Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #33 by Greg Dziawer

This week, we review a novel with an alarming title!

While there are a number of reasonably well-known Ed Wood books published during the last decade and half of his life—Killer in Drag (1963) and Death of a Transvestite (1967) jump immediately to mind—there also exist dozens of little-known titles.

In this edition of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast, I'm joined by Joe Blevins, James Pontolillo and W. Paul Apel to review one of the latter, perhaps the first review of an obscure 1971 paperback.

Check it out to find out which book it is:

A special thanks to my guests for providing their expert insights into a tome that, in today's world, will likely offend some as outmoded in its viewpoints. It's also at times incredibly graphic, and in candidly estimating it, the language in the podcast is likewise explicit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Gas Station of Love"

Ted McGinley and Wendy Schaal on Happy Days.

When you think of the great animated moms who have appeared on our TV screens in the wake of Marge Simpson, you probably think of Lois Griffin, Linda Belcher, and Peggy Hill. Divas all, to be sure, but there's one you shouldn't forget to add to your list: Francine Smith of American Dad. Since 2005, the wildly underrated Francine has secretly been one of the funniest characters on that show and one of the funniest cartoon moms ever, and a lot of that is due to the off-kilter delivery of Wendy Schaal, the actress who provides her voice.

But there's more to Wendy than just Francine. A favorite of director Joe Dante and the daughter of actor Richard Schaal, she's been working steadily in TV and film since the 1970s, and in late 1982, she even made a memorable guest appearance on Happy Days. Some of you more perceptive readers may have guessed that we are reviewing this very episode on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, and you'd be right. We are. The episode in question is called "Since I Don't Have You," and it revolves around Jefferson High basketball coach Roger (Ted McGinley) and his on-again, off-again, decades-long relationship with a fickle, materialistic blonde named Lorraine (Wendy, natch).

So I'm an avowed fan of Wendy Schaal, but does that mean I liked this episode? Find out by listening to the latest installment of our podcast.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 152: 'Lugosi: The Forgotten King' (1986)

Is this documentary worthy of being resurrected? Or should it stay buried?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. Even though Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) is a major player in the Ed Wood saga—and a big part of why Eddie even has a cult following in the first place—I have never done a deep dive into the great man's life and career. It's just too big a subject. While I've seen many of Bela's films, perhaps two dozen or so, I've never even cracked the spine of a full-length Lugosi biography. The only Lugosi book I've read cover to cover was Richard Bojarski's informative The Films of Bela Lugosi (1980).

A copy of the script with notes by
Forry Ackerman himself.
Frankly, there's so much Ed Wood history to explore that I've scarcely had time for poor Bela. We must remember that Bela's time with Ed Wood in the 1950s was but one brief chapter in the Hungarian actor's eventful and often tragic life, a sprawling saga that spans decades and continents. So many plays! So many movies! So many wives! So many drugs! Where to begin?

What I desperately need is the CliffsNotes version of the Bela Lugosi saga. As luck would have it, I recently learned of a somewhat neglected 1986 documentary called Lugosi: The Forgotten King. This film's compact 46-minute runtime suggests that it was meant to run on television as an hour-long special with commercials, though I can't tell if it ever did. Whatever audience it had, it seems to have garnered through home video. The Forgotten King's two credited directors, Mark Gilman, Jr. and Dave Stuckey, are known almost exclusively for their work on straight-to-video showbiz documentaries.

Lugosi: The Forgotten King is a humble affair, obviously produced on a low budget, but it is well worth viewing for fans of either Bela Lugosi or Ed Wood. The program's enthusiastic host and narrator is horror superfan Forrest J. "Forry" Ackerman (1916-2008), founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Ed Wood's literary agent for a brief stint in the 1960s. (Once Eddie started writing for adult publisher Bernie Bloom, no such agent was required.) Ackerman performs his duties from the so-called Ackermansion, his famed Los Angeles home that served as a museum of sci-fi and horror memorabilia. Unfortunately, the video quality of The Forgotten King is so murky that you'd be hard pressed to identify any of the classic props behind Mr. Ackerman.

With just three-quarters of an hour to tell its story, The Forgotten King sprints through the highlights of Bela's life—his childhood in Hungary, his theatrical career, his breakthrough in Dracula (1931), his downward career trajectory due to typecasting, his battles with drug addiction, and finally his death at the age of 73. Most of this is told through the same old photographs and film trailers you've probably already seen many times if you've researched Bela at all. This material probably seemed a lot fresher in the pre-internet days of 1986.

Like many retellings of Bela Lugosi's life, The Forgotten King has to walk a tightrope. On the one hand, the film tells us repeatedly that Lugosi was unfairly pigeonholed as a horror actor and should have been allowed to play more comedic, dramatic, and even romantic roles to demonstrate his versatility. On the other hand, directors Gilman and Stuckey obviously knew what viewers wanted from a documentary like this: spooky stuff and plenty of it. Therefore, Lugosi's many horror films dominate this retrospective. Forrest J. Ackerman even says that Lugosi's "very name became synonymous with the mysterious, the monstrous, the macabre." This documentary proves that the typecasting of Bela Lugosi continued long after the man was dead.

Alex Gordon in The Forgotten King.
(Note the skull behind him.)
So if there's very little information about Bela Lugosi in The Forgotten King that you couldn't glean from simply reading the actor's Wikipedia page, why bother tracking down this film today? The answer is that it includes interviews with some very noteworthy folks. Actor Ralph Bellamy, who appeared with Bela in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), drops by to talk about the making of that film and share some insight into its director, Erle C. Kenton, who apparently directed with a megaphone bigger than Rudy Vallee's. Carroll Borland, Lugosi's costar in Mark of the Vampire (1935), comments favorably on Bela's sex appeal and says he should have been the next Ezio Pinza.

But most intriguing of all, The Forgotten King prominently features another key figure in the Ed Wood saga that I have largely neglected in this series: British film producer Alex Gordon (1922-2003). Dedicated Woodologists know Gordon for his contributions to the screenplays for Wood's Jail Bait (1954) and Bride of the Monster (1955). Alex also served as executive producer on The Lawless Rider (1954), a Johnny Carpenter Western that Eddie cowrote.

Somehow, in all these years of studying the life and career of Edward D. Wood, Jr., I had never even seen a picture of Alex Gordon, let alone any footage of the man. In The Forgotten King, Mr. Gordon is revealed as a stout, soft-spoken, well-mannered gentleman with kind eyes and splendid enunciation. His accent is neither American nor English but somewhere in between, and he comments fondly about Bela Lugosi's versatility and charm. Gordon also mentions that he originally met with Lugosi because the latter was interested in doing a touring version of Dracula onstage in England. 

One thing I did learn from this film was how England's temporary ban on horror films negatively affected Bela Lugosi's career. I wonder what Bela would have thought of England's "video nasty" scare in the 1980s. For that matter, what would Ed Wood have thought of it? I'll never understand how the same country that produced Hammer Studios could be so squeamish and prudish when it comes to the horror genre.

If you're wondering how much Ed Wood content there is in The Forgotten King, rest assured that there is plenty. Eddie himself had passed away by the time this documentary was made, so he "appears" only via a photograph, but Alex Gordon is there to represent him and talk about the projects that Wood and Gordon had planned for Bela, including Doctor Voodoo, The Vampire's Tomb, and The Phantom Ghoul. According to Gordon, these would-be projects gave Bela hope during his waning years when work was difficult to come by.

Elsewhere, The Forgotten King includes the entire trailer for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) and mentions the film's cult classic status, never alluding to its Golden Turkey Awards infamy. The documentary actually treats Ed Wood with a surprising—dare I say, refreshing—degree of respect and affection. The narration even repeats the old story (probably apocryphal) that Bela Lugosi died while reading the script for Wood's Final Curtain. Forrest J. Ackerman neglects to mention Glen or Glenda (1953), but he does have this to say about the Wood/Lugosi relationship:
In 1953, Lugosi joined forces with young exploitation film director Ed Wood to make what would be his last films. The legendary Wood was chiefly responsible for keeping Lugosi working during his lowest ebb and remained a trusted friend to the end.
I think Ed would have been very happy with that.

PLEASE NOTE: In 2017, Mark Gilman released another documentary called Lugosi: The Forgotten King of Horror. Running an hour and 20 minutes, it can be described as an expanded version of the 1986 film. Perhaps someday, I will review it, too. In the meantime, if you want to see the longer version of the documentary, it is freely available from Tubi.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "'Twas a Fight Before Christmas..."

Richard Paul and Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

How does your family get along? Well? Not well? Somewhere in between?

My sister and I fought a lot as kids, the way most siblings do, but my immediate family generally got along pretty well. My extended family was a different story, though. There were people on my father's side of the family who hadn't spoken to each other in years. Every time there was a wedding or funeral or family reunion, there would be speculation as to who would dare to show up. I never understood it. What could you say or do to a relative that would make them stop talking to you for the rest of your life?

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're talking about the episode "All I Want for Christmas," which deals with rivalries within families. Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) is reuniting with his overbearing older brother Dick (Richard Paul) for the first time in years. Will they be able to get through even a single day without fighting? This is a sitcom, so I think you can guess the answer to that one. Meanwhile, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) pressures his girlfriend Ashley (Linda Purl) to contact her estranged parents at Christmas. This plot goes in a direction I did not foresee.

You can hear exactly what we thought of "All I Want for Christmas" by clicking the play button down below. It's right there. Couldn't be easier.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 151: Who were Ed Wood's Magnificent Seven?

Who rode alongside Ed Wood into battle?

There's a quote from the published screenplay of Ed Wood (1994) that's been bouncing around in my head for years. In their highly entertaining and informative introduction to the script, writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski talk about the difficulties of basing their screenplay on the one available biography of Ed Wood: 
As we started ordering the anecdotes we found interesting, we were struck by a problem: we didn't know how Ed met anybody. These people were so obscure that the information had just fallen off the face of the earth. Even our principal source, Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, a book of interviews with Ed's friends, didn't help. So we started inventing "meet cutes" for most of the characters, as Ed accumulated his Magnificent Seven.
The screenwriters are playfully referencing John Sturges' epic Western The Magnificent Seven (1960), which was famously adapted from Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954). In Sturges' film, a beleaguered village hires a gunfighter named Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) to defend itself against some ruthless bandits led by the villainous Calvera (Eli Wallach). Adams then recruits six more gunslingers to aid him in the inevitable, bloody showdown against Calvera's men.

I suppose, to Alexander and Karaszewski, Ed Wood is analogous to the Chris Adams character. But who would be the other six members of his Magnificent Seven? Well, the script for Ed Wood provides those aforementioned "meet cutes" for several key members of the Wood entourage: Bela Lugosi, most prominently, but also Criswell, Tor Johnson, Vampira, and even Dr. Tom Mason. But several important members of Eddie's inner circle are already working with him when the story starts, including Conrad Brooks, Dolores Fuller, Paul Marco, and Bunny Breckinridge. The film also depicts a few key figures who worked with Eddie behind the scenes, including producer George Weiss, cameraman William Thompson, and makeup artist Harry Thomas. And let's not forget that, in the script, Eddie also meets his eventual wife, Kathy.

If you're counting, we're already way past seven people, even if you don't include Eddie himself as one of the seven.

But let's be true to The Magnificent Seven and say that there are only seven gunslingers all together, including Ed Wood. Who deserves those other six slots? Well, Bela, Tor, and Cris are in, for sure. Their names are forever tied to Eddie and his films. I'm going to include Conrad Brooks and Paul Marco, both of whom would have followed Ed Wood into a shootout. That leaves just one spot, and I'm giving it to Vampira. True, she and Ed only worked on one project together, but sometimes, one is all it takes. It's impossible to separate Ed Wood and Vampira, especially as the latter's image has been widely used on posters, DVD covers, T-shirts, and other merchandise related to Ed Wood.

When Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote about Ed's "Magnificent Seven," I think they meant the lineup I just described: Ed, Bela, Tor, Cris, Vampira, Connie, and Paul. What do you think? Who would you include in this lineup?

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #32 by Greg Dziawer

This week, we're tackling one of Ed Wood's more obscure adult paperbacks.

By 1969, Ed Wood had spent the better part of the previous decade writing adult paperbacks. He was then transitioning into an incredibly prolific stint writing short stories and articles for various Pendulum/Calga magazines, published by Bernie Bloom. Pendulum would ultimately publish many of Ed Wood's full-length books as well, including both novels and nonfiction works.

But Eddie was writing for other publishers during this busy time in his career, too, including a mostly-forgotten company called Private Editions. This was a relatively obscure imprint even in its heyday, connected to the publisher Columbia (per Ed's own resume). Private Editions released Ed's salacious paperback Night Time Lez (1968) as well as the novel that is our focus this week: the truly remarkable and politically-charged Toni: Black Tigress (1969). Interestingly, the publisher's address listed in Toni—7805 Deering Ave in Canoga Park, CA—is the same as that of adult magazine publisher Press Arts, Inc. Today, it's the home of Ferguson Plumbing Supplies.

These days, Toni: Black Tigress remains one of Ed Wood's rarer books, infrequently turning up at online auctions (and at times for exorbitant prices) and perhaps, until now, never reviewed. We aim to change that with the latest edition of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast. Expert Woodologists Joe Blevins, James Pontolillo and Rob Huffman graciously join me for the task.

FAIR WARNING: Please note that this book covers racial and sexual matters in a highly insensitive, in fact offensive, manner.

Special thanks must go to Rob Huffman for painstakingly scanning his rare, valuable copy of Toni: Black Tigress so that we could read it for this podcast.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 150: The Dead Never Die (1957)

(left to right) Kirk Kirkham, Ed Wood, Criswell, and David De Mering.

Prolific as he was, Ed Wood could not possibly bring all of his film projects to fruition. He simply had too many of them and not nearly enough money and time. Eddie left behind a veritable graveyard of unfinished, unmade, or otherwise abandoned movies. I've written in depth about some of them, including Trial by Terror, The Basketballers, and Hellborn.

But today, I'd like to turn your attention to one of those cinematic orphans that even hardcore Ed-heads never seem to mention: 1957's The Dead Never Die. Here's what Rudolph Grey's indispensable Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992) has to say about this intriguing never-to-be project.

Rudolph Grey on The Dead Never Die.

What immediately sets this project apart is that Ed was going to direct someone else's script for what would have been the only time in his career. Eddie collaborated with other screenwriters, including Alex Gordon and Steve Apostolof, but he always had a hand in writing the movies he directed. This time, however, he would have been working from a story by Criswell and Paul Marco. Now that's a combination that should raise eyebrows. Cris and Paul were two of the, let's say, more eccentric members of the Wood coterie. I can only imagine the kind of tale these two men—neither of whom has a screenwriting credit to his name—might concoct.

But Criswell and Paul Marco didn't actually write the script for The Dead Never Die themselves! That chore fell to William "Bill" Harlow and Kirk Kirkham, another odd couple. Harlow (1922-1996) was an Ohio-born actor who worked mainly in television from the 1950s to the 1980s, turning up on such well-known series as The Rebel, Branded, Combat, B.J. and the Bear, and Knight Rider. As for Kirkham (1926-2001), he was a fairly well-known stage magician with only a handful of TV credits, either appearing as himself or playing a magician. I can only speculate that Kirk and Bill traveled in the same social circles as Cris, Paul, and Ed.

Now, let's turn our attention to the film's projected cast. Rudolph Grey dates this project to 1957, so naturally The Dead Never Die would have shared numerous cast members with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Cris and Paul would have been in it, of course, alongside such Plan 9 vets as Vampira, Bunny Breckinridge, and David De Mering. I'm sure Tor Johnson and Mona McKinnon could have been persuaded to take part, too. I'm even more intrigued by the other names in this list: Brad Jayson, Lynne Brighton, Lee Trant, and Judy Parks. Judy is a total mystery—no known credits, and she's never mentioned again in Nightmare of Ecstasy. Same goes for Lee Trant and Lynne Brighton. Who were these wonderful (or terrible) people? 

The only one with any kind of paper trail is Brad Jayson. This is a name that I've known for a while, since Criswell dedicated the truly bizarre, nigh-indecipherable 1972 book Criswell's Forbidden Predictions to him: 
I wish to express my deep appreciation to BRAD JAYSON for his tireless efforts in researching the heretofore unknown meanings of Nostradamus from the archaic French in which they were written.
For these noble efforts, Brad is mentioned just once in the 2023 book Fact, Fictions, and the Forbidden Predictions of the Amazing Criswell by Edwin Lee Canfield, and there his name is spelled "Brad Jason." Criswell's art director, Claudia Polifronio, describes Brad as a "good-looking actor wanting to break into Hollywood." Did he? Well, someone named Brad Jayson worked as a dialogue coach on the last three seasons of Petticoat Junction in the late 1960s and served as an associate producer on a Jack Benny special in 1965. The timeline matches up, so this could be our guy. Maybe after Petticoat Junction wrapped in 1970, Brad had plenty of time to translate Nostradamus.

As for the content of The Dead Never Die, one can only guess. Rudolph Grey provides no plot details, so all we have is the title. That phrase suggests two of Ed Wood's pet themes: death and resurrection. It's easy to imagine the film revolving around ghosts or zombies, both of which abound in the Wood canon. It's also interesting to consider that, in 2019, Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed a film with the very similar title The Dead Don't Die. (This was Jarmusch's star-studded take on the zombie subgenre.) And then there is the truly dreadful 1990 comedy Dead Men Don't Die

Perhaps we will never know the truth behind The Dead Never Die. I'm not even sure if the screenplay is extant. But that title unintentionally serves as a fitting epitaph for Ed Wood himself. As he keeps proving to us, decade after decade, the dead really never die. At least not completely.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Hardware Wars"

Tom Bosley and Marion Ross on Happy Days.

I've written about this before, but my family owned a small business in the late 1970s and early '80s. It was a children's clothing store called the See Saw, and it was located in the (still-existent!) Carman Plaza shopping center on Corunna Road in Flint, Michigan. This was a somewhat seedy strip mall anchored by a Kroger, you understand, not one of those fancy enclosed malls that were all the rage back then. I remember my parents being very upset when a video arcade moved into the Plaza just a few doors down from us. They claimed it attracted an undesirable element. (Read: teenage potheads.)

Even with the undesirables, the See Saw managed to turn a tidy profit, and my parents had biggish dreams for the place. We talked about moving the See Saw into the indoor Genesee Valley mall a few miles away and ditching the poorly-maintained Carman Plaza, but these plans were scuttled by my strong-willed grandmother, who ran the clothing store alongside my mother. Grandma wanted to retire in the mid-1980s, so that was the end of the See Saw. My mom happily went back to teaching.

I have fond memories of the clothing store, but I have even fonder memories of the Genesee Valley mall on Linden Road in Flint. Oh, the hours I spent at that place. We just called it "the Valley," and it was pretty much the center of our lives back then.

As a kid, my favorite place at the Valley was the toy store Circus World, even though I was a little intimidated by the clown-headed helium tanks in front that were always overinflating balloons and causing them to POP loudly. I also dearly loved Woolworth, which had a very decent toy section of its own and was my source for Garbage Pail Kids cards, too. Not to mention it was attached to a restaurant called Harvest House, which served the best chocolate milkshakes I have ever had. As I grew older, I started frequenting Record Town and Tape World. Those places truly shaped my musical tastes, probably for the rest of my life.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're talking about the Season 10 episode "There's No Business Like No Business," whose plot revolves around both small businesses and malls. Specifically, Howard (Tom Bosley) is worried that the local mall is going to put his store, Cunningham Hardware, out of business forever. Is he right? Is this the end of one of Happy Days' iconic locations? Listen to our latest episode and find out!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 149: Delving (once again) into the Huffman Files

What sort of nonsense has Rob sent me now?

What can I say, folks? Between work and some other extracurricular obligations, I have simply not had much time for Ed Wood lately. I know that's become a tired refrain in 2023, but it also happens to be true. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, Eddie will crawl his way back up to the top of my to-do pile. But it hasn't happened yet.

That's okay, though, because an utter madman named Rob Huffman keeps sending me Ed Wood-related detritus. Every couple of days, I'll check my email and see he's sent me even more stuff. Remember just last month when he sent in that 1954 photograph of Ed Wood, Dolores Fuller, Bela Lugosi, Devila (whom Ed was planning to turn into the next Vampira), and LaTanya? Well, this week, he's found  another copy of that same picture. "A little cleaner than the newspaper clipping," he says. "I have no idea of its origin." Here it is for your perusal.

(l to r) Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller, LaTanya, Devila, Ed Wood.

Rob also sent this photo, obviously taken at the same event. Note Bela's outfit, Ed's outfit, the Jail Bait (1954) poster in the background, and the mess of photographs on the table. I honestly have no idea who the third man is, but I bet you know and will tell me as soon as this article goes live.

Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi at some kind of publicity event in 1954.

Rob has sent me even more stuff, but that's literally all I have time for right now. Even as I type this sentence, other obligations beckon to me. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Not Such a Nice Episode"

Scott Mitchell Bernstein and Crystal Bernard on Happy Days.

In the early years of The Simpsons, there was a recurring character named Herman. You might remember him: a shifty-eyed, one-armed military antiques dealer with a voice (provided by Harry Shearer) vaguely reminiscent of George Bush, Sr. He seemed to be a pal of Grandpa Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), who sought his advice even though he considered Herman to be "completely out of his mind."

Herman never went away totally -- you might still see him in crowd shots, for instance -- but he's long since ceased to be a regular presence in the main characters' lives. Why? Well, this video speculates that the problem may have been the way Herman was used in the 1996 episode "22 Short Films About Springfield." During a brief Pulp Fiction (1994) parody, Herman stood in for that film's perverted pawn shop owner, Maynard (Duane Whitaker). After that, Herman was just too creepy and unsettling to be a regular part of The Simpsons anymore.

Back in 1982, Happy Days did something similar with one of its characters, bumbling nerd Melvin Belvin (Scott Mitchell Bernstein). The show introduced Melvin in the November 1981 episode "Fonzie the Substitute," and he continued to pop up occasionally during the show's ninth and tenth seasons. He didn't make it to the show's eleventh and final season, though. Again, the problem may have been a single episode. In Melvin's case, it was "Such a Nice Girl" from November 1982. In that story, Melvin goes on a date with naïve, inexperienced K.C. Cunningham (Crystal Bernard) and is so overcome with lust that he almost assaults the poor girl. Luckily, K.C. fends off Melvin's advances, but the formerly harmless nerd was now branded a potential threat and lost whatever charm he may have had. Melvin only appeared in one more episode after that before disappearing for good.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we talk about "Such a Nice Girl" and the way the sitcom deals with the issue of sexual assault. As you may expect, the conversation gets a bit darker than usual. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #31 by Greg Dziawer

Casey Larrain's back... and Greg Dziawer's got her!

Actress Casey Larrain is an important figure in the saga of Edward D. Wood, Jr. After all, she and Eddie worked together on three moviesLove Feast (1969), Take It Out in Trade (1970), and Nympho Cycler (1971). And the total is four if you count Love Making USA (1971), which reuses some footage of Eddie and Casey from Love Feast. But Casey has kept herself out of the limelight for decades. She's not interviewed in Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), nor does she appear in any of the Wood documentaries. This week, though, she's the guest of honor on The Ed Wood Summit Podcast. Give a listen!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Petralunga Imbroglio"

Henry Winkler and Melinda Naud on Happy Days.

One of the neat things about a sitcom being on the air for over a decade is that it builds up lots of lore: in-jokes, catchphrases, recurring characters, etc. In the later years of a series, the writers can draw upon the earlier seasons for inspiration. The writers of The Simpsons admit that they watch old episodes of that super-long-lived show when they need ideas. ("Hey, whatever happened to that character? We should bring him back!")

Happy Days did this, too. During Season 10 in 1982, for instance, the show aired a very lore-heavy episode called "Going Steady." The plot is nothing special. After years of dating every available chick in Milwaukee, habitual ladies' man Fonzie (Henry Winkler) decides to be exclusive with his current girlfriend, Ashley (Linda Purl). The Fonz may not be entirely ready for exclusivity, though, so he and Ashley squabble a little and almost break up. Ultimately, though, they get back together. Ho hum. Very predictable sitcom stuff.

What makes the episode interesting is that it brings back several characters from Happy Days' past, including Grandma Nussbaum (Frances Bey) and Rocky Baruffi (Ken Lerner). Most surprising of all, it marks the long-delayed return of temptress Paula Petralunga (Melinda Naud), a rather obscure character who hadn't been seen or mentioned since the third season! It's Paula, still foxy as ever, who puts Fonzie's fidelity to the test when she shows up at his doorstep.

What did we think of Paula's return? Find out by listening to the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 148: The infamous lost Wesson commercial (1954)

Ed Wood (center, wearing pith helmet) shills for Wesson Oil in 1954.

There are a lot of lost treasures in the Ed Wood canon—various films and writings that have gone missing over the decades. But which is the ultimate holy grail, the one piece of "Ed Wood lost media" I'd most like to rediscover? Is it Ed's early 1960s training films for Autonetics? His manuscript for the biography Lugosi: Post Mortem? Any of those made-for-TV productions he put on his resume, with titles like The Little Old Lady from Pasadena? That record of "The Day the Mummy Returned" he made with Tor Johnson?

All tempting choices, to be sure, but I'd like to suggest another, less obvious candidate: his lost 1954 commercial for Wesson Oil. Why this one? Well, unlike many of the projects Ed Wood claims to have worked on, the Wesson ad was all but certainly real. While Eddie was staggeringly prolific, both as a filmmaker and a writer, his inflated resume is dotted with projects that only ever existed in Ed's alcohol-soaked imagination. The 1954 cooking oil ad, however,  is fairly well-documented. 

Let's take a close look at an excerpt from Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992). On page 125, as a part of a chapter called "Idea Man," Grey includes an anecdote from Ed Wood's widow, Kathy, and a photograph supplied by actor Don Nagel.

An excerpt from Nightmare of Ecstasy related to the Wesson ad.

Okay, plenty to talk about here. First, Kathy says that Ed had a reel of his TV commercials that subsequently "disappeared." We already know that, starting in 1949, Ed Wood started making TV commercials as part of some half-baked business plan. He'd make low-budget, generic commercials before actually being hired by any companies, then sell those commercials to advertisers. Instead of making an ad for a specific used car dealer, for instance, Eddie made an ad for used cars in general—like the basic idea of buying preowned vehicles. Unsurprisingly, this didn't work.

The Wesson commercial hasn't turned up yet, but at least four of Eddie's commercials can still be viewed today. And, blessedly, they're like mini-Ed Wood movies, each with its own plot and characters. Eddie himself plays a leading role in one of them ("Magic Man"). 

I imagine the lost Wesson spot is in a similar vein, especially given Kathy's description. Notice, however, that between 1949 and 1954, Ed changed his strategy a little when it came to advertising. Instead of generic commercials for no specific sponsor, Eddie was now tailoring his commercials to specific companies. I am certain that Ed's Wesson spot was made on spec and not commissioned or sanctioned by Wesson in any way. Why? Well, here's what an actual Wesson commercial from the 1950s looks like:

As you can see, it's nothing like what Ed Wood was trying to do with his Wesson ad. But Kathy's synopsis of the commercial raises a few more questions. She mentions two explorers, one who's "too old" and one who's "too tough." But take a look at the photo supplied by Don Nagel. There are indeed two explorers tied up by natives, but neither one looks particularly old or tough. In fact, one is a lovely woman played by Superman actress Phyllis Coates, who had previously worked with Eddie on The Sun was Setting (1951). And yet, Kathy's description of the dialogue in the Wesson commercial is too specific to have been totally imagined.

I guess the only way we're going to solve this mystery is to track down a copy of that Wesson commercial and view it for ourselves. Hey, Ed Wood rarities keep showing up. Why not this one? Let's search those vaults, America!

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Go Folk Yourselves!"

Scott Baio and Erin Moran on Happy Days.

I grew up with folk music—not playing it, mind you, but listening to it. My parents had been folk fans in the 1960s and carried their love of the genre into the 1970s and '80s as they raised kids. They liked a lot of the folk music biggies: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Chad Mitchell Trio, etc., plus folk-adjacent acts like Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. They would even take my sister and me to folk music concerts occasionally. They weren't Dylan freaks, though. Maybe he was too "far out" for them.

As an adult now myself, I still listen to folk music from time to time. I think it's part of a balanced musical diet, along with lots of other genres and styles. Personally, I lean toward the older, rawer stuff from the 1920s and '30s, e.g. the crudely-recorded songs Harry Smith collected on the Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), rather than the cleaner, poppier, more "professional" folk songs from the 1960s. But I dig the '60s stuff, too. After all, what would life be without "Lizzie Borden" by The Chad Mitchell Trio?

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing "Who Gives a Hootenanny?" This episode is all about the folk music fad of the '60s and how it affects the Happy Days characters. Specifically, Joanie and Chachi (Erin Moran and Scott Baio) have to sing folk music if they want to be on TV, but Fonzie (Henry Winkler) feels they are betraying his beloved rock & roll. I'm sure the folk craze really did come as a shock to greasers. What must they have thought when "Tom Dooley" by The Kingston Trio went to #1 in 1958? It must've sounded like something from another planet.

But how is "Who Gives a Hootenanny?" as an episode? And do Fonzie, Joanie, and Chachi ever work out their musical differences? Find out by clicking the play button below!

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 147: Leonard Maltin on Ed Wood's movies

The man, the Maltin, the legend.

Most of us judge movie critics on how often we agree with them. "This guy likes (or hates) the same movies I do," we think, "so he must be okay." I try not to judge critics that way, since taste is so subjective. Who's to say what's interesting or scary or moving or funny to someone else? I can't think with your brain, see with your eyes, or hear with your ears. I can only report as honestly as possible what my experience was. After that, you're on your own. Caveat emptor. 

So how do I judge a movie critic? Well, there are a very select few whose writing passes muster as genuinely good prose that stands on its own. Into that category, I'd put Roger Ebert, Danny Peary, and Joe Bob Briggs. Maybe some others I'm forgetting right now. But not every film critic can be a prose stylist. So I tend to look for critics who are knowledgeable enough to write intelligently about films and who seem to have a sane, responsible approach to criticism. If a critic has an obvious bias against an entire genre, for instance, that critic is useless to me.

Leonard Maltin's groundbreaking guide.
This brings us to Leonard Maltin (1950- ), the amiable, even-tempered New Yorker who is the very epitome of the basic, no-frills film critic. A prose stylist, he ain't. But neither is he a snob, a cynic, or a stuffed shirt. Straight down the middle, that's Leonard. You may not agree with all of his judgments—I certainly don't—but it's difficult to find fault with the man himself. His knowledge of film history is not in dispute. He's authored detailed volumes on Walt Disney, Carole Lombard, Our Gang, and more. His general love of cinema should not be in dispute either. That's obvious from any interview Leonard has ever given. Here's a guy who fell in love with movies as a kid and spent his adult life writing (and writing and writing!) and talking (and talking and talking!) about them.

Beyond doubt, Leonard Maltin's greatest contribution to film scholarship is the exhaustive movie guide he published periodically from 1969 to 1987 and then annually from 1988 to 2014. How many film fanatics like me grew up reading this thing? My parents got me a copy of the 1989 edition, and I read it until it literally fell apart. I'm sure it was one of my first sources of information about Ed Wood. Before the internet existed, Leonard Maltin was the world wide web! The breadth of movies he covered was staggering, spanning generations and genres. Each film got only an inch or two of column space, enough for an extremely brief capsule review and some bare-bones cast/crew credits. At the time, we movie nerds were grateful to have even that.

Maltin's brick of a book was originally published as TV Movies and ultimately became Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide. The idea was, these were films you could potentially find on television or home video. And, yes, that includes the movies of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Well, some of them, anyway—the ones that might play on the Late Late Show or turn up at the local video store. The Maltin guide steers clear of pornography, both hardcore and softcore, so don't expect to find Eddie's X-rated movies here. The films he made with Steve Apostolof and Joe Robertson are likewise absent.

But several of Ed's better-known films made Leonard Maltin's cut, and I thought I'd present those reviews for your dining and dancing pleasure. I'd say that Maltin writes about Eddie and his movies with a surprising amount of knowledge and affection. I even learned a thing or two from scanning these reviews. Maybe you will, too.

Please note that Mr. Maltin rates each movie on a scale from BOMB to ****. He also uses the symbol to indicate that a movie is available on videocassette, for DVD, and for laserdisc.

Bride and the Beast, The (1958) 78m  BOMB  D: Adrian Weiss. Charlotte Austin, Lance Fuller, Johnny Roth, Steve Calvert.  A gorilla fancies the wife of an explorer. Screenplay by Edward D. Wood, Jr.; aka QUEEN OF THE GORILLAS ▼◗

Bride of the Monster (1955) 69m  BOMB  D: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Don Nagel, Bud Osborne. A dissipated Lugosi creates giant rubber octopus that terrorizes woodland stream. Huge Swedish wrestler Johnson provides added laughs as hulking manservant Lobo. Another hilariously inept grade Z movie from the king of bad cinema. Sequel: REVENGE OF THE DEAD aka NIGHT OF THE GHOULS. ▼⚫◗

Glen or Glenda (1953) 61m BOMB  D: Edward D. Wood, Jr.  Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller, Daniel Davis, Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell, "Tommy" Haynes, Charles Crafts, Conrad Brooks. Sensational but sincere "docu-fantasy" about transvestism could well be the worst movie ever made. Legendarily awful director Wood stars (under the name Daniel Davis) as Glen, who can't decide how to tell his fiancée he wants to wear her clothes. Dizzying hodgepodge of stock footage, demented dream sequences, and heartfelt plea for tolerance, linked by campy Lugosi narrating from haunted house. "Bevare!" Even more inept and hilarious than Wood's infamous PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Also released as I CHANGED MY SEX, I LED 2 LIVES, and HE OR SHE. Reissued at 67m ▼⚫◗

Jail Bait (1954) 70m *½ D: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Timothy Farrell, Lyle Talbot, Steve Reeves, Herbert Rawlinson, Dolores Fuller, Clancy Malone, Theodora Thurman, Mona McKinnon. Farrell leads young Malone into life of crime; when the law closes in, he forces Malone's plastic surgeon father to change his face. Misleadingly titled thriller is less inept than Wood's "classics" and thus less funny, but inspired teaming of Talbot and Reeves (in his first speaking part) as cops is good for a few giggles. ▼⚫◗

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) 79m  BOMB  D: Edward D. Wood, Jr.  Gregory Walcott, Tom Keane, Duke Moore, Mona McKinnon, Dudley Manlove, Joanna Lee, Tor Johnson, Lyle Talbot, Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell. Hailed as the worst movie ever made; certainly one of the funniest. Pompous aliens believe they can conquer Earth by resurrecting corpses from a San Fernando Valley cemetery. Lugosi died after two days' shooting in 1956; his remaining scenes were played by a taller, younger man holding a cape over his face! So mesmerizingly awful it actually improves (so to speak) with each viewing. And remember: it's all based on sworn testimony! Aka GRAVE ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE; followed by REVENGE OF THE DEAD. ▼⚫◗

Revenge of the Dead (1958) 69m BOMB D: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Duke Moore, Kenne Duncan, Paul Marco, Tor Johnson, John Carpenter, Valda Hansen, Jeannie Stevens, Criswell. Long-lost sequel to BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (and to a lesser extent, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) doesn't reach the same Heights of lunacy but is still dreadful enough to tickle any bad-movie fan. "Ghosts" have been sighted in East L.A., so cops Moore and Marco are once more shoved into action; the trail leads to phony mystic Dr. Acula (Duncan, who really looks like he's in a trance). The incomparable Criswell again narrates the proceedings, this time from a coffin. Set unreleased for 25 years because Wood couldn't pay the lab bill! Retitled NIGHT OF THE GHOULS ▼⚫◗

Sinister Urge, The (1960) 75m  BOMB  D: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Carl Anthony, Jean Fontaine, Dino Fantini, Jeanne Willardson. dedicated cops Duncan and Moore set out to smash the "smut picture racket" which is run by a brassy blonde who writes with a four-foot quill pen. One of Wood's least-known works. Demonstrates with complete conviction how photos of plump women in their underwear are the principal cause of juvenile delinquency. Aka THE YOUNG AND THE IMMORAL. ▼◗

Violent Years, The (1956) 57m BOMB D: William M .Morgan (Franz Eichhorn). Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Arthur Millan, Theresa Hancock, Joanne Cangi, Gloria Farr. Tawrdry, preachy juvenile delinquency trash about a rich teen girl ignored by her parents, who heads up a gang. Wooden acting all around. Scripted by Edward D. Wood, Jr.; aka FEMALE ▼◗

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Revenge is a Dish Best Served by Tom Hanks"

Henry Winkler and Tom Hanks on Happy Days.

It's always interesting to see Hollywood superstars in their early roles, the ones from before they were famous. Oftentimes, these roles are on sitcoms, which always have a variety of guest actors coming through each week and serve as proving grounds for showbiz wannabes. Happy Days was no exception. In Season 10 of the show in 1982, an ambitious young thespian named Tom Hanks guested as Dwayne Twitchell, a semi-deranged young man who has spent years planning his revenge against Fonzie (Henry Winkler).

Tom was not exactly a newbie when he did Happy Days. In fact, he'd already played a leading role on a sitcom of his own, Bosom Buddies. You might think that doing a guest shot on another sitcom might be a step down for an actor who'd already been top-billed, but Tom Hanks definitely didn't treat it that way. You can tell that he brought his A-game to Happy Days, and it paid off. Within two years, the actor was a leading man in motion pictures and stayed that way for decades.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we review Tom's episode, "A Little Case of Revenge." It's certainly one of the most memorable installments of Happy Days, but is it also one of the best? Tune in and find out.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Ed Wood Summit Podcast #30 by Greg Dziawer

You never know when Warren Beatty is going to swoop in.

When Ed Wood passed away on December 10, 1978, he couldn't have known that his largely-unseen 1959 film Revenge of the Dead, a loose sequel to Bride of the Monster (1955), would shortly thereafter see the light of day under the title Night of the Ghouls. A group of early Ed adopters were already then on the case, including James Brummel, who as a mere teen was in pursuit of the film. I had the pleasure of talking with James about this and related matters on the latest installment of The Ed Wood Summit Podcast.

The story of the film's journey back into the public eye doesn't end there. It was recently announced that a new print was discovered (shout-out to Will Sloan!) and will be released by Gold Ninja Video.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Fake Joanie Has Landed!"

Cathy Silvers and Crystal Bernard on Happy Days.

"I got up the other day," said comic Steven Wright, "and everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica."

Viewers might experience that same unsettling feeling of déjà vu while watching Season 10 of Happy Days. By that point in the sitcom's long history, several of its major characters had departed and been replaced by eerie doppelgangers. Let's see now. We had a fake Richie (Ted McGinley as Roger), a fake Chachi (Billy Warlock as Flip), and, starting with the episode "A Night at the Circus" in October 1982, a fake Joanie (Crystal Bernard as K.C. Cunningham). That last switcheroo was especially disorienting, since actress Crystal Bernard had already played another, quite similar character named Mikki just a few episodes previously. Maybe the show was giving her a trial run and she passed.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing "A Night at the Circus," the episode that introduces us to K.C. Cunningham, Howard's plucky niece. Does she live up to the high standards set by Erin Moran? Listen and find out! (Oh, and Fonzie gets into a fight with some clowns. It's a whole thing.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 146: Is there such a thing as TOO MUCH Ed Wood?

More cool Carmen Cerra artwork of Ed Wood.

Ladies and gentleman, I might need to take a month off from work just to catch up on all the Ed Wood-related chores I have to do. I am so far behind on my Ed Wood homework, it's ridiculous. The trouble is, my day  job actually pays me money and this blog doesn't, so the blog inevitably loses. And, believe me, I've tried to monetize my misadventures in Woodology numerous times, but it's never been a success.

Soon to be reviewed by me? Maybe.
It's not that I'm burned out on Eddie. Far from it. Just watch my recent appearance on The Ed Wood Summit Podcast for proof. I think that's the most enthused I've been about anything in a while. Luckily, that video was recorded the day after Presidents' Day, so I had plenty of time to prepare. It was great delving into one of Ed's most unhinged "nonfiction" texts, the infamous Black Myth (1971), with two other dedicated Woodoholics. 

But there's so much more I need to get to. For instance, Edwin Lee Canfield recently published Fact, Fictions, and the Forbidden Predictions of the Amazing Criswell, the first-ever biography of the famed futurist and Ed Wood repertory player. I've gotta review that, right? And speaking of books, after seeing Greg Dziawer and Rob Huffman interview author Jean Marie Stine, I had to snag a copy of Jean's book, Ed Wood: The Early Years (2001). So throw that one on the pile, too, along with a couple of Wood-based manuscripts I'm supposed to look at.

Oh, god, I just realized I've never written much about the two Ed Wood Scripts from the Crypt books by Gary D. Rhodes and Tom Weaver. I mean, I've mentioned them from time to time, but I've never actually reviewed either one, and those books are several years old by now. Shame on me.

And for some reason, I must've felt I didn't have enough Ed Wood-adjacent text to plow through, so I had my local library track down a copy of Joanna Lee's out-of-print autobiography, A Difficult Woman in Hollywood. It includes a few absolutely scathing pages about Ed Wood, so I felt it merited at least a response from me. I've started writing a review of that in my head, but I haven't actually typed anything. Sorry, Joanna, you'll have to wait. That article should be a doozy, though, if it ever happens.

I'm still sticking to my promise to deliver a new Ed Wood Wednesdays each week in 2023, either by me or by Greg. But the last few that I've written have been articles that required virtually zero research and could therefore be completed very quickly. Last week, for instance, I wrote about watching a livestream of Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff (aka The Mads) commenting on Night of the Ghouls (1959). I have an update about that, by the way. Trace and Frank's version of Ghouls is now available on its own or as a three-movie collection with Glen or Glenda (1953) and Bride of the Monster (1955). Check it out if you're so inclined.

For right now, I just need you to be patient with me as I figure out how to get to at least some of these projects. Who knows? I might just get lucky and be horribly injured on the job. Then, I could go on disability and spend my days writing articles for this blog. A man can dream, huh? In the meantime, enjoy this oddly satisfying video I found recently on YouTube.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Post Spinoff Depression"

Marion Ross and Tom Bosley on Happy Days.

Remember when Steve Carell left The Office and just about everyone said the show should've ended right there? But it continued for two more seasons without him, and I was weirdly glad that it did. Carell's character, blundering paper company manager Michael Scott, was obviously the heart of the show—the catalyst for most of the stories and the reason most people were tuning in. Doing The Office without him made as much sense as doing Gilligan's Island without Gilligan or Cheers without Sam Malone. 

Generally, when the main character departs a series, that series is over. But those last two Carell-less seasons of The Office gave viewers the rare opportunity to see what would happen to the other characters if Michael Scott were removed from the equation. I called it the "God is dead" era of the show. We're so used to TV shows and movies coming to tidy conclusions, but what if the cameras stayed on a little while longer? What else might we see?

You probably know where I'm going with this. The last two seasons of Happy Days bear some resemblance to the last two seasons of The Office. By 1982, several major characters had departed Happy Days, including the series' original lead, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard). In Richie's absence, crowd-pleasing Fonzie (Henry Winkler) had been promoted to top banana, but this necessitated making him a more mature, rounded character bearing little resemblance to the womanizing daredevil he'd once been. And what about Howard and Marion Cunningham (Tom Bosley and Marion Ross)? They'd been an essential element of the show since day one, but they were in danger of becoming obsolete by Season 10 after their children had grown up and moved out of the house.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing "Empty Nest," an episode in which Howard and Marion struggle to redefine themselves in the absence of their children. For some reason, it involves inflatable furniture. Join us for what should be a fun podcast!