Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 196: The Ed Wood Experience Project (a modest proposal)

Some Ed Wood math. Are my calculations correct?

"Come out and play!"
A few years ago, I was watching Walter Hill's cult classic The Warriors (1979) when a strange thought occurred to me. As much as I enjoy this highly stylized film about urban decay and gang violence, with its memorable catchphrases ("Can you dig it?") and its outlandishly-costumed hoodlums, I was not watching it in the way it was intended. This film should not be enjoyed from the comfort of a couch in a nice, cozy living room. For maximum impact, you should see it in a sleazy New York grindhouse where you'd think twice about even going into the bathroom for fear of being mugged or worse. Ideally, this theater should also be one where you'd have to take the subway to get home, and your paranoia about that upcoming journey would be on your mind as you watched the film.

I've had similar thoughts while writing these articles about Edward D. Wood, Jr. Sure, I can watch Eddie's movies and read his many books and articles, and I can theorize about what was happening in Ed's life at the time he created them—for instance, how drunk or sober he was. But what do I really know about this man? After all, I was just three years old when he died. I don't drink. I've never been a Marine, a husband, an actor, a novelist, a pornographer, or a film director. 

What's more, I've lived my entire life in the Midwest: first Michigan, then Illinois. I've been to New York City a couple of times but never Eddie's hometown of Poughkeepsie. As for the city where Ed lived and worked for the last three decades of his life, I haven't visited Los Angeles since I went there with my parents on a family vacation many decades ago, and I saw the city mainly from the vantage point of an air-conditioned tour bus. (I did get to meet Cesar Romero, though. On Rodeo Drive, no less!) Cross-dressing has never appealed to me, not even for Halloween. All of my teeth are real, except for one in the front.

If I squint, I can just barely make out a few points of similarity between myself and Ed Wood. We're both Caucasian males born in America during the 20th century. I have written professionally and have dealt with editors, deadlines, and meager paychecks. I share Eddie's interest in classic Hollywood films, especially those of the Universal horror variety. Technically, by the standards of my county, I am living just below the poverty line. But I am frugal with what little money I have, so I've never experienced the bleak, paycheck-to-paycheck desperation that was Eddie's constant reality. Plus, Ed Wood had two expensive, bank-account-draining habits—alcoholism and filmmaking—that aren't a part of my life at all. So my existence is vastly different from Ed's. How could I understand this man without ever wearing an angora sweater or drinking rotgut whiskey?

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays: John "Bunny" Breckinridge and his Criminal Associates (Guest Author: James Pontolillo)

This week, James delves deep into the criminal connections of Bunny Breckinridge.

John Cabell "Bunny" Breckinridge (1903-1996) lived the kind of florid, capricious life that is generally only possible through the medium of significant wealth [1]. Bunny was a charming, genteel, and eccentric individual with a dramatic flair for retelling the events of his life… real or imagined. He loved to inform listeners that First Lady Barbara Bush once told him that she could not introduce him to any of her handsome sons because they would surely fall hopelessly in love with him. As Joe Blevins (2023) observed, Bunny was "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."

Actor Bill Murray's hilariously coarse interpretation of Bunny in Ed Wood (1994), regardless of its inaccuracy, has become a touchstone for many where the socialite is concerned [2]. The movie's truncated timeline (ending with the March 15, 1957 preview of Plan 9) allowed director Tim Burton to avoid darker aspects of both Bunny's and Ed Wood, Jr's lives. In 1959, Bunny was at the center of a child molestation case that resulted in him being sent to Atascadero State Hospital [3], one of California's secure psychiatric hospitals for offenders with mental disorders. Overlooked all these years is the window that the case opened onto Bunny's connection with the criminal underbelly of 1950s California. The indiscriminate associations that he pursued as part of his itinerant lifestyle were not without consequence.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "Amazon Women on the Earth"

Cupcake (Didi Conn) and Fonzie (Henry Winkler) confer with an Amazonian queen (June Foray).

This week on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and his time-traveling pals find themselves stranded in the sweltering Amazon jungle, thousands of miles from their hometown of Milwaukee. And that's not the worst of it! They're captured by a tribe of fierce warrior women (whose leader is voiced by Rocky & Bullwinkle star June Foray) and threatened by a couple of treasure-seeking smugglers (one of whom is voiced by ventriloquist Paul Winchell). 

And our heroes have to deal with other typical jungle problems, too, including carnivorous plants, quicksand, and rickety rope bridges.  If all this sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, remember that this episode, "It's a Jungle Out There," premiered in January 1981, six months before the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). So Hanna-Barbera beat George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to the punch.

This is certainly an action-packed story. In fact, there's so much going on in this episode that I was overwhelmed the first time I screened it. It just seemed like 25 minutes of random chaos and noise to me. But I screened it a second time and was able to glean some kind of story here. Were my efforts worth it? Find out by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 195: Eddie and the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide (1996)

Ed Wood was one of the filmmakers lampooned in The MST3K Colossal Episode Guide.

God, I loved mall bookstores. 

My idea of a perfect Sunday.
Look, I know there are still malls, and many of those malls still have bookstores. But I think it's safe to say that the heyday of the mall bookstore is long over, one of many casualties of the internet. There was a time (think: 1990s and early 2000s) when my idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon involved whiling away a few carefree hours at B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks, mostly browsing but purchasing occasionally, too. I'd always make a beeline for one of two departments, Humor and Entertainment, before wandering over to the magazine rack to see if Cinefantastique or Fangoria had something of interest for me.

In retrospect, mall bookstores played a fairly significant role in my life. Some of the last real quality time I had with my father was spent at a large shopping center in northeastern Indiana. While visiting my sister, who lives with her family in a small town near Fort Wayne, my dad and I would always find a few hours to sneak off to the local mall and see what it had to offer. Our first stop would always be Barnes & Noble, which sold a wide variety of books and magazines, plus music, movies, and various tchotchkes. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I came to love the smell of the coffee brewing at the in-store café. And I loved the light classical music playing on the overhead speakers, too. To this day, hearing Beethoven's "Rondo a Capriccio" transports me back to those very pleasant times.

I'm convinced there are a great many books that owe their entire existence to mall bookstores, particularly those books with humorous gimmicks or pop culture connections as their main selling points. A perfect example is The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide (1996) from Bantam Books. It was typical of the TV-based books of the era: detailed descriptions of the MST3K episodes that had aired up to that time, augmented by reminiscences of the actors, writers, and crew members who worked on the show. Though not exactly essential, the ACEG is a fun souvenir for fans of the long-running comedy series, which at the time was just ending its seven-season run on Comedy Central before moving to the Sci-Fi Channel. 

When this book came out, I remember eagerly thumbing through its pages a few times at the mall before finally spending $16.95 (a not-inconsiderable amount) on my own copy. Just my luck, the binding proved extremely fragile, forcing me to transfer the pages of the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide to a Trapper Keeper. At the time, I was just becoming a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan and there were many episodes I had not yet seen. It blew my mind to think that they'd covered both Kitten with a Whip (1964) and Monster a Go-Go (1965), two obscure cult films whose titles I only knew from the writings of John Waters. I realized from reading the ACEG that I had many hours of entertainment ahead of me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 194: 'Jim's Introduction to Gender Identity' (2017)

An animated short film from 2017 deals with some of the same issues as Glen or Glenda.

As I was rewatching Glen or Glenda (1953) recently, I took note of just how many earnest heart-to-heart conversations this one film contains. Let's see here. Inspector Warren (Lyle Talbot) talks to Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell). Glen (Ed Wood) talks to his fiancée, Barbara (Dolores Fuller). Glen's sister Sheila (Evelyn Wood) talks to her unnamed female coworker. Glen talks to Barbara some more. Two unseen foundry workers, Jack and Joe, talk to each other. Glen talks to his friend Johnny (Charles Crafts). Glen talks to Barbara a third (!) and fourth (!!) time. Finally, Dr. Alton talks to Glen and Barbara. That's a lot of conversation for a film that's barely feature-length.

Some Glenda-esque poster art.
Glen or Glenda deals with some sensitive and highly controversial topics, including cross-dressing and gender reassignment, and writer-director Edward D. Wood, Jr. obviously felt the best strategy was to have his characters sit down and exchange their thoughts and feelings about these things. In Cult Movies 3 (1988), critic Danny Peary even compares Glenda to old-fashioned soap operas in which women talk through their problems with friends over the kitchen table. It's a nice thought, isn't it? Maybe more of the world's problems could be solved if we'd just stop shouting at each other and started a calm, reasonable dialogue instead.

That's the theory, anyway. Your results may vary.

I thought about all of this as I watched Jim's Introduction to Gender Identity aka My Friend is Transgender (2017), a short film by New York-based animator K. Kypers. A video like this might have flown under my radar, despite garnering over 800K views, but Kypers recently began posting to an Ed Wood group on Facebook that I also frequent. In one thread, Kypers mentioned that the poster art for the short film was directly inspired by the iconic, instantly familiar Glen or Glenda poster. As I watched the film itself, I noticed that it contained numerous references to the Ed Wood canon, making it a prime candidate for coverage in this series.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "Me, a Pharaoh?"

Fonzie canoodles with Cleopatra on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.

Was Cleopatra hot? More than most historical figures—Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler, Benjamin Franklin, etc.—Cleopatra VII (69 BC-30 BC) is often discussed in terms of her sexuality and attractiveness. To this day, documentaries about the Ptolemaic queen play up her romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, and there's usually a segment in which we see a 3D reconstruction of her face while various experts debate whether she'd be considered attractive by modern day standards. It seems an ignoble fate for this once mighty queen. But, hey, at least we're still talking about her.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing the 1981 episode "The 20,000 Drachma Pyramid," in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and his pals travel to ancient Egypt and witness the coronation of an 18-year-old Cleopatra. But Miss Cleo has numerous obstacles to overcome on her way to the throne: a scheming priest, a vengeful mummy, and even a disappearing river! Luckily, the Happy Days kids are there to solve all of these problems for her. Naturally, there are major sparks between Fonzie and Cleo, and it all culminates in what I'd deem a rare interracial kiss on 1980s network TV.

But does any of this mean "The 20,000 Drachma Pyramid" is a good episode and worth 25 minutes of your time? Find out by listening to the podcast below!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 193: The mystery of Henry Kekoanui (UPDATED!)

This actor appeared in Ed Wood's The Sinister Urge and nothing else that we know of.

Do you know what an artesian well is? It's a naturally-occurring site where pressurized water rises to the surface of its own accord, without human intervention. In other words, it's a well you don't have to pump. Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) is a lot like that—the literary equivalent of an artesian well. Turn to just about any page in it, and interesting little details will bubble to the surface on their own. I've had my copy for about 30 years, and I'm still finding new things in it.

There's an entire section in the book, for instance, about the making of The Sinister Urge (1960). This was Ed Wood's final "mainstream" film as a writer-director before he descended permanently into the world of softcore and hardcore pornography. Since Sinister deals with the so-called "smut racket" and even includes a flash of nudity, it's tempting to think of it as a transitional film in Eddie's career, i.e. a signpost to where his career was heading.

On page 101 of Nightmare of Ecstasy, you'll find a small gallery of images—Grey fancifully calls it a "quartet"—from The Sinister Urge. What caught my attention recently was the photo in the upper left-hand corner, a publicity still of someone identified as Henry Kekoanui. It's a striking image. The dark-haired, mustachioed man is shirtless and has an intense look in his eyes, like he's about to strike. Imagine Gomez Addams as a 1950s bad guy wrestler. Henry's arms and upper body are muscular, but his midsection is a bit paunchy. He's being photographed in some strange, eerie void where a dramatic shadow looms over him. And he seems to be carrying something, perhaps a garment, in his left hand.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

WATCH! The Candy Land commercial that haunted me for years! (Updated for 2024!)

This is what Milton Bradley's Candy Land looked like in 1978.

The game board as it looked in '78.
It's funny how an utterly ephemeral piece of music will become firmly lodged in one's brain for decades. Take, for instance, the instrumental music in an early '80s ad for the Milton Bradley board game Candy Land. There was a particular 30-second spot for this product that I must have seen dozens of times while watching Popeye and Andy Panda cartoons as a kid. Obviously, Milton Bradley bought up a lot of advertising time on children's TV shows, and I was smack dab in the middle of the target demographic.

The commercial itself is typical of the era. In a sunshine-yellow suburban kitchen somewhere, a young brother (played by a pre-Christmas Story Peter Billingsley) and sister play the game with their mom, while a gentle-voiced male announcer explains how it all works.

But underneath the narration is a jaunty, repetitive little melody with a whistle-like sound. To this day, I remember that insidious little ditty by heart. I will likely never forget it. As for the narrator's spiel, I didn't commit every word of it to memory, but there are certain passages that stick out: "You'll discover the Gingerbread Plum Tree, a Rainbow Pass, and Gumdrop Mountain! But be careful of the Cherry Pit Falls, and don't get stuck in Molasses Swamp!" The way he weirdly emphasizes "Rainbow Pass," as if it's a major selling point, is rather memorable.

Incidentally, one thing I learned in the course of researching this article is that there is no "definitive" version of the classic game. The internet can't even decide whether it's called Candy Land or Candyland. Under either spelling, the game goes back to 1949. The gameboard itself and the box it comes in have been redesigned and revamped many times since then. What was once merely "Molasses Swamp," for instance, is now a sentient creature unappealingly named "Gloppy." Other characters, like "main antagonist" Lord Licorice, have been added to Candy Land since the days of my youth. (In my day, bad luck was the only antagonist in Candy Land.)

Through trial and error, I learned that the version of the game seen in the famous ad dates back to 1978. Most sources say the commercial first appeared in the early 1980s, possibly 1983.

The indelible Candy Land jingle played a minor yet arguably-significant role in my life. I can remember humming it over and over to annoy my older sister during a long car trip. She must have identified the song, too, because she said, "Mom, tell Joey to stop singing the Candy Land song!"

A few years later, when I joined the school band, a few of my fellow musicians-in-training and I would try to learn as many pop songs, TV and movie themes, and advertising jingles as possible on our respective instruments. Then as now, I played the euphonium—a little-understood and much-neglected instrument to which I was dutifully assigned after failing to make the grade on the cornet. 

Being relegated to the low brass section was moderately more fun if I could play a reasonable facsimile of '"Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin or "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." I remember it was a major victory (in my own mind) when I learned the familiar seven-note "Miss Gulch" theme from The Wizard of Oz. But there was this one kid, Marc Wojtowicz, who played the saxophone and had a dizzying range of tunes at his command. And one of them was—you guessed it—the Candy Land jingle. That may not impress you, but it impressed the hell out of me.

Anyway, here's the commercial. If the song takes up permanent residence in your subconscious, remember that I tried to warn you.

UPDATE FOR 2024: Reader Dan Mahoney informs me that the jingle used in the Candy Land commercial is actually a piece of stock music called "Whistling Robot" by British composer and organist Harold Smart (1921-1980). In more recent years, Harold's music has turned up on SpongeBob SquarePants and its various spinoffs. Thanks for setting the record straight, Dan!

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 192: I bought a stack of Ed Wood books. So how did I do?

Yes, I bought this stack of books. Did I overpay? Underpay? Let's find out together.

Way back in the spring of 2015, there was a massive auction of Ed Wood memorabilia in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I knew I couldn't afford anything pricy, like Eddie's actual suitcase, but I felt like I wanted to get something. I settled for a poster advertising Glen or Glenda (1953) under one of its many alternate titles, I Led 2 Lives, and a collection of Mexican lobby cards for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) aka Espectros del espacio. The poster I had framed; it now hangs in my kitchen and greets me every morning. The lobby cards I keep in a binder and rarely look at. 

All in all, this set me back about $400—then and now a huge sum of money for me. When things got particularly lean a few years ago, I even considered selling these items at a loss before deciding that it was more trouble than it was worth. Not to mention depressing. So I kept them as stern reminders of what not to do with my money.

Because of that experience, I vowed I would never make another major and totally unnecessary Ed Wood-related purchase again.  I also knew that, someday, I would more than likely do it again. I bravely (?) held out for nearly a decade. Then, in the spring of 2024, I saw on Facebook that a fan was selling off some of his collection, including a stack of Wood (and Wood-adjacent) books. Since I rely mostly on e-books and PDF files in my research for this series, I own very few paperback and hardcover editions of Ed's work. So I was tempted.

After a couple of weeks of hemming and hawing and exchanging a few direct messages with the seller, we eventually settled on a deal: nine books for $350, including shipping. For you non-mathematicians out there, that's about $38 or $39 a book. Was I cheated? Did I do pretty okay for myself? Let's break it down, book by book, and find out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "Must Be the Season of the Witch"

Fonzie, Mr. Cool, and a witch on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.

In many ways, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1969-1970) was a major breakthrough for Hanna Barbera. Not only was the show a ratings success and the beginning of a multimedia empire that is still going today, it reached a teenage audience beyond just the grade schoolers who normally watched Saturday morning TV. Little wonder, then, that HB attempted one Scooby clone after another in the 1970s and '80s, including Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, and Goober and the Ghost Chasers.

It took me a while to realize that The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang is essentially another Scooby wannabe, imitating the original show almost character for character. Instead of leader Fred, we have Fonzie (Henry Winkler). Instead of ditzy Daphne, we have Cupcake (Didi Conn). Instead of nerdy Velma, we have Richie (Ron Howard). Instead of cowardly Shaggy, we have Ralph Malph (Don Most). Naturally, we need a humanlike animal mascot. Instead of Scooby or Scrappy, we have Mr. Cool (Frank Welker). And the gang needs a flashy mode of transportation, so instead of the Mystery Machine, we get the time machine.

The episode that made me realize this was "You'll Never Get Witch," in which Fonzie and his pals travel to Salem in 1692 and get caught up in the witch trials. The only thing to distinguish it from Scooby-Doo is that it features the Happy Days kids. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Find out when you listen to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 191: 'Rue Pigalle' (1966)

A Texas sheriff investigates the seamy underbelly of Paris in the unproduced Rue Pigalle.

"I'd not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could well see in the long ago how it was little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that fiery vomit for to salvage back those souls that had by misadventure been spewed up from their damnation onto the outer shelves of the world. Aye. It’s a notion, no more. But someplace in the scheme of things this world must touch the other."
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

In many ways, Ed Wood's kinky crime novel Parisian Passions (1966) serves as a companion piece to the film Orgy of the Dead (1965), which Eddie scripted for producer-director Stephen C. Apostolof. They're from the same era of Ed's career and feature a lot of the same phrases, like "it would seem..." and "evening's pleasure." As I was making my way through Parisian Passions, I kept thinking, "Hmmm. That sounds like a line from Orgy of the Dead. It's almost like these two things were written back-to-back." Which they basically were. We'll get into it.

Parisian Passions and Orgy of the Dead.
Beyond their superficial similarities, these two works are linked thematically. Both of these stories are built around the idea that so-called "night people" engage in wicked, sinful acts while all the decent people are in bed asleep. In Parisian Passions, undercover cop Buck Rhodes is forced to witness such shameful rituals while overseas on a murder case but does not partake of them. (Heaven forfend!) In Orgy of the Dead, straight-laced couple Bob (William Bates) and Shirley (Pat Barrington) are likewise compelled to witness some supernatural debauchery, but they do so strictly from the sidelines.

As it turns out, Parisian Passions would likely not exist at all without Orgy of the Dead. In 1966, after striking a distribution deal for Orgy with a company called F.O.G., director Stephen C. Apostolof received three checks totaling $15,000 (nearly $150K in today's money) from the company's founder, Fred O. Gebhardt. Like any true red-blooded filmmaker, Steve immediately made plans to take that money and invest it in several new productions. These productions would need scripts, and Steve turned to Ed Wood because he knew Eddie could write something very quickly. The result was a screenplay called 7 Rue Pigalle, which centers around a Texas sheriff investigating a series of murders in the red-light district of Paris.

This strange, never-to-be-completed project has surprisingly deep roots. From 1948 to 1950, after fleeing his native Bulgaria and briefly dwelling in Istanbul, Steve Apostolof actually lived in Paris. He remembered his address there as being 7 Rue Pigalle. There is, in fact, a street in Paris named after sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785). The surrounding neighborhood, the Quartier Pigalle, became a notorious tourist trap in the 20th century due to its numerous sex shops and adult theaters. During World War II, American soldiers even started calling it "Pig Alley." (The pun only works in English; the French word for pig is cochon.)

The actual 7 Rue Pigalle. Yes, it's a real address in Paris.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 190: 'Parisian Passions' (1966)

Parisian Passions is one of Eddie's earlier novels, but it has all the earmarks of his work.

"But do not trust to luck, at the full of the moon, when the night is dark. Make a wide path around the unholy grounds of the Night People. Who can say that we do not exist? Can you?"
-Criswell, Orgy of the Dead (1965)
Recently, while writing about the numerous recurring characters in Ed Wood's work, I realized I had given short shrift to Sheriff Buck Rhodes. This rugged Texas lawman played a starring role in two of Eddie's novels from the 1960s: Parisian Passions (1966) and Devil Girls (1967). While I already reviewed Devil Girls and its 1999 film adaptation in one of the earliest articles in this series, I hadn't even approached Parisian Passions in the subsequent decade. So let's do that now, huh? Better late than never.

Big in '66: the Pigalle Stranger and Robin.
Published by Greenleaf Classics as part of its Sundown Reader series in 1966 and credited to the nonexistent "J.X. Williams," Parisian Passions is one of Ed Wood's earliest known novels. It is clear, though, that Eddie had already found his very idiosyncratic voice as a writer by this point in his career. There's a phrase I've come to use to describe certain of Ed's books and films: "Wood at his Woodiest." That means he allows his quirks and obsessions to run rampant, no matter what his editors or his readers may want. Well, Parisian Passions is a book like that. In Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Rudolph Grey describes it as "alternately absurd, comic and poetic." And it is all those things, though some, uh, other adjectives also sprang to mind.

A mysterious, costumed Jack the Ripper-type madman has been stalking and killing the drug-addicted strippers and prostitutes who frequent the Pigalle, the notorious red light district of Paris. I pictured the killer as looking like the Phantom of the Opera, but the cover painting by Darrel Millsap makes him look more like Robin the Boy Wonder. Either way, Inspector Henri Goulet of the Sûreté (the local police force) is utterly baffled by this case. Fortunately, his department is participating in an exchange program with the United States: they send one of their men to America, and America sends a genuine Texas sheriff to Paris. This gives Goulet an idea.

A latter-day reprint of the novel.
When Sheriff Rhodes finally arrives, Goulet arranges to have him "arrested" in a train station so as not to arouse suspicion from the criminal element of the city. Once Buck is in custody, Goulet unveils his plan to catch the so-called "Pigalle strangler." Buck will pretend to be a visiting Texas millionaire looking for a good time, and he will infiltrate the Parisian underground and root out the killer. Buck has never been anywhere near Paris and knows nothing of the city, but he soon finds a guide named Pierre who is willing to take him to the lowest, scummiest sex clubs or "cellars" in the city.

As Buck becomes familiar with these vile establishments, he sees the same few people again and again at different venues. One such habitué is Jacques, the local pusher who supplied heroin to several of the victims and also had sexual relationships with them. Another is Noreen "Norm" Clampett, a butch lesbian from England who identifies as male. They both seem to be likely suspects. But maybe Pierre or even Goulet is secretly the killer. Or is the true culprit someone else entirely?

After a few more murders, Buck decides to spring a trap for the strangler. He and the French police set up a decoy sex club of their own and recruit Lorry/Lorraine, a female impersonator from America, to perform there. When the killer inevitably attacks, they'll nab him. Surprisingly, this works. In the end, Buck, Goulet, and Lorry celebrate their success in a most unexpected way.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "I Never Drink... Milkshakes"

Cupcake, Fonzie, and a vampire on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.

On December 20, 1980, just in time for Christmas, The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang aired the episode "The Vampire Strikes Back," in which our heroes travel to Transylvania and meet a vampire named Count Wolfgang von Wolfenstein (voiced by sitcom veteran Henry Polic II). Such are the vagaries of TV scheduling. Maybe the episode wasn't ready in October or something. Besides, kids are already bombarded with Christmas-themed animation in December, so maybe a story about monsters and mad scientists would make a nice change of pace. And The Nightmare Before Christmas was still 13 years away.

As unlikely as it sounds, this madcap mashup of Happy Days and horror ends up being one of the most entertaining episodes of the animated series. There are a few spooky episodes of the live-action Happy Days series -- "Haunted," "Welcome to My Nightmare," and (arguably) "Fonzie's Funeral" -- and they're a lot of fun, too.  I may be prejudiced, though, because I love horror movies so much, especially the Universal classics from the 1930s and '40s. "The Vampire Strikes Back" takes a lot of tropes from those films. I guess, if you were a kid watching this 44 years ago, it would all be new to you.

Anyway, you can hear what my cohost and I had to say about "The Vampire Strikes Back" by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast. And because I'm such a nice guy, I've embedded it below so all you have to do is push play.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 189: 'Ed Wood Jr. Graphic Novel' (2022)

I only recently learned of this strange, great graphic novel about Ed Wood.

In 1982, musician Brian Eno told Los Angeles Times reporter Kristine McKenna that the album The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967) only sold 30,000 copies in its first five years, but "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band." We could quibble here. The seminal art-rock album had sold more than 30,000 copies by 1972, and it's impossible to say how many bands were formed as a direct result of its release. But you get Eno's point: the VU album had an influence far bigger than its meager commercial success would indicate. Somehow, this weird little LP inspired creativity in others.

Who knew this existed?
I feel Ed Wood has had a similar effect on his fans. He's the Velvet Underground and Nico of directors, if you will. Popularity eluded him during his lifetime, and even a big-budget, mainstream biopic about him massively underperformed at the box office in 1994. But still the Wood-inspired tribute projects continue to materialize, nearly half a century after his death. In the course of writing this column, I have discussed feature films, short films, albums, books, musicals, trading cards, fan art, and even toys inspired by the works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I reviewed John Wooley's graphic novel version of Plan 9 from Outer Space from 1990 and lamented that there weren't more Wood-inspired comics for us fans to enjoy. But I was in luck! The ever-reliable Bob Blackburn posted recently on Facebook about something called Ed Wood Jr. Graphic Novel (2022) credited to one Diana Wood, a Portland-based illustrator presumably unrelated to Eddie. This was totally outside my field of experience. I'd never heard of this artist or this book, but it was inexpensive and looked promising, so I took the plunge. To kill the suspense, I'm glad I did.

Incidentally, I bought this graphic novel from Amazon, and a page near the back of the book indicates that my personal copy was printed the day I ordered it at a facility near where I live. I must be a luddite or something, but is that how books work now? If so, I'm in. The book arrived remarkably quickly and was very slick and professional, like anything you'd find at Barnes & Noble. Très impressionnant! And this makes every copy unique. I'm happy to have this as a physical object and not a PDF file or a folder of JPGs. 

The novel itself is a phantasmagoria that freely intermingles elements from Ed Wood's movies, Eddie's real life story, and author Diana Wood's fertile imagination. It's set in the early-to-mid-1950s, the same years covered in Ed Wood (1994). You will not see the booze-bloated, long-haired Eddie directing porno flicks or writing tawdry paperbacks. Instead, the book focuses most heavily on the making of Ed's first two features, Glen or Glenda (1953) and Jail Bait (1954), though Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) are evoked here as well.

After a suitably dramatic introduction from Criswell, we commence with the making of Glen or Glenda in 1953. A young, eager Eddie interviews with producer George Weiss, gets the job of writing and direction the film, tells girlfriend Dolores Fuller the good news, and then dons women's underwear, makeup, and a wig to get inspired to write the screenplay. Later, on the set, an elderly, ill Bela Lugosi is coughing terribly but still manages to give a performance that brings tears to Ed's eyes. With that in the can, Eddie dons female attire to shoot his own scenes. This surprises but does not anger or upset Bela. Ed's friend Bunny Breckinridge drops by the set and is impressed by Ed's boldness. Dolores is initially upset to see her boyfriend dressed as a woman but soon gets over it. Together they shoot the film's famous dream sequence, bringing the graphic novel's first chapter to a close.

Some panels from Ed Wood Jr. Graphic Novel. (Photo by Bob Blackburn.)

In the second chapter, budget-conscious George Weiss drops by the set and is shocked to find Ed not only dressed in drag but starring in the movie in addition to writing and directing. Eddie reassures him that all is well and completes the movie. We then see several iconic moments from Glen or Glenda: Glen confessing his secret to Barbara; Glen discussing his problems with his friend Johnny (Charlie Crafts); Glen having a nightmare in which his father (Captain DeZita) is depicted as the Devil; and Barbara reluctantly handing over her angora sweater to Glen. Ed Wood proudly screens the finished movie for an appalled George Weiss, who tells him it is terrible and will bomb at the box office. Eddie fumes, declaring that George is wrong.

We are then treated to a six-page mini-biography of Maila "Vampira" Nurmi called "The Story of Vampira," complete with many portraits of the lady herself. After growing up in Oregon, Maila moves to Los Angeles and becomes a glamour model. One night in the early 1950s, she attends a Halloween party dressed as a Morticia Addams-type female ghoul character called Vampira and lands a job hosting a TV horror show. The program is an immediate sensation—a true succès de scandale—and Maila becomes, in the book's words, "the first queen of counter culture." But Vampira's show only lasts a year, and Maila nearly lapses into poverty before accepting a role as a zombie in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.  Against all odds, that film gains an "accidental fame" that rescues both Maila and Ed from obscurity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 188: Ed Wood's recurring characters (including Kelton and Lobo)

For some reason, Ed Wood kept bringing Officer Kelton back.

Three of Ed Wood's 1950s filmsBride of the Monster (1955), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), and Night of the Ghouls (1959)—are collectively known as "The Kelton Trilogy" because they all feature actor Paul Marco as bumbling, cowardly Officer Kelton, a uniformed cop who repeatedly comes into contact with the otherworldly and supernatural. In Ghouls, narrator Criswell gives us a succinct description of the character:
Patrolman Paul Kelton, 29 years of age, four years with the department, eager for the glory of the uniform but wide-eyed with fear at the thought of actually being on special duty. Unfortunately, though eager, not what the department usually looks for in their officers.
Ouch. The other characters in these movies tend to treat Kelton with utter contempt. In Night of the Ghouls, the character even describes himself as "the whipping boy of the whole police force." He's basically the Jar Jar Binks of the Ed Wood universe. So why did Ed keep bringing back Officer Kelton, reusing him the way Shakespeare reused Falstaff? A few reasons, I think. First, Paul Marco was one of his closest buddies and wasn't exactly drowning in work outside of Eddie's films. I'm certain the zany Kelton character was written especially with Paul Marco in mind. ("Hey, Paul, I've got a great part for you in my next picture!")

Beyond that, Ed Wood was heavily inspired by the Universal horror movies of the 1930s and '40s, and those films tend to include broad comic relief provided by wacky supporting characters—chambermaids, English bobbies, villagers, etc. It seems like a Universal movie isn't complete until some Cockney-accented stooge gets spooked by the monster du jour and trips over his own feet trying to run away. Paul Marco's scaredy-cat Officer Kelton is very much in that tradition. As unnecessary as the character may seem to modern viewers, he has his roots in classic horror.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?"

Fonzie (Henry Winkler) seems pretty chummy with the villainous Ming Fu.

This week marks what I'd call a milestone in the history of our humble podcast. We are finally releasing our 255th episode, meaning that we have tied Happy Days (1974-84) in terms of sheer quantity. But, wait, since we reviewed every episode of Happy Days already, shouldn't we have reached the 255 milestone months ago? Not quite. 

See, the original ABC sitcom did a lot of multi-episode stories. In syndication, two-parters count as two separate episodes, three-parters count as three, etc. But we would sometimes review those stories all at once, meaning that we "only" amassed 247 episodes by the time we got to the finale. Thanks to the animated series, however, we've managed to reach our 255th episode and will soon surpass it. I don't know about my cohost, but I plan to keep this show going indefinitely. Who knows? It may reach 300 or 400 episodes someday.

But what do we have for this milestone installment of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast? Well, we're reviewing the December 1980 episode "Ming Fu to You, Too." It's an adventure set vaguely in "ancient China" in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and his pals meet the villainous Ming Fu, an obvious ripoff of Fu Manchu. How embarrassingly racist does it get? You'll just have to click to find out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 187: A look back at the 'Plan 9' comic book adaptation

A comic book I think Eddie would have loved.

In 1990, Malibu Graphics went all-in on Ed Wood. The fledgling California comics company, best remembered today for such titles as Men in Black and Ultraforce, released two strange but intriguing little books based on Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) that year: an "uncensored and uncut" screenplay and a graphic novel. These slim volumes could have easily been combined into one omnibus edition, but instead they were released separately. Did the company succumb to the Ed Wood curse? You tell me. By the time the Tim Burton-directed biopic Ed Wood (1994) was released to theaters, Malibu had already been absorbed (read: chewed up and spat out) by rival Marvel Comics.

The early '90s, in retrospect, was rather a fallow time for Wood fandom. A decade had elapsed since The Golden Turkey Awards (1980), but Rudolph Grey's groundbreaking book Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) had not yet been published. Eddie wasn't in the public eye very much during those years. Malibu's two modest Plan 9 books can thus only be seen as labors of love; they certainly weren't the result of market research or trend-hopping.

The 1990 Plan 9 comic book.
I've already discussed the screenplay book in a fair amount of detail, so this week I turn my attention to the graphic novel, which carries the subtitle The Official Authorized Movie Adaptation. (I believe film distributor Wade Williams gave his blessing to the project at the time.) Like the script book, the comic was edited by Malibu Graphics co-founder Tom Mason. Yes, he shares a name with the gaunt chiropractor who once served as Bela Lugosi's double in the original Plan 9. No, they're not the same guy. The chiropractor died in 1980. It's just a wacky coincidence, maybe one that Ed Wood himself would have found amusing.

Malibu assembled quite a team to create the Plan 9 comic. The script was adapted to graphic novel form by author John Wooley (1949- ). In his decades-long career, the multitalented Wooley has written for Fangoria, penned volumes about beach movies and biker flicks, and hosted an NPR show about Western swing, among many other endeavors. Like Johnny Legend, Wooley has done so much in so many fields that it's difficult to define him or categorize him. But he's more than qualified for the job of writing this comic. The artwork was penciled by Stan Timmons (1956- ) and inked by Bruce McCorkindale (1960- ), both prolific veterans of the comics industry with voluminous credits at DC, Marvel, and other publishers.

In an introductory essay called "Shabby Dignity," Wooley decries The Golden Turkey Awards as smug and condescending and laments the negative attention the book brought to Ed Wood and Plan 9. However, he acknowledges that the graphic novel he's writing would probably not exist without Harry and Michael Medved. He also describes the approach that he and his creative team took in adapting Wood's film to the comics medium. Basically, they had two choices. They could literally translate the film to the page, complete with wonky special effects and mismatched footage. "Or we could do it straight," Wooley writes, "using Wood's story and dialogue but—in effect—giving him a budget, since it costs no more to draw a million-dollar spaceship than it does to draw a pieplate." 

Ultimately, Wooley and company chose the latter option, and I'm glad they did because this graphic novel gives us a Plan 9 that we haven't seen, rather than rehashing the one we've sat through a hundred times. To be sure, this comic is a faithful, instantly recognizable adaptation of Ed Wood's film. The comic book versions of Tor Johnson, Vampira, Bela Lugosi, and Criswell all look like their famous onscreen counterparts. Meanwhile, John Wooley's script carries over the plot and dialogue we all know with just a few tasteful adjustments, including some added explanatory narration. But Stan Timmons and Bruce McCorkindale have been given a fair amount of leeway in redesigning sets, props, costumes, and supporting characters. Edie the stewardess, for instance, has been given a very 1980s-looking permed hairdo and does not much resemble Norma McCarty's version of the character. Eros and Tanna's ship is more credible, too, and the tombstones in the cemetery don't appear as though they're about to fall over.

A redesigned Edie in a more realistic cockpit in the Plan 9 comic book.

Also, because the makers of this comic are not shackled by the constraints of low-budget filmmaking, such as filming real actors on a cramped soundstage, they can show us the action from vantage points that would have been impossible for Ed Wood to replicate. We get closeups, wide shots, Dutch angles, overhead shots, and other niceties that Eddie simply didn't have the time and money for. The comic book even manages to work some visual interest into Plan 9's talkiest and most static scenes, such as when Col. Edwards (Tom Keene) meets with Gen. Roberts (Lyle Talbot) at the Pentagon.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 186: Tom Jung and the iconic 'Plan 9' poster

It turns out that this familiar poster was created by a prolific and successful artist.

In Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), the title character (Johnny Depp) is so eager to direct an upcoming biopic of Christine Jorgensen that he visits the headquarters of a hole-in-the-wall studio called Screen Classics and talks to the film's producer, George Weiss (Mike Starr). Weiss tells Eddie that the film will have to be fictionalized, since he doesn't have the rights to Christine Jorgensen's life, but he's going forward with the project anyway.

"Is there a script?" Eddie asks.

"Fuck no," Weiss replies. "But there's a poster."

With that, he holds up a one-sheet featuring a half-man, half-woman and the provocative title I Changed My Sex, cheerfully adding that the film "opens in nine weeks in Tulsa."

Is this Ed Wood's most famous poster?
The scene illustrates the importance that posters have had in selling films, both big and small, for decades. Who can forget the iconic posters for Jaws (1975), Halloween (1978), Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Jurassic Park (1993)? Movie posters are a lot like movie trailers: pretty much every theatrically-released film gets them, regardless of genre, and they promise thrills and excitement that the movies themselves can't always deliver. Because they're so collectable, movie posters have been remarkably long-lived for something that's supposed to be ephemeral. Occasionally in my research, I've found film posters that have survived even when the films themselves haven't!

So far, I've not written a lot about the posters that advertised Ed Wood's movies, even though these were a constant in his career from the 1950s to the 1970s and beyond. Let's change that today, shall we? If I were to pick out the single best-known poster used to advertise one of Eddie's movies, I'd probably choose the one-sheet for Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). If you're a Wood fan, you've seen this one countless times—the grim-faced astronaut with his head encased in a fishbowl, the shadowy gravediggers, the cloaked figure menacing a man in a tunic, the spaceships soaring overhead, and even Vampira herself in a strapless, sleeveless red cocktail dress better suited to Jessica Rabbit. It's a poster that raises many questions, namely: "What the hell kind of movie is this, anyway?"

Ed Wood's most famous film premiered under its original title, Grave Robbers from Outer Space, on March 15, 1957 at the long-since-demolished Carlton Theatre in Los Angeles, but it didn't achieve any kind of meaningful release until 1959, when it was picked up by the Hal Roach-owned Distributors Corporation of America (DCA), retitled Plan 9 from Outer Space, and shipped out to unsuspecting theaters across America. That's also when the film acquired its iconic poster.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "Second Best Western"

Fonzie (right) meets his doppelganger on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang.

Recording a very unnecessary Happy Days podcast involves a surprising amount of solitary, tedious labor, namely researching and editing. But it's all worth it for the fun my cohost and I have when recording. I live alone and don't really have anything to say at work, so doing a podcast might be the only conversation I have with anyone all week. The problem is, I have so many words stored up that I turn into a real motormouth when I'm on mic. And because I converse so rarely, I tend to ramble and interrupt and go off on tangents.

As you might guess, then, each episode of These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast has to be heavily edited before it can be posted. A lot of my digressions wind up on the proverbial cutting room floor. This week, one of the casualties was my lengthy explanation of the character of Cupcake (voiced by Didi Conn), the ditsy "future chick" who accompanies Fonzie (Henry Winkler), Richie (Ron Howard), and Ralph Malph (Don Most) on their misadventures through time and space. I felt that including this material in the podcast would have slowed down the conversation too much, so out it went.

But this blog is just for my own amusement, so I'll give the explanation here. Basically, my guess is that Cupcake is the spoiled yet nice daughter of a wealthy man from the 25th century. ("Cupcake" is just a nickname her daddy gave her.) She's never really had any responsibilities, and she was too focused on having fun to focus on her studies. That's why she's often so useless in crises and has such poor control over her magic powers. Daddy gave her a time machine for her 18th birthday, and she took it for a spin before learning how to operate it. She soon crashed in 1957 Milwaukee and recruited Fonzie and his pals to help her. (In the opening credits, you can see her sitting dejectedly on the hood of a car when Fonzie approaches her.)

That's my "head canon" for Cupcake on The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. You won't hear it in our review of the cowboy adventure "Westward Whoa!" but you'll hear plenty of other things we had to say about the episode. And there's an easy way to do it: just press play.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 185: 'Beach Blanket Bloodbath' (1985) and the 'Sleazemania' series

The Sleazemania videos offered viewers a crash course in sex and sin.

Harry and Michael Medved's The Golden Turkey Awards brought Ed Wood unlikely posthumous fame in 1980, naming him the worst director of all time and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957) the worst film, but that doesn't mean Ed's movies were instantly accessible to fans who wanted to watch them. In the early 1980s, you generally had to rely on revival houses and late night television to see Eddie's work. And even then, you weren't in control of which movies were being shown or when you could see them.

Fortunately, the home video revolution helped change that. VCRs brought a dizzying variety of entertainment into people's living rooms—not just recent blockbusters and Hollywood classics but all kinds of specialty titles, too. Pornography and horror famously flourished on VHS, but so did exercise videos, concert movies, vintage TV shows, and low-budget cult flicks that hadn't been widely seen in decades. This proved to be great news for Ed Wood fans. (Too bad Eddie himself wasn't around to enjoy it; his death in 1978 came at a terribly inconvenient time.) It really cannot be overstated how important VCRs were in bringing Eddie's movies to the masses in the pre-internet era.

One of Rhino's Sleazemania videos.
Leading the charge was Rhino Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based company that started in the 1970s as a quirky record label specializing in novelty songs and reissues. By the 1980s, they had branched out into the burgeoning home video market. By focusing on kitschy oddities from the past, Rhino proved a natural home for the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. It was a marriage made in cult movie heaven—or trash movie hell, depending on your point of view.

Although far from the only home video distributor of Eddie's work in the 1980s and '90s, Rhino was arguably the most prominent. The company released its own editions of Plan 9, Bride of the Monster (1955), Night of the Ghouls (1959), Glen or Glenda (1953), Jail Bait (1954), Orgy of the Dead (1965), and The Violent Years (1956). Rhino even produced and distributed Ted Newsom's colorful documentary Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora (1994). As late as 2000, when DVD had replaced VHS as the home video format of choice, Rhino reissued Love Feast (1969) under the title Pretty Models All in a Row. A whole generation of fans, including me, got their first exposure to Ed Wood's movies through Rhino.

While we're talking about the subject of Rhino and Ed Wood, though, we should really discuss the original Sleazemania videos that the company released in 1985 and 1986. These strange, highly enjoyable tapes were compiled by the one and only Johnny Legend (1948- ), aka Martin Marguiles, a rockabilly musician, pop culture historian, wrestling manager, and film producer who has played a significant role in popularizing the films of Edward D. Wood, Jr. and other low-budget directors, including Stephen C. Apostolof. 

With his Rasputin-like beard and flashy wardrobe, Legend is most famous for writing and producing "Pencil Neck Geek," a 1977 novelty song by wrestler "Classy" Freddie Blassie. Blassie and Legend also teamed up for the infamous pseudo-documentary My Breakfast with Blassie (1983), starring comedian Andy Kaufman and distributed by (you guessed it) Rhino Video.

The Sleazemania videos, each about an hour in length, consist of movie trailers for exploitation and sexploitation films from the 1930s to the '80s, supplemented with a few burlesque shorts and drive-in advertisements. If this sounds to you like the typical fare released by Seattle's Something Weird Video, you're right; much of this same exact footage turned up on SWV tapes and discs in the years to come, But back in 1985, SWV didn't even exist, nor did video-sharing sites like YouTube, so these trailers and other clips were not commonly available to the public. 

I'd balk at calling the Sleazemania videos "documentaries." Legend deliberately opted not to have any explanatory narration in these compilations, and the clips are not presented in any particular order, either chronological or thematic. The second entry in the series, Sleazemania Strikes Back (1985), uses the movies of Ed Wood as somewhat of a connecting thread, but even it feels like a jumble of random footage designed for pure sensory overload. In his liner notes for a 2009 DVD rerelease of the original trilogy, Legend explains his stylistic choices:
At the time (1985), there were only a handful of trailer compilations, usually specific to one genre like horror and hosted by the likes of John Carradine and Elvira. I decided on no talking heads, hosts or whatever, and went straight for the jugular, pure sleaze and exploitation. In the ensuing years, most of the classic titles appeared on labels like Rhino and Something Weird (Pin Down Girls, Curfew Breakers, Jailbait, etc.), and I premiered many of these myself on the various labels.
In other words, the Sleazemania videos are extremely bare bones, right down to their quaint, homemade-looking credit sequences. Johnny Legend lets the clips speak for themselves, which is a wise decision. The trailers tend to be fast-paced and action-packed, so no embellishment is needed. Sleazemania III: The Good, The Bad, and The Sleazy (1986) includes a tongue-in-cheek title sequence inspired by Rocky III (1983), but that's about as fancy as this series gets.

What can Ed Wood fanatics get from these Sleazemania videos? Probably not a great deal that they haven't seen elsewhere, but these compilations do provide some interesting context for this material. As you make your way through these compilations, you'll see trailers and clips from Ed's movies interspersed with trailers and clips from lots of other directors' movies. These filmmakers were Ed Wood's contemporaries, collaborators, and competitors, and they were going after the same dollars that he was. As idiosyncratic as Eddie's films may seem to us now, it's important to remember he spent his career following entertainment industry trends and trying to produce commercially viable work. In other words, he was trying to fit into the American film marketplace. Through Sleazemania, you'll get an idea of what that marketplace was.