Saturday, December 23, 2023

And that'll do it for 2023! See you in 2024! (BONUS: Some comics!)

I'll be joining Larry Burns for some brewskis.

After a pretty busy 2023, this blog is going on a brief hiatus for a couple of weeks. I trust you can live without my super-niche Happy Days and Ed Wood content for the time being. Rest assured, These Days Are Ours and Ed Wood Wednesdays will both return in January. 

Boy, isn't it strange how this blog used to be about all kinds of stuff but is now just about those two topics? Hmmm. For instance, I used to do a lot of comics parodies on this blog, little sendups of comic strips and (less often) comic books. I haven't posted any of that stuff to this blog in three years. I haven't stopped making that kind of content, though. I just tend to post it to my Twitter account and leave it there. But Twitter (or, uh, X) seems to be in its death throes. I guess we'll see.

In the meantime, here are some of my extremely crude, silly comics from the last couple of years that haven't yet been posted to this blog. All created in Microsoft Paint. Enjoy or don't. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 174: The Oralists (1969) [PART 2 OF 2]

Could this be Ed Wood's most disturbing work?

How far are you willing to go in your pursuit of Edward D. Wood, Jr.? I've asked this question several times before, and I'll ask it yet again this week. At what point do you say, "No, Ed, I will not follow you down this path"? People have limits, standards, lines they won't cross. I appreciate that.

The Ed Wood you signed on for.
Most Ed Wood fans, including me, got to know him through his endearingly wonky 1950s movies, like Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). This is the Ed Wood we signed on for: Bela, Tor, Cris, Vampira, plywood cemeteries, angora sweaters, toy UFOs, etc. When you start exploring the rest of Ed's career, especially his adult-oriented films and books from the 1960s and '70s, you do so at your own risk. Much of this stuff ain't pretty.

Over two decades ago, for instance, I remember being appalled by Ed Wood's softcore feature Love Feast (1969) when it was released under the title Pretty Models All in a Row by Rhino Video. I was too embarrassed to return it to the store or resell it at a secondhand shop, so I believe my copy went right into the garbage. I later had to repurchase that DVD for this project, probably at a higher price than I'd paid for it originally. Today, Love Feast seems relatively tame to me, even though it features a bloated, drunken Ed Wood on all fours being led around on a leash like a dog.

But The Oralists is something else, maybe the ultimate test of any Ed Wood fan. On the surface, it seems relatively harmless—a book-length treatise on oral sex, attributed to the fictional husband and wife duo of Roger West and Jean Spenser. What could go wrong? If you've read the first half of my review, you know the answer is: plenty. Although ostensibly marketed as an erotic book and presumably aimed at horny straight men, The Oralists veers into some decidedly anti-erotic, off-putting material. And we'll encounter the worst of that when we delve into the book's final four chapters.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 173: The weird, wild works of Spenser & West

Ed Wood wrote several books (for different publishers!) under the name "Spenser & West" in the late 1960s.

NOTE: I promised last week that I would complete my review of The Oralists (1969) today, but I unexpectedly received bonus information about some other, related Ed Wood books and decided that they deserved an article of their own. The second half of my Oralists review will appear on this blog next week instead. - J.B.

Last Wednesday, I published the first half of my review of The Oralists (1969), Ed Wood's truly depraved guide to oral sex and those who love it. Eddie wrote this book—and possibly a few others—under the pen name Spenser & West. Jean Spenser and Roger West are supposedly a married couple of sex researchers who write books together. It's all bunk, of course, but it theoretically makes the books seem somewhat more credible. (This isn't just smut. It's science.)

I'd always assumed these fictional sexologists, Jean and Roger, were inspired by William H. Masters (1915-2001) and Virginia E. Johnson (1925-2013), two famous real-life sex researchers who actually were married to each other for over 20 years. While M&J's pioneering book Human Sexual Response (1966) was already out on the market and very well-known to the public, including Ed Wood, William and Virginia didn't actually tie the knot until 1971. They divorced in 1993.

In The Oralists, Eddie refers to a previous Spenser & West book called Sexual Fantasia. I was initially unable to find any information about this book whatsoever and assumed Ed Wood just made it up to bolster the fictional resume of Spenser & West, but reader James Pontolillo corrected me on this issue. Like The Oralists, Sexual Fantasia was published by Tiger in 1969. James kindly provided pictures of the front and back covers.

The front and back covers of Sexual Fantasia.

According to James, Sexual Fantasia is quite rare. In fact, his copy might be one of the few left in the world. Naturally, since this book is a companion volume to The Oralists, I wanted to know if Ed Wood had also written it. Here's how James answered:
I've read through it once very breezily and I will say a provisional "Yes". But I really need to take it back out and go through it much more carefully before rendering a final verdict. It definitely has that "Late Wood" porn novel characteristic mixture of corny writing ("my forest is on fire, baby.... get that big hose out and go to work already") with disturbing content (example: very young-age pedophilia). I need to come up with a reasonable solution to scan the rare paperbacks I have in order to get them circulating to interested parties. Perhaps I'll drop some serious $$$ on this in a few years when I retire and will have the time to scan books.
That certainly sounds promising! 

James also helpfully sent me a copy of the table of contents page from Sexual Fantasia as well as the front cover of yet another Spenser & West book, The Prostitutes (1968). The page from Sexual Fantasia is especially interesting because it contains summaries of the book's seven chapters. It's obvious from the summary of Chapter Two that Sexual Fantasia revisits some of the same disturbing themes from The Oralists. The book doesn't appear to be limited to the topic of oral sex, however.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "That Boy Could Dance"

Eve Smith and Scott Baio on Happy Days.

I can't dance. I just can't. And it's not for lack of trying, mind you. I've made plenty of attempts at it, both public and private, but my arms and legs just will not do what I want them to. The utter lack of physical coordination that has kept me from playing sports has also, tragically, prevented me from dancing. Anything more complicated than "The Hokey Pokey," and I'm useless.

Why does this matter to me? Well, when you think about it, dancing is an integral part of music -- from classical to pop. A great deal of music is made either to accompany dancing or to exhort listeners to dance. Though wildly different in style, "The Blue Danube" and "Twist and Shout" are both examples of dance music. The fact that I can't dance means that I cannot consume this music in the way that it was intended to be consumed. When you hear "The Madison Time" by The Ray Bryant Trio, for instance, you're not supposed to listen to it passively; you're supposed to get out on the floor and do the Madison. But I can't, darn it.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing "Low Notes," an episode that puts the spotlight on Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio) as he reluctantly takes a job as a dance instructor for senior citizens. Now, we've said plenty of unkind things about Chachi over the years, but this episode proves that he can boogie with the best of them. Cha cha, jitterbug, tango -- he can do it all. I have to admit, I'm a little jealous.

But does that mean "Low Notes" is an episode worth watching? You know how to find out! (Hint: It involves clicking the play button below.)

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 172: The Oralists (1969) [PART 1 OF 2]

It's time to talk about one of Ed Wood's most shocking books.

One of the pivotal literary discoveries of my youth—apart from finding a well-worn paperback copy of Dan Jenkins' Semi-Tough (1972) in the basement—was stumbling across Nancy Friday's Forbidden Flowers: More Women's Sexual Fantasies (1975) at the local library. I'm not sure how I found this book. I was unfamiliar with Ms. Friday and wouldn't have known to seek out her work. But I saw something titled Forbidden Flowers on the shelf, and it called out to me. Little did I know I was about to have my adolescent mind blown.

This book shocked me.
Nancy Friday (1933-2017) was not a scientist or an academic. She was, rather, a sex-positive feminist who interviewed women about their erotic fantasies and turned her findings into the best-selling book My Secret Garden (1973). The book that I found, Forbidden Flowers, was the sequel. It was, by a wide margin, the most explicit volume I'd ever seen. It left even Semi-Tough in the dust. Here were women sharing their innermost thoughts about taboo topics in terms more graphic than I thought were legally allowable in print. And some of the stories in the book were from women who'd read My Secret Garden and were relieved that they weren't the only ones in the world with certain fantasies.

I thought about Nancy Friday occasionally while making my way through one of Ed Wood's least-known yet most disturbing books: The Oralists, published in 1969 by Tiger as part of its "Case History Series" and credited to the fictional Jean Spenser and Roger West. The publisher's conceit is that Jean and Roger are two sex researchers who are married to each other and write books together; this is their scientific study of oral sex and those who enjoy it. Ed's equally salacious Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History (1967) from Pad Library is also attributed to the nonexistent Spenser and West. In The Oralists, Ed alludes to the existence of another S&W book called Sexual Fantasia. According to reader Guy Devrell, this extremely rare title was also published by Tiger as part of its "Case Histories Series." (Fantasia was  assigned the catalog number PP161, and The Oralists was PP190.)

While the veracity of Nancy Friday's books was sometimes questioned, the author vigorously denied making up the fantasies herself. I believe her; the women's stories strike me as genuine. On the other hand, Ed Wood's The Oralists is pure literary invention. As with much of Eddie's so-called nonfiction, there's not an ounce of genuine research in it. The supposed interviews and testimonials within it are all just Ed talking to himself. Whether they represent the author's own fetishes and kinks, I don't know. I sincerely hope not. I suppose that the publisher credited the book to Spenser & West and presented it as a clinical study of sex in order to give it a sheen of respectability it would otherwise not have.

I've long delayed writing about The Oralists for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this book will not appeal to most Ed Wood fans. If you've come here for mad scientists, plywood gravestones, and flying saucers dangling from strings, you will not find them in this book. This is "down and dirty" Ed, wallowing in extreme topics and incredibly graphic language. In particular, Chapter Two and Chapter Seven will be more than most readers will be able to take. Another problem in reviewing The Oralists is that each chapter is devoted to a different, self-contained story, so it's really more like a short story anthology than a novel. A lot happens in this book, in other words.

There's no way around the first problem, i.e. the subject matter and tone of this book. This is Ed Wood at his grungiest and least ingratiating, and we just have to accept that. As for the second problem, the overabundance of material to talk about, I've decided to divide this review into two parts: four case studies now, four more next week. That way, I can discuss all the major characters in The Oralists without shortchanging any of them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Baddest Mother of Them All"

Marion Ross and Billie Bird on Happy Days.

There are some TV characters we just never get to see. Maris on Frasier. Charlie on Charlie's Angels. Orson on Mork & Mindy. Vera on Cheers. We hear a lot about them. In the case of both Charlie and Orson, we even hear them. But their faces are never seen. And that's part of the fun. We imagine what they must look like. We each create our own version of the character. So there's not just one Maris Crane; there are thousands, maybe millions.

Happy Days had a strange, recurring habit of establishing such mysterious offscreen characters, then relenting and actually showing them to us. We eventually got to meet Rosa Coletti, Binky Hodges, Arnold Takahashi, Jenny Piccalo, and more.

But viewers probably thought we'd never get to meet Mother Kelp, the notorious mother of Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross). The eternally-offscreen Mother Kelp was one of Happy Days' longest running jokes, frequently mentioned by the characters but never even glimpsed by the audience. We heard about her bad temper, her drinking, her wacky shenanigans, and her undying hatred of her son-in-law, Howard (Tom Bosley). She was the ultimate compendium of all "mother-in-law" jokes.

Finally, in one of the very last episodes of Happy Days to reach the airwaves ("So How Was Your Weekend?"), Mother Kelp appeared onscreen, played by the inimitable Billie Bird. Does Billie live up to eleven seasons' worth of hype? Find out this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.