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.