Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 113: Howard William Wood (1926-1986)

Today, we're putting together a jigsaw puzzle with lots of missing pieces.

"The records will tell the story."
-Patrick/Patricia in Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953)

Today, as a change of pace, let's talk about Ed Wood's younger brother Bill. As far as I know, no one's ever written an article about this man, and I think it's high time someone did.

You might not know that Edward D. Wood, Jr. even had a brother if you had only seen the Tim Burton biopic from 1994 or most of the well-known documentaries about Eddie like Flying Saucers Over Hollywood or Look Back in Angora. Howard William Wood (1926-1986), referred to by relatives as William or Bill Wood, is not mentioned in any of them. He's barely mentioned in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992). However, that landmark biography does contain a couple of interesting anecdotes about Eddie's younger sibling. In a chapter called "Childhood/The World Outside," Eddie's mother Lillian remembers:
Junior and his brother William, they always got along good. If anybody did anything to each other, they were right there to tackle 'em. But... he was very jealous of Junior. I don't know why, because we did for both of them. We never did for one and not the other. Never.
A small brass Buddha.

About 100 pages later, in the chapter "The Wood Spooks," Eddie's widow Kathy says:
When Eddie's brother Bill was sent to Vietnam, he came over to our house on the way over. It was around Christmas. I put out all the best silver and cooked a big dinner... We sat there drinking the whole bunch of us, and it ended up in a big fight. I had given Bill a little brass statue of Buddha a newscaster gave Ed. I said to him, "Take this with you for luck." From what I understand, he fell off the back of a transport truck in Japan and ended up in the hospital -- never did get to Vietnam! Bill was always a little bit jealous of Eddie, and I think his wife was the same way. They were jealous of his success.
And that's it. Bill is never mentioned in the book again. I must confess, I've read Nightmare dozens of times, and I didn't even remember the anecdote about the Buddha statue. Why a newscaster would give such a thing to Eddie is beyond my comprehension. The thread that connects Lillian's story to Kathy's story is Bill's jealousy of Ed. Certainly, Eddie's showbiz ventures attracted lots of press attention over the years. Apparently, Bill and Ed became estranged, and Bill spent his remaining years forging a life that was as far away from Ed's as possible.

But what do we know of Bill's life? The second and final child of Edward D. Wood, Sr. (1895-1967) and Lillian Phillips Wood (1903-1989), Howard William Wood was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on May 12, 1926. That's about a year and a half after Eddie was born. Bill died in San Antonio, Texas on April 24, 1986 at the age of 59. That means Lillian saw both of her sons die, and neither one lived to see the age of 60. Bill was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. The inscription on his grave tells us he reached the rank of Master Sergeant in the US Air Force and served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. (So maybe he did get to Vietnam after all?)

The historical records don't tell all of Bill's story, but they do tell some of it. As of the 1930 census, Bill was three years old and living on Conklin St. with his mother, father, brother, and maternal grandmother Frances J. Phillips in Poughkeepsie, NY. (Frances was listed as the head of the household.) The 1940 census says that Bill was 14 years old and living at 35 Delano St. with his parents and older brother. By this stage of his life, he'd completed the seventh grade.

Bill's draft card yields some interesting information, too. He was living with his family at 140 Pine St. in Poughkeepsie. Ed Wood, Sr. was listed as Bill's next of kin and was also living at 140 Pine. Before entering the military, Bill was working at Kresge's Dollar Store at 324 Main Street in Poughkeepsie. That establishment is long gone, but there's still a pharmacy called City Drug in its approximate location. The Kresge's chain ultimately became Kmart. 

Bill Wood's draft card.

A similar artifact is Bill's New York Guard service card. There, his address is listed as 1 Fountain Place. His enlistment date is June 7, 1943 and his date of separation is March 28, 1945. The card indicates Bill served in Company K, 1st regiment. It also states he was given an honorable discharge to enter the US Armed Forces. It seems that Bill made a go of military life, long after World War II had ended. He started his career in the New York Guard before moving to the US Air Force.

Bill Wood's New York Guard service card.

There are textual records of some hospitalizations Bill endured while in the military. In February 1945, for instance, he was admitted to the general hospital at Ft. Bliss in Texas for a case of scabies. Since scabies is commonly transmitted during sex, it's possible that Bill was having some fun during his free time. (According to The Unknown War of Edward D. Wood, J. 1942-1946 by James Pontolillo, big brother Eddie also got a rash from a prostitute while in the service.) In December 1945, at the age of 18, he was again admitted to the hospital for a shoulder injury he suffered while playing football. From his medical records, we know that Bill was in the coast artillery, anti-aircraft unit.

But let's shift our focus just slightly to Bill's widow, Frances Marian McGuire Wood (1928-2020), a sensible-looking bank teller from Kansas. Their engagement was announced in the January 27, 1947 edition of The Poughkeepsie Journal. As of this article, Bill's parents were still living at 140 Pine St. The text confirms that Bill reenlisted after the war. Interesting that Frances is described as having graduated from Newton High but Bill is merely an "alumnus" of Poughkeepsie High. Maybe neither he nor Ed actually finished. Also noteworthy is that The Poughkeepsie Journal spells Frances' middle name as "Marion." Every other source says "Marian."

Frances and Bill got married in 1947.

Frances died just last year, finally passing away at the age of 91 on January 22, 2020. It's a real shame that no one thought to interview her. Even if she hadn't remembered a thing about Eddie, certainly she could have told us a great deal about Howard William Wood, this shadowy figure in the Ed Wood saga. Frances' obituary is well worth reading, since it helps fill in some of the gaps in the story. Note that Frances and Bill got married on April 12, 1947, just as they had planned.

Frances Marian Wood (1928-2020)
Frances Marian Wood

Born in Cherryvale, Kansas on 9-18-1928

Died in San Antonio, Texas on 1-22-2020

Graduated from Newton High School – Newton, Kansas

She met her future husband, Howard William Wood at a high school football game in Newton, KS when a troop train stopped for refueling and a rest period. They were later married 4-12-47.

One of the original members of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in San Antonio. She was one of the original members of the St. Vincent de Paul Altar Society.

Preceded in death by her husband, Howard William Wood; her parents, William McGuire and Genevieve McGuire; her brother, Joe McGuire; her daughter, Anne Elizabeth Wood and her son, David Jonathan Wood.

Survived by her son, William Edward Wood (Martha Wood), Thomas Joseph Wood; granddaughter, Stephanie Wood Fraley (Joe Fraley); four great-grandchildren, Patricia Fraley, Lillian Fraley, Violet Fraley and Charles Fraley.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Frances’ name to the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church Friendship House which provides clothing, food and other necessities as well as back-to-school clothing programs to families in need, 4222 SW Loop 410, San Antonio, Texas 78227. Or to the San Antonio Public Library Foundation for the purchase of books and other items to benefit children’s programs, 600 Soledad Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205.

So Frances Marian Wood, like Lillian Wood, outlived two of her children. She has now joined her late husband at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. But Bill and Frances have two surviving sons -- Ed Wood's living nephews, William and Thomas! As it happens, Kathy Wood's co-heir Bob Blackburn was quite aware of these nephews. In a Facebook forum, he noted:
As far as I know, both William and Thomas Wood are still living, though I have had no contact with them in a few years. They along with [attorney] Bob [Weinberg] and I are technically Ed's heirs to the point where Ed and Kathy married in 1956, and then it is just Bob W. and I. So, for a little while, we were receiving [Directors Guild of America] checks for films of Ed's that screen in the EU, maybe a couple hundred dollars a year. This is a foreign royalty collection the DGA would then disburse to heirs, so we would get a little split, and [we] would hear back from Bill and Thomas that they had received their monies. Of course, [it] was really not very much, but hey, it helped establish Ed Wood as a DGA entity, so that was helpful. They seem reticent to talk about their Uncle Ed. I think that side of the family was a bit embarrassed by Ed's transvestism.
By all appearances, Howard William Wood was a man who shunned the spotlight, served his country proudly, and kept his distance from his notorious older brother. After my research, I don't feel that I really know Howard William Wood terribly well -- I don't have even a single picture of the man -- but he's slightly less mysterious than he was before.