Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ed Wood Extra: To those we lost in 2017

Rance Howard, Martin Landau, Conrad Brooks, David Ward, and Steve Apostolof.

Before we get too far into 2018, I thought it only proper that we should acknowledge a few of those who died in 2017, specifically those whose lives intersected in some way with that of Ed Wood. Sadly, the number of people who knew Eddie or who worked with him directly is getting smaller and smaller each year. And even Tim Burton's Ed Wood is now 24 years old, if you can believe it, and a number of cast and crew members from that biopic have since died. In brief, 2017 took a hell of a toll on the Ed Wood community. It was nice, I suppose, to have some new books and BluRay releases, but they're a poor substitute for these extraordinary people.

Let's deal with the Burton film first. Two of the principal cast members of Ed Wood passed away in 2017. The one who got the lion's share of the headlines, naturally, was Martin Landau, who died at the advanced age of 89 on July 15 of last year. A native New Yorker whose career in film and television spanned an astonishing 64 years, Landau finally won an Oscar in 1995 for his portrayal of a cranky, crumbling Bela Lugosi, turning to Ed Wood for employment and companionship in his final years. Aided by Rick Baker's award-winning makeup, Landau managed to bring new insight and vulnerability to the much-imitated and caricatured Lugosi. Whenever I see Bela in a movie -- whether it's one of Wood's movies or not -- I think of Landau.

Departing our realm, too, was character actor Rance Howard, who played straight-shooting moneyman Donald McCoy in Ed Wood. (He wants Eddie's movie to end with a "sky full of smoke" and gazes up dreamily as he imagines the glorious destruction.) Father of Clint and Ron Howard, Rance was one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood, appearing in nearly 300 movies and television shows starting in the mid-1950s. He had an honest face and a slight Oklahoma drawl that served him well in dozens upon dozens of roles. Rance worked so often and with so many people, in fact, he comes much closer than Kevin Bacon to being the center of the Hollywood universe. Rance Howard died on November 25, 2017. He, too, was 89.

Perhaps the most significant Wood-related death of 2017 was of actor turned filmmaker Conrad "Connie" Brooks, who died just last month at the age of 86. An irreplaceable link to the past, Brooks was truly the last surviving member of Eddie's inner circle, having appeared in Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, The Sinister Urge, and Jail Bait. Since Eddie's personal and professional lives were so intricately intertwined, Conrad Brooks can safely be called one of Ed's cronies. Who knows how many more movies they would have made together if there were but world enough and time, not to mention cash? A staple of documentaries about Wood, always popping up to talk about his departed pal, Brooks was a B-movie lifer. Even without Eddie, the incorrigible, garrulous Connie appeared in dozens of low-budget flicks (as well as Burton's Ed Wood) and eventually wrote and directed a few of his own.

Attention should also be paid to the passing of stage and screen actor David Ward, who died in August at the age of 84. He'd been a resident of a Los Angeles nursing home for years, and Ed Wood superfan Bob Blackburn stayed in contact with him and visited him frequently until the end of his life. Ward was another of Wood's Hollywood cronies, especially during Eddie's boozy final years in the 1970s, though the two didn't really work on many movies together. Ward was also a personal friend of Bulgarian-born filmmaker Stephen C. Apostolof and made cameos in at least two of Apostolof's movies, The Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife, both scripted by Eddie. And Ed had other plans for David, including an adaptation of his short story "To Kill a Saturday Night," that never came to pass. The David Ward saga is an incredible one, inspiring the unproduced screenplay Edward Ford, which I thoroughly discussed here.

Speaking of Apostolof, the late filmmaker's oldest son Steve Apostolof died unexpectedly after a brief illness in Simi Valley, CA at the age of 60 on November 19, 2017. Like all of Apostolof's children, Steve made numerous visits to his father's sets and even made an onscreen appearance in 1978's Hot Ice, canonically the last film Ed Wood ever worked on. (Eddie was credited as an assistant director and was slated to make a cameo but was too drunk to do so.) In addition, Steve was one of the interviewees in Jordan Todorov's documentary Dad Made Dirty Movies. He took great amusement in his father's colorful career and helped keep the Wood-Apostolof legend alive by sharing his stories of those bygone days of the 1960s and '70s.

Rest in peace, one and all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Collaborator Odyssey, Part Seven

She was only in one Ed Wood feature, but Valda Hansen casts a long shadow. Art by Drew Friedman.

Among the circle of fascinating personalities appearing prominently in Ed Wood's first half-dozen films—the work for which he is best and "worst" remembered—Valda Hansen (1932-1993) stands out as a fixture of the group despite making only one relatively brief appearance. As The White Ghost in Night of the Ghouls, moll to the scheming Dr. Acula (Kenne Duncan), she projects a delicate beauty and ethereal presence. That film also featured another key player in the Wood repertory company, Criswell, in one of his most memorable roles. In my research, I've discovered a fascinating old newspaper clipping that involves both Criswell and Ms. Hansen, and I'd like to share it with you this week.

The Long Beach Independent and Independent Press Telegram were Criswell's first homes as a regular newspaper columnist in 1949, as he laid the foundation for his persona. These papers covered him often, and it's not hard to imagine that his pull was largely responsible for a full page feature in the Telegram from December 7, 1958, featuring Valda and coverage of the "recently-released" (?) Night of the Ghouls ("...which carried her up to stardom"?). While there are no mentions of writer-director Ed Wood, there are priceless details about Valda that have gone unrecorded elsewhere. And then there's that photo of Cris as "Dead Man." (!) Enjoy.

We'll return to Valda Hansen, and to Night of the Ghouls, among a host of topics all related to Ed Wood, this coming year here at Ed Wood Wednesdays!
NOTE: The original layout for this vintage article can be seen here at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Woodologist Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

Author James Pontolillo has been delving into Ed Wood's war record.

The work of a true Woodologist.
As we approach a new year, it seems as good an opportunity as any to introduce a new Odyssey. In the 2+ years that I have been writing articles here, my research has led me to cross paths with a number of folks who, like me, are more than just casual fans of Edward D. Wood, Jr. The most seriously afflicted of these people can even be affectionately termed Woodologists.

Just what does being a Woodologist entail? To my mind, it means possessing not only (1) an abiding interest in Ed, the man and his work, but moreso (2) a desire to learn more about Ed than we previously knew. Most critically, a Woodologist will (3) endeavor to take action upon that desire to learn more. People like Rudolph Grey, author of Nightmare of Ecstasy, and Joe Blevins, who started this very series way back in July 2013, are just a few folks you will surely recognize as Woodologists. I aspire to be one some day, and as I continue being privileged enough to meet many of them, I decided to introduce them here to the world as such.

First up, I am happy to introduce my friend, author and researcher James "Jimbo" Pontolillo, who has graciously agreed to be my first willing subject.

Before getting into James' answers to my 10 questions, however I must issue a spoiler alert for those who have yet to read Pontolillo's book The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946. While the following interview is short on details, the overarching direction of the work can be clearly inferred from James' answers nevertheless. Stop now and return here later if you plan to read it. I suggest you go over to Amazon and get yourself a copy. Containing Ed's full military record and a superb editorial apparatus throughout by Pontolillo, this is and will doubtless remain the foundational work regarding Ed's years in the military during WWII. For more on the book, you can read an overview here

10 Questions With James Pontolillo
The author as a young man.
1. Have you ever worn an angora sweater? 
No, I have not. Although I did briefly entertain the idea of writing my Ed Wood book while wearing an angora sweater. I went onto Ebay, and the variety of angora sweaters available was so overwhelming that I quickly dropped the idea. Probably for the best; sweaters don’t do much for my figure nowadays. Cross dressing is a slim, young guy’s game. I would just look like a scary extra from the movie Wigstock.

2. You expressed to me, before the publication of the book—and addressed your initial worries in the book itself—that sharing documentary proof of Ed's wartime activity might piss people off. Have you received any angry missives since publication?
Not yet. The Ed Wood community has been incredibly supportive so far. At worst, some people have said they are somewhat saddened by my deflation of the Ed Wood combat legend. But there is still plenty of time for angry responses. After all, my book has yet to crack the New York Times bestseller list. LOL. 
3. Why Ed Wood? 
I’ve always had an interest in idiosyncratic visionaries and extremists—people who chart a course way outside of the mainstream. You have to be someone special to decide to run far off the rails in a new, unusual, and interesting way. Eddie was nothing if not an idiosyncratic visionary. I first saw Plan 9 when I was a kid and knew nothing about Eddie. Years later, I discovered him through the Medved Brothers' Golden Turkey Awards book, and the rest is history. 
4. The book contains Ed's entire military record, from mundane to starling and new. What startled you most? 
Well, what was most startling was the night and day contrast between what he did during the war and what he claimed to have done during the war. The contrast could not be much starker. While I was expecting some of the received legend to be BS, I was not expecting it to be virtually complete BS. But when you look at his wartime story as a whole, it is understandable why he manufactured the legend that he did. 
5. If there is one mystery about Ed or his work that you would love to solve, what is it? 
Well, there is a certain scene that recurs in many of Ed’s short stories and novels. You know what I’m talking about—a very unusual type of reveal that occurs to the sound of a camera shutter going off. It is such a constant element of his work that I’m convinced it must be based on a personal experience. I’d really like to know the true story behind that scene. God, I hope that it’s not another one of his fanciful inventions.
6. You've also interrogated Ed's paperbacks with a combination of incredibly knowing discernment and predictive analytics, effectively answering questions about Ed's authorship. Beyond what he wrote, did you garner any insight into who he was? 
I read Eddie largely for sheer enjoyment without giving too much thought to what the text may be telling me about him. This is true for other authors that I am stuck on like Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, etc. When I read, I place myself inside the work. I don’t stand outside and try to examine it. 
7. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? 
You think I was born yesterday? I see what you are trying to do here. This is the low IQ version of the famous Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?" You are not going to lead me into a Rorschach dead end that easily. Let’s see how this grates your carrot. Let’s talk Ed Wood gematria. Coincidence or not, by full reduction gematria "Edward D. Wood Jr." equals: 
Dantes Inferno
Symbolic logic
Gender neutral
Screw magazine
Alien invasion
Drunk driver
Ruby slippers
8. What's next on your personal Woodology horizon? 
I have been collaborating with a renowned Woodologist on a revised and expanded reissue of David Hayes’ classic Muddled Mind. Not sure when that will come out, though. Other than that, I have no other Eddie projects going on. I’m actually in the midst of a writing break at the present time. After publishing four books in as many years, I am overdue for an extended research and writing break.  
9. You self-published The Unknown War on Amazon, among numerous other scholarly publications. Based upon those experiences, Universal Access or Penetration? 
When online print-on-demand publishers (Amazon, Lulu) tell you that their distribution network will increase your sales, don’t believe it. From a sales perspective, there is usually no substitute for releasing your book through established channels. The real advantage of POD is being your own boss and editor. For better or worse, you get to publish exactly what you want irrespective of commercial viability. However, if you manage to hit a popular vein and sell in any quantity, like the short-lived dino-porn fad on Amazon, the POD publishers pay much better royalties than traditional publishers. I haven’t answered the question yet, have I? Let’s go with Penetration. 
Belinda in cold cream.
10. Glen or Glenda? 
Definitely Glenda. After all, women’s clothes are designed for their comfort. Hats that give no obstruction to the blood flow, hats that do not crush the hair. Interesting thought, isn't it? Hell, back in the day I went to a Halloween party as Belinda Carlisle off the cover of the first Go-Go’s album. You know, wrapped in a bath towel with cold cream on my face. As far as I know, pictures (thankfully) do not exist! 

Special thanks to author James Pontolillo, for subjecting himself to our first 10 Questions. Check out more of his diverse and challenging work here.  I can definitely relate to his last answer. For Halloween 2005, two friends and I attended a party as the group TLC. I was T-Boz. When I was a much younger man, I briefly entertained a crush on Belinda Carlisle, during the savage and tumultuous throes of puberty.

Apart from those correspondences, my friend Jimbo and I initially connected via our shared love of Ed nearly two years ago. As we began talking, I mentioned that I was working on revising David Hayes' invaluable index, Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Thanks both to the internet and the increasing number of serious (and seriously obsessive) Ed Wood fans, knowledge about Ed's life and work have continued to expand four decades after his passing. David graciously invited me to update his index to reflect this newfound information.

While that revision continues to challenge me, Jimbo and I began talking about his interest in using text analysis to solve the problem of identifying exactly which books were written by Ed Wood. After a burst of amazingly creative and scientifically rigorous work, Jimbo—I initially called him the "Mad Scientist"—quickly submitted to me a series of such reports to supplement the index I was compiling. Now is not the time to get into his full methodology. Suffice it to say, Jimbo utilized four software text analysis tools as well as his own ridiculously big brain in the process. He deployed a battery of predictive analytics to Ed's known and suspected work, solving outstanding questions of authorship. This has helped me avoid mis-Ed-tributions while also making new discoveries.

James Pontolillo has been charting Ed Wood's work.

Additionally, he and I have dug deep into researching Ed's early years in Poughkeepsie, and it was Jimbo who first noted to me the common narrative element he mentions in his answer to Question #5. He and I have privately referred to this Wood-ian trope as "the boner in the face." If you've read your fair share of Ed's short stories and paperbacks, you know what we're talking about.

Although he says he is not currently and actively working on anything regarding Ed, I advise readers to stay tuned. A certain self-styled foreseer, a friend and associate of Ed's who more primitively employed predictive analytics of his own, might just be on Jimbo's periphery.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This is just a bunch of comics parodies and remixes, okay?

This book never existed, but don't you kind of remember it in bookstores anyway?

Look, I'll level with you. I was going through the images saved to my hard drive, deciding which ones to chuck, and I found some  comics parodies that I hadn't posted here yet. So I wanted to collect them in one big post before deleting them from my computer forever. That's what this post is. There's nothing else to this, so don't expect any incisive commentary.