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.

Could these three Tor Johnson movies be called the Lobo Trilogy?

Kelton is far from the only recurring character in the Ed Wood canon. Two films I've already mentioned, Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls, feature Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson as Lobo, the hulking henchman who communicates only with grunts, growls, and whimpers. In Bride, he assists—and ultimately rebels against—mad scientist Dr. Eric Vornoff (Bela Lugosi), who dies in a spectacular explosion at the film's conclusion. In Ghouls, a badly-scarred Lobo assists conman Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan) before being gunned down by the cops in the film's action-packed conclusion. And between these two notorious Ed Wood movies, Tor Johnson played a speaking version of Lobo in Boris Petroff's The Unearthly (1957), uttering the classic line: "Time for go to bed!"

The recurrence of characters like Kelton and Lobo lends a bit of continuity to the Ed Wood movies, as if these strange stories could somehow all be taking place in the same universe. Fans of Stephen King know that crossovers and cross-references are common in his work. These days, we're practically drowning in shared pop culture universes: Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Law & Order, etc. So why shouldn't there be an Ed Woodiverse? With that in mind, I decided to list as many recurring characters in the Wood canon (cinematic and literary) as I could name:
NOTE: I am fully aware that this list is incomplete and contains inaccuracies. If there is something you think should be added, deleted, or altered, please contact me. I am deliberately not including real-life historical figures, such as Albert Fish and Elizabeth Bathory, about whom Ed has written on multiple occasions. I am also not including Criswell, who portrays a fantastic version of himself in several Wood films. This list is for recurring fictional characters created by Ed Wood. While Eddie uses Count Dracula in at least two short stories, maybe more, that character was obviously not his own creation. So you won't find Drac here either. Sorry, big guy.

Tom Keene as the Tucson Kid.

Eddie desperately wanted to launch a TV series in the 1950s, preferably a straightforward Western in the Lone Ranger vein. He made several unsuccessful attempts at it. One such series was called The Adventures of the Tucson Kid and would have starred B-list cowboy actor Tom Keene (1896-1963) as an insurance investigator in the Old West. The pilot for this series has circulated fairly widely as a 25-minute short film called Crossroad Avenger. It's been included as an extra on several DVDs and is also included in the Big Box of Wood collection. I've found it to be a competent Western with little of the trademark Woodian eccentricity, apart from a lively supporting performance by Harvey B. Dunn.

According to Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Ed Wood wrote and directed at least one more Tucson Kid episode starring Tom Keene and edited the two stories together as a 50-minute feature. If this footage exists, I've never seen it. I cannot help but wonder if Ed's short film Boots (1953) is this second Tucson Kid episode. Perhaps this semi-forgotten film is languishing in a vault somewhere and will resurface one day for our entertainment. By the way, Crossroad Avenger is not to be confused with Tom Keene, U.S. Marshal (1952), another busted TV pilot from the same era. As the title indicates, Keene plays a marshal in that one, not an insurance investigator.

We're not quite done with the Tucson Kid character. You'll see what I mean a little later in the article.


In many ways, Night of the Ghouls is a direct sequel to Bride of the Monster and makes numerous references to the characters and plot from the earlier film. Two of Bride's major characters, Kelton and Lobo, reappear in Night. But there's a third recurring character: Captain Robbins. Unlike the other two, our beloved police captain is definitely not played by the same actor in both films. You could say his character undergoes an extreme makeover, both in terms of his appearance and his personality.

In Bride of the Monster, jovial Harvey B. Dunn plays the role. His version of Captain Robbins is a dedicated lawman, but also a friend and quasi-father figure to Lt. Dick Craig (Tony McCoy). He has an impish sense of humor—note his playful repartee with reporter Janet Lawton (Loretta King)—and dotes on his pet bird, but he knows when to be serious and reflective. It's Dunn who speaks one of the movie's most famous lines: "He tampered in God's domain."

The two versions of Captain Robbins: Harvey B. Dunn (left, with bird) and Johnny Carpenter (right).

Captain Robbins returns for Night of the Ghouls, but this time, he's played by Johnny Carpenter, a man twenty years Harvey B. Dunn's junior. This dark-haired, mustachioed captain is much more grim and irritable than the previous incarnation of the character. Carpenter portrays him as a stressed-out, overworked man who just wants to go home. In both films, Captain Robbins spends most of his time sitting behind a desk in an office. But both Harvey B. Dunn and Johnny Carpenter eventually find themselves at the scene of the crime. Confusingly, Dunn appears as a different character altogether in Night of the Ghouls. This time, he's Henry, an old man who thinks he sees a ghost and reports his findings to the police.


Ed Wood must have had high hopes for The Sinister Urge (1960), which ended up being his last non-pornographic film as a director. Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992) indicates that Eddie shot some extra footage for a planned rerelease that never happened. He also envisioned a sequel called The Peeper that revolved around the drab, Dragnet-esque policemen from the first film: Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan) and Sgt. Randy Stone (Duke Moore). I do not know if this project got as far as a screenplay, nor if Ed Wood planned to have the actors from The Sinister Urge reprise their roles.

"I'm a peeper, you're a peeper, he's a peeper, she's a peeper."

GLEN MARKER, aka "GLENDA SATIN" (1963-1967)

The sequel's iconic cover.
In the 1960s, when directing jobs were hard to come by, Ed Wood switched gears and became a super-prolific author of pulp fiction. Though not his first long-form literary effort, Killer in Drag aka Black Lace Drag (1963) can be seen as Eddie's true debut novel, and it's a doozy. It revolves around a young crossdressing mob hitman named Glen Marker whose female alter ego is called "Glenda Satin." In the course of this one very busy novel, Glen/Glenda carries out various hits for "the Syndicate," is falsely accused of the murder of a wealthy older man, buys a carnival (!), and evades capture by corrupt police officers. Killer is one of Eddie's strongest, most entertaining novels, and it's remained one of the easiest to acquire, thanks to various reprints.

Killer in Drag notably leaves the fate of Glen Marker up in the air. Four years after its publication, Eddie wrote a sequel called Death of a Transvestite aka Let Me Die in Drag (1967). This is another of Ed Wood's best-known literary efforts, and it has also been reprinted numerous times. The plot catches up with Glen Marker a few years later, when he is on death row and facing execution. As the book's title indicates, he has one very specific final wish. While Glen's big day approaches, he flashes back to his time in Los Angeles, specifically his relationship with a "kept woman" named Cindy and his violent showdown with another cross-dressing assassin, Paul aka "Paula."

For fans who only know Ed Wood through his movies and would like to start exploring his novels, I'd recommend starting with the Killer in Drag/Death of a Transvestite duology. They're eccentric and contain many of Ed's lifelong obsessions and quirks, but they're also (more or less) coherent and (relatively) focused. Glen Marker is truly one of the most interesting, complex characters in the entire Wood canon, and it's remarkable that we got two full-length novels about him.

ROCKY ALLEY (1966-1967)
One of Ed's rare sequels.

Like Glen Marker, Rocky Alley is a character whose story was just too big for one novel. A hard-working, virile Black actor trying to make his way in 1960s Hollywood amid simmering racial tensions, Rocky was introduced in Watts... The Difference (1966) and continued his adventures in the sequel, Watts... After (1967). Both books were Ed Wood's attempts to capitalize on the so-called Watts riots of August 1965. The racially-charged uprising grabbed the nation's attention and dominated headlines for weeks, and the very name "Watts" became synonymous with racial violence for decades.

Over the course of two books, we learn a great deal about Rocky's life and career, from his extremely humble beginnings to his eventual success as the star of a Western TV series called The Tucson Kid. (I told you we weren't quite done with that character.) Throughout his life, Rocky's main problem is that sinister Black power groups are trying to recruit him, exploit him, terrorize him, and blackmail him. If you've read any of Ed Wood's "Black" books, you know how he feels about such organizations. But Rocky is as honest as the day is long, and he manages to maintain his integrity and independence.

Other characters recur through the Watts duology, including Angie, Rocky's angora-loving white girlfriend, and Rance Holliday, a washed-up director who enjoys cross-dressing. In a way, both Rance and Angie represent parts of Ed Wood's own personality. These books may be dismissed as products of Eddie's racial paranoia, but I think the author makes a real attempt—in his own strange, addled way —to flesh out the character of Rocky Alley and make him sympathetic and multi-dimensional. Time and again, Rocky has to grapple with the issue of why his race is such a stigma and why the very color black is associated with evil. The Watts books should cause the reader to ponder the same questions.


Many authors of crime fiction have characters they return to again and again, often cops or detectives who might conceivably have numerous adventures over the years. You know their names: Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer. They get their own movies, radio serials, and TV shows and may linger in the public conscious for decades. I'd say the closest that Ed Wood ever came to creating such a character was Sheriff Buck Rhodes, who popped up in two of Eddie's novels as well as an unproduced screenplay in the mid-1960s. Maybe the author saw some franchise potential here. (Funny how so many of Ed's recurring characters are lawmen, huh?)

The character—no doubt named for Ed Wood's childhood hero Buck Jones—first appeared in the novel Parisian Passions (1966). In this book, he travels from Texas to France to investigate the murders of strippers. To solve this case, he has to descend into Paris' kinky underground scene. I'm not sure how commercially successful this novel was, but Ed adapted it into a screenplay called 69 Rue Pigalle, which was to be directed by Stephen C. Apostolof. (If you want to learn more about this and other Wood/Apostolof projects, I know a swell book you can read.) The plot of Parisian Passions reminds me of the Joe Don Baker movie Final Justice (1985), which is also about an American cop investigating a case in Europe. So whenever I picture Sheriff Buck Rhodes, I think of Joe Don in the part.

Ed Wood brought Sheriff Buck Rhodes back for the groovy, drugged-up 1967 crime novel Devil Girls, which was ultimately adapted for the screen by director Andre Perkowski in 1999. There, the character was portrayed unsubtly by Paul Hoffman. It's been more than a decade since I've sat through Perkowski's movie, but in 2013, I described Hoffman's performance as "apoplectic."

SPENSER & WEST (1967-1969)

The real Masters and Johnson.
In 1966, the husband-and-wife team of William Masters and Virginia Johnson captured the attention of the world with their groundbreaking sex study, Human Sexual Response. Naturally, the schlockmeisters and smut peddlers of the world saw this as an opportunity to cash in. One of those wannabes was Edward D. Wood, Jr., who penned several salacious books that were attributed to Jean Spenser and Roger West (or simply "Spenser and West" for short). This fun, fictional married couple supposedly penned such volumes as The Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History (1967), Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet (1967), Lesbian Wife Swapping (1968), The Prostitutes (1968), The Oralists (1969), and Sexual Fantasia (1969). In reality Eddie likely wrote all those books himself.

While Jean and Roger tend to stay in the background, letting their subjects speak for themselves, they do make occasional cameos in their own books. In The Oralists, for instance, they travel to San Francisco and interview a friend of theirs about his colorful sexual history. The idea behind the Spenser and West books is that, since these two authors are respected sexologists, their books are educational and not merely pornographic. I'm not sure if anyone actually fell for that, though.


In 1971, Ed Wood came up with one of his most unusual and entertaining characters ever: flamboyant attorney Ralph H. Hornblower, who only represents gay clients and will use any trick in the book to get an acquittal. Ralph first appeared in a fun little short story called "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" (1971) published in The Boy Friends, one of Pendulum's gay magazines. Eddie must have enjoyed writing this one, because he brought the character back for a story called "The Return of Captain Fellatio Hornblower" in 1973, this time for Man to Man. I have yet to read this second "Hornblower" adventure, so if anyone would like to forward it on to me, I'd be most appreciative.

What's unique about "Captain Fellatio Hornblower," besides its title, is the fact that it exists mainly to describe and introduce its title character rather than to tell any one specific story about him. It's as if Ed Wood is pitching us a weekly series about a zany gay lawyer and his flagrantly-guilty clients. The world was nowhere near ready for such a thing in 1971, but imagine if Raymond Burr had starred in Hornblower rather than Ironsides in the '70s! 

POSTSCRIPT: There are a few more reused Ed Wood characters I could have included on this list but didn't because of some minor, nitpicky technicalities. Let me explain and then beg forgiveness. 

(from top) Danny, Shirley, and Tanya.
The short story "Come Inn" (1971), the movie Necromania (1971), and the novel The Only House (1972) all tell basically the same story and contain several of the same characters, including Danny, Shirley, and Tanya. But it's difficult to think of these as recurring characters because they're not having new adventures or experiences. They're simply being shuffled from one format to another. The novel, at least, provides us with flashbacks for the main characters so we get to know them a little better as people.

Two of Ed Wood's short stories, "The Gory Details" and "Detailed in Blood" (both 1972), have extremely similar plots and contain several of the same characters, including Dr. Hallicourt, Lt. Pat Crane, and Sgt. Hendrix. Again, though, neither story feels like a prequel or sequel to the other. It's just Ed recycling the same material so he can sell it twice.

And, as much as I love vulgar saloon owner Hosenose Kate, she really only figures prominently into the plot of one short story: "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne" (1973). She is memorably mentioned in another Wood story, "Wanted: Belle Starr" (1973), but Eddie keeps her offstage. Besides, I've written enough about this fairly obscure character already.

If you believe that any or all of these characters belong on my list, please let me know. This is one week when I am more than happy to hear your suggestions, corrections, and complaints.