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 By that point in the sitcom's long history, several of its major characters had departed and been replaced by eerie doppelgangers.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!

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 145: The Mads: Night of the Ghouls (2023)

Some really cool artwork by Carmen Cerra depicting Dr. Acula's gruesome death.

Well, that was fun. 

Back in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, I watched a livestream of MST3K veterans Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff—collectively known as The Mads—riffing Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda (1953). Frank was in his apartment, Trace was in his, and they commented on the film via Zoom. Frank and Trace have kept doing these livestreams for the last few years, and I've checked in occasionally. I'd watch more of them, but they're pay-per-view. I somehow missed or ignored their livestream of Bride of the Monster (1955) last September.

This week, however, they made me an offer I simply couldn't refuse. On Tuesday, March 14, they riffed Ed's sadly overlooked Night of the Ghouls (1959), the final entry in the so-called Kelton Trilogy. To my knowledge, Ghouls has never received this treatment before. The film was never used on MST3K itself, and it's been ignored by such MST3K derivatives as Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic. I've long felt that Ghouls would be perfect fodder for riffing, at least as good as Plan 9 or Bride. (Trace himself admitted that Plan 9 in particular has been riffed to death.)

The marvelous Marcelle Hemphill.
Last night's livestream proved that my suspicions were correct. Trace and Frank, both avowed fans of the film and of Ed Wood, were in fine form as they picked apart the many, many absurdities of Night of the Ghouls: its disjoined editing, its heavy reliance on voiceover narration, its stagy acting, its many narrative digressions, and its overabundance of scenes in which police cars race across the screen. The riffs were what you'd expect from two MST3K graduates, albeit with a bit more profanity. 

Frank is the more politically-oriented of the two Mads, so he made topical references to Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ron DeSantis, and defunding the police, but these were kept to a minimum. I appreciated the numerous deep cut references to the Marx Brothers and Frank Zappa. Every time the name "Lucille" was mentioned in the movie, for example, Trace sang a bit of "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up" from Zappa's Joe's Garage album. Meanwhile, Frank showed off his extensive knowledge of Woodology with shoutouts to Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992) and Take It Out in Trade (1970). 

One great thing about events like this is that they give me the opportunity to see new things in movies I've watched dozens of times already. I had somehow missed, for instance, that there is an obvious movie light in front of the sheriff's office at the beginning of the film. (Ed must've wanted to make sure the sign outside was visible at night.) For whatever reason, I found myself focusing on some of the magnificent 1950s automobiles in Night of the Ghouls, especially the gigantic 1958 Pontiac Bonneville driven by Duke Moore's character, Lt. Bradford.

I've already written a great deal about the movie's leading actors: Tor Johnson, Valda Hansen, Kenne Duncan, etc. And their performances in Ghouls are as mesmerizing as ever. During this viewing, however, my attention was diverted by some of the unsung supporting players. I was particularly taken with Marcelle Hemphill (1888-1981) as Mrs. Wingate Yates Foster, the gullible old lady being bilked out of her money by Duncan's scheming Dr. Acula. Marcelle seemed like the prototypical "wealthy dowager" type, yet this is somehow her only known screen credit. She may be a topic of further research.

Look, your enjoyment of a livestream like this really depends on your tolerance for MST3K and its lampooning of old B-movies. Personally, seeing Bride of the Monster on MST3K in the '90s deepened my appreciation of that movie and made my Ed Wood fandom even stronger. Since then, I've enjoyed seeing Ed's other films given similar treatment, including Rifftrax's version of Revenge of Dr. X (1970). But I can understand if you find all this stuff disrespectful or just distracting. If you like both MST3K and Ed Wood, I'm just making you aware of it. If you don't, forget I said anything.

You can find hours of material by Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu right here. As of this writing, their version of Night of the Ghouls has not yet been made available for download at their site, but I imagine it soon will be. In the meantime, you can snag their versions of Glenda and Bride.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "They're Baaaaaaack!"

Erin Moran and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Joanie Loves Chachi is remembered as one of the biggest bombs in TV history, but the infamous Happy Days spinoff had a surprisingly strong start in the prime time Nielsen ratings. ABC gave the new show a four-episode test run at the tail end of the 1981-82 season and promoted the hell out of it. With very little or no competition from the other networks, which had already switched to reruns for the summer, those first four episodes were big ratings winners. Technically, Joanie Loves Chachi was the fourth most popular show of the 1981-82 television season. Happy Days itself was only 18th.

However, the fledgling spinoff was truly put to the test when it came back for its second season in the fall of 1982. Paired with the rookie comedy Star of the Family on Thursday nights, JLC was no match for CBS' powerhouse Magnum P.I. (I mean, would you watch Scott Baio instead of Tom Selleck?) ABC did everything it could to save Joanie Loves Chachi, however. For one thing, they had Henry Winkler guest star on the September 30, 1982 episode, "Fonzie's Visit." Then, just twelve days later, Joanie and Chachi themselves made a crossover appearance on Happy Days in a surprisingly somber episode entitled "Letting Go."

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're talking all about "Letting Go" and our general feelings about Joanie, Chachi, and Joanie Loves Chachi. If that sounds like a good time, you know exactly what to do.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 144: Ed Wood's odd duck

Is there an odd duck in the Ed Wood filmography?

Every famous director, it seems, has that one movie in his filmography—the one that doesn't quite fit in with its siblings. Whatever the cause, be it thematic or stylistic or both, these movies stand apart from the ones that came before and the ones that came after. They're like little islands unto themselves. Think of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf (1968), John Waters' Desperate Living (1977), and Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).

I don't want to call these movies black sheep or redheaded stepchildren, because that would imply that they were unwanted or rejected by the public. That's not necessarily true, though these movies often receive less attention and less love than a director's more "typical" films. Let's instead call them odd ducks. I think it's healthy to have at least one of these per career. Maybe more than one. 

It's hard to tell which film might qualify as Robert Altman's odd duck. Popeye (1980) comes to mind. But let's not forget HealtH (1980), Quintet (1979), and O.C. and Stiggs (1985). Lotta odd ducks in Bob's filmography. By contrast, David Lynch is such a well-known eccentric and surrealist that his most conventional movie, The Straight Story (1999), is paradoxically his odd duck. As you can see already, odd duckishness is a difficult thing to define.

So what about Edward D. Wood, Jr.? Is there an odd duck in his career? If so, I'd say it's Jail Bait (1954). I can't tell you why exactly, but there's something about this movie that sets it apart from everything else he did as a director. Maybe it's the fact that it's Eddie's first attempt at film noir. (Does The Sinister Urge [1960] count as his second?) Maybe it's that nerve-jangling music on the soundtrack. Maybe it's the fact that Criswell, Paul Marco, Bela Lugosi, and Tor Johnson are all AWOL.

But I think what really sets Jail Bait apart is its lack of a moral center. It may be Ed's first movie without a true hero. Sure, there are a couple of cops on the case—Inspector Johns (Lyle Talbot) and Lieutenant Lawrence (Steve Reeves)—but they accomplish very little. The solution to the case is basically just handed to them at the end, give or take a poolside shootout. Besides, we spend more time with surly young Don Gregor (Clancy Malone), Jail Bait's sweaty, quavery-voiced antihero. The people in Don's life are of no help to him, either bullying him (the cops, Vic Brady) or nagging him (his father and sister).

In short, Don Gregor has no safe, comfortable place to go. There's nowhere he fits in. Consequently, we in the audience have no place where we feel comfortable during Jail Bait. There are no happy, well-adjusted people in this movie. That alone sets Jail Bait apart from Ed Wood's other 1950s movies. In Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), there are romantic couples we are meant to like and empathize with. Whatever else may happen, we know that these sets of characters love each other. Nothing like that in Jail Bait. A halfhearted romance between Dolores Fuller and Steve Reeves is barely hinted at and never materializes. What good would it have done anyway? This isn't that kind of movie.

So that's why I feel Jail Bait qualifies as the odd duck of Ed Wood's career. Perhaps that's why it remains the least shown and least known of his 1950s creations. What do you think?

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "They're Heeeeeeere!"

Henry Winkler, Heather O'Rourke, and Linda Purl on Happy Days.

Millions of people watched Happy Days during its original run on ABC from 1974 to 1984, but countless millions more around the world discovered the show through reruns. The nostalgic sitcom was a staple of syndication for decades and truly spanned the globe in terms of popularity. Imagine how baffled those viewers would have been when they arrived at Season 10 of Happy Days. Right away, during the opening credits, they were bombarded with a bevy of unfamiliar and semi-familiar characters. Where was the show they knew and liked? Who were all these new people?

What's necessary here is context. Happy Days was again in a state of flux in the fall of 1982. The show's focus had been shifting to Joanie (Erin Moran) and Chachi (Scott Baio) for some time, but those characters were now on a show of their own, the ill-fated Joanie Loves Chachi. In their absence, Happy Days decided to spotlight such late-arriving characters as Roger (Ted McGinley), Jenny (Cathy Silvers), and Flip (Billy Warlock). The producers also added some brand-new characters to round out the cast, like K.C. (Crystal Bernard), Heather (Heather O'Rourke), and Ashley (Linda Purl).

Despite her prominence in new title sequence, K.C. didn't show up until the fourth episode of the season. Ashley and Heather, however, were there from the season premiere. In fact, that episode, "A Woman Not Under the Influence," is built around them. The plot has Fonzie (Henry Winkler) falling madly in love with a classy blonde divorcee, Ashley, only to learn she has a young daughter, Heather. Complicating matters further, Ashley is reluctant to get into a relationship with Fonzie because he reminds her of her ex-husband. 

Does "A Woman Not Under the Influence" mark a bold new beginning for Happy Days or just the beginning of the end? Find out on the latest episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part 10 by Greg Dziawer with Rob Huffman

Ed Wood in 1954.

The fun never ends. My good pal, Robert G. Huffman, recently sent me some old newspaper clippings that I had never seen before. Regarding Ed Wood, of course!

As a teaser for what's to come, let's briefly consider this one from the September 11, 1954 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier:

Note the poster for Jail Bait (1954) in the background.

While Devila remains a figure needing further research, the story of LaTanya is well-told here.

It's curious, isn't it? She thought she designed gowns for "two dozen" films, by Ed's own production company?!?

This is a mere glimpse into just one of many snapshots in time we'll soon be delving into here at Ed Wood Wednesdays and at The Ed Wood Summit Podcast.