Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Set Decoration Odyssey, Part Six by Greg Dziawer

A relic from the heyday of 1970s porn.

Prop of the week: a bronze statue.
When we examine the films Ed Wood worked on in some capacity during his final decade—plus the ones we think he might have worked on—we see how often they intersect through their set decorations. There are distinctive props, furnishings, and wall hangings that turn up again and again in these 1970s adult movies.

I've already covered several of these decorations previously. For instance, there are the Chinese guardian lions and the lion's head door knocker that show up in Necromania and The Young Marrieds, two feature films directed by Ed, as well as in numerous silent 8mm loops. Then there's the black velvet painting of a panther descending a stone staircase. And let's not forget the infamous gold and white skull

Some of these set decorations serve as signposts to the alert viewer that a particular movie was made at Hal Guthu's studio set on Santa Monica Blvd. That's not always a guarantee, though, that Ed Wood was involved. I've seen some films and loops that feature items from those sets but likely have nothing to do with Ed. However, the lion's share (no pun intended) of these set decorations strongly suggest that Ed Wood was involved in a production.

This week, I'm going to follow an item I first noticed in Necromania. I traced this item first to another one of Ed Wood's features and finally to a mysterious but intriguing loop.

Ed's feature film Necromania is rife with items that turn up in other movies. It was only recently, while watching the outtakes of Take It Out In Trade, that an item from Necromania I had not spotted previously caught my eye. In Necromania, when Danny (Ric Lutze) and Shirley (Rene Bond) enter Madame Heles' place at the outset of the story, there stands a small piece of bronze decorative statuary just inside the door, sitting on the floor in the lower right corner of the screen. It's a squat, bulbous thing maybe about a foot and a half high. In the Trade outtakes, during a shot of a travel poster, two such bronze statues appear in the bottom left and right corners of the screen, indicating they were a pair.

Bronze statues in (from left): Cafe Lust, Necromania, and Take It Out In Trade.

Mere days later, I was screening some 1970s adult loops, and—sure enough—there it was again. The loop in question, Café Lust, takes place on a cheap strip joint stage set. The cast consists of two gals and a guy. One of the aforementioned bronze statues sits atop a table in the corner of the set, just to the left of the stage. The stage itself uses a piece of zebra-striped fabric as a backdrop. I've seen this same fabric repurposed again and again in these movies: as a blanket, as a wall hanging, as decorative bric-a-brac, and even as a carpet! Café Lust gave me my best view yet of this faux zebra skin. Up close, it looks like it is indeed a carpet.

Café Lust is also fascinating in that it dates from the brief era when the porn industry was transitioning from softcore to hardcore, placing it circa 1970. (Meanwhile, the clapperboards visible in the outtakes from Take It Out In Trade indicate it was filmed in mid-January 1970.) Lust survives today, ID'ed as "White Box Productions #23." This is another example of a loop that was packaged anonymously in an effort to protect its makers. The filmmakers obviously took some other precautions. There are a few halfhearted attempts to block out genitalia with objects in the foreground, and an oral sex scene is clearly entirely faked, with the act itself obscured throughout by the actresses' hair.

Aesthetically, the sparse strip show stage in Café Lust makes the stage in The Young Marrieds look ornate by comparison. But that could be owing strictly to the lighting and we could be on the very same set. Also worth noting: the stripper's dance moves are extraordinarily similar to those of the stripper in The Young Marrieds.

The real question, as always, is: Was Ed Wood involved in this loop? The circumstantial evidence suggests that he was, but that's still just an inference. We're close, without a doubt, but there remains more work to do. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Preview Odyssey by Greg Dziawer

Plenty of time to get some popcorn at the refreshment stand.

Things are happening, folks. Exciting things that I can't wait to share with you.

I have a lot of upcoming articles in the works for Ed Wood Wednesdays. In fact, I have too many balls thrown in the air! As we wait for one to come down, I'd like to preview just some of the topics I'll be covering in the coming weeks and months.

  • Ed Wood's career in sponsored and industrial films has gone largely undocumented until now. In addition to discussing Eddie's work with Story-Ad Films in the late 1940s, I'll detail the nature of the closed circuit live television broadcasts that Ed listed on his resume, while working at Autonetics at the dawn of the '60s.
An article from the Poughkeepsie Journal, September 18, 1949.

  • I'll also be covering the distribution history of the final four films that Ed is known to have directed in the 1970s: Take It Out In Trade, The Only House in Town, Necromania, and The Young Marrieds. All four of these adult movies made the rounds before disappearing into decades-long obscurity. We'll find out where and when they played, and ID the films they were paired with. It's quite a wild story. The Young Marrieds, for instance, was astonishingly still playing in theaters into the early 1980s! But more on that to come.
An ad for Take It Out in Trade.

  • In addition, I'll take a closer look at a couple of vital figures from Ed Wood's past: Eddie's young brother Howard William Wood (who typically went by William) and his close friend from high school and beyond, George Keseg.
  • The unseen garage-cinema of Ed and Bela (1986) will finally get its due. Ahead of its time in more than ways than one, this biographical short film's interpretation of Bela Lugosi eerily anticipates Martin Landau's award-winning performance in Tim Burton's Hollywood biopic Ed Wood (1994).
  • If that isn't enough to get your attention, I'll also be attempting the most comprehensive index yet of Tor Johnson's wrestling matches.
Tor with hair, 1936.

All this and much more awaits you, true believer, right here at Ed Wood Wednesdays. Whatever you do, keep watching this space for updates!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood/Dziawer Odyssey, Part Eight by Greg Dziawer

This week, Greg finds himself on the trail of a blue panther.

Reunited and it feels so good.
Increasingly, as I continue this odyssey into the life and work of Edward D. Wood Jr, I find myself overwhelmed. That's certainly been the case recently, as I've spent the last two weeks working on three sprawling articles that just keep falling deeper into rabbit holes. Fortunately, I tell myself the holes are lined with angora.

All these topics have conspired to launch me into a near-existential crisis: Ed's work for Autonetics in the early 1960s; the myriad scandals experienced by some of his key collaborators; and the sheer madness of identifying all the recurring set decorations in his movies.

That was in addition to turning 50 recently, which startled me. My partner Kitten threw the first birthday party for me in nearly 40 years. Somehow, she managed to get my best friend from my youth there, the inestimably wise TStep. After the party he and I hung out. I had not seen him in nearly a quarter of a century. 

Last night, seeking respite from research, reflection and nostalgia, I decided to just surf the internet aimlessly. That entailed looking at screencaps from sex films in the general target zone when Eddie would have been active—the late 1960s through the mid-'70s. I didn't have to look far before finding something interesting. Literally in the first batch of screen captures I examined, I noticed a wall hanging in the background that had already turned up numerous times in my purview.

In one bedroom in Eddie's 1971 feature Necromania, there's a black velvet wall hanging of a greyish panther walking down a stone staircase. We've discussed this set decoration here before, and I knew it was only a matter of time before it showed up again. I was happily surprised to see it more clearly and with brighter colors than previously. At the same time, though, I was frustrated that only the lower half of the painting was visible in the background, since two hippie chicks were getting intimate in the lower foreground, spoiling my view. Yes, I said frustrating. I really have arrived at the point where I'm watching everything in these films except the sex! 

The panther painting turns up in How I Got My Mink (1969).

Still in all, these captures were more than enough for me to cue up the full-length film, a sex comedy called How I Got My Mink. This particular movie was released in 1969, predating Necromania by two years. While Eddie was not involved in this production, the use of that familiar panther painting further substantiates just how ubiquitous Hal Guthu's studio on Santa Monica Blvd. was in the sex films of that era. Guthu's soundstage was home to the interior sets for all three of Ed Wood's final feature films as a director (that we know of): Take It Out In Trade, Necromania, and The Young Marrieds. In addition, this studio was used for dozens—perhaps hundreds—of the 8mm porn loops in which Ed was likely involved in some fashion.

In the latter half of How I Got My Mink, three sex scenes take place just under the panther's gaze and stealthy approach. What I found most interesting here was just how blue the panther looked. Was this the result of color correction or was it the most accurate depiction of the wall hanging? As I regain my focus and continue along other lines of research, I wonder where that velvet painting will turn up next.

Get excited. TStep is back and the Blue Panther is on the loose!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Glen or Glenda Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

The Christine Jorgensen case brought Ed Wood some publicity in 1953.

Christine Jorgensen in 1953.
Back in 2016, I shared with you an interesting wire service story about Ed Wood's debut feature Glen or Glenda. Written by prolific UPI staffer Aline Mosby, this piece explained how Wood's film—which it referred to as I Changed My Sex—shrewdly capitalized on the sensational saga of trans woman Christine Jorgensen. The article was syndicated to papers across (most of) the country on February 19-20, 1953, just a few days after Jorgensen's attention-grabbing return to the United States.

Arriving by jet from Copenhagen, Jorgensen had touched down at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in Queens on February 13. Mere months prior, on December 1, 1952, the Daily News had run this blaring headline: EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. And, with that, Christine Jorgensen became the most famous person in the world to have ever undergone sexual reassignment surgery. The native New Yorker's transformation, in fact, would take another year to be complete. For his inaugural directing gig, Edward D. Wood, Jr. utilized the real life Jorgensen drama as a jumping-off point for his highly unique and extremely personal one-of-a-kind masterpiece, Glen or Glenda.

While I was certain at the time that Mosby's article was the earliest public ink ever devoted to Wood's film, I recently found another that had been published only two days earlier. This one had been penned by Los Angeles Times drama critic Edwin Schallert, father of the incredibly prolific and beloved character actor William Schallert. In Edwin's column on February 17, 1953, we read:

That veteran portrayer of mysterious scoundrels and what-not, Bela Lugosi, will soon be visible on the screen again in a weird science fiction subject titled "Transvestite," which concerns the transformation of men into women in their apparel and other outward manifestations but which does not deal with any sex issue. It's sponsor, Edward D. Wood Jr., declares it has no relation to a case much spotlighted in the news. Lugosi will be the mastermind in the science phase of the picture, which is said to incorporate much symbolism. Others in the cast are Dolores Fuller, whose fiance falls under the Lugosi influence, while Lyle Talbot will be seen as a police inspector and Tim Farrell as a psychiatrist. Roles of the victims are minor. The film is being finished at the Jack Miles studio.
Was Lugosi filmed at Jack Miles Studio?
For such a relatively short blurb, there's a lot to mull over here. 

Edwin Schallert, for instance, refers to Wood's film as Transvestite rather than I Changed My Sex. Although he got to press first, Schallert presumably wrote his column sometime after Aline Mosby had written hers—certainly not by much, likely a few days. The evidence of this is that Schallert states that the film was "being finished at the Jack Miles studio." Mosby, on the other hand, had trailed the production to W. Merle Connell's Quality Studios in Hollywood, where we know the bulk of the interiors for Glen or Glenda were shot. 

Some sources claim that Bela Lugosi's sequences were filmed separately at Jack Miles' Los Angeles studio. If so, it's fair to assume that these scenes were shot last. In her 2009 autobiography A Fuller Life, Dolores Fuller notes that Glen or Glenda was "shot in only five days with no budget." Under those circumstances, it's not difficult to imagine that Wood and company simply moved from Quality Studios to the Jack Miles studio because the latter location possessed the right set for Lugosi's scenes.

It's also interesting to note that, as in the Mosby article, the science-fiction aspect of the production is foregrounded in the Schallert column, and there's a deliberate statement to distance the film from Christine Jorgensen. In Schallert's article, the subject is so obvious that she is not even mentioned by name. My favorite statement, though—and we are doubtless reading Ed's thoughts and/or words throughout both of these articles—is that the film "does not deal with a sex issue." 

For its part, the IMDb notes the film's shooting locations as both the Quality and Jack Miles Studios, along with the Columbia/Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood. Incidentally, Jack's studio is also credited in the Wood-scripted The Violent Years from 1956, and Miles himself is credited for "settings" or as art director or production designer, depending on the source, for Glen or Glenda

Christine at the Silver Slipper
Jorgensen was frequently in the news throughout December 1952, right through the winter of 1953. On the same day as the Schallert article, she appeared in a syndicated photo feature, which noted that she had "changed her sex." And on February 25, 1953, Oakland Tribune staffer Wood Soanes lifted from the Mosby article, adding fresh details, including producer George Weiss being one of Poverty Row's most successful producers and agent Al Rosen offering Christine Jorgensen the lead in the film. A charming piece, it appears to have resulted from talking to Weiss, himself, sans Eddie. 

I've always wondered if the tale of Jorgensen being offered the lead in Glen or Glenda were apocryphal. This article suggests it wasn't. Connecting the dots, we'll surmise that Weiss himself offered the property to Rosen, who had initiated a seemingly failed attempt to represent Jorgensen in the States within less than two weeks of the BLONDE BEAUTY headline that had started it all. Why do I think this? A syndicated article on December 11, 1952 notes that: 
[Jorgensen] confirmed she had received an offer to star in a new Hollywood version of the comedy "Mary Had A Little," planned by producer Al Rosen. Although Christine denied she already had signed to appear in the picture and make personal stage appearances with it, her Danish manager, Blicher Hansen, indicated the one-time soldier had signed other American contracts. 
Mary Had a Little..., if the same film, was finally made—without Jorgensen—in the UK in 1961. As for Christine herself, she continued on in the entertainment industry but never became the star she had hoped. 

Likewise Ed Wood. A year or so after shooting Glen or Glenda, Ed landed Bela Lugosi a live burlesque gig at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas. Ironically, this precluded Lugosi from appearing in Wood's next feature, The Hidden Face (better known as Jail Bait). According to Dolores Fuller, Eddie immediately began filming that crime drama as soon as the funding came through. The role intended for Lugosi was instead essayed by the mind-bogglingly prolific Herbert Rawlinson, a former leading man from the silent era, in what would prove to be his final role.

Despite Eddie's claim of Glen or Glenda having no relation to the Christine Jorgensen story, Wood and Jorgensen have been entangled ever since, their careers intersecting in various ways. In December of 1955, for instance, Jorgensen appeared in her own live show at—you guessed it—the Silver Slipper. And in the 1960s, she would be a subject of writer Carlson Wade, whose work is commonly mis-Ed-tributed to our Eddie. Continuing to conflate the transgendered with transvestites, Jorgensen even appeared in drag stage shows with legendary cross-dresser T.C. Jones, who had been "cast" by Ed in his screenplay for the never-filmed 7 Rue Pigalle.

Alas, these are subjects for other odysseys on other days.

Left: T.C. Jones. Right: A poster for Mary Had a Little... (1961).
There's a generous selection of newspaper clippings about Christine Jorgensen and Glen or Glenda at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.