Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 179: The Perverts (1968) [PART 2 of 2]

An unusual massage from Ed Wood's The Perverts. (Image courtesy of Bob Blackburn.)

Let's play a game.

I'll give you a passage from The Perverts (1968), a sexual guidebook Ed Wood wrote for Viceroy under the assumed name "Jason Nichols," and you try to tell me what this chapter is actually about. Ready? Here goes:
Time and the tide seldom changes. It only revamps itself to progress other thoughts. The river continues to run year after year and one might wonder why it never runs dry. The story is that the river is once more sucked up into the sun and redeposited at the head again.
Okay, maybe that wasn't enough. I'll give you the entire next paragraph:
Sex is much the same way. As has been stated over and over again during these chapters, SEX per se is never satisfied. It is only sucked up into the body of another and redeposited for another fling, and so it shall be to the end of time and since there is no such thing as the end of time so there shall never be an end to SEX and the variations thereof.
Give up? That was from the chapter about incest. So what was all that stuff about tides and rivers and the sun? You got me. But I'm trying to give you an idea of what reading The Perverts is like. 

As a writer with a restless mind, Ed Wood will go off on philosophical tangents that have little or nothing to do with the subject at hand. Remember Glen or Glenda (1953), in which narrator Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) is supposed to be telling us about cross-dressers but somehow gets onto the topic of "the modern world and its business administration"? Much of The Perverts is like that. The book's quasi-lofty tone is also highly reminiscent of the ponderous narration of Ed's The Young Marrieds (1972). Very often in that film, the narration will play over footage of waves crashing against the rocks, similar to the tidal imagery used in The Perverts.

Speaking of images, last week I complained that my edition of the book lacked the photos that were in the original printing. Well, Bob Blackburn heard my plea and sent me some of the pics from his copy of The Perverts, which in turn was Ed Wood's own personal copy of the book! Bob says that there are about 20 to 30 "mostly topless" black-and-white photographs altogether in his edition. It does not look like the publisher, Viceroy, commissioned new photos based specifically on Ed Wood's text, but instead used whatever photos they happened to have lying around that sort of matched what was in the book. Below is a collage of images from the chapters on troilism, fetishes, and lesbianism. 

A triptych of images from The Perverts.

I'm grateful to Bob for giving me a sampling of the visual content in The Perverts. Feel free to explore this gallery of images if you're interested in seeing more. But now, let us talk about the literary content in this remarkable book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 178: The Perverts (1968) [PART 1 OF 2]

The Perverts is sort of the Swiss army knife of Ed Wood books.

Artificial intelligence has been on my mind a lot recently. I think that's true of many of us, since we're bombarded with AI-generated songs, images, videos, and articles on a daily basis. It's getting difficult to know what's real and what isn't. And then comes the flood of ethical questions. Is AI an incredible boon to humanity or the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it? We don't know yet. I guess we'll have to see how this plays out. If, in 20 years, Earth is a smoldering husk ruled by artificially intelligent automatons, I owe you a Coke.

Eros warned us; we didn't listen.
Science-fiction writers have been warning us for decades about the perils of teaching computers to think, but we didn't listen. We did it anyway. That's human nature for you. We never consider the ramifications of our actions. Remember Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)? The alien Eros (Dudley Manlove) tells pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) that we humans have been building newer and more powerful weapons before we even fully considered the consequences of doing so. We're jeopardizing the entire universe through our stupidity and violence. Jeff responds by punching Eros in the face. Oh well. It was a nice universe while it lasted.

So far, I've found that artificial intelligence is quite good at mimicking and rearranging what already exists, even if the results are still slightly stilted and predictable. If you want a particular pop song, for instance, sung in the voice of a cartoon character, AI has you covered. Where it falls down is in true innovation and spontaneity. Ask AI to make a profound insight into the human condition or make us laugh in a way we hadn't even considered before, and it won't be able to do it. For now, only people can do those things.

But if we fed the collected works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. into some chatbot and asked it to churn out a "new" Ed Wood book? Or a whole string of books? It should be eminently possible. Although he had various modes or styles he would adopt as an author from one project to the next, Eddie had a definite cadence to his writing. There were certain beloved words and phrases he used time and again. He also had topics and themes that he returned to repeatedly. And much of his writing is already kind of stilted, as if it were being written by some nonhuman entity who had observed people without truly understanding them. Surely, then, a computer could absorb all of Ed's short stories, novels, articles, and nonfiction books and churn out dozens more for us to read in the 21st century.

The first book to emerge from such an experiment might very well turn out like The Perverts, which Eddie wrote for Viceroy under the name "Jason Nichols" in 1968. (That same year, he wrote Sex Museum and One, Two, Three for Viceroy under the same bland pseudonym, plus Hell Chicks for Private Edition as "N.V. Jason.") Put simply, The Perverts is a distillation of just about every Wood book and article I've read and reviewed so far on this blog. It serves as a Whitman's Sampler of Eddie's obsessions. If you don't have room in your life (or your bookshelf) for Ed Wood's dozens of nonfiction books and articles—most of which are about sex and crime—this one will give you a solid idea of what they're like.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays: Ed Wood and the Hollywood Business of "Fake News(papers)" (Guest Author: James Pontolillo)

Did you ever wonder about those fake newspapers in Ed Wood's movies? James did!

Ed Wood's films are celebrated by fans and lambasted by critics alike for their makeshift props and low budget set dressing. But when it came to the use of reproduction newspapers for film inserts, Ed relied on the same industry-standard production house as the big Hollywood studios. Prop newspapers have been used in place of real ones from the earliest days of commercial film since they avoid copyright or legal restrictions while providing a budget-conscious resource for productions that cannot afford to license real products. And the supplier in Hollywood that most everyone has turned to for over a hundred years is the Earl Hays Press, the oldest prop house in existence.

Earl Spindler Hays was born (1892) in Pennsylvania [1]. In 1910 he made the great trek westward and immediately went to work as an apprentice printer in Los Angeles. The accepted history is that in 1915 Earl established a Hollywood print shop specializing in reproductions for the film industry. However, this is not supported by evidence to be gleaned from contemporaneous Los Angeles City Directories.

Instead, from 1910-1921, Earl worked for at least two different companies including J.F. Rowins in 1913 (430 South Broadway, building still exists) and the Western Printing Company in 1917 (631 South Spring Street, redeveloped). The First World War interrupted his career as Earl went off to serve in the U.S. Army Air Service (1917-18). He returned to Los Angeles after the war and resumed employment with the Hugo C. Jacobsmeyer Company (renamed Western Printing), which explicitly produced motion picture supplies. Earl worked as a printer and later as a salesman.

By 1922 Earl had struck out on his own with a small print shop at 5515 Santa Monica Blvd (redeveloped). He specialized in making props for the film industry and, as his business grew in leaps and bounds, repeatedly relocated his shop to larger quarters. In 1926, he moved down the block to 5533 Santa Monica Blvd (still exists). In 1932 he moved the company to 6510 Santa Monica Blvd, a one-story brick building in the heart of Hollywood that would be its home for the next decade [2]. (Current-day location of Dragonfly Hollywood – a hip-hop club which preserved the building's original brickwork and features bottle service reasonably priced at $500 - $1,400 before fees, tips and taxes [3]). 

In 1942 the Earl Hays Press relocated again – this time a few blocks down Santa Monica Blvd and around the corner to 1121 North Las Palmas (redeveloped). By 1944 Earl was employing a press writer and four printers solely dedicated to manufacturing newspapers, magazines and other printed materials for movie studios.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "The Top 5 Happy Days Episodes of All Time"

At least these are the ones we liked best. Your mileage will vary.

See, I told you the podcast wasn't over! Just last week, we reviewed "Passages," the two-part series finale of Happy Days from 1984. You might think that we no longer have anything to say about this long-running prime time sitcom. I mean, after all, we've talked about all the episodes now. That should be the end, right?

In a weird way, though, I feel like I'm finally qualified to start talking about Happy Days. You don't review movies you haven't seen or books you haven't read. But, since 2018, I've been reviewing this sitcom without having seen all of it. Well, now I've seen all of it. I know how the story starts, how it progresses, and how it ends. Happy Days is in my blood. And my brain. 

So where do we go from here? Well, for one thing, we have this handy dandy "Top 5 Episodes of All Time" list we want to share with you. And after that, there's a whole galaxy (hint, hint) of Happy Days content I want to discuss. It would be great if you would join us. And you can start by listening to the latest installment of These Days Are Ours below.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 177: The Erotic Spy (1968)

There's just something about those 1960s spy stories.

Ian Fleming could scarcely have known what he was unleashing on the world when he wrote Casino Royale (1953), the first of his twelve novels about suave British superspy James Bond. Though hardly fiction's first secret agent, it was 007 who established the template that so many after him would follow. The first big-screen Bond adaptation, Dr. No starring Sean Connery, appeared in 1962. The phenomenal success of that film and its many sequels, especially Goldfinger (1964), cemented Bond's fame and inspired countless imitations, knockoffs, and wannabes. 

"A secret service thriller."
All of popular culture came down with a serious case of Bondmania in the 1960s. And why not? Cold War tensions were running high. (Is it a coincidence that the first Bond film came out the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis?) Spies were simply everywhere—movie theaters, TV screens, toyboxes, bookshelves, our dreams, etc. There was no escape from car chases, gimmicky weapons, top-secret missions, boastful villains, hulking henchmen, and sexy female double agents. Even on pop radio, you could hear Johnny Rivers crooning about that poor "secret agent man" who traded in his name for a number. The great thing about Bond-inspired spy stories is that they could range from silly to serious and could be tailored to any age group.

Did you think the adult publishing industry would ignore this trend? Ha! In 1968, Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing released a photo-illustrated novella called The Erotic Spy. This was another of the company's Pendulum Pictorials, which falsely claimed to be "novelizations" of feature films. Instead, they contained staged, mostly black-and-white photos accompanied by text. There were six of these Pictorials altogether, all released in 1968. The Erotic Spy was the third of them. It retailed for $1.75, which is over fifteen bucks in today's money.

Since the first two Pendulum Pictorials were credited to our very own Edward Davis Wood, Jr., it's reasonable to assume that Eddie may have written the other four under fake names. Notice that I said assume and may; we're not talking about certainties here, just probabilities. 

Officially, The Erotic Spy is credited to Abbott Smith, an author with zero other credits. I doubt he's George Abbott-Smith, who wrote A Manual Greek Lexicon of the Old Testament in 1923. For one thing, George died in 1947. According to reader Shawn D. Langrick, at the time of this book's publication, a man named Abbott Smith happened to be the Acting Chairman of the Office of National Estimates of the Central Intelligence Agency. Shawn speculates that the credited author's name may have been an "inside joke."

But does The Erotic Spy seem like Ed Wood's work? Let's investigate.

What we have here are the adventures of Dick Wilson—and, yeah, our hero is blatantly named after the appendage he uses the most—who works for a government agency called GSS in Washington D.C. Dick's boss (the equivalent of M in the Bond films) is a guy named Kip Arlington, and his partner is a sexy brunette rookie named Ann Barnes. Naturally, in addition to their professional relationship, Dick and Ann have an intense sexual affair that Kip neither condones nor condemns. And they all work out of a three-story brick building that also contains a ladies' dress shop, a shoe repair shop, and a dry cleaning place, all of which operate as legitimate businesses.

A story like this obviously needs a major crisis, and, boy, does The Erotic Spy have one! Briefly, a mysterious but widely-feared foreign agent known only as Gold Girl has purloined a valuable and potentially dangerous item known as the Golden Rooster. And what is that? Well, on his deathbed, an eccentric nuclear physicist named Dr. Harvey Malcolm created a "deceptively simple" formula for "producing a controlled thermo-nuclear reaction" and wrote it on a sheet of vellum, which he then placed inside a lead cylinder. Surprisingly active for a dying man, Dr. Malcolm hid the cylinder inside a gilded plaster figurine of a rooster ("an ordinary chicken-type rooster," the book specifies). And now, the so-called Golden Rooster has been stolen from the Bureau of Standards, and it's up to Dick Wilson to retrieve it.

The Golden Rooster is such an absurdly contrived plot device that it almost serves as a self-aware parody of the MacGuffin, i.e. the object that drives the story but is otherwise worthless. We care about this item only because the characters care about it. It's the thing everyone wants for some reason. One of the most famous MacGuffins in movie history is the titular object in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941). Like the Golden Rooster, it's a statue of a bird. I'm confident that The Erotic Spy is directly referencing the Huston film in a knowingly silly way.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "End of Days"

(from left) Lynda Goodfriend, Ted McGinley, Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, Tom Bosley, Cathy Silvers, Erin Moran, Ellen Travolta,
Scott Baio, Marion Ross, and Francis Bey in the Happy Days finale.

When we started These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast in 2018, I honestly did not think we would make it through all eleven seasons and 255 episodes. I mean, that's a lot of Happy Days to get through. And it's not like I was an obsessive fan of the show, even though I watched it frequently as a kid and checked in with the reruns on Nick at Nite and MeTV occasionally as an adult.

I thought I'd tap out after a few seasons. We'd go from recording every week to every other week, then once a month, then once every few months, then not at all. And then, like with so many other things in my life, I'd just forget about it and pretend it never happened. That's the way I am with most things: enthusiastic at first but quick to lose interest.

And yet, here we are. My cohost and I have now watched and reviewed all episodes of Happy Days, including the two pilots. What now? All I can tell you is that the podcast is not over. One way or another, These Days Are Ours will continue its mission.

In the meantime, here's our review of "Passages," the two-part Happy Days finale from 1984. We'd be awfully pleased if you'd listen to it. In addition to reviewing the episode, we give our closing thoughts on Season 11.