Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like the Fonz)"

Michael Leon and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

Viewers may not realize that TV networks occasionally air episodes of their favorite shows out of order. Producers, even very successful ones like Garry Marshall, have little to no control over this. If a network executive wants to switch the order around, maybe because he thinks a certain episode will perform better during a particular week, he'll do it. Continuity be damned.

For the most part, this isn't a problem for a series like Happy Days, where the episodes are generally self-contained and serialization is minimal. But things got out of hand during the show's final season in 1983-84. One of the major arcs of the season involved Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Roger (Ted McGinley) working at Patton, a tough vocational school populated by stereotypical hoodlums and thugs. Thanks to ABC's odd scheduling decisions, there were several brief mentions of Patton on Happy Days before any of the episodes about the school had even aired! And then, in "You Get What You Pay For," Joanie casually mentions teaching at Patton, even though she didn't start until "Kiss Me, Teach" a week later.

All this shuffling around by ABC led to two "very special episodes" about Patton being aired back-to-back: the aforementioned "Kiss Me, Teach," in which Joanie is almost sexually assaulted, and "The People vs. The Fonz," in which Fonzie is (falsely) accused of hitting a student (guest star Michael Leon). And the latter is exactly the episode we're covering this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. You can find out what we thought by listening to the podcast below:

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 168: Tales from the Huffman Files

Five points if you know which TV show I'm referencing. (HINT: It ain't Tales from the Crypt.)

Remember trick-or-treating when you were a kid? You'd try to keep track of what candy you were collecting along the way, but you'd never get an accurate inventory until you got home and dumped out that pillow case or plastic pumpkin head and sorted through your treasure. There'd always be some weird candy in there that you'd never heard of, stuff you'd never see any other time of the year. Mexican Hats? Bottle Caps? Mary Janes? Tootsie Rolls in flavors other than chocolate? All this stuff seemed exotic to me back then.

Well, I had a similar feeling this week when faithful reader Rob Huffman, host of Sin & Sci-Fi in the '60s, sent me some vintage Ed Wood-related newspaper clippings. These are the Mary Janes and Mexican Hats of Woodology, the obscure stuff that you wouldn't even think to look for because you never knew it existed in the first place. How Rob keeps finding this material I don't know. Let's sort through it together, huh?

The first item comes to us from The Los Angeles Evening Citizen News, March 12, 1952, and concerns actor Kenne Duncan of Night of the Ghouls (1959) and The Sinister Urge (1960) fame. While touring Japan in 1951, Kenne lost a .22 pistol that was later recovered in an irrigation ditch.

(left) An article about Kenne Duncan; (right) A Japanese poster for Kenne Duncan.

When he sent this to me, Rob joked that Kenne probably shot someone and ditched the murder weapon, but the cops covered it up because he was a celebrity. ("I'm kidding," he clarified.) Ed Wood fans will be familiar with Kenne Duncan's Japanese tours, which were documented in the short film Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan (1960) and Ed's posthumously-published book Hollywood Rat Race (1998). You can read my thoughts on both of those things right here. I guess the snarling Western actor, memorably nicknamed "Horsecock," had a major following in Japan. That puts him in the same category as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cheap Trick, and Little Jimmy Osmond.

Rob also sent me some tantalizing excerpts from Criswell's long-running syndicated newspaper column. Here's an item from 1972 about Ed Wood's long-gestating I Woke Up Early the Day I Died project, which was not actually produced until 1997. This was published in The Bridgeport Post on March 26, 1972.

Criswell (right) talks about The Day I Died.

Cris and Ed Wood were close friends as well as professional collaborators, so the celebrated seer would have known all about this unproduced screenplay that Ed had been working on (under various titles) since the 1950s. As of 1972, the script was simply called The Day I Died. The morbid plot description that Cris gives us makes the film sound a lot like Eddie's short story "Into My Grave," which was published in 1971. Notice that this column makes no mention of the main character's murderous crime spree. The other truly noteworthy detail is the mention of "Wes Kale, a dramatic new discovery." I cannot find any documentation of Mr. Kale, who sounds like a SpongeBob character. When the script was finally made, Billy Zane played the lead.

The next item on the agenda comes from Criswell's column of December 21, 1975. It, too, was published in The Bridgeport Post and concerns an aborted Ed Wood project called Erotica 76 that was totally unknown to me. Cris says Eddie was planning to direct it.

Was Ed Wood (right) hoping to direct Erotica 76?

Each new detail of this article is more baffling than the one that preceded it. Erotica 76? Jeopardy? Dennis Owens? What are you talking about, Criswell? You reference all of these things as if we know exactly what they are.

Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) makes no mention of Erotica 76 or Dennis Owens. I cannot even find a director, producer, screenwriter, or actor of any note called Dennis Owens. (The closest is an East Coast news anchor with that name.) Orgy of the Dead (1965) is a title we're all familiar with, but what is Jeopardy? Could Criswell be referencing the 1953 crime drama, directed by John Sturges? I doubt he's talking about the extremely long-lived game show of that name. That wouldn't make sense in this context.

Furthermore, how will a film that sounds like blatant, low-budget pornography "revive the old days of Hollywood" or "set the new trend of entertainment for the entire family"? I guess all of these questions (and more) will forever remain unanswered. But before we leave this news clipping, let's take a moment to appreciate Criswell's philosophizing about "the waves of time." Eddie makes this kind of dreamy, vague observation a lot in his writing; he and Cris truly thought alike.

The third and final Criswell article for today comes from the April 23, 1958 edition of The Escondido Times-Advocate and concerns the merchandising of the actors in Ed Wood's repertory company.

A Criswell column from 1958. Inset: An early 1980s ad for Don Post studios.

As mentioned earlier, Criswell and Ed Wood were good friends, and I think the former mentioned the latter in his column occasionally just to get Eddie's name in print. In those pre-internet days, a struggling writer-director in Hollywood needed as much media attention as he could possibly get. I don't know if Criswell's columns opened any doors for Eddie, but they couldn't have hurt. Ink is ink.

Here, the great prognosticator declares that Eddie will not only revive classic Hollywood horror movies but will utilize "the best combined movie and TV technics plus a new type of horror makeup." Perhaps  Cris was already describing Night of the Ghouls, in which Tor Johnson's badly-scarred Lobo wears the most elaborate makeup ever seen in a Wood-directed movie. In the 1960s, Tor's familiar face became the basis for a popular Halloween mask from Don Post Studios. That company no longer exists, but several versions of the Tor mask are still on the market today.

What's interesting is that Criswell predicted a whole line of masks based on the cast of Night of the Ghouls, but he doesn't include the three most obvious candidates for this treatment: himself, Tor Johnson, and Kenne Duncan. Instead, he suggests masks based on James "Duke" Moore, Paul Marco, Harvey B. Dunn, Mona McKinnon (who appears in Ghouls via repurposed footage), Valda Hansen, and even the obscure Jean Stevens (identified here as "Jennie"). Again, I think this was Cris' sneaky way of getting his costars' names in print.

Rob Huffman sent me further Ed Wood clippings, but I think we will save those for a future installment of this series. After all, you don't eat all your Halloween candy on one night, do you?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Frankie and Joanie (SPOOKTACULAR EDITION)"

Erin Moran and Eddie Hartes on Happy Days.

Sometimes, I just can't help myself. When I realized that the 237th episode of our podcast, These Days Are Ours, was coming out a week before Halloween, I decided to turn it into our token "spooky" show, complete with references to The Shining (1980). After all, the number 237 plays a major role in that film. So you'll hear some creepy music and sound effects as we do an otherwise-normal episode of the show.

The timing on this is a little weird. Well, a lot weird. The episode we're reviewing this week is called "Kiss Me, Teach" and it's about Joanie (Erin Moran) becoming a student teacher at tough, graffiti-plagued Patton Vocational School. Patton essentially replaces Jefferson High in the final season of Happy Days. Both Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Roger (Ted McGinley) work there. Marion (Marion Ross) and Howard (Tom Bosley) are understandably worried about Joanie working at Patton, and their fears are justified when a creepy student named Frankie (Eddie Hartes) becomes obsessed with her and even tries to sexually assault her.

So, yeah, this is one of Happy Days' infamous "very special episodes." And I turned it into a Halloween spooktacular. What is wrong with me? You can find out by clicking the play button below.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 167: John "Bunny" Breckinridge and the sex change that wasn't

Was Bunny Breckinridge really going to change his sex?

"Goodbye, penis!"
Bill Murray (left) says his famous line.

That's a line of dialogue viewers of Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994) will likely remember. It's uttered loudly and publicly by Bill Murray as John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge (1903-1996), the foppish millionaire who was an unlikely member of Ed Wood's coterie and even played a prominent role in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Why Murray chose to say those words in the exact cadence of Bea Arthur, I do not know. (But I'm glad he did.)

Some context may be needed for those who haven't seen the Burton film in a while. After the commercial failure of his directorial debut, Glen or Glenda (1953), Ed (Johnny Depp) is feeling down and decides to attend a wrestling match with his girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Bunny.  Although Ed is initially unwilling to engage in conversation, Bunny excitedly tells Ed that Glenda has inspired him to get a sex change in Mexico. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. But it wasn't until I saw your movie that I realized I have to take action!" Ed is intrigued; Dolores is mortified.

Later in the film, however, Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele) approaches Bunny during the wrap party for Bride of the Monster (1955) and asks him about the sex change. But a depressed Bunny tells him the sad story of what happened on the trip: "Mexico was a nightmare. We got into a car accident; he was killed. Our luggage was stolen. The surgeon turned out to be a quack." At the end of the film, a caption informs us: "Bunny Breckinridge, despite much talk, never actually had his sex change. He is currently living in New Jersey." Which he was, although at 91 he was too ill to do any publicity for Ed Wood.

The indomitable Chuck Harter recently sent me a cache of vintage news articles about this very subject, all from early May 1954, i.e. after Glenda but before Plan 9. You might remember Chuck as the reader who sent me the articles about Bunny's legal troubles a few weeks ago. And, once again, we'll go through these items one by one.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Splash!" or "Mr. Cunningham Builds His Dream John"

Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, and Marion Ross on Happy Days.

Plumbing is funny. It just is. Especially when it breaks. The bathroom is already the least-dignified part of any home -- think of all the embarrassing things you do in there -- and when those toilets overflow or those pipes burst and water starts going everywhere, the hilarity increases exponentially. Comedians have known this for generations. That's why the Three Stooges did plumbing shorts with both Curly and Shemp.

It took television a while to be cool with plumbing-based humor. It was a big deal when a toilet was shown on Leave it to Beaver in the 1950s, even though it wasn't being used for its normal function. (I believe Wally and the Beav were keeping a turtle in a toilet tank.) In the 1970s, the Brady Bunch house had a single bathroom for six kids but no (visible) toilet. When she was a panelist on Match Game, Suzanne Somers claimed that she couldn't even say the word "toilet" on Three's Company. At the other end of the spectrum, All in the Family got a big laugh by letting the audience hear Archie Bunker flushing the upstairs john.

Like the Brady manse, the Cunningham house on Happy Days only had one bathroom, but it was the site of some memorable moments. I remember some heart-to-heart talks between Richie (Ron Howard) and Howard (Tom Bosley) taking place there, for instance. The bathroom is also a major location in the episode "The Cunningham Caper." But Happy Days didn't really engage in any full-on, Three Stooges-style "exploding plumbing" humor until the Season 11 episode "You Get What You Pay For" in which Howard finally decides to install a second bathroom in his 4,000-square-foot home.

And what a coincidence! That's the very episode we're covering this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Other Ed Wood, Jrs. (Guest Author: James Pontolillo)

Pictured here are Ed Wood, Ed Wood, Ed Wood, Ed Wood, Ed Wood, and Ed Wood. (Not pictured: Ed Wood.)

When searching for traces of our Eddie in archival records, the Wood-fan can be misled by published notices concerning more than a dozen other contemporaneous "Ed Wood, Jrs." that were roaming the American landscape. Three of these red herrings even had the unparalleled effrontery to be known as Edward D. Wood, Jr.! For the aid of fellow Wood researchers, I provide this abridged guide to the other juniors.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "Am I My Brother's Brother?"

Henry Winkler and Michael Holden on Happy Days.

As late as Season 11, the writers of Happy Days were not afraid to make major changes to the canon. I think TV shows were more casual about continuity in the 1980s than they are today. The December 1983 episode "Arthur, Arthur" makes two bold additions to the legend of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler). First, he has a long-lost brother named Artie (guest star Michael Holden). Second, their deadbeat father Vito is dead, having drowned while at sea. All this in one episode!

"Arthur, Arthur" is a follow-up to a Season 6 episode called "Christmas Time" in which Vito himself (played by '50s rocker Eddie Fontaine) appears unexpectedly at Fonzie's doorstep but never actually identifies himself. Throughout the entire series, Fonzie deals with severe abandonment issues stemming from the fact that Vito ran out on him when Fonzie was still a toddler. With the specter of death looming over Happy Days in 1983, it was necessary to give our favorite mechanic some sense of closure. Even if it means just learning Vito is dead.

This is a milestone episode, and we have a lot to say about it in the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 166: The legal problems of John "Bunny" Breckinridge

Ed Wood fans know John "Bunny" Breckinridge from Plan 9.

John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge (1903-1996) only ever appeared in one movie, but sometimes, one is all it takes. As the haughty, aloof alien ruler in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), Breckinridge is simply unforgettable, almost too good to be true. He is not just a flamboyantly gay man, but like the kind of over-the-top caricature of a gay man that you might see in a comedy sketch. And at the same time, his careful diction and quasi-regal manner suggest that he is a gentleman of considerable wealth and breeding. He gives off unmistakable "old money" vibes. 

For decades, viewers have watched Plan 9 and wondered how Bunny Breckinridge could possibly be real and how he could have ever wound up in such a low-budget science-fiction film. And while he's only a fleeting presence in Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), he's a major character in the movie that resulted from it: Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), where he was portrayed by Saturday Night Live's Bill Murray. (My favorite Bunny line from that film: "Nix on the nelly without losing the naivete.")

I've long planned to explore the fascinating, complicated life of Mr. Breckinridge, but I've just never had enough time. It's a little intimidating to know that author Rod Woodard (some handle, huh?) has released a two-volume biography of the man. But recently, reader Chuck Harter sent me a passel of vintage newspaper clippings about Bunny that detail the actor's various legal problems. Let's go through some of them together and see what we can glean about this John Cabell Breckinridge.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Coach and the Roach"

Ted McGinley and Ken Osmond on Happy Days.

During its final season, Happy Days was getting trounced in the ratings just about every week.  The main problem was that the veteran sitcom was scheduled opposite NBC's The A-Team, which was siphoning off millions of young viewers. Making matters worse, though, was the fact that Happy Days followed the phenomenally unpopular Just Our Luck, a gimmicky sitcom about a wisecracking genie named Shabu (T.K. Carter) and his uninspiring master Keith (Richard Gilliland). To put it mildly, America was not interested in watching this embarrassing show. It was ratings Kryptonite.
These must have been gloomy times at ABC. Their once-proud Tuesday night lineup was falling apart quickly. Things got so bad that, by December 1983, the 8:00 Just Our Luck/Happy Days hour was getting beaten not only by The A-Team but even by CBS' now-forgotten legal drama The Mississippi. Yes, there was a time when Ralph Waite of The Waltons as a lawyer turned riverboat captain was a bigger draw than Fonzie (Henry Winkler). It was clear that Happy Days had overstayed its welcome.

Despite all that, the show's final, little-watched season has its share of hidden gems. In fact, overall, it's a marked improvement over the rather snoozy, underwhelming Season 10. I think the cast and crew knew Happy Days was on its last legs and decided to put a little extra effort into this final batch of stories. A good example of this is "Vocational Education," in which preppie dork Roger (Ted McGinley) becomes the principal of the rough-and-tumble George S. Patton Vocational School. This one is especially fun because of its guest stars, including Leave it to Beaver's Ken Osmond as a sleazy shop teacher and Back to the Future (1985) star Crispin Glover as a juvenile delinquent named Roach.

We have a lot to say about "Vocational Education," and you can hear all of it in the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.