederski (1910-2003), appeared in some of those familiar movies as well. As I wrote back in October, Eddie's very first directorial effort after moving to Hollywood might well have been 1948's Range Revenge, a modest Western vehicle for Conrad and Henry.

For decades, Conrad was skeptical about the value of those movies he made with Ed Wood in the '50s. But after attending some sold-out Plan 9 screenings in the wake of The Golden Turkey Awards (1980), Connie saw the light. He got back into acting in the 1980s and started writing and directing his own films in the 1990s, including titles like Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf (1996) and Jan-Gel: The Beast from the East (1999). He kept directing well into the new millennium and was acting right until the end of his life. He was not someone I ever really looked into, however, at least not until recently. I screened some of his '90s opuses a few weeks ago, and they were at times fun and even surreal. That is, if you enjoy that kind of garage cinema.

Some say that Conrad Brooks was shamelessly cashing in on his connection to Ed Wood, but I don't agree. Connie's enthusiasm for his work seemed genuine. He was a staple of the convention circuit in his later years, and the Ed Wood fans who got to know him personally found him to be fun, energetic, and gregarious. (Side note: I wish I'd been more into those conventions back in the '90s. I mean, Russ Meyer and Jesus Franco?!) And if Conrad was trying to "get rich quick" by riding Eddie's coattails, why did he eventually leave Hollywood and return home to live in his ex-wife's trailer?

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "The Falcon Menace"

Henry Winkler (right) threatens Ron Howard on Happy Days.

Admit it. You are not listening to These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Almost no one is. I know this because our podcast host, Libsyn, heartlessly forces me to look at our miserable download statistics every time I post a new episode. Considering how much time and effort goes into this podcast, those low numbers can be disheartening. Some weeks, our audience barely breaks double digits. When the podcast was new in 2018, we averaged about 30-40 listeners per episode. I naively thought we would grow from there as the show got better. We didn't. I mean, the show did improve, in my opinion, but our listenership didn't. Instead, the audience for These Days Are Ours has slowly but surely eroded. Eventually, I will be the only listener left. 

I suppose I have to decide whether I'm okay with that. I can take some comfort in the fact that I've done everything I can to make These Days Are Ours a well-produced, informative, entertaining show. And I've also done what I can to promote the show across social media and the blogosphere, including writing these weekly articles. The audience just isn't responding. Unfortunately, since we get little to no feedback, I don't know whether it's the topic (the ABC sitcom Happy Days) that people don't like or something about the podcast itself they don't like. As it is, it feels like I'm taking the episodes and dropping them down a deep, dark well where they make a very distant splash and are never heard from again.

That being said, we have a new episode this week, and it's another one I'm very proud of. It's a review of the Season 5 episode "Our Gang" from February 1978. Like so many sitcoms, ranging from The Dick Van Dyke Show to The Simpsons, Happy Days decided to do a prequel episode to show us what its characters were like before we got to know them. This script depicts the fateful first meeting of nerdy Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and tough guy Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). It's a very entertaining episode, and we had a good time reviewing it. I hope our enthusiasm translates into an enjoyable podcast.

Here's the episode. Please, for the love of all that is decent and holy, listen to it. Literally all you have to do is press the play button. It's that triangle right there. Go ahead. Click that play button. Please. Please. Thank you.