Friday, December 31, 2021

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex (2021): An introduction

When the Topic is Sex (2021). Cover illustration by Evan Quiring.

Well, it's that time again. A new compilation of Ed Wood's extensive magazine work is upon us, the third of its kind in recent years. This time, it's called When the Topic is Sex, and it is now available from BearManor Media in hardcover or paperback editions. Like the two previous Wood compendiums, Blood Splatters Quickly (2014) and Angora Fever (2019), When the Topic is compiled and edited by Bob Blackburn, the Los Angeles resident who befriended Eddie's widow Kathy Wood in her later years and became co-heir of her estate. 

A new book to devour.
It's nothing short of a small miracle that these volumes exist at all. Bob Blackburn curated these books by purchasing vintage adult magazines containing Eddie's work on the secondary market, sometimes at considerable expense. Ed Wood fanatics owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Simply put, Bob tracked these stories down so that we could enjoy them in the 21st century. Otherwise, a vast swath of Ed Wood's literary output might've been lost to time.

I've repeatedly said that fans who want to familiarize themselves with Ed Wood's writing style—and thus with the man himself—should pick up Blood Splatters Quickly or Angora Fever and read his short stories, most of them written in the early 1970s when Wood was a penniless alcoholic. From these sex-and-violence-strewn tales, you'll get a sense of Eddie's quirks as an author: his stilted syntax, his oddball approach to punctuation, his often surreal and meandering plots, and his love of particular words and phrases. Above all, those short stories demonstrate how Eddie could direct nearly any subject toward his three great muses: death, booze, and women's clothing.

It's true that Eddie churned out dozens of novels in the 1960s and '70s, but these are usually very expensive and difficult to find. Besides, many fans may find these books challenging to read because Ed Wood (he of the notorious "muddled mind") had trouble maintaining a coherent plot over the course of a couple hundred pages. His novels tend to get bogged down with flashbacks and digressions. The great thing about the short story form is that it forces Ed to stay at least somewhat focused on the task at hand. He knows he has to bring his plot to some kind of conclusion after a few pages, so he's more apt to get to the point. Having read many of Ed's novels, I can say with confidence that the short stories contain all of the author's idiosyncrasies, just in a more digestible form.

What sets When the Topic is Sex apart from Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever is that those previous compilations focused on Eddie's short stories, i.e. his brief works of fiction, some of them supernatural. The articles anthologized in this new book, however, are examples of Ed Wood's plentiful but overlooked nonfiction. I use the term "nonfiction" with caveats. As Bob Blackburn points out in his explanatory foreword, some of Ed's supposedly "factual" articles were based on real-world research, while others were entirely concocted from the author's alcohol-soaked imagination. 

Bob further maintains that Eddie's nonfiction articles "more than his short fiction really show more of the real person of Ed Wood in them." I don't know if that's necessarily true—it doesn't gibe with my experience as a reader—but I will say that Wood's nonfiction has a tone of its own, distinct from his novels and short stories. He's slightly more stiff and formal when writing this material, but he's also more optimistic and even-handed. Think back to Glen or Glenda (1953) when kindly Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) starts narrating in the style of a high school civics film:
Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even the lounging outfit he has on, and he's the happiest individual in the world. He can work better, think better. He can play better, and he can be more of a credit to his community and his government because he is happy.
That's the Ed Wood who emerges from the nonfiction. You can also see this side of Ed's personality in the unsigned editorials he wrote for Pendulum Publishing's adult magazines. Greg Dziawer recently wrote about how those "idealistic" articles differ in tone from Eddie's seedy, often downbeat fiction.

Author and publisher Bill Shute further sets the stage with an excellent essay called "Edward D. Wood, Jr.: Professional Writer," which serves as the introduction to When the Topic is Sex. In describing the nonfiction articles, Shute writes: "Wood comes off as thoughtful, measured, and wanting to consider and respect differing viewpoints." Shute also asserts that these allegedly fact-based articles allowed Eddie "to basically riff on a theme in a unified way." 

As you might guess from the compilation's title, many of the articles in this book are about sex (and changing sexual mores), but Eddie sounded off about a number of topics, including the film industry and even school busing. Shute warns us that "some of this material is extremely politically incorrect by today's standards." (Bob Blackburn gives a similar warning in his foreword, though the term he uses is "squirm inducing.") Longtime Wood fans should be able to handle it, though—especially those brave souls who have been willing to explore Eddie's pornographic work, both on screen and in print. Once you've seen Eddie strip down to his jockey shorts in Love Feast (1969), very little should shock you.

Bob Blackburn has pieced When the Topic is Sex together from over 80 individual articles, originally published between 1971 and 1973 in various adult magazines. The two previous Wood compilation books provided many hours of entertainment for me, and I am confident that When the Topic is Sex will do the same. I hope you'll join me as I make my way through this volume and share my thoughts on it. Perhaps along the way, I'll come to agree with Bob Blackburn that these nonfiction articles bring us closer to the "real" Ed Wood.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #23 and #23.5 by Greg Dziawer

It's been an eventful first year for The Ed Wood Summit Podcast.

As 2021 draws to a close, so, too, does the freshman year of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast. I started these conversations about the life and work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. back in January and have kept the series going these past twelve months. Sometimes, I've had guests along for the ride; other times, it's just been me.

Today, as we rapidly approach the end of December, I reflect back on the first full year of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast and pose some subjects for 2022. Join me, won't you?

After finishing the podcast, I realized I had few more ideas to express, so I added this short addendum. Enjoy!

Thanks for watching! I'll see you all again in the new year! As a reminder, all episodes of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast are available right here!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Orbit, Part 7 by Greg Dziawer

Two male models pose for the cover of Pendulum's The Boy Friends.

Christmas has arrived early this year! Instead of candy canes or sugar plums, I offer you a clutch of uncredited texts that could well be the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr.!

Ed's many adult paperbacks, along with the short stories and articles he wrote for magazines, remain the core of his known literary output. We've previously highlighted other forms of texts from his adult magazine work, however, including his editorials and the texts accompanying pictorials. There's a stark tonal difference between the short stories—pulpy and often violent, nihilistically wallowing in the worst aspects of human nature—and these other texts.

Nowhere is the plea for sexual freedom and tolerance voiced as earnestly as it is in the editorials. In Pendulum's all-male magazines (including those published under the Gallery Press and Calga imprints), the tone is idealistic and optimistic. The Boy Friends was one of the earliest of Pendulum's all-male titles, and each issue features a fresh but uncredited editorial.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "My Best Mom's Wedding"

Marion Ross and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Happy Days is rightfully thought of as a 1970s phenomenon, like leisure suits and disco, but the nostalgic sitcom ran well into the 1980s. It finally expired in 1984 after an incredible run of 11 seasons and 255 episodes. It's weird to think of a quaint, fairly corny show like Happy Days coexisting in the same pop culture landscape as video games, rap music, and Ghostbusters. But it did. 

I wonder if the cast and crew of Happy Days had any trepidations in December 1979 about what the new decade would bring. Big changes were soon coming to the ABC series. Ron Howard and Don Most left after the 1979-80 season, for instance. More broadly, America's TV-watching tastes changed in the early '80s, moving away from traditional family sitcoms and toward nighttime dramas (Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest) and action shows (The A-Team, Magnum PI, The Fall Guy). That was definitely bad news for the Fonz and his pals.

As it turned out, the last episode of Happy Days to premiere during the 1970s was Season 7's "Here Comes the Bride, Again." In my opinion, this is one of the highlights of the season. It tells a sweet story about Marion (Marion Ross) convincing her grouchy husband Howard (Tom Bosley) to have a second wedding, since their original wedding took place in a bus depot and was anything but romantic. Their son Richie (Ron Howard) wants to stage the event in the Cunninghams' back yard, but he has numerous obstacles to overcome, including a grouchy neighbor (played by Ron's father Rance Howard) and two incompetent caterers (played by radio comedy legends Bob and Ray).

You can hear everything we have to say about "Here Comes the Bride, Again" on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. Hope to see you over there!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 126: Is this Ed Wood's only Christmas novel?

Santa curls up with a copy of Ed Wood's 1968 novel Nighttime Lez.

We know Ed Wood celebrated Christmas. In the '50s, when he was still living with actress Dolores Fuller, he famously produced some 3D cards featuring himself dressed as Jesus. Those cards remain prized collectibles among Ed's fans even today. Later, according to Nightmare of Ecstasy, Eddie proudly gave out copies of his own paperbacks as Christmas presents. I like to think of him offering The Oralists (1969) or Purple Thighs (1968) to his bewildered landlord in lieu of rent.

The Yuletide season does not figure all that prominently in Ed's creative output, however. Offhand, I can't remember even a mention of the holiday in any of his movies, pornographic or otherwise. But what about his written work? Eddie churned out so many novels, nonfiction books, short stories, and magazine articles that the topic of Christmas must've come up at least a few times, right? Recently, I immersed myself in Eddie's literary work from the 1960s and '70s, mainlining one book after another. Since the holidays were approaching, I naturally started looking for mentions of Christmas in any of these sex-and-violence-drenched classics.

A later edition of the book.
Eventually, I hit pay dirt. Nighttime Lez (sometimes printed as Night Time Lez) is yet another of Ed Wood's many salacious, adults-only novels. It was published in 1968 by a company called Columbia, which had previously released Eddie's debut novel Black Lace Drag. For whatever reason (authorial pride?), Eddie used his real name on this tale of Sapphic intrigue, eschewing any of his usual pseudonyms. 

Thematically and stylistically, Nighttime Lez is very standard Wood stuff. I'm sure he wrote it quickly and without a great deal of thought. The plot revolves around a beautiful young woman in Los Angeles named Paula Thomas. Dissatisfied with her heterosexual experiences, she tentatively visits a lesbian bar called The Iris Inn. There, she almost immediately becomes physically involved with two monstrously butch older women: owner Tommy and barfly Sam. But these two grotesques initiate her into the lesbian lifestyle, and soon Paula encounters some younger, more attractive women, including Jeni, Sin, Loretta, and Doris (who is Tommy's current paramour). All of these women, butch and femme alike, form a close community of friends with benefits. They spend their time drinking, partying, and hooking up. The only male member of the group is Henry/Henrietta, a cross-dressing bartender with an odd sense of humor.

The title vaguely suggests that Paula may be living a double life, and indeed she is. By day, she's a well-paid corporate secretary at the Tishman building on Wilshire Boulevard and is unapologetic about sleeping her way up the corporate ladder. This plot point allows Ed Wood to include a few heterosexual love scenes along with the many, many lesbian ones in Nighttime Lez. Paula's latest boss is mild-mannered Ralph Henderson, a married man so enamored of Paula that he wants to take her with him whenever he travels overseas. Some of the other female employees at the Tishman building are jealous of Paula, but it doesn't seem to bother her much.

To keep things interesting, Ed Wood throws a few soap opera-type plot complications at his characters. Sam contracts pneumonia. Tommy and Doris almost break up. Henry/Henrietta dates a troublemaking straight guy who tries to sexually assault Paula. And Paula? Well, let's say that our favorite secretary is not as careful about birth control as she should be. (In this book, Ed Wood opines that birth control should be a woman's responsibility, since men hate wearing those uncomfortable condoms.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "A Truly Pointless Episode"

Henry Winkler (at right, holding exclamation point sign) on Happy Days.

Did your hometown have a place where teenagers would go to make out on dates? Maybe a scenic spot with a spectacular view? I don't think mine (Flushing, Michigan) did, but I would have had no need of such a place even if it had existed. A social pariah then as now, I went on just one passionless date during my high school years. But my classmates had dates, so did they have a place to go? Our town had a park, and I vaguely remember that kids would visit it on the weekends after lights out. It was just a flat expanse of lawn, nothing particularly scenic about it. Certainly no mountains, valleys, canyons, etc. Not even a lake or pond.

The kids on Happy Days certainly have a scenic place to go on dates. It's called Inspiration Point, and from what I can tell, it's a forested area that overlooks... something. Maybe a valley or canyon. We never do see what the kids are allegedly looking at, but we take it on faith that it provides sufficient inspiration for their furtive post-sock hop groping sessions. Obviously, the Fonz (Henry Winkler) is a habituĂ© of Inspiration Point. But Richie (Ron Howard), Potsie (Anson William), and Ralph (Don Most) go there a lot, too. With their dates, that is, not with each other.

In fact, the characters on Happy Days mention Inspiration Point so often that it was only a matter of time before the Point got an episode of its own. That moment finally came with Season 7's "They're Closing Inspiration Point." As you might guess from the title, the Point is threatened by encroaching development, specifically a highway overpass. It's up to Richie and his pals to save the place by appealing directly to the local planning commission. Think Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), only it's about horny teenagers.

What did we think of "They're Closing Inspiration Point"? Find out by listening to the latest and perhaps greatest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 125: The floating trumpet in 'Night of the Ghouls' (1959)

Let's talk about that trumpet.

I will never forget my first screening of Night of the Ghouls (1959). I saw it on Friday, October 30, 1992 as part of an Ed Wood quadruple feature, alongside Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). This was my first time seeing any of Eddie's movies, and it was the night that made me a fan for life.

Accessibly weird and endlessly quotable, Glenda and Plan 9 were the hits of the evening, as you might expect. The organizers of the marathon wisely scheduled Night of the Ghouls (aka Revenge of the Dead) to run last. The supernatural thriller, a film both sluggish in its pace and confounding in its construction, just about cleared the room. I stuck it out and have since come to love Ghouls, though I admit that my first viewing was an endurance test.

In particular, the séance scenes in Night of the Ghouls caused multiple walkouts. If you'll recall, the film's plot revolves around a fraudulent psychic called Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), who bilks customers out of their money by pretending to communicate with their dead relatives. The con artist demonstrates his "skills" through a variety of cheap theatrical tricks, the kind a Scooby Doo villain might use to scare meddling kids away from an amusement park. One particularly obscure detail: a trumpet dangling from wires so that it looks like it's floating in midair.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Podcast Tuesday: "But You ARE, Don! You ARE in That Chair!"

Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, and Jim Knaub on Happy Days.

Sitcoms exist to amuse us, give us a few chuckles, and distract us from the problems of our everyday lives. They're light entertainment, nothing more. Or are they?  You see, sitcoms are made by concerned, caring, deeply moral people who have thoughts and feelings about a wide variety of social issues. And they reach an audience of millions of people across America each week! Can't sitcoms educate the public a little? In fact, isn't it their responsibility to mix in some learning with the guffaws?

And so, we get the "very special episode," i.e. a sitcom story that tackles some decidedly unfunny subject in the interest of creating a brighter world for all of us. The VSE really became a subgenre of its own during the 1970s (perhaps thanks to Norman Lear), and Happy Days was not immune. In Season 7, for instance, they did "The Mechanic," an episode in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) hires a handicapped man named Don (real life wheelchair athlete Jim Knaub) to work in his garage. Don is embittered about the accident that put him in a wheelchair, and Fonzie definitely has a phobia about working with the disabled. So it seems they both have a lot to learn. What do you wanna bet that they both grow and change by the closing credits?

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we review "The Mechanic" and tell you whether it works as education, as entertainment, as both, or as neither. Join us!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Musical Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

Peter Gooch as Ed Wood in Hubcaps Afire Over Hollywood.

In the lightning-in-a-bottle moment surrounding the release of director Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood in 1994, a veritable cottage industry of Wood-related works emerged. Though receiving universal critical praise, the film tanked at the box office and its namesake faded back into the cult infamy from which he had briefly emerged into mainstream pop culture.

A forgotten footnote today, leaving behind little in the public record, was the stage musical Hubcaps Afire Over Hollywood. Its initial run in Fort Worth, TX ran concurrently to the release of Burton's film in October 1994. After a brief second run in early 1995, the play all but disappeared. Here's Perry Stewart's review of that staging from the October 11, 1994 edition of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram: