Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 134: 'Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Original Uncensored and Uncut Screenplay' (1990)

This quaint and curious volume was published in 1990, two years before Nightmare of Ecstasy.

When I reviewed Joe Robertson's hodgepodge sex documentary Love Making U.S.A. (1971) last year, I described it as "an itch begging to be scratched." In other words, I'd known about this rather obscure movie for years, and I ignored it until I just couldn't ignore it any longer. My curiosity as an Ed Wood fan got the better of me. I had to know what this thing was like, so I finally downloaded it (legally) and watched it. Ultimately, I was glad I did. Lovemaking is far from a masterpiece, and its Wood content is minimal (just a few fleeting seconds of borrowed footage), but the film is an intriguing souvenir of its era.

Well, this week, I'm scratching another itch. I'm not exactly sure where or when I first learned of a 1990 book from Malibu Graphics called Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Original Uncensored and Uncut Screenplay, but I've known of it for a while now. I briefly discussed it in 2020 while reviewing another version of the Plan 9 script. Here's what I said at the time:
Supposedly, though, this volume merely contains a transcript of the film, prepared well after the movie's original release. I've never bothered with it, since there's a fairly decent Plan 9 transcript available online. For free, I might add.
Was I content to leave it there? Obviously not. "Supposedly" just isn't good enough for a true Ed Wood acolyte. I had to buy a copy of this thing and see it for myself, just so I could be completely confident what it contained.

The book that finally arrived from an Amazon seller was a surprise to me in many ways. For one thing, it was much smaller and skinnier than I had expected. I thought this would be one of those chunky, clunky 8.5 x 11 paperbacks that was mostly stills or screengrabs from the movie. Wrong. Instead, it's a slim, modest 6.5 x 10 volume—much closer in size and heft to a comic book. In fact, Malibu Graphics was a relatively-short lived (1986-1994) comics publisher best known for Men in Black. Around the time of this Plan 9 screenplay book, Malibu also published a Plan 9 graphic novel by John Wooley.

The screenplay book is about 100 pages long, and nearly all of that is text. Oh, there are a few pictures along the way—the same Plan 9 publicity stills that Ed Wood fans have seen many times before—but this is not by any means a scene-by-scene graphic representation of the movie. Content-wise, this book is what it claims to be on the front cover: Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s circa 1957 screenplay for Plan 9 from Outer Space. It is not a transcript of the finished film. Not even close. In fact, it is extremely similar to that typewritten script I reviewed back in 2020, though with a few significant differences along the way.

When I reviewed the typewritten Plan 9 script two years ago, I wrote these prophetic words in the final paragraph: 
Look, there's no way to detail every single minute change between the screenplay and the released version of the movie without this article being crushingly long and boring.
Well, you know what? Let's be crushingly long and boring today! I'm going to make a point-by-point comparison between the Malibu Graphics screenplay book and the finished film of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Occasionally, when necessary, I will reference the typewritten script as well. For our purposes, the Malibu Graphics screenplay book will simply be called "the book" or "the script." When I specifically want to mention the typed script, I will say so.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "Aftermalph"

Anson Williams and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

One of the big problems Happy Days faced during its final four seasons was what to do with Anson Williams' character, Warren "Potsie" Weber, the amiable but clueless friend of Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) and Ralph Malph (Don Most). Potsie was an important part of Happy Days from the very earliest pilot in 1972, and he had a following of his own (especially among female fans), so the producers opted to keep him on the show even after Richie and Ralph departed.

By Season 8, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) was the show's central character, while many of the stories revolved around Fonzie's brash young cousin, Chachi (Scott Baio). With Fonzie and Chachi dominating the series, there was even less room for Potsie. Besides, without Richie and Ralph, Potsie had no one to interact with. It's not like Fonzie and Potsie were ever great pals; they were more like friends-in-law or friends once removed.

Still in all, the producers of Happy Days felt an admirable sense of loyalty to their dependable foot soldier Anson Williams, so Potsie got an occasional episode tossed his way. One prominent example is Season 8's "Potsie on His Own," in which the dimwitted Weber boy takes a rather humiliating job to pay his rent. In fact, he's so ashamed of his profession that he tries to keep it a secret from everyone else in his life. You can probably guess how well that goes.

Is "Potsie on His Own" a good use of Anson Williams' talents? Find out when we review it on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. You'll be mighty glad you did.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "A Pain in the Butt"

Anson Williams, Henry Winkler, and Scott Baio on Happy Days.

The TV landscape changed noticeably in the early-to-mid-1980s. The sitcoms that had dominated the '70s slowly started to fall out of favor in the new decade, nudged aside by splashy prime time soaps and high-octane action shows. It seems that viewers wanted thrills, not chuckles, during the Reagan era. (At least during Ron's first term. By the end of the '80s, sitcoms were back in a big way.)

One of the biggest series of the era was CBS' oil industry drama, Dallas. When that show's main character, unscrupulous wheeler dealer J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), was shot by a would-be assailant in March 1980, it became a worldwide obsession -- the subject of headlines, water cooler conversations, and at least a thousand jokes. Everyone was asking the same question: "Who shot J.R.?" The attention helped Dallas become the #1 show on television, a spot Happy Days had occupied just a few years previously.

How did Happy Days respond to this paradigm shift in the television business? By and large, it didn't. The show never tried to compete with the new breed of prime time series. It remained very much a traditional sitcom, complete with corny punchlines and tidy morals. But that's not to say the producers were oblivious to what was happening in their industry. Take the March 1981 episode "Fonzie Gets Shot" as an example. The plot revolves around Fonzie (Henry Winkler) suffering an accidental gunshot wound to his buttocks. While the story is played entirely for laughs, not drama, the episode must have been at least partially inspired by the "Who shot J.R.?" phenomenon.

But does this make for a good half hour of television? And, more importantly, who shot Arthur Fonzarelli? Find out when you listen to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Milwaukee"

Ellen Travolta and Scott Baio on Happy Days.

Like most TV producers, Garry Marshall had his share of hits and misses. For every Happy Days or Laverne & Shirley, there was a Me and the Chimp or Hey, Landlord!  But of all the Marshall series, the one most likely to be on those "worst TV shows of all time" lists is the extremely short-lived 1979 sitcom Makin' It. The series centers around Billy Manucci (David Naughton, best known at the time for his Dr. Pepper commercials), a young man from New Jersey who spends his days working at an ice cream parlor and his nights dancing at the local disco. An obvious attempt to cash in on the success of the film Saturday Night Fever (1977), Makin' It flopped hard with critics and audiences and vanished from the airwaves after just a few weeks.

A gimmicky, fad-driven show like Makin' It was probably doomed to failure from the start, and I wouldn't exactly describe it as a brilliant, misunderstood classic. But it doesn't belong on those "worst ever" lists either. At heart, Makin' It is just harmless sitcom fluff, no worse than the average laffer. To me, the show is simply "disco Happy Days." If Richie and his pals lived in the '70s and went to a dance club instead of a malt shop, the results would be a lot like Makin' It.

Even though the show only lasted a handful of episodes, some good did come of it. David Naughton scored a Top 10 hit with the extremely catchy theme song, for instance. Makin' It was also the show that put Garry Marshall in contact with actress Ellen Travolta. Now, if you're blatantly ripping off Saturday Night Fever, it makes sense to hire someone from the Travolta family. But Ellen (John's older sister, by the way) proved herself more than a capable actress in the role of Dorothy Manucci, Billy's harried mother. Three years after the cancellation of Makin' It, Ellen Travolta was called upon to play a very similar character on Happy Days. Specifically, she portrayed Louisa Arcola, mother of Chachi (Scott Baio) and manager of the apartment building where Potsie (Anson Williams) lives.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we review "Hello, Mrs. Arcola," the episode that introduces Ellen Travolta as Louisa. Is it a hit or a miss? Listen and find out!

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 133: "Mandy's Mistake" (1971)

A young woman contemplates her life in Ed Wood's short story, "Mandy's Mistake."

An ambitious, young Edward D. Wood, Jr. arrived in Los Angeles from Poughkeepsie in 1947, hoping to make a name for himself in the motion picture industry. He eventually did just that, but hardly in the way he had anticipated. His fame was largely posthumous and ironic. During his own lifetime, Eddie was either scorned or utterly ignored by the movie business he loved.

By the early 1970s, having moved down from low-budget mainstream films to out-and-out pornography, Ed Wood was moonlighting as the prolific author of adult books and magazine articles. Today, let's look at another of the short stories he wrote during this period. Since it deals with a young woman who moves to Los Angeles, only to regret her decision almost immediately, this story feels very personal.

The story: "Mandy's Mistake." Originally published in Flesh & Fantasy (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 4, no. 4, November/December 1971.

Synopsis: A young woman named Mandy has just arrived in Los Angeles. She was supposed to move into an apartment in the Echo Park neighborhood with her boyfriend, Ned. To her surprise and dismay, however, Ned didn't even bother to pick her up—or even page her—at the airport. After spending a lonely night in a motel, Mandy ventures out to a coffee shop, then decides to seek out the apartment Ned was supposed to have rented for them.

Somewhat cheered by her breakfast, the young woman takes a bus to Echo Park Lake and thinks back to her most recent telephone conversations with Ned. In hindsight, he did seem a bit unenthused the last few times they talked. Once at the lake, Mandy becomes aware of a lascivious old wino who is staring at her. The man tries to strike up a conversation with her, but she is initially hesitant to speak to this "miserable" bum. Eventually, though, she does open up to him and even starts to cry as she explains her situation.

The wino agrees to help Mandy find the Beacon Street apartment she was supposed to share with Ned. Once they get there, the manager of the place tells her that Ned put a $10 deposit down on the place but never contacted him again. Since the apartment is now rented to someone else, the manager gives Mandy the $10 back, along with a slip of paper containing Ned's (possibly fraudulent) address. Mandy realizes she no longer cares about Ned and gives the money to the wino. The old man cheerfully departs with a "sexy" wink.

Excerpt: "This is what fate rewards her with, she thought, a beautiful human being like this to keep her company. Just what she needed. Yeah, like fun. She turned and looked straight into the old man’s eyes—defiantly, accusing, daringly. What right did he have to come and bother her? Men seemed to be all alike—stupid and insensitive, she thought as she continued to stare at the man, who now had developed a little tic under one eye from nervousness."

A map of the action in "Mandy's Mistake."
Reflections: When I think about Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s experiences in Los Angeles, I can't help but think of "Midnight Train to Georgia," a 1973 smash hit by Gladys Knight and The Pips. I doubt Ed Wood kept up with the Top 40, but songs as popular as "Georgia" have a way of seeping into your life whether or not you seek them out.

As you probably remember, the song tells the story of a thwarted dreamer who decides to return home after failing to become a "superstar" in Los Angeles. ("L.A. proved too much for the man," goes the famous opening line, a sentiment Ed knew all too well.) I wonder if Eddie ever thought about taking the midnight train back to Poughkeepsie, bringing his wife Kathy back home with him as a souvenir from his time in Hollywood. She would have gone, I'm certain, just like the lady in the song does.

The title character in "Mandy's Mistake" also considers returning home after her L.A. plans fizzle. She even ponders the possibility that she never actually loved Ned in the first place. She just wanted an excuse to move to the big city, and there he was. The story ends ambiguously, so we never do find out what happened to Ned or what Mandy did with herself. Maybe she decided to tough it out in Los Angeles anyway. Hey, Ed gave it a good 30 years.

I've been treating Mandy as Ed Wood's surrogate in this story, but the author has a lot in common with the wino character as well. The way the bum is described—with his "improbable, cherubic" face and "impish" blue eyes—sounds a lot like Eddie, as do the character's disgraceful teeth. The story even hints that, like Ed Wood, our wino friend has come down a bit in society since his glory days.  He casually tells Mandy that he "used to own a real estate office." Now he's a drunken bum, possibly homeless, hitting on strange women in the park. I think Ed could relate to that. 

Speaking of real estate, another interesting aspect of "Mandy's Mistake" is that it mentions some genuine Los Angeles streets and landmarks. My guess is that Ed Wood was inspired to write this story after going to the actual Echo Park Lake, seeing a young woman on a park bench there, and imagining what her backstory might be. 

A vintage postcard depicting Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles.

Not being an Angelino myself—I haven't even visited in over 25 years—I'm not too terribly familiar with L.A. geography.  It was easy to find Echo Park Lake on Google Maps, and it is indeed near the intersection of Echo Park Ave. and Sunset Blvd., just as Ed Wood claims in this story. I get confused, though, when Eddie describes the journey that Mandy and the wino take to get to the apartment. Here's the passage in question:
Mandy followed, and pretty soon they were walking briskly in the direction of what looked like a shopping center. She noticed it was Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Drive. "Yes, lady, this is the one and only Sunset Boulevard," he intoned like a tour-guide. "We go this way," he said, leading her down Echo Park Drive a few blocks, then right on Beacon Street and up a steep hill. 
Okay, the street seems to be called Echo Park Avenue, not Echo Park Drive in real life, but I'll let that slide. There are other issues of greater concern. I may be looking at the wrong maps of Los Angeles, but I can't find any Beacon Street. I can find a Beacon Avenue, but it's in the Westlake South neighborhood a few miles away, not Echo Park. Perhaps someone with more knowledge of L.A. streets can clue me in.

Reader Rob Huffman says:
There's a Beacon St. in San Pedro, down the hill from [writer Charles] Bukowsi's last house (purchased in '78), but that also is nowhere near downtown L.A. Just a dumb factoid I thought I'd share. Fascinating enough, in 2017 a "restaurant" called Beacon popped up in Echo Park in 2017.

The Lindbergh Beacon is atop the famous LA City Hall, but in only operated from 1928 until Pearl Harbor; it didn't shine again 'til 2001 (for special occasions). This predates Wood in L.A., but I imagine the light could/can be seen from Echo Park. And just FYI, there's a Beacon Hill Trail in Griffith Park, but that's also a few miles from Echo Park.
Thanks, Rob!

Incidentally, if this story captures your imagination and you want another Ed Wood tale about a young traveler who arrives in a big city and immediately regrets it, try "That Damned Faceless Fog" from Angora Fever. The hero of that story ought to meet up with Mandy. They'd have a lot to talk about.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Podcast Tuesday: "The Bride of Fonzenstein"

Cathy Silvers and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

After a low-rated second season in 1974-75, Happy Days was very nearly canceled by ABC. If the show were to continue, the network had three demands:  Fonzie (Henry Winkler) would have to move in with the Cunninghams; the series would have to be filmed in front of a live studio audience; and the previously-unseen character of Arnold would have to appear on camera. Producer Garry Marshall happily complied with all three demands, but the third proved tricky. Marshall and his writers didn't know how Arnold would look or talk, and a series of auditions didn't make the solution any clearer. Eventually, Garry called in his old pal, actor-comedian Pat Morita, to play the role in his own inimitable fashion.

In a way, this set an important precedent for Happy Days. From then on, if a character were frequently discussed, he or she would eventually be seen as well. Clarence the cook, Mother Kelp, and even Binky Hodges all appeared on the series after having been mentioned in previous episodes. But perhaps the quintessential example of this phenomenon was Jenny Piccalo, a wild-acting, rumor-spreading girl who attends school with Joanie (Erin Moran). The other characters started discussing Jenny's exploits as early as Season 4, but she wasn't seen on camera until Season 8, when she was played by Cathy Silvers, daughter of comedian Phil Silvers. At the time, the producers explained to the press that Jenny's addition to the show was partly done to compensate for the loss of Ron Howard and Don Most.

About midway through Season 8, Jenny got her own spotlight episode, "Bride and Gloom." The rather far-fetched plot has Jenny accidentally marrying the Fonz and moving into his apartment. Surprisingly, the story takes a rather sad and dramatic turn, very much at odds with Jenny's party girl image. Does this make for a good episode? Find out when we review "Bride and Gloom" on the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.