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.