Sunday, December 25, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 25: Seinfeld, "The Postponement" (1995)

Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards, and an unknown extra on Seinfeld.

Some advent calendars last 24 days, others 25. Technically, the season of advent ends on Christmas Eve, so my obligation to this verkakte series ended yesterday. However, as it happens, the weather this Christmas weekend has stranded me in my apartment with little to do, so you're getting a 25th day of Ed-Vent. Lucky you.

On the third day of this series, I reviewed "The Chinese Restaurant," a 1991 episode of NBC's Seinfeld in which the characters attempt to attend a one-night-only showing of Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) but do not succeed. Unfolding in real time in one location, this highly unusual episode proved to be a turning point in the sitcom's history. It also gave Ed's most famous film some of its most mainstream exposure ever. That Seinfeld has been seen by millions of people for over 30 years. Surely, at least some of those viewers must have been curious enough to track down Plan 9.

Running gags and callbacks were the lifeblood of Seinfeld, so it's not surprising that the show eventually returned to Plan 9 in an episode called "The Postponement." It took four and a half years, though, and those were four and a half eventful years. When "The Chinese Restaurant" debuted, Seinfeld was struggling through its second season, barely avoiding cancellation. By the time "The Postponement" aired on September 28, 1995, Seinfeld was in its seventh season and one of the most popular shows on television, airing as part of NBC's powerhouse Thursday night lineup alongside other smash hits like Friends and E/R.

In some ways, "The Postponement" shows how Seinfeld had evolved from its primitive early days. The iconic wraparound segments with Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) performing standup comedy had mostly been jettisoned, for instance. Starting with the 1994 episode "The Big Salad," the show started filming more outdoor scenes on the famed New York Street set at CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles. Now, instead of showing Jerry doing standup, Seinfeld preferred to show its characters walking down that gloriously fake New York street, chatting about trivial matters. "The Postponement" has numerous little moments like that. In fact, it's one of those New York walk-and-talk scenes that leads to the Ed Wood/Plan 9 content in "The Postponement." 

Jerry and Kramer spot a Plan 9 flyer on a lamppost.

Throughout the episode, Jerry and his neighbor Kramer (Michael Richards) squabble over a couple of very silly issues. First, Jerry is shocked when Kramer says he'd turn Jerry in to the police if he committed a murder. ("Who's to say I wouldn't be next?" Kramer reasons.) Secondly, Jerry is annoyed that Kramer has been drinking so many café lattes recently. They're walking down the street one day, debating that second issue, when Jerry spies a flyer for another one-night-only showing of Plan 9. Kramer agrees to go with him, but when they get to the theater, Kramer tries to sneak in a café latte—a direct violation of the venue's strictly-enforced "no outside drinks" rule. When Kramer spills his latte and is caught by an usher, Jerry is only too happy to rat him out. In classic Seinfeld fashion, Jerry and Kramer's two seemingly unrelated problems have intersected.

I had a strong memory of the Plan 9 references in "The Chinese Restaurant," but I had no recollection of the Plan 9 material in "The Postponement." Revisiting the latter, I understand why. The Jerry/Kramer story, while quite funny, is a minor subplot. The main plot has a panicked George (Jason Alexander) using emotional manipulation to delay his upcoming marriage to his sensible girlfriend Susan (Heidi Swedberg). There's also a related story in which Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) confesses her romantic problems to the seemingly friendly Rabbi Glickman (Bruce Mahler), only to be mortified when he blabs Elaine's secrets to everyone he knows. (To make matters worse, Rabbi Glickman has a cable TV show where he embarrasses both Elaine and George.)

While screening "The Postponement," written by Larry David and directed by Andy Ackerman, I realized how serialized and insular Seinfeld had become by its seventh season, almost like a soap opera. Most obviously, George and Susan's rocky romantic relationship is a sprawling, tragicomic saga that spans several seasons. This "postponement" kerfuffle is just one of many, many problems they had over the years. Meanwhile, the café latte incident at the movie theater sets up a Kramer story in a future episode. And Elaine and Kramer discuss the events of a previous Seinfeld in which they team up to kill an annoying dog. While "The Postponement" pretty much works as a standalone story, it's more enjoyable to viewers who are very familiar with Seinfeld's characters and ongoing plotlines. It's like the middle movie in a trilogy.

Arguably, "The Postponement" features as much or even more Plan 9 content than "The Chinese Restaurant." First, there is the flyer that Jerry spies on a lamp post while talking about lattes with Kramer. It leads to this dialogue:

JERRY: Hey, look at this! Plan 9 from Outer Space is playing tomorrow night! One show only!

KRAMER: I've always wanted to see this.

JERRY: Y'know, I was supposed to see this five years ago. I was in a Chinese restaurant with George and Elaine, and we got all screwed up trying to get a table, and we missed it.

KRAMER: Yeah, well, let's do it, huh?

JERRY: All right.

The flyer itself is kind of neat. Plan 9 is said to be playing at the Paragon Theater for "one evening only" on September 22, 1995. (That would have been a Friday, which makes sense.) The title of the movie is printed in what appears to be Hobby Headline font in a pinkish-purplish hue with a picture of the planet Saturn in the background. We see at least three copies of the flyer in the episode, so presumably there must be more copies in the vast Seinfeld archives somewhere.

A few scenes later, Kramer and Jerry are waiting in line outside the Paragon Theater, still debating the café latte matter, and we get to see the iconic Plan 9 from Outer Space poster on the wall behind them. This particular Paragon must be a repertory house, since the other posters we can see are all for classic movies, including Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and The Long, Long Trailer (1953). I suppose the other extras waiting in line are all there to see Plan 9, which is nice. The movie has garnered a decent turnout, probably due to the interest stirred in Ed by the Oscar-winning biopic Ed Wood (1994), which had only been released on VHS a few months before this episode.

These newly-converted Ed Wood fans are a sedate-looking bunch. The only potential weirdo among them is an intense-looking guy who wears his shoulder-length blonde hair combed straight back and carries a paperback book in the pocket of his sport coat. I've definitely seen guys like this at Ed Wood marathons. Good thing the Paragon doesn't have a policy against bringing in outside literature.

An intense extra (far right) attends Plan 9 on Seinfeld.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 24: With every Christmas card I write...

One of Ed Wood's Christmas cards, with Ed himself as Jesus.

Thanks in large part to Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Ed Wood's homemade Christmas cards from the early '50s have taken on something of a mythical status among his fans. On page 34 of the book, Grey includes three vintage photographs: two glamour shots of actress Dolores Fuller in an angora sweater and one picture of Ed himself, incongruously dressed as Jesus Christ, complete with a long-haired wig and a glued-on beard. The caption is equally intriguing: "Ed Wood's 3-D Christmas Card, featuring Ed as the Jewish carpenter."

It turns out that this amazing image is part of a series of Christmas cards that Ed had printed when he was dating Dolores, circa Glen or Glenda (1953) and Jail Bait (1954). The actress talks about those cards on page 33: "We made up a 3-D Christmas card where I was the Virgin Mary. We had some children around. Ed wanted to recreate the nativity scene. We sent those Christmas cards out with 3-D glasses. Ed played Jesus Christ."

Philip Chamberlin, who eventually married Dolores Fuller, adds this: "In a way, the Christmas cards are kind of a parable. He was, no doubt, a martyr for his art."

A few pages later, actor John Andrews—the source of many of Nightmare's most colorful (and disputed) anecdotes—talks about how Eddie was sharing an apartment with his early creative partner, Alex Gordon. "I think they were the original odd couple," Andrews muses. Anyway, Alex got scared off by the wild drag parties Eddie was always throwing and moved out. Here, I'll just let John tell the story from there:

John Andrews talks about Ed Wood selling Christmas cards.

Bob Hope shills for Stereo Realist.
Pretty wild stuff, huh? First off, the fact that this anecdote is taking place in December brings to mind that dreadful December in 1978 when Ed and his wife Kathy were evicted from their Yucca Flats apartment. That was often a rough month for him, which may be why there are so few Christmas references in Ed's work.

I've always assumed that the cards Eddie was selling were the same ones he'd made with Dolores Fuller, so maybe he made them for commercial rather than strictly personal reasons. Also, if John Andrews can be believed, this is how Ed Wood supposedly met actor Tom Tyler, who appeared in Eddie's Crossroad Avenger (1953) near the very end of his life. 

In her 2009 autobiography A Fuller Life: Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me, Dolores Fuller gives us some more details about the history of those cards:
There are those who scoff at the idea that Eddie was in any sense a creative artist, but during my years with him, I was surprised almost daily by his creativity. One example that comes to mind is the series of five 1954 Christmas cards he created. I had been a 3-D enthusiast for many years and had my own "Stereo Realist" camera, made by Kodak, but discontinued in the early 1960's. It was a time when 3-D was enjoying one of its periodic fads, so we decided to go all out and make a series of tableau-like 3-D cards. 
The shoot was done at my two-bedroom Burbank home where Eddie and I lived with my father. The series of 3-D shots for the cards utilized our entire "family" and ranged thematically from a naughty shot of me in an abbreviated Santa costume for a card inscribed "... the night before Christmas," through a card with my father as "Santa Claus" toting a big toy-stuffed sack and son Darrell reaching excitedly for one of them, to a nativity scene in the stable with friends as the three wise men, Eddie as Joseph and myself as the Holy Mother, to a stunning shot of Eddie as a mature, bearded Jesus, arms outstretched in supplication and the inscription "...lo, I am with you always..."
That passage gives us a lot of details about when, where, and how those cards were made. The Stereo Realist was the most popular stereo camera of its era, but it was actually made by the David White Company and lasted until 1971. If Dolores is correct that these cards were made in 1954, that shoots my theory to hell because Tom Tyler died of a heart attack in May of that year. Could it be that this story actually happened in 1953?

And what about the other cards that Dolores mentioned, like the one with her as Mary or the one with her as a sexy Santa? Blessedly, some of these did survive into the 21st century. Circa 2002, an Ebay user named Toddhackett sold a set of the cards for an undisclosed price. Thanks to that auction, we have some some images of what the cards looked like. 

Ed and Dolores pose for Christmas cards circa 1954.

Back in 2015, Ed Wood scholar Philip R. Fry, the man behind this very useful website, posted to Facebook a list of the cards in this series and what each one contained.

  • 3D Card Co., No. 501: "...lo, I am with you always..." This is the one with Ed Wood as Jesus with his arms outstretched.
  • 3D Card Co., No. 502: "...come to the stable..." This one is the nativity scene with the three wise men in the upper left corner.
  • 3D Card Co., No. 503: "...blessed is she..." This is the one with Dolores as Mary and Ed Wood as Joseph.
  • 3D Card Co., No. 504: This still-missing card is presumably the one with Dolores' father as Santa Claus. No images of it have surfaced yet.
  • 3D Card Co., No. 505: "...the night before Christmas..." This is the one with Dolores in her "abbreviated" Santa costume.

Perhaps the 3D Card Co. was the company that manufactured these five cards. Or it was some short-lived venture that Ed Wood launched specifically for this project. Either way, I can find no other reference to such a firm existing in the 1950s. What we've been looking at so far, by the way, have been the interiors of the cards. The exteriors are pretty generic: the words "Season's Greetings" printed in green on a plain white background. I'm guessing that the printer would allow you to customize the insides of the cards, but the outsides were standard. I'm just glad that Ed Wood got to work his beloved ellipses into these cards at the beginning and end of every caption.

One last question: do any of the 3D effects actually work? Well, yes. Sort of. I have some red-blue glasses lying around, so I decided to give it a whirl. Card 501, the one of Ed as Jesus, works best. Those hands genuinely look like they're reaching out. I suppose Card 503, with Ed as Joseph and Dolores as Mary, works okay, too, since Joseph does look like he's closer to us than his wife. There's not much to say about Cards 502 and 505. Perhaps there's a bit of depth to these images... if you squint. 

And that's the story of Ed Wood's legendary 3D Christmas cards featuring himself as Jesus Christ. Before we leave this topic, I'd like to remind you that Ed's idol, friend, and star Bela Lugosi was himself cast as Christ in a 1909 passion play.  Thanks to that production, we have numerous incredible images of Count Dracula as the Lamb of God, some of them quite similar to Eddie's Christmas card.

Yes, that's Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ.

Isn't the internet wonderful sometimes? Merry Christmas to one and all.

Friday, December 23, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 23: Ed Wood and the Eastbourne Defense

Ballard Barclay and Bruce Boa on Fawlty Towers.

There's a classic 1979 episode of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers—and don't worry, I'll circle back to Ed Wood eventually—called "Waldorf Salad" in which a brash, demanding American named Mr. Hamilton (Bruce Boa) stays at the titular hotel and clashes with its harried innkeeper, Basil Fawlty (John Cleese), over nearly everything. Basil deals with Hamilton as he does with all troublesome guests: with a curious mixture of hostility, insincere toadying, and needlessly elaborate lies and excuses. Eventually, Hamilton stages a revolt of all the unsatisfied guests, right there in the lobby of the hotel.

"What I'm suggesting," Hamilton shouts for all to hear, "is that this place is the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe!"

At this point, the Major (Ballard Barclay), an elderly gentleman who actually lives at Fawlty Towers and who might reasonably take some pride in his home, steps forward to object.

"No!" he interjects. "No, I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne."

The joke here is that, in the Major's estimation, Fawlty Towers is only the second crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe. But isn't that actually worse than being the worst? If you have no chance of being good, wouldn't you want to be the absolute bottom of the barrel? There's a certain pride in that.

In sticking up for Ed Wood or his films, many fans use what I call "the Eastbourne Defense." That's when you say something can't possibly be the worst of its kind because there are some that are even worse. What about The Room (2003), they say? Or Robot Monster (1953)? Or Troll 2 (1990)? Or some perfectly competent blockbuster they saw recently and didn't like?

To me, this is no defense at all. That's why the Major's line in "Waldorf Salad" is funny. It's the most backhanded of backhanded compliments. Nobody wants to be second worst or sixth worst or fifteenth worst. That's why I'm perfectly fine with Edward D. Wood, Jr. being "the worst director all time" and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) being "the worst film of all time." Even if neither one is true.

You've gotta wonder about that place in Eastbourne, though, huh? What is that place like? The mind boggles.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 22: Reality is What You Can Get Away With (1992)

Reality is What You Can Get Away With (1992)

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007)
This'll be a quickie, I promise. There's almost not enough to warrant an article here, but I wanted to point something out to you.

In the early '90s, around the same time I stumbled upon Danny Peary's Cult Movies (1981), I discovered another strange book that changed my mind forever: Robert Anton Wilson's Reality is What You Can Get Away With (1992). Would you believe it was at the same bookstore? That's right. Young & Welshans in Flint, Michigan. I believe that building is an Outback Steakhouse now. 

Robert Anton Wilson was... well, it's tough to describe what he was. Sci-fi author, psychologist, guru, and intergalactic wiseguy. Imagine a hybrid of Albert Einstein and Groucho Marx. He was too intellectually rambunctious to be contained by any one category or genre, so his career went in a lot of different directions simultaneously. (Kind of like Ed Wood's, now that I think of it.) 

Reality—its title inspired by a quote from another visionary fruitcake, Hunter S. Thompson—is one of Robert's many oddball projects to manifest itself over the years. It's presented as "an illustrated screenplay," but it's a script that's meant to be read, not produced. Still with me? To make things even more convoluted, Wilson has added a framing device wherein this unproduced screenplay has been discovered by academics in the distant future. They're puzzling over this artifact from a strange and primitive time, i.e. the 1990s.

But what of the script itself? Well, it's a rapid-fire montage of short (sometimes very short) scenes, all flowing into and out of each other like a dream or a particularly surreal Monty Python episode. Imagine if you got very stoned one night and started flipping through all the channels on your TV. Except that your perception of reality is skewed, so you imagine the characters in movies, TV shows, and commercials saying all kinds of unlikely things. 

If it were actually produced, Reality is What You Can Get Away With would consist of some wholly original footage, plus a generous helping of stock footage and clips from various movies. Those clips would be dubbed with new comedic dialogue, a la What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966) or Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection (1985-86). (The future academics I mentioned have a hell of a time understanding this aspect of the script.)

Among the movies Wilson would have ransacked: The Phantom Planet (1961), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), The Third Man (1949), The Outlaw (1943), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Woman in Green (1945), Crack in the Mirror (1960), and Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Eddie would be glad to know that two of his cinematic idols, Orson Welles and Jane Russell, play important roles in the film.

Throughout the screenplay, Wilson draws on the iconography of old, cheap science-fiction movies, so it's only natural that there should be some Ed Wood in the mix. The Plan 9 content, however, is fleeting. Early on, the film's protagonist, Ignatz Ratskiwatski, watches a film called Plan 3 from Outer Space on television. 

Much later in the script, Wilson includes a clip from Plan 9 featuring chiropractor Tom Mason filling in for the late Bela Lugosi. The book is heavily illustrated with photos, so I wanted to show you a scanned page from Reality including a picture of Dr. Tom:

A page from Reality.

Wilson's script includes the Plan 9 scene in which the Ghoul Man (Bela Lugosi/Tom Mason) enters the Trents' house and scares Paula Trent (Mona McKinnon) while she's in bed. Paula, identified in Reality merely as a "housewife," rises in terror. But the Ghoul Man, identified as a chiropractor, reassures her with this iconic line: "It's okay, I don't have an erection." (Erection jokes are a motif throughout the script.) Paula then dashes out of the house and into the cemetery, where she promptly runs into Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, who asks to borrow "some sugar... and maybe a few lines of coke." Wilson then cuts to some novelty bumper stickers (including "Campus Crusade for Cthulu").

And that's it. That's the extent of the Ed Wood content in Reality is What You Can Get Away With. It's not much, I understand, but I think it's noteworthy that a major author like Robert Anton Wilson would draw from Plan 9, however briefly, in one of his strangest and most memorable books.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 21: A few more pages from Ed Wood's The Hostesses (1973)

How similar is The Hostesses to The Cocktail Hostesses? We'll get to the bottom of this.

Once again, I'm leafing through some pages from Ed Wood's softcore script The Hostesses, which director-producer Stephen C. Apostolof filmed as The Cocktail Hostesses (1973). As you'll recall from yesterday's article, the film revolves around a young woman named Toni Rice (played by Rene Bond), an unhappy secretary who's having an affair with her skinflint married boss, Mr. Henderson (Norman Fields). At the behest of her friend Jackie (Terri Johnson), Toni quits this job and becomes a cocktail hostess and escort.

We now jump forward a little in the story. Toni is working at an Irish-themed bar alongside Jackie and another girl named Lorraine. (This copy of the script belongs to the actress playing Lorraine, by the way, which is why her lines are underlined.) 

Howard (Duane Paulsen), the bar's piano player, has $50 in his tip jar and offers it to Lorraine if she'll have sex with him after work. Lorraine begs off, saying she has to drive Jackie home. Howard has another suggestion: they can both have sex with him. Here's how that conversation goes:

Page 21 of The Hostesses.

Comparing this script page to the finished movie, we find that Jackie and Howard's conversation is almost identical to what Ed Wood has written. Howard even does that  dumb "double your pleasure" bit, a reference to the ad campaign for Wrigley's Doublemint gum. But, alas, Duane Paulsen skips one exceptionally corny line of Wood's dialogue: "I have enough lovin' for both of you." As before, Ed Wood has left the explicitness of the sex scene "to the discretion of the director." Steve Apostolof was strictly a softcore filmmaker, so he would not include graphic, unsimulated sex scenes in his movies.

Let's move on to page 29, where we find Lorraine consoling another waitress, Millie (Lynn Harris), who has recently been raped in the parking lot of the bar. Keep in mind that they're having this heart-to-heart conversation in the middle of a hotel room orgy, with a nude couple making out right behind them.

Page 29 of The Hostesses.

In The Cocktail Hostesses, the actresses do what's on the page, though they tinker with the wording just a little bit. For instance, Millie's line about the knife, "I should have had a knife like he did," becomes "Listen, I wish I had the knife he had" in the finished movie. Luckily, Ed Wood's speech about men being "bastards" survived intact to the final cut. Also, it should be noted that once the girls go to the bedroom for some privacy, they improvise some inconsequential chit-chat about the party and the drinks before resuming the scripted dialogue.

Another interesting line from Eddie's script: "There is no doubt but what LORRAINE is the aggressor." Revealing choice of words, no? That's how Ed Wood saw lesbian relationships, i.e. predator and prey. In the movie, however, this dynamic is not played up.

The Millie/Lorraine scene continues on page 30:

Page 30 of The Hostesses.

In this scene, Lorraine seduces Millie. Pay close attention to those handwritten notes in the margin, for here we finally get confirmation that Steve Apostolof freely encouraged his actresses to ad lib. The actress playing Lorraine has written in the lower right corner: "Scene to be played with extreme erotic ad-libs. Choice of words & language no barrier." I'd have to guess that this advice came directly from Steve Apostolof to his actresses. 

Generally, throughout this sequence, the two actresses read Eddie's lines but improvise some brief dialogue along the way, mostly as a way of filling up time. Other than that, page 30 of Ed's script has survived nicely.

This very same scene continues on page 31:

Page 31 of The Hostesses.

For this page, the main difference between the script and the movie is that, in the latter, there are several lengthy cutaways during Lorraine's two big speeches. (Those are the passages underlined in purple in the picture above.) After Lorraine says the part about "their own selfish pleasures" (ignoring the "little" from Ed's script), she improvises a few extra lines while undressing Millie. At that point, Steve Apostolof cuts to the living room, where all the other characters, including Toni and Jackie, are engaged in an orgy. There's an amusing moment when a character named Larry (played by Apostolof regular Harvey Shain) canoodles on a couch with the profoundly bosomy Candy Samples. Nice work if you can get it. 

Steve then cuts back to the bedroom with Millie and Lorraine, and the latter resumes her speech, starting with the part about "their little demands." After she says a couple more sentences, Steve goes back to the living room, then back again to Millie and Lorraine, who picks up with: "And there will always come a time when..." (Ed's script has this as "always be a time when...")

The final page I have from the script is page 41, which is the last page of this draft. What's happening here is that Toni has gone back to work for Henderson—not as his secretary but as his paid mistress. At her old salary, yet! Here's how Ed Wood has it in the script:

Page 41 (and the end) of The Hostesses.

Yet again, the actors (Rene Bond and Norman Fields) kind of dance around Eddie's dialogue. If you want to see exactly what Ed wrote, look at the picture above. As for the dialogue in the finished movie, I've transcribed it below:
TONI: And what did I make?

HENDERSON: Uh, it's hard for me to remember.

TONI: I remember!

HENDERSON: Now what's that got to do with anything?

TONI: Plenty. You can visit me every Friday. And you can pay me eighty-six dollars and ninety-one cents for that visit. And that, my dear cocksman, is our permanent arrangement.
Apostolof wisely ends the scene (and the movie) with the "permanent arrangement" line. As you can see in the picture above, Eddie's script had one more line from Toni: "Now start making love... lover..." That's the kind of line Ed would have used in one of his short stories or novels, but it's a little too flowery to say out loud. I never really considered it until now, but I guess this "arrangement" allows Toni to keep her cocktail waitress job. After all, her sex sessions with Henderson generally happen during the afternoon, and the bar doesn't get hopping until nighttime.

All in all, this was an interesting little experiment. It helped me understand how Eddie wrote, how Ed and Steve worked together, how Ed's scripts compare to the films made from them, and even how Steve treated his actors and actresses. Now if someone will only give me the $1,450 for the complete Hostesses screenplay.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 20: Pages from Ed Wood's script for The Hostesses (1973)

A detail from the Cocktail Hostesses poster.

What are you even doing here? Don't you realize that, at this very moment, you could be buying a genuine vintage screenplay for The Cocktail Hostesses (1973) for a mere $1,450? Talk about a bargain! You remember The Cocktail Hostesses, right? The Ed Wood-written, Steve Apostolof-directed softcore film that's so widely beloved that it's never received a proper DVD release, not even as part of the Big Box of Wood collection? Right, that's the one. Your Christmas won't be complete without it!

Jokes aside, it's difficult for me to get terribly enthused about The Cocktail Hostesses, even though I coauthored an entire book about its director. Back in 2020, I said it was only my 35th favorite Ed Wood movie and my least favorite of the Wood-Apostolof collaborations. Why is that? Although I'm always glad to see the late, great Rene Bond in a leading role, The Cocktail Hostesses is so sleazy and sordid—not to mention marred by a totally gratuitous rape scene—that I find it too depressing to be much fun.

Still in all, if someone gifted me that $1,450 Cocktail Hostesses script, complete with handwritten notes by one of the actresses in the film, I'd probably die of happiness. There's no way in this world I could ever afford it. Luckily, some snapshots have been posted online. How about we take a look at them and see if we find anything interesting, huh? We'll start with the cover page.

The cover of The Hostesses.

Okay, right away we see that The Cocktail Hostesses was originally called just The Hostesses and its script was credited solely to Ed Wood. In the completed film's end credits, Steve Apostolof (as A.C. Stephen) is listed as the film's coauthor. (How much writing Steve actually did on this picture, I don't know. My guess is, not much apart from maybe giving Ed Wood a story outline.) Note, too, that the film has been given a production number: "Prod. #113."

This particular copy of the script seems to have belonged to someone named "Kriss Kross," who is playing the supporting role of Lorraine. In the finished film, this character is portrayed by model-actress Kathy Hilton (1947-2015). Kathy is known to have worked under various aliases, so perhaps "Kriss" is one of them. In any event, Steve Apostolof filmed The Cocktail Hostesses in October 1972. We can see that the dates written on this cover match up with the calendar. (October 22 was a Sunday that year.)

It looks like this actress has been asked to show up at a place identified only as "Reubans" at 3:00 in the morning. Apostolof's usual cinematographer, Robert Caramico, shot The Cocktail Hostesses under the name "R.C. Ruben," so perhaps this note refers to him. Also, I'm pretty sure our actresses has been asked to supply her own red party dress, presumably for the late night orgy scene.

Next is merely a title page:

The title page of The Hostesses.

Not much to say here, except it's amusing to me that a script for a low-budget softcore porn movie should have both a cover and a title page. Talk about formality! Note, too, that The Hostesses is listed as "An A. - A. PRODUCTIONS Presentation." This is the production company name Steve Apostolof used for both Drop Out Wife (1972) and The Cocktail Hostesses, though both were released under the SCA banner.

At last, we get to the good stuff, i.e. the first scene of the picture:  

Page 1 of The Hostesses.

What happens on this page is basically what happens in the finished movie. Young secretary Toni Rice (Rene Bond) makes love to her boss, Mr. Henderson (Norman Fields), in the latter's office. Once they finish, they start dressing and have a little conversation about their relationship.

In the final cut of the movie, Steve Apostolof adds an establishing shot of the office building that's not indicated in Ed's script. Also, while dressing, Rene Bone improvises an extra line to fill up the time: "Boy, it's been a long day!" (This ends up being the first line of the film, apart from some grunts during the sex scene.) Other than that, there's no real difference between page and stage, so to speak.

Twice on just this page, Eddie leaves some detail "to the discretion of the director." That was a common notation in his screenplays for Steve Apostolof, perhaps indicating the writer's level of respect for his director and patron. For one thing, Ed says that Steve can decide how much of Mr. Henderson's naked body to reveal. As it happens, actor Norman Fields (whom I don't think of as "ruggedly handsome") does appear fully frontally nude in the finished movie.

The scene continues:

Page 2 of The Hostesses.

Not much to note here. Rene Bond and Norman Fields deliver this dialogue pretty much as Ed Wood wrote it, though they make it a little more natural and conversational by changing a word here and there. The essential meaning is kept intact. They do skip the "until next Friday" part entirely, though.

We now jump forward a few pages in the script:

Page 5 of The Hostesses.

Toni is now bemoaning her fate to her friend Jackie (gap-toothed Terri Johnson). She's sick of earning just $86.91 a week to be "poked, probed, sodomized, and debauched." (Never the most accurate of typists, Ed misspells the last one as "debached.") Jackie tells her to ditch that office job and become a cocktail waitress/escort. 

Again, the actresses largely deliver what Ed Wood has written. But Rene Bond does give her own spin on the "sick and tired" rant. Here's what she says in the finished movie:
I'm sick and tired of it... and all for what? NOTHING, just nothing! Them with their wife and kids, and all I get out of it is a big zero. Being a secretary is rotten. I just get nothing out of it.
Terri Johnson's response is also a little different from what's on the page:
"I'd say it's about time. You keep screwin' with that boss of yours and for what? Absolutely nothing! You figure it this way. I made thirty dollars alone in tips last night. And afterwards, I had the most delightful time with an out-of-town buyer. He made me fifty dollars richer."
See what I mean? Compare those quotes to the script page, and you'll see that what they're saying is similar to what Eddie wrote but not exactly the same. Maybe Steve Apostolf gave his actors seem leeway when it came to dialogue. Maybe, if we want full-tilt, unfiltered Eddie, all of his screenplays are going to have to be published just as he typed them 50 years ago.

But this article has already gone too long. I'll be back tomorrow with a few more script pages and commentary from The Hostesses.

Podcast Tuesday: "Shady Acres, Grandma" or "You Dropped a Nussbaum on Me"

Frances Bey and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

The backstory of ace mechanic and ladies' man Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) kept changing on Happy Days for the simple reason that no one behind the scenes had ever planned out who this character was, what he had been through, or what he would eventually do with his life. It all just sort of happened haphazardly over the course of 11 seasons, with the writers reinventing and redefining the character as they went along and retconning parts of his past as they deemed necessary. 

The character of Fonzie wasn't even part of Happy Days' original pilot in 1972. He was only added by network decree after the success of the movie American Graffiti (1973) and the stage musical Grease (1971). Those stories featured tough greaser dudes, they figured, so Happy Days should have one, too. In his early days, Fonzie had an air of mystery. He was a man of few words whose life was deliberately kept vague. But then, America fell in love with him, and we wanted to learn a lot more about him. The show obliged.

Eventually, some basic facts about Fonzie's past emerged from the ether. He had been abandoned by both his parents -- first his father, then his mother -- at an early age. How early? It varies from episode to episode. But it definitely happened. The writers are sure of that. At some point in his teen years, he struck out on his own and has been living independently ever since. 

In the 10-year interim between his abandonment and his independence, Fonzie was raised by his kindly Grandma Nussbaum. We actually got to meet this sweet, elderly caretaker in a classic 1975 episode called "Fonzie Moves In." Lillian Bronson played her in that show, then retired from acting after a 30-plus-year career. We didn't see much (or any) of Grandma Nussbaum for a few seasons after that, but Fonzie frequently mentioned her and kept her alive in our imaginations.

Finally, in Season 9, we got a whole episode about Grandma Nussbaum, appropriately titled "Grandma Nussbaum." With Lillian Bronson unavailable, the role went to Canadian character actress Frances Bey, who went on to numerous iconic film and TV roles in the decades that followed. You may know her from Seinfeld, The Middle, Happy Gilmore, or numerous David Lynch projects. Who knows? Maybe Happy Days was the big break Frances needed in her career.

Was it worth it to bring Grandma Nussbaum back onto our screens after nearly seven years? Find out on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 19: Tor Johnson meets Peter Gunn (1960)

Tor Johnson on Peter Gunn in 1960.

Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson is thought of as one of Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s stock players, thanks to his memorable roles in Bride of the Monster (1955), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), and Night of the Ghouls (1959). There's even a (completely fictional) scene in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994) suggesting that Eddie discovered Tor at a wrestling match in Los Angeles and recruited him to be in movies for the first time. However, the truth is that this gargantuan grappler worked in TV and film for decades, both before and after his professional association with Eddie.

Today, I'm going to spotlight a role that Tor played not long after filming Night of the Ghouls: an episode of the NBC detective show Peter Gunn called "See No Evil." It originally aired on February 1, 1960, and made such a strong impression on critic Danny Peary that he mentioned it in his 1981 review of Plan 9 from Outer Space. For the uninitiated, Peter Gunn ran for three seasons (1958-1961) and is largely remembered today for bringing producer/creator Blake Edwards together with composer Henry Mancini. The series' jazzy theme song is still a standard and has been covered by dozens of artists. When Edwards switched to making feature films, he continued to collaborate with Mancini on classics like Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and The Pink Panther (1963).

Craig Stevens as Peter Gunn.
For the most part, Peter Gunn is what you'd expect from a crime show of this vintage. The title character, as played by handsome but rather bland Craig Stevens, is a macho, cynical private eye in Eisenhower era Los Angeles. His contact on the police force is world-weary Lt. Jacoby (played by sourpuss Herschel Bernardi, looking like a man in need of a nap). Most fictional sleuths are defined by their quirks, but apart from his phallic name and his penchant for vaguely Bogart-esque quips, Gunn doesn't seem to have any. He's a straight arrow. In other episodes, Gunn hangs out at a jazz club and even dates a singer named Edie (played by Lola Albright), but none of this is in evidence during "See No Evil."

Peter Gunn may not have the most engaging protagonist in the world, but producer Blake Edwards compensates by making the series exceptionally stylish and atmospheric. We are firmly within the realm of film noir here. "See No Evil" has plenty of cockeyed camera angles, dramatic lighting effects, and swift, brutal acts of violence. Hell, two cops are matter-of-factly gunned down before we even get to the opening credits! And all through it, there is the unmistakable "cool" jazz of Henry Mancini in the background.

Look, I'll be honest and admit that I can never follow the plots of most detective and mystery shows. Even after the crime is "explained" to me at the end, I'm always a little confused as to who did what to whom and why. What I can tell you about "See No Evil" is that the plot is set in motion when a sleazy, mustachioed gangster named Brenners (Lou Krugman) shoots his way out of a courthouse after being sentenced to 60 years in the slammer for racketeering. Soon after, a blind news dealer named Cliffie (Walter Burke) hires Peter for protection. He testified against Brenners years ago and figures the crook will want to kill him in revenge. He's right. A few scenes in, Peter finds Cliffie dead—not just dead but mangled. Who or what could've done this? (Ed Wood fans may have some idea.)

As in just about every detective story, our hero goes to various places and interviews various people in search of the truth. I couldn't always tell what these folks had to do with the story. A sizable part of the episode, for example, is given over to some unhelpful switchboard operators who won't give Gunn or Jacoby the information they want about a payphone call that so-and-so placed to whatshisname. There's even a car chase at one point, though I wasn't sure why or where it was happening. Eventually, in the last 10 minutes, we get to the good part: Peter's investigations lead him to a creepy place called Sunview Sanitarium. No points for guessing that this joint is neither sunny nor sanitary.

Peter enters this Arkham-esque facility and is promptly thrown into a padded room by the gangsters. Our hero starts devising an escape when Brenners himself, flanked by lieutenants, enters the room. They share this supremely hard-boiled dialogue, neither one betraying much emotion:

GUNN: Hello, Brenners.

BRENNERS: Better make that goodbye.

GUNN: Oh, I don't know. A lot of people are looking for you.

BRENNERS: You made the mistake of finding me.

GUNN: And you made the mistake of killing Cliffie Thomas.

BRENNERS: That right?

GUNN: Police found him pretty well mangled. What did you use on him?

BRENNERS: You're gonna find out.

Brenners flashes a sly smirk, then coolly exits Peter's cell and walks over to another one down the hall somewhere. He opens an ominous-looking iron door and out steps a monster: some huge barefoot creature wearing only baggy, striped pajamas. This behemoth lumbers down the hall, with director Alan Crosland, Jr. being careful only to show him from the knees down at first. Once this unknown threat reaches Peter Gunn's cell, the camera tilts up to reveal that it's Tor Johnson, who lunges toward our hero in attack mode. (Tor's character is identified as "Bruno" in the end credits, but this name is never said aloud during the episode.) What ensues is essentially a steel-cage wrestling match, and now we can understand the beauty of having this scene take place in a padded cell. Tor can toss Craig Stevens around without the actor sustaining any serious damage. Just when all seems lost, Lt. Jacoby shows up and shoots Tor dead, though it takes five shots (by my count) to bring the big boy down. Gunn and Jacoby exchange some more terse, cynical dialogue and stagger out of the padded room. The end.

I can easily imagine why "See No Evil" would have imprinted itself on the memories of viewers for decades. For the first two-thirds, it's your typical TV detective show, perhaps a bit more stylized than most. Then it suddenly becomes Chiller Theatre. Shifting the action to Sunview Sanitarium is a rather outrageous conceit on the part of the writers (the story itself is credited to Blake Edwards), and then the addition of Tor Johnson takes the episode into the world of pure fantasy. I was reminded of the Rancor scene from Return of the Jedi (1983), though viewers in 1960 probably thought of Daniel in the lions' den.

To be fair, the bonkers plot twist in "See No Evil" is somewhat telegraphed. In the early, more cheerful stages of the episode, Gunn's investigations take him to a dingy-looking gym where a funny little man named Igor (the ubiquitous Benny Rubin) is impatiently choreographing a female wrestling match. This scene exists purely for comic relief, however, and does not hint that Gunn himself will soon end up wrestling for his life.

This episode of Peter Gunn is something that all Ed Wood fans will want to see, if they haven't already. It's always a pleasure to watch Tor in anything, and it's especially nice to see him in a classy, respectable network TV show rather than a grade-Z programmer for a change. I'm sure Eddie watched "See No Evil" (if his TV weren't in hock that week) and just as sure that he loved it. In his films, short stories, and novels, Eddie favored square-jawed, ultra-manly heroes like Peter, and he made more than one attempt at film noir, complete with that rat-a-tat dialogue. I wouldn't say that he ever mastered the genre, but he made a couple of noble efforts. I think the finale of "See No Evil" would have blown his mind.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The 2022 Ed-Vent Calendar, Day 18: Cult Movies (1981)

The book that changed my life. Maybe for the worse.

Sometime in my early adolescence, I devised a very handy method for finding the weird and outrageous movies I'd been craving all my life. I'd simply flip through video guides and look for all the one-star and zero-star reviews, making sure to note the titles, directors, and actors. This is how I found out about Herschel Gordon Lewis, Russ Meyer, John Waters, and, yes, Ed Wood. Armed with some promising leads, I'd head down to one of several video stores in the area and start hunting. (Or, failing that, I'd look through the TV listings to see what was playing in the wee small hours.)

The guru: Danny Peary.
This strange technique of mine worked because, back then, movie critics were much more square and stodgy than they are today. In their reviews, they were generally aiming for what I'd call middlebrow respectability. (Think: Merchant-Ivory films. Classy but not too demanding.) They were allergic to the  kind of stuff I was looking for—trashy movies with lots of sex, violence, surrealism, and bad taste. But the authors of video guides reviewed everything, whether they wanted to or not. Learning about what they hated taught me about what I loved.

Then, in high school, I hit the motherlode. At the late, much-missed Young & Welshans bookstore in Flint, MI, I found a copy of Danny Peary's seminal 1981 tome, Cult Movies: The Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird, and the Wonderful. Peary didn't even bother covering "normal" mainstream movies; his book was wall-to-wall weirdness. Just what I'd always wanted! And these weren't mere capsule reviews like I'd find in the video guides. These were lengthy, illustrated essays, complete with cast lists and plot summaries. The author would give a brief history of the film alongside analysis and commentary. I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. 

While I had first seen Ed Wood's name in print in those video guides, it was Peary's Cult Movies, specifically his four-and-a-half-page essay about Plan 9 from Outer Space, that truly made me want to seek out Eddie's work. Without Danny's book, this series of articles (and possibly this entire blog) would never have happened. Who knows? I might be doing something profitable with my life today.

In those primitive, pre-internet, pre-streaming days, Danny Peary was a hero to an entire generation of information-starved film freaks who wanted to explore the world of offbeat cinema. The curmudgeonly critic was an unlikely tour guide, though, since he often seemed at odds with the material he was covering. My copy of Cult Movies, for instance, has this quote from Playboy emblazoned on the cover:
"Wild bunches of film freaks would brave the badlands of a forbidden planet for a compendium like this!" 
A nice thought, but Danny gave largely negative reviews to The Wild Bunch (1969), Badlands (1973), and even Forbidden Planet (1956). Of the films cited in that Playboy quote, only Freaks (1932) met with Peary's approval. Danny was no fan of H.G. Lewis, Russ Meyer, or John Waters either, and he had little affection for arguably the biggest cult movie of them all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

So where does he stand on Ed Wood? I decided to revisit Peary's Plan 9 essay and find out. His cast and crew credits are accurate, as is his plot summary. No quibbles there. As for the essay part, we must remember that Cult Movies came out soon after Harry and Michael Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards (1980), the book that crowned Ed Wood the worst director of all time and Plan 9 the worst film of all time. The popularity of the Golden Turkey book is the main reason Plan 9 is being covered in Cult Movies at all. Naturally, then, Peary largely follows the Medveds' lead and parrots a lot of what they had to say about Plan 9 being so cheap, flimsy, and ludicrous that it's perversely entertaining. 

If there's one line from Peary's essay that has stayed with me through the years, it's this one: "As bad as it is, Plan 9 is, except for about a hundred dull spots, a lot of fun." After screening the movie dozens of times for research purposes, I know what he means. For the most part, Peary points out the same continuity errors and silly dialogue that other critics point out, but there are a few examples that are unique to this essay. I'm sure, for instance, it was Peary who made me notice this underappreciated line from Rev. Lyn Lemon: "The bell has rung upon his great career." And Peary is the only critic in history to note that Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) "goes off on a several-day trip with a teeny overnight bag." I also like Cult Movies' description of the infamous cockpit set: "the type of set used by improv groups."

Along the way, Peary repeats some long-debunked canards about Ed Wood and his films, again getting his dubious information third-hand from the Medveds. No, Eddie did not storm an enemy beach in World War II while wearing a bra and panties under his uniform. And, no, the flying saucers in Plan 9 are not paper plates. But that's what people thought 40 years ago. Also, Paul Marco's character is Kelton, not Calvin, as Peary has it. 

Peary also floats the theory that perhaps Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi were working on two different movies at the end of Lugosi's life. He thinks the footage of Lugosi at his wife's funeral and the footage of Lugosi entering the Trents' house and frightening Paula (Mona McKinnon) are from separate projects. Interesting notion, but I don't know that there's evidence to support it.

Peary has some amusing comments about Ed Wood's stock players. Of Criswell, whom he compares to Billy Graham, he opines: "This man belongs in a booby hatch." Of Tor Johnson, he says: "This is the only time I recall he was trusted with dialogue. He is no Leslie Howard." (Peary also recalls Johnson's "exciting" guest role on a 1960 episode of Peter Gunn that I may have to check out. For the record, it's from the show's second season and is called "See No Evil.") His comments about Vampira are quite intriguing: "Her looks remind me a great deal of Carol Borland, Lugosi's costar in Tod Browning's Mark of the Vampire (1935)—except that Borland has screen presence and Vampira just looks like she has anorexia." Unkindness of that remark aside, the connection to Borland is aptly noted. Browning even films Borland approaching the camera with her fingers extended, just the way Wood does with Vampira in Plan 9. And the physical resemblance—the pale skin, the dark lips, the long, straight hair—is uncanny.

Blood sisters: Carol Borland in Mark of the Vampire; Vampira in Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Where the review really gets interesting for me is right at the end, where Danny Peary semi-archly suggests we have misinterpreted Ed Wood's movie all these years. "Could it be," Peary writes, "that putting up a crazy façade is the only way that Wood can get away with making a subversive movie?" After all, the author points out, this is a movie in which the U.S. government wrongly suppresses evidence of UFOs and aliens, prevents Jeff from reporting what he knows, and even covers up the destruction of an entire town. 

And Peary is one of the few critics who points out what I have long felt: that the snooty alien Eros (Dudley Manlove) is actually right, even though he's treated as a villain. "Only the fact that he has a diabolical laugh and a lot of conceit covers up that what he says to [the earthlings] makes sense." In reality, the nuclear arms race really has gotten out of control and could still lead to the end of the world. (We are currently 100 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.) This passage, more than any other, turned me into an Ed Wood fan before I'd seen a second of any of his movies.

Danny Peary's Cult Movies is an important part of my past and a book that I hope fans will continue to rediscover for years to come. Its availability, apart from libraries, is a little dubious right now. You can read it and its 1983 sequel at The Internet Archive, though Cult Movies 3 (1989) is AWOL there. In the Kindle store, you can (and should) buy four short "samplers" that pull reviews from all three Cult Movies books. But used paperback and even hardback copies of those books are still out there on the secondary market for a reasonable price.

The Cult Movies book series didn't just come along at a pivotal time in my life; it came along at a pivotal time in the history of popular culture. In the 1980s, your home entertainment options were rather limited. You had the three major TV networks and maybe a few independent stations, plus AM/FM radio, and whatever magazines and newspapers happened to be available in your area. Your nearby movie theaters only had so many screens. Your local record stores and video stores only had so much shelf space. If you craved "weirdo" entertainment, you had to take it where you could get it. If you lived in Middle America, far from the big cities, an offbeat movie like Pink Flamingos (1972) or Eraserhead (1977) might seem like a miracle, as if you were receiving a coded message from a distant planet many light years away.