Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #6 by Greg Dziawer and Joe Blevins

Apparently, the public was demanding a sequel to Watts... The Difference. And Ed Wood gave 'em one!

Edward D. Wood, Jr. rarely had the opportunity to produce official follow-ups to his films, books, and stories, but we do have a few memorable sequels in the Wood canon. His kinky 1963 novel Killer in Drag, for instance, eventually spawned Death of a Transvestite (aka Let Me Die in Drag) in 1967. Wood's long-unreleased movie Night of the Ghouls (1959) works as a companion piece to his earlier epic Bride of the Monster (1955). Eddie must have also been fond of his short story "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" from 1971, since he brought the title character back for a second adventure two years later.

This week, we're examining another of Eddie's literary sequels: Watts... After (1967). This remarkable novel furthers the story of Rocky Alley, a Black actor who works his way up from poverty to stardom in Los Angeles in the turbulent 1960s. We first met Rocky in Watts... The Difference (1966), a book that attempted to capitalize on the racially-motivated Watts uprising. By the time of Watts... After, Rocky is now a famous TV Western star and is getting serious about his relationship with his white, angora-loving girlfriend, Angie. But some shady characters from Rocky's past resurface and threaten to destroy it all.

The front and back covers of the novel.

Teeming with political and social commentary, Watts... After is one of Ed's more orthodox narratives as well as one of his more atypically positive works. We hope you will enjoy this thorough and wide-ranging breakdown of the novel. As you'll soon see, our conversation branches off in a number of directions. Yes, spoilers abound.

Although this book is over half a century old, Watts... After remains surprisingly relevant today. In addition to the topics mentioned in this video, the characters Rocky and Angie face similar issues as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to bring an interracial child into the world. All the more reason to explore this somewhat overlooked Ed Wood creation.

NOTE: All previous installments of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast can be found here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "You Can't Curse on Happy Days"

Mary Rose Betten and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Was I a huge Happy Days fan as a kid? You'd probably think so, since I have cohosted a Happy Days podcast since 2018. I certainly remember watching the last few seasons of both it and Laverne & Shirley when they originally aired in the early '80s. Mostly, however, I became familiar with the show through syndication. Reruns of the sitcom would air under the title Happy Days Again on a local TV station every afternoon from Monday to Friday. I consumed The Brady Bunch and Three's Company in the same way. (I guess those coveted midday timeslots are now occupied by the likes of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family.)

Most of Happy Days is a big blur to me now. I remember the basics -- Richie, Fonzie, Arnold's, etc. -- but I'd forgotten many of the specific episodes. Certain installments of the series, however, have very much stayed with me, particularly the most wild and gimmicky stories. A great example is "The Evil Eye" from  Halloween1978. This one is nuts. Gullible restaurateur Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) is convinced an old hag (Mary Rose Betten) has placed a curse on him and can control his right arm. Eventually, Richie (Ron Howard) decides to stage an exorcism and enlists his friends Potsie (Anson Williams) and Ralph (Don Most) to assist hm. As you might guess, this all builds up to a showdown between the witch and Fonzie (Henry Winkler).

This episode is memorable, sure, but is it actually any good? Listen to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast and find out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 116: The Harl Foltz Files

Let's figure out who Harl Foltz was.

Is Ed Wood's Jail Bait (1954) a particularly well-lit movie? Eh, by the standards of low-budget 1950s crime movies, it's roughly adequate. Having screened many B-grade flicks over my lifetime, I can definitely say I've seen much worse than this. For the most part, the viewer can actually discern what's happening onscreen. That alone puts Jail Bait ahead of many other independent features of the era. I can't honestly say that the lighting enhances the viewing experience in any noticeable way, however, apart from a few suitably moody shots.

Steve Reeves and Dolores Fuller in Jail Bait. Notice the lighting.

What I can say is that Jail Bait is the first of Ed Wood's movies to give a specific onscreen credit for lighting. In this case, the lighting is attributed to a man named Harl Foltz with no other known film or TV credits. Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) doesn't mention him at all. So who was this fellow? I thought I'd use the historical records to construct a timeline of Mr. Foltz's life.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Ralph Malph: Fear Eats the Soul"

Don Most and Leon Askin on Happy Days.

Imagine living your life totally without fear. Do you think it would turn out well or not? You wouldn't fear death, disease, poverty, pain, heights, wild animals, rejection, public speaking, loneliness, darkness, etc. It sounds promising at first. You'd finally be free of the heaviest shackles mankind has ever known. Think back to Louis Mackey's monologue in the film Waking Life (2001):
What are these barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question and that's this: Which is the most universal human characteristic -- fear or laziness?
Is that what happens to most of us? We don't realize our full potential because we're either too scared or too lazy? Possibly. Maybe, without fear, we would be elevated to the next level of human evolution and make advancements in everything from art to technology to medicine. Or maybe fear is the only thing keeping us in check, and without it, we'd all just become insensitive jerks who end up harming and even killing ourselves and others for no good reason. Fear might be the only thing that's been keeping us alive all these centuries.

These issues are at the heart of "Fearless Malph," a very memorable episode from Happy Days' sixth season in 1978. The bizarre plot has cowardly Ralph Malph (Don Most) being hypnotized by a mad scientist (Hogans Heroes baddie Leon Askin) and becoming completely fearless as a result. Since Ralph is defined by his cowardice, what happens when that trait is taken away? Does he evolve into something better or does it just turn him into a jerk?

Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 115: The Wild, Untamed Credits of Ed Wood's 'Jail Bait' (1954)

Jail Bait remains mysterious, all these decades later.

Sixty-seven years after its release, Jail Bait (1954) remains the overlooked middle child of Ed Wood's early filmography. Even with its outrageous plastic-surgery-at-gunpoint plot twist, this low budget noir thriller simply isn't as flashy as Bride of the Monster (1955), Glen or Glenda (1953), or Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Jail Bait has no killer octopuses, zombies, or flying saucers to offer its viewers. Criswell, Tor Johnson, and Bela Lugosi are AWOL. The most overtly Wood-ian flourishes are in the wardrobe: Mona McKinnon's furry hat, Dolores Fuller's lacy nightgown, and Theodora Thurman's silk pajamas.

I guess we're not supposed to pay much attention to Jail Bait, kind of like how we're not supposed to focus too much on Zeppo during the Marx Brothers' movies. Perhaps paradoxically, that's why I find it so compelling. I've already written articles about the film's young star, Clancy Malone, and its (sort of) composer, Hoyt Curtin, plus I coauthored a piece about the aforementioned Ms. Thurman. But this week, I just wanted to dive right into the film's credits and see if there were any names that stuck out for whatever reason, preferably names I hadn't given much thought in the past.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "The Quarterback and the Quarterbackup"

Ray Underwood and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

For as long as there are movies and TV shows about high school, Hollywood will always need actors to play jocks, bullies, preppies, and snobs -- the guys who make life miserable for the nerd heroes. They walk around the school like they own it and treat everyone else with condescension if not outright hostility. Generally, these characters are destined to receive an embarrassing public comeuppance at the end of the story, perhaps even a punch in the (immaculately chiseled) jaw. We love to hate these characters, and it's so satisfying to see them get what's coming to them.

One of the great Hollywood screen bullies was Ray Underwood (1953-1993), a sandy-haired actor from Aspen, Colorado whose life ended much too soon. You could think of Ray as the James Spader of the 1970s, mixed with a little Billy Zabka. I first spotted him in Rene Daalder's darkly surreal cult classic, Massacre at Central High (1976), where he and his fascist pals rule the school and pay the ultimate price. Ray plays a rather similar character in "Sweet Sixteen," the Happy Days episode we're reviewing this week. As Joanie's womanizing boyfriend, a high school quarterback who won't take no for an answer, Ray Underwood projects the same arrogance and entitlement that he did in the Daalder film. He's great.

But is the episode worthy of him? Find out when my cohost and I review "Sweet Sixteen" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part 25 by Greg Dziawer

This modest apartment serves as the backdrop for "Debutante Lust."

Edward D. Wood, Jr. was heavily involved in the production of silent 8mm porn loops in the early 1970s. The subtitles for dozens of these films possess hallmarks of Ed's writing, and there is a general consensus that Eddie was involved in a director-like capacity on many of them as well. He even shows up as an actor in the fabled "jailer" short—shirtless, paunchy, and wearing a sombrero.

I've transcribed the subtitles to many such loops previously, including several entries from the Pussycat Films series. Like the far better known Swedish Erotica franchise, this was one of the earliest subtitled porn loop series, and the individual films share a variety of connections even beyond the subtitles.

This week's specimen is loop #6 in the Pussycat Films series, "Debutante Lust." The film is rife with tell-tale tropes. The transcribed subtitles this time do a good job of describing the onscreen action, so I'll largely spare you the blow-by-blow and let you use your imagination. Rest assured, exactly what you think is happening is what's happening.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "The Boy is Mine"

John Waldron and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

One of the time-honored ways to show a character's softer side is to have him interact with kids. This works especially well for "tough guy" actors. Think of John Wayne in 3 Godfathers (1948) or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop (1990). In the 1980s and '90s, it seems like there was always a new TV show or movie about dudes taking care of kids. Mr. Mom (1983), Mr. Nanny (1993), Charles in Charge (1984-90), Who's the Boss? (1984-1992), Three Men and a Baby (1987), Uncle Buck (1989) -- it never ended!

On Happy Days, Arthur Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) was placed in a parental or quasi-parental role many times. He served as a mentor to two of his cousins: Spike (Danny Butch) and Chachi (Scott Baio). In "Fonsillectomy" from the show's fifth season, Fonzie becomes a guardian of sorts to a group of children in the hospital. And then there's Season 6's "Kid Stuff" in which Fonz forms an emotional bond with Bobby Clark (John Waldron), the son of Peggy Clark (Karen Austin), the woman he's currently dating. Having been abandoned by his own father as a child, Fonzie wants desperately to serve as a father figure to Bobby, but his dreams come crashing down when the child's biological father, Robert (Bruce Weitz of Hill Street Blues fame), reenters the picture.

If all this sounds a little heavy for a show called Happy Days, it is. But does it work? Find out when you listen to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part 14 by Greg Dziawer

Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy caught the attention of Ed Wood in the 1970s.

"Show me a gracious loser, and I'll show you a failure."
-Knute Rockne

In post-revolutionary 1837 France, Blessed Father Basil Moreau founded the Congregation of Holy Cross. Within a few years, he sent six Brothers—four of them of Irish descent—to the United States to extend the mission. In 1842, they established the University of Notre Dame du Lac, the first permanent foundation of the Congregation in the United States. Today, you'll recognize this cultural institution simply as Notre Dame.

A little over a hundred years later, in 1946, the Holy Cross Fathers extended their mission to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, They created King's College, a small liberal arts school I attended from 1986 through 1990. Many of my professors were priests, and they were a funny, smart, and encouraging bunch. I received a wonderful education there, and the curiosity they inspired in me then remains with me to this day. The school's connection to Notre Dame was never brought up, nor was football, as the school did not have a team. (It does now, as King's College has grown over time.)

I recognized just how important the legacy of Notre Dame football was to many people, long before I attended King's. When there were only four channels on the television dial, it was hard to avoid college football games on a Saturday. Everyone drank the same Kool Aid. Notre Dame football was a sacred tradition; the program seemed to possess a magical gravitas.

Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy
Ara Parseghian was coaching the Irish in the early '70s when I was a wee lad. Little did I know back then about the storied lineage of Notre Dame football coaches—especially Knute Rockne (1888-1931), the coach to whom all others would be compared. Rockne's life was tragically cut short by a plane crash in March 1931, supposedly while on his way to participate in a film called The Spirit of Notre Dame. At the time of his death, the coach was at the zenith of his powers, having won back to back national championships in 1929 and 1930. 

One of Rockne's tackles during his final three years as coach was a tenacious Nebraskan named Frank Leahy (1908-1973). After his playing days were over, Leahy served as a line coach at Georgetown, Michigan State, and Fordham before becoming head coach at Boston College. Finally, in 1941, he assumed the role of head coach at his beloved alma mater, later ludicrously claiming that "noder dame" were among the first words he ever spoke as a child. At Notre Dame, Leahy shepherded the team to four additional national championships while toiling in Knute Rockne's long shadow. Interestingly, the story of Frank Leahy intersects with that of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the man whose life and work I began strenuously researching about six years ago.

I'd never even heard the name Frank Leahy prior to seeing an undated screenplay called The Frank Leahy Legend listed in a resume that Ed Wood supplied to budding filmmaker Fred Olen Ray in 1978. While the coach's name was unfamiliar to me, Joe Blevins noted at this very blog that Leahy was a Notre Dame football coach and that a book with that title had been released in 1974, the year after Leahy's passing. For years, I accepted this as just about all we would likely ever know. The project was not even mentioned in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992). The only additional information came from the resume itself. Ed parenthetically noted "Scotty Williams Ent." alongside the listing, suggesting that the film got far enough along to atttract a producer. Unfortunately, that name and production company drew blanks in my searching.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "The Last Temptation of Richiekins"

Ron Howard flirts with Mary Margaret on Happy Days.

Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) is a nice kid -- honest, hardworking, forthright, and considerate. In Season 5 of Happy Days, he meets an equally nice girl named Lori Beth (Lynda Goodfriend). Together, they make a nice couple. After suffering numerous romantic disappointments in Seasons 1 through 4, Richie was overdue for a winning streak. But sitcoms need more than niceness for their stories; they need conflict. So the writers of Happy Days conspired to create turmoil in the Richie/Lori Beth relationship. 

They did it by making Richie a jerk. In episodes like "Potsie Gets Pinned," "Richie's Girl Exposes the Cunninghams," and "Rules to Date By," Richie becomes paranoid and possessive, and he goes out of his way to pick fights with Lori Beth, usually over nothing. During the "Westward Ho" three-parter at the beginning of Season 6, Richie is so taken with a cowgirl named Thunder (Ruth Cox) that he seemingly forgets about Lori Beth for a while. (He eventually remembers her.)

Things reach a culmination point in the episode we're reviewing this week: "Casanova Cunningham." In this story, Richie actually lies to Lori Beth so he can escort a visiting baton twirler named Corinne (Mary Margaret) from Michigan. After he and Corinne make out at Arnold's, Richie is so consumed with guilt that he immediately confesses to a devastated Lori Beth. Does this slip up spell the end of their relationship? Does Richie actually learn anything?

You can find out the answer to these and other burning questions by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Ed Wood Extra: What is the Blue Dolphin story, anyway?

What was Blue Dolphin and how was it connected to Ed Wood?

Recently, in a Facebook forum devoted to Ed Wood, one user shared an intriguing poster touting a program with six of Ed's classic 1950s films on one bill. Unfortunately, the accompanying thread offered no context for the poster or explanation of its contents whatsoever. In my own research, I found this auction site, which says that the poster originated in England in the 1990s and promotes "the theatrical return of six of director Ed Wood's best (or worst) films."

An Ebay listing for the same poster revealed more details. Apparently, at some point in the '90s, all six of these films played back-to-back as part of a "film festival" called The Original Ed Wood Movies in the U.K. What really intrigued me was the logo for a company called Blue Dolphin. This same company is mentioned a few times in Rudolph Grey's book, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992). Artist and writer Don Fellman, a friend of Ed's, said that Blue Dolphin wanted to film Eddie's manuscript for Lugosi... Post Mortem. Notice that Fellman refers to Blue Dolphin as both "a multi-media company" and "a manufacturer of rock and roll records."

Don Fellman talks about Blue Dolphin.

Later, in the "Unrealized Projects" section of the book, Rudolph Grey offers more information about the mysterious project. According to Grey, in 1976, Blue Dolphin Records was interested in Lugosi... Post Mortem as both a book and a film.

The website Discogs has only a brief entry for Blue Dolphin, which it calls Blue Dolphin Entertainment Corp. The site also says that Blue Dolphin has its headquarters in Studio City, CA. It seems more likely that Ed would have been dealing with a California company than one in the U.K. Could there be two companies called Blue Dolphin-- one British, one American -- each of which coincidentally had an interest in Ed Wood? Then again, the Blue Dolphin logo on the U.K. poster is very similar to the one on the Discogs website.

The Blue Dolphin logo.

Information about Blue Dolphin is hard to come by. Rock musician Tommy Farese, best known for his work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, talks about the label (disparagingly) in this interview. Meanwhile, a site called Record City says that Blue Dolphin released a Dr. Dre compilation album called Back 'n the Day in 1996. There is some evidence to suggest that Blue Dolphin is (or was) a semi-legitimate music label, but very little to suggest they had anything to do with film production or distribution. And yet, Don Fellman did call Blue Dolphin "a multi-media company." And there's the Blue Dolphin logo on that U.K. movie poster.

Is it possible that there really were two different companies called Blue Dolphin and that the second one took its name from the first one after seeing it in Nightmare of Ecstasy? I open the floor to you, Ed Wood experts of the world. Tell me what you know about Blue Dolphin Records or Blue Dolphin Entertainment Corp.

UPDATE #1: Bob Blackburn, co-heir to Kathy Wood's estate, shared a copy of the contract that Ed Wood signed with Blue Dolphin on August 24, 1976 for Lugosi ... Post Mortem. According to Bob, this is the only contract that was in the suitcase that Eddie and Kathy Wood took from their Yucca St. apartment when they were evicted in December 1978.

Ed Wood's contract for Lugosi ... Post Mortem.

This document, though brief, yields some interesting information. For one thing, it seems that Ed's preferred title was Lugosi.......Post Mortem with seven dots. It also confirms that Blue Dolphin planned to to make both a book and a film out of Ed's manuscript, with Eddie at least writing the script for the movie. Beyond that, though, the contract gives us a couple of names of people at Blue Dolphin: President Mike Stack and another man named Harry Bulkin.

Googling "Mike Stack" and "Blue Dolphin" led me to this list of 45 RPM records released by Blue Dolphin Records. A couple of these records, including a cover of "Norwegian Wood" by a group called L.A. Smog and "To Try for the Sun" by Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party, were produced by Mike Stack. From these labels, we see that Blue Dolphin had its headquarters in Hollywood and that its logo is similar to the one from that '90s poster.

Two records on the Blue Dolphin label.

Astonishingly, the February 4, 1968 edition of the Press-Telegram from Long Beach, CA has a lengthy feature story about Aunt Dinah's Quilting Party. And it mentions both Mike Stack and Blue Dolphin Records. I might as well present the whole thing right here. The article says that Stack was both ADQP's manager as well as the owner of Blue Dolphin Records.

The ADQP saga (part one).

The ADQP saga (part 2).

As for Harry Bulkin, I was initially encouraged when his name quickly brought up a list of credits on AllMusic. Unfortunately, the site only has one credit for Harry: cowriting a song called "Israeli Sha Sha Sha" on the album Mi Amigo, Machito by Machito & His Orchestra. Pretty awesome to have that as your only credit, but I was hoping for something more.

What puzzles me even now, after all these inquiries, is that Blue Dolphin Records seems to have had two bursts of productivity separated by years of inactivity: one in the '60s and '70s and another in the '90s. While the early years of Blue Dolphin are dominated by rock & roll, the label's later years are largely devoted to hip hop. The contract from 1976 is proof that the company planned to go into film production, but nothing seems to have come from that. At least not until the 1990s when they promoted an Ed Wood film festival in England. I continue to believe that there may be two or even three different companies called Blue Dolphin over the years.

Is the mystery solved or has it only deepened?

UPDATE #2: Martin O'Gorman, a reader from the U.K. and an Ed Wood fan since 1983, contacted me with information about that mysterious movie poster with the six Ed Wood movies. As far as I knew, the poster was advertising a theatrical rerelease of Ed Wood's movies in England in the 1990s. While Martin had no memory of such a rerelease, he did recognize the artwork.

He writes: "The colorised images are the same as the ones that adorned the U.K. reissues of Wood’s movies on VHS following the Tim Burton biopic. In fact, the Plan 9 art was in the cover of a VHS I bought that came bundled with a copy of Nightmare Of Ecstasy around that time. My copy is long gone, but there’s one on eBay right now, with a publication date of 1995."

A 1995 U.K. VHS release of Plan 9 from Subway.

In his email to me, Martin points out that this 1995 Plan 9 video, like the aforementioned poster, bears the logo of a company called Subway. (No connection to the sandwich chain.) Martin describes Subway as "a division of Pickwick, a cheapo record label that moved into the cheapo video business in the '80s." He concludes, then, that "this is not a cinema poster, but actually a plug for the home video releases of these titles in the U.K. in 1995." 

Interesting, huh? Martin also informs me that five of the six movies on the poster were given certificates by the British Board of Film Classification. "As per U.K. law," Martin explains, "every film and domestic media release needs a certificate." The one exception was Glen or Glenda, "which appears to have never been certified by the BBFC, at least not under that title." Martin speculates that the poster with the six movies could have been "a PR release for forthcoming titles."

But what of Blue Dolphin, the other company listed on that poster? Martin pointed me toward the website for a London-based company called Blue Dolphin Films. According to this site, the company was established in 1980 by Joseph D'Morais, Blue Dolphin describes itself as "the longest running true independent distributor in the U.K." So it appears that the British film distributor has no connection to the American record label whatsoever.

Is it all just a big coincidence? Probably. But Martin holds out hope. "Who knows with Ed," he writes. "This whole thing might go a lot deeper!"

Thank you for this information, Martin. At least now we know there are two different Blue Dolphins in the world, both of which have a connection to Ed Wood.

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Orbit, Part 4 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg goes looking for Ed Wood in a magazine from 1969.

The cover of this issue.
When I was in high school, I played volleyball. Although I went to a small rural school, we were very competitive, winning a few of the bigger tournaments in the region. We once even played the Canadian Junior National Team round-robin and split two games with them.

Alas, we played clothed. At that point, I was likely still unaware of the storied history of nude volleyball. Not so the author of an article on nudism in the January/February 1969 issue of Body & Soul, a sex magazine put out by Pendulum Publishers, Inc. This particular publication hailed from Pendulum's newly minted West Coast office, incorporated by Bernie Bloom in the spring of 1968. Bernie immediately hired his old crony Ed Wood, with whom he'd previously worked at Golden State News.

While Eddie's name appears nowhere throughout the issue of Body & Soul, I wondered while looking through it whether any of the text could have been written by him. At this point, there's relatively scant text compared to a typical Pendulum title of a few years later. The issue contains just the aforementioned nudism article and a single brief piece of fiction clearly credited to a pseudonym. The only other words in the issue are those accompanying the plethora of photo features. These pictorials feature solo women in open-legged or "split beaver" poses and are on the cusp of hardcore pornography. (A typical caption reads: "She's a girl who's always willing to extend herself for a friend.") Beyond that, we also get a few ads, obviously placed by the publisher, as well as an editorial.

Here is a sampling of this Body & Soul material. I'll defer my opinion about Ed's possible involvement and let you decide for yourself.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "When Fonz Considers How His Light Is Spent"

Fonzie (Henry Winkler) suffers a bout of blindness on Happy Days.

"Show, don't tell" is one of the most oft-repeated rules of screenwriting for a good reason, but it's a rule that TV sitcoms frequently and blatantly ignore. The half-hour prime time comedy is one of the talkiest forms in all of modern entertainment. Maybe it's because sitcoms originated on the radio, where "showing" is not even an option. Maybe it's because talk is simply cheaper and easier to film than action. Whatever the cause, sitcoms seem to follow the dictum, "Tell, don't show."

"Fonzie's Blindness," an episode from Happy Days' sixth season in 1978, is an example of a script that might have worked better during the golden age of radio when visuals weren't even part of the equation. The melodramatic story has Fonzie (Henry Winkler) accidentally colliding with Al (Al Molinaro) at Arnold's, causing Fonzie to become blind temporarily. The problem with this episode is that director Jerry Paris, normally very competent, allows us to see the fateful accident that robs Fonzie of his sight. Most viewers will likely conclude that this minor incident seems highly unlikely to cause blindness or even slight injury to the Fonz, so it's rather difficult to take the rest of the story seriously. It would have been better if Fonzie had been blinded offscreen, and we in the audience were just told about it through dialogue.

But does this slip-up ruin the entire episode? Find out when we review "Fonzie's Blindness" on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Apprenticeship Odyssey, Part 2 by Greg Dziawer

Ed Wood (top row, center) looks serious as he poses with his Casual Company cast.

"I look like a casual, laid-back guy, but it's like a circus in my head." 
-Steven Wright

Perhaps I've been unfair. Perhaps Casual Company, the comedic military play that Ed Wood co-wrote in 1945 with Harry J. Kone (and later novelized solo), is not merely juvenilia. Undoubtedly, after Eddie left Poughkeepsie for good in 1946, Casual Company was something of a calling card for him when he arrived in Hollywood. By then, it had been staged many times by Ed Wood and others, albeit on military bases or with military sponsorship. After the war, Ed even managed to stage it at Poughkeepsie High School, even though he'd dropped out to enlist at the tail end of his junior year in the spring of 1942.

Just how often and where Casual Company played is hard to say, but thanks to an enthusiastic reader who shared a passel of articles with me that I had never seen, I now have more information suggesting just how foundational Casual Company was to Ed's storming of Hollywood. Those articles led me to find a few others, nearly all of them from the Valley Times of North Hollywood.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Half a Ton of Angry Pot Roast"

This bull makes a memorable guest appearance on Happy Days.

One of the usual knocks against Happy Days is that it abandoned the more intimate, realistic stories of its early days in favor of over-the-top, cartoonish adventures. Let me offer a few responses to that common complaint. First of all, while it's true that the show did its share of wild, implausible stories that would appeal to a young audience, Happy Days never completely gave up on telling smaller, more relatable stories. Just because Fonzie jumped a shark at the beginning of Season 5, that doesn't mean he jumps sharks every week. The Cunninghams, too, continued to experience the same little triumphs and tragedies as any middle class American family until the series ended in 1984.

Secondly, those occasional over-the-top adventure episodes can be a lot of fun if you're in the right mood for them. "Westward Ho (Part 3)" from Season 6 is a great example. The absurd plot has Fonzie (Henry Winkler) riding an untamable bull named Diablo to save the Bar A ranch from the greedy H.R. Buchanan (Jason Evers). Meanwhile, Richie (Ron Howard) saves Joanie (Erin Moran) from a runaway hay cart. What does any of this have to do with 1950s nostalgia? Nothing. Could any of this actually happen? Never in a million years. How does this even relate to the rest of the series? It doesn't, but I ultimately didn't care about that.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we talk all about "Westward Ho (Part 3)" and what makes it such a fun half hour of television. We hope you'll join us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 114: "I Awoke Early the Day I Died" (1974)

This particular screenplay was not produced until nearly two decades after Ed Wood's death.

Some academics think that the best, purest way to appreciate William Shakespeare is to read his plays as though they were novels. And, for several generations now, that's how millions of American schoolchildren have experienced Shakespeare; they're given mass market paperbacks of Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet in high school and instructed to read them in stages over a period of days or weeks. On the one hand, this approach allows students to savor and scrutinize Shakespeare's language at their own pace. On the other hand, we sometimes forget that these works are scripts, i.e. blueprints for live performances. The author fully meant for them to be acted out in front of an audience. Would Shakespeare even want us reading his plays this way, divorced from a theatrical setting?

It may be folly to equate William Shakespeare with Edward D. Wood, Jr., but I have similarly conflicted thoughts whenever it's time to review one of Eddie's screenplays. In many ways, these documents are fascinating and offer us tremendous insight into Ed's creative process. On the page, these movies can be every bit as good as Ed Wood wanted them to be, without clumsy performances, shabby sets, or other technical or budgetary limitations getting in the way. But the only real test of a screenplay is whether or not it can be made into an entertaining, involving film. Scripts generally aren't meant to stand on their own as works of art.
A vintage Ed Wood screenplay.

Recently, in a Facebook forum devoted to Ed Wood, Bob Blackburn shared his copy of one of Wood's most famous screenplays: I Awoke Early the Day I Died from 1974. Though Eddie labored over this script for over a decade, it never went into production during his lifetime. The Day I Died first came to the attention of Wood's fans in 1992, thanks to Rudolph Grey's seminal biography Nightmare of Ecstasy. In that book, Wood's widow Kathy recalled that the script was one of the few items Eddie managed to save after being evicted from his so-called "Yucca Flats" apartment in 1978. Then, in the "Unrealized Projects" segment of the filmography, Grey offered a relatively lengthy and lavish description of the script, calling it "quintessential Ed Wood with its thematic obsession with death, graveyards, burlesque and the grotesque." Grey also said: "Of all Wood's projects in his last years, this was his personal favorite."

Just six years after Nightmare of Ecstasy (and four years after Tim Burton's Ed Wood), the long-gestating screenplay was finally produced under the title I Woke Up Early the Day I Died. It was directed by newcomer Aris Iliopulos and starred Billy Zane (of Titanic fame) and an eclectic all-star cast. I reviewed that film extensively back in 2014, calling it "a cross between a very long music video and an extremely chic high-fashion photo shoot." Above all, however, it is important to remember that it is not really an Ed Wood movie in the purest sense; it is an Aris Iliopulos movie. This new director interpreted Wood's script in his own unique style, making aesthetic choices that did not strike me as particularly Woodian. While I Woke Up Early the Day I Died is an enjoyable, worthwhile experience, I'm not sure if Eddie would have been flattered by it or just confused. Maybe both.

Reading Ed Wood's screenplay allowed me to imagine the movie that Ed himself would have made, if he'd been able to scrounge up the money. Right away, the document presents us with an intriguing mystery. A blue, printed cover page calls the script I Awoke Early the Day I Died, but this is followed by a typed title page that calls it I Woke Up Early --- The Morning I Died. Similar sentiments, but different phrasing. Again, this was a script that Eddie worked on for years, and it seems to have undergone numerous title changes during that time. Perhaps the final title came from Kathy Wood herself, since she refers to the project as I Woke Up Early the Day I Died in her interview with Rudolph Grey.

The plot should be familiar to anyone who saw the 1998 movie. A crazed young man, known only as The Thief, escapes from a mental hospital disguised as a nurse and proceeds to go on a wild crime spree lasting several days. He robs a loan office, killing the manager in the process, and unwisely stashes the loot in an open grave. I say "unwisely" because it turns out that this run-down cemetery belongs to a mysterious cult and the bodies buried in it are being transferred somewhere else. In his obsessive quest to retrieve his money, The Thief ruthlessly stalks and kills anyone he thinks has wronged him until he meets his own inevitable fate.

The chief gimmick of this script is that it is a feature-length story told entirely without dialogue. There are references to music and sound effects throughout, but not one articulate word is uttered in 70 pages. Perhaps Ed Wood was giving himself a writing challenge with this project, just to see if he could really do it. Or maybe he simply wanted to shoot a movie without the hassle of synchronized sound as a potential cost-cutting move. Either way, this gimmick does set The Day I Died apart from Eddie's other feature scripts. Unfortunately, those who usually enjoy Eddie's extremely quotable dialogue and narration are out of luck here.

I Awoke Early the Day I Died is virtually all action, and it's marked by a lot of quick cuts. Eddie seems intent on keeping the pace of the movie frantic, with scarcely a moment for The Thief or the audience to relax. One thing I couldn't help but notice is that the script is very specific in its listing of camera angles, edits, and camera moves. People think of Eddie as being totally unschooled in the technical side of filmmaking, but this document suggests otherwise. He had a very strong idea of how he wanted this material to be shot. By 1974, he'd probably played these scenes in his head dozens of times. Again, I can only wonder what he'd think of the 1998 film.

Thematically, just as Rudolph Grey described, I Awoke Early the Day I Died is rich in Woodian themes and motifs. The story takes place in back alleys, flop houses, dive bars, cemeteries, carnivals -- all of the places Eddie loved to visit in his fiction. You get the sense that he was exploring the sleazy underside of Los Angeles that he knew all too well. Perhaps even The Thief is a manifestation of Eddie's own worst tendencies, especially when he was driven to violent anger by alcohol. All of Ed Wood's classic muses are here: death, booze, sex, and women's clothing. Yes, he even goes out of his way to mention negligees and marabou in his stage directions, even though these items have little impact on the plot. They're important to him.

Purely as a reading experience, this is rather choppy and disjointed, with the technical jargon getting in the way of the narrative somewhat. But as I've been saying, this script wasn't meant to be experienced as a piece of literature. Ed had his short stories and novels for that. This was meant to be a film, and Eddie definitely wrote this for himself to direct. The most fun passages of I Awoke Early the Day I Died arrive when Ed Wood takes the time to set the scene, as in this description of a depressing bar and its equally depressing inhabitants:

An excerpt from I Awoke Early the Day I Died.

That's some classic Wood prose, worthy of one of his short stories. Passages like that ultimately make reading the script a rewarding experience. As for the movie Eddie would've made of this, all we can do is dream.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Sweethearts of the Rodeo"

Marion Ross and Tom Bosley in their Western duds.

"Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above. Don't fence me in." That was apparently the thinking behind "Westward Ho," the three-part Western adventure that kicked off Season 6 of Happy Days in September 1978. For this epic cowboy saga, featuring both a rodeo and a hoedown, Garry Marshall took pretty much the entire cast out to the Paramount Studios ranch in Agoura Hills, CA. (The only absentees were Scott Baio and Lynda Goodfriend, who were busy filming Who's Watching the Kids? for NBC.)

The plot has the Cunninghams traveling to Colorado in order to work on Marion's uncle's failing ranch, the Bar A. They take Ralph, Al, and Potsie along with them, and Fonzie even drops by, too. While there, they tangle with a nasty rival ranch owner, H.R. Buchanan (played by the wonderfully hammy Jason Evers of Brain That Wouldn't Die infamy). Meanwhile, Richie begins an awkward quasi-romance with comely cowgirl Thunder McCoy (Ruth Cox). Oh, and Joanie somehow winds up on a runaway hay cart.

Why take the Happy Days gang out of Milwaukee and have them wear cowboy hats and ride horses? Variety, that's why. By this point in the series, most of the action on the show took place on three main sets: the Cunninghams' living room, Fonzie's apartment, and Arnold's Drive-In. After a while, the writers must have gone a little stir crazy and longed to write scenes that took place anywhere else. Besides, after Season 4's "Fonzie Loves Pinky" and Season 5's "Hollywood," there was a precedent for Happy Days starting its seasons this way.

As it turned out, "Westward Ho" was the last of the movie-like Happy Days three-parters. It's nice, then, that it's the most ridiculous and over-the-top of them all. But is it any good? And is it still worth watching today? Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #5 by Greg Dziawer

Dr. T.K. Peters was a seemingly endless source of books.

Sketchy as they might seem, Ed Wood's textbooks on human sexuality from the 1960s and '70s do have some vague basis in actual scientific research. And that is due to the groundbreaking work of one Dr. T.K. Peters (1879-1973), a highly accomplished man I find immensely fascinating. In fact, I talked all about him in last week's edition of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast. Among other things, I wanted to clear up the misconception that Wood and Peters were one and the same person.

After that deep dive into Peters' life, I thought I would continue the story in this week's video. Earlier today, the mailman delivered to my home a vintage Peters book that was entirely new to me called A Study of Intimate Sexual Problems. This particular volume was written in 1970 and published in 1971 by SECS Press, an arm of Pendulum Publishing. It's credited to Frank Leonard and Dr. T.K. Peters. But who really wrote it? Could Ed Wood have been involved? Take a guess before pressing play on the video. Here are your choices:
a. Dr T.K. Peters 
b. Leo Eaton 
c. Hal Kantor 
d. Frank Leonard and Ed Wood 
e. Leo Eaton, from a source by Dr T.K. Peters

Before you go, let me add one last anecdote about Dr, Peters. In 1908, he constructed a studio set for Biograph, an early film company, at Pico Blvd. and Georgia St. It was quite a historic site. The legendary D.W. Griffith even shot there. When Peters visited the Pendulum magazine office on W. Pico Blvd sixty full years later, one can only imagine his sense of deja vu.

P.S. For the first time in the history of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast, I'm pleased to present a very special and unexpected guest, my cat Ivy.

Ivy and Greg are vlog buddies.

Previous episodes of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast can be found here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "Three Angry Men (And Nine Quiet Ones)"

Barney Martin and Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

How do you keep a sitcom on the air for 11 seasons? How do you possibly come up with over 200 stories for your characters without blatantly repeating yourself? Well, naturally, you have your writers draw from their own lives... as well as the lives of their family and friends. If you've exhausted that material, you look for a hook, i.e. any element you could possibly hang a story on -- a holiday, a sport, a vacation, some kind of weather event, etc. You take your characters on a camping trip in the woods to see how they'd react to that environment. You send them to Hawaii. You have them celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving or Easter or Halloween or whatever. You send a storm to their hometown.

But another thing you can do is simply borrow plots that have worked for other writers in the past. It seems like every long-running show eventually does its own version of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe both. And there are few plots more evergreen than 12 Angry Men. Reginald Rose originally wrote this tense legal drama for television back in 1954. With Robert Cummings in the lead, it aired as an installment of Studio One in Hollywood. But it was Sidney Lumet's 1957 film with Henry Fonda as Juror #8 that turned 12  Angry Men into a true American classic, destined to be copied and parodied by other shows for decades.

"Fonzie for the Defense," the Happy Days Season 5 finale, is just one of many such homages in popular culture. What makes this one especially interesting is that it features Barney Martin of Seinfeld fame as one of the jurors -- in fact, a virulently racist juror who wants to hang a young Black man (Ralph Wilcox) for purse snatching.

What did we think of this unusual episode? Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Since this is a season finale, my cohost and I both weigh in with our thoughts on the entire season, including our Top 5 lists!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #4 by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg examines the mysterious yet prolific Dr. T.K. Peters.

My mind never strays far from Dr. T.K. Peters (1879-1973). A true pop-culture enigma, this man's prodigious life of adventure continues to inspire me, nearly half a century after his passing. Thomas Kimmwood Peters was many things -- scholar, historian, inventor, author, etc. What makes him relevant to us is that, through his writings on sex, he played a small but significant role in the Ed Wood saga.

Shed no tears for Dr. Peters, however. He accomplished a century of living while maintaining an unquenchable thirst. Peters is not, despite some fan theories, a pseudonym for Ed Wood. He was very much his own man, and this week, I aim to tell you all about him. Join me for the fourth episode of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast in which I give you an overview of his life and set the stage for an eventual full reckoning of his incredible legacy.

If that video piqued your interest, check out these previous articles, which provide a little related color around the esteemed Dr. Peters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "More Like Lumber JERKS, Am I Right?"

Ben Davidson hoists Lynda Goodfriend as Ron Howard watches on Happy Days.

It's inevitable. Sooner or later, the writers on every sitcom grow tired of utilizing the same few sets over and over. How many scenes can you write featuring the same kitchen, living room, and restaurant week after week? It begins to feel like you're trapped in TV purgatory! Eventually, you want to take your characters and put them somewhere else -- anywhere else -- just to see how they react to a new environment.

That's how we get episodes like "Rules to Date By" from the fifth season of Happy Days in 1978. This story takes young Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and his pals to a remote lumberjack bar in northern Wisconsin during a snowstorm. Why are they there? Don't worry about it. It has something to do with rocker Leather Tuscadero (Suzi Quatro) needing a backup band. Why Fonzie (Henry Winkler) tagged along, I cannot say. 

The point is, the plot of this episode takes the Happy Days characters far out of their comfort zone. See, this week, Richie's been arguing with his girlfriend Lori Beth (Lynda Goodfriend) because he thinks she's too friendly with other men. Well, at the Blue Ox Inn, Lori Beth's friendliness attracts the unwanted romantic attention of a hulking lumberjack called Oaktree (Ben Davidson). Can Richie and Fonzie save Lori Beth from this log-rolling lothario? Tune in and find out!

You can find out what we thought of "Rules to Date By" by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. It's embedded below. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Summit Podcast #3 by Greg Dziawer and Joe Blevins

Are you ready for socially conscious Ed Wood?

For this week's Ed Wood Summit Podcast, I sat down with blogger Joe Blevins to discuss Watts... The Difference, the first of Eddie's two Watts paperbacks, both originally published by Pad Library in 1967. (Watts... The Difference was also reprinted in 1969 by Selected Adult Library as Burn Baby Burn and credited to the nonexistent Ray Jones.) While Ed wrote many erotic novels during this time, the Watts books stand out because of their connection to historic events.

Following the adventures of an African-American actor named Rocky Alley and told largely in flashbacks, Watts...The Difference is set in South Central Los Angeles during the Watts Uprising of August 1965. For nearly a week, the Watts neighborhood was the site of intense civil unrest, with the destruction eventually spreading across 46 square miles of L.A. At the time, newscasters compared the area to a warzone. While the violence in Watts was rooted in longstanding racial inequality, it was a traffic stop that set it all ablaze.

Apparently, Ed Wood's imagination was also set ablaze by these events. Curious what Ed will make of this incendiary backdrop? Watch the review to find out!

The original cover art.
And just to give you a little flavor for this astonishing book, here's a selection of memorable quotes from Watts... The Difference:
  • "I carry an angora sweater with me all the time."
  • "Lover...I believe you're an advocate of the bottomless bathing suit also..."
  • "One day you're standing around on a street corner looking at everybody, then the next there is only the big black."
  • "You might be causing them a time of it in their jeans..."
  • " IS control!"
  • "Good Christ, man, I knowed it was you all the time."
  • "The girl was a petite little negro with long raven black hair which fell lavishly down the back of her yellow mohair slipover sweater."
  • "Her little butt rode the yellow stretch capris like jello in a perfect mold."
  • "Rape me Rocky...Hurt me Rocky...Rape me..."
  • "He was never in male attire if he could help it and absolutely never without panties..."
  • "...loot - burn - kill - burn Whitey to his knees..."

ADDENDUM: To provide further insight into this era, I have uploaded this 1967 sermon by pastor and politician Adam Clayton Powell entitled "Burn, Baby, Burn." Powell talks about the Watts rioters and explains why he sympathizes with their plight but does not endorse their actions. - J.B.