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.