|Perhaps the ghost of Ernest Holmes still haunts the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
If you've seen Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), you might think that Eddie met his wife Kathy in the waiting room of the same hospital where Bela Lugosi was undergoing rehab. In the film, Kathy (as played by Patricia Arquette) is knitting a pair of booties for her ailing father when Ed (Johnny Depp) sidles up to her and starts talking about angora. (Against all odds, this actually works!) Later, Kathy makes a pair of black booties for Bela (Martin Landau). But this story, sweet though it may be, is purely an invention of screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. As Bob Blackburn, Kathy Wood's co-heir, told me via Facebook:
[When] Kathy read the script and saw that they meet in the waiting area of the asylum, and she was knitting booties, she let out a cackle and said, "I've never knitted booties in my life!" Later, during a get-together, Kathy mentioned that to Scott Alexander, who said he'd written it as an homage to his own grandmother, so Kathy was okay with that. She still laughed about it every time it was mentioned.
According to Kathy herself, she and Ed actually met in church. Well, sort of. You may remember that, as part of yesterday's article, I included an anecdote from Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992) in which Kathy describes seeing Ed for the first time. She said:
I met him once at the Wiltern theater, the Church of Religious Science. They had the Sunday holdings there, and up in the balcony, of course it was dark, and about three seats away from me was this handsome profile. And he passed the collection plate, and the next Sunday, he was there, too. And I never saw him again, just sitting there, three rows away from him. And I kept thinking about him.
Had Kathy not reunited with Ed Wood at the Cameo Room on Sunset Blvd., he might have been to her what the girl in the white dress was to Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane (1940). But they did meet up again and went on a decades-long adventure together.
Some of Kathy Wood's story was still puzzling to me. For one thing, the Wiltern Theatre, attached to the Pellissier Building in Los Angeles, is not a church. Named because of its location at the corner of Wilshire and Western in the Koreatown neighborhood, it's been host to all kinds of performances since opening in 1931, including concerts by Tom Petty and Madonna. Like Ed Wood himself, the Wiltern fell into disrepair in the 1970s. Unlike Ed, however, the Wiltern was spared from oblivion and has since been restored to its former glory.
So the Wiltern has been many things to many people over the years. But a church, it ain't. And what the heck is Religious Science anyhow? At first, I thought it might have something to do with Christian Science or maybe even (perish the thought) Scientology, but Religious Science is actually a spiritual movement created by Ernest Holmes (1887-1960), an author and lecturer from Maine who preached that man has the ability to guide his own destiny and that God wants us to be happy and successful. You can understand how a message like this would find a receptive audience in 20th century America.
After migrating West, Holmes started lecturing in Los Angeles in 1916 and kept at it for the rest of his life, moving into bigger venues along the way to accommodate his ever-growing audience. And, yes, the 1,850-seat Wiltern Theatre was one of the places where Ernest Holmes lectured for a time. The culmination of Holmes' career was the construction of the magnificent (and still-standing) Founder's Church of Religious Science at 3281 W. 6th St. in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he died just a few months after the dedication.
Over the last couple of days, I've been listening to recordings of Ernest Holmes' lectures. They're incredibly soothing and inspiring, and I can easily understand how our Eddie would have been entranced by them. Ernest liked to talk about the power of the imagination and turning our dreams into reality, ideas that Ed would have wholeheartedly agreed with. I even found what is believed to be the only existing footage of an Ernest Holmes lecture. As you watch this, try to imagine you are in the Wiltern balcony with Ed Wood. Can't you just picture Eddie hanging on every word?
I know the picture quality of that last video is a little rough, so I thought I'd include an audio-only Ernest Holmes lecture. Again, I'd like you to sit back, close your eyes, and try to imagine that you are Ed Wood hearing these words in the 1950s. Holmes' lectures all sound pretty much the same, so this is very close to what Ed and Kathy would have heard at the Wiltern all those years ago.