Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Ten by Greg Dziawer

The eye has it!
   
NOTE: Classic good news, bad news situation this week, folks. The good news is that Greg Dziawer is still looking into very obscure 1970s pornographic loops in search of Ed Wood's involvement therein. The bad news is that he is having computer problems this week and was unable to complete his latest article. But he did send me a partial rough draft of it (NSFW), and I am happy to present it here at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. Enjoy. - J.B.
UPDATE (9/6/2017): Greg is back up and running, and he has finished this article. Here it is, complete with more photos. Still NSFW. Enjoy. - J.B.
UPDATE (9/13/2017):  Part 11 of the series is here. Again, it's NSFW. - J.B.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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

Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller, and Ed Wood on New Year's Eve, 1953.

The famous photo from 1953.
It was just a few days ago when Milton Knight, a fellow Woodologist, posted a historic photograph to a private Ed Wood forum. I had doubtless seen it before, but I'd never thought twice about it. Photos of Ed have generally remained an area of research that I now realize I've seriously neglected. This particular black-and-white snapshot depicts Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller, and Ed Wood dressed to the proverbial nines. Ed looks sharp in a light-colored tie against a light-colored shirt. Dolores has something wonderfully fuzzy draped over her arm, and her signature is visible in the lower left-hand corner.

I initially replied that it could be from 1953 or '54, maybe from Bela's Silver Slipper Revue in Las Vegas. I was close.

Soon after this image was posted, another Woodologist who owns a copy of the photo purchased from Dolores at a convention appearance, posted a version with a caption: 
Bela Lugosi, Dolores Fuller and Ed Wood
San Bernardino, California, New Year's Eve, 1953
The year is handwritten, unlike the previous caption text. (A correction, perhaps?) While this image had been posted many times online, both with and without the caption, there had to have been an actual source. The Woodologist who had purchased a copy subsequently told me that Dolores "sold many copies" of it. Dolores' penchant for marketing herself and her work in later years is a subject for another time. Suffice it to say that she excelled at it, and it's likely thanks to her that this image survived at all. 

What is the backstory of this photo, you are likely wondering? I had somehow forgotten that this incident was recorded in previous Lugosi biographies that I'd already read, as well as Ed Wood's own posthumously published Hollywood Rat Race.

In Arthur Lennig's The Immortal Count: The Films of Bela Lugosi (1974), we suffer the painful details of this fallow period of Bela's life. Lillian Arch, his wife of 20 years and mother of his only child, left him in the spring of 1953. Ed was acting as Bela's agent at this time. The Hungarian actor made a guest appearance on the July 27, 1953 edition of You Wanted To See It, a live TV series in which host Art Baker fulfilled various mailed-in requests from viewers. After appearing in a six-minute sketch as—what else?—a vampire, Lugosi told Baker that he was working on "a few things," including a film called The Phantom Ghoul and a TV series called Dr. Acula. As most Wood fans know, these were both projects that Eddie initiated but sadly never completed. By October, unfortunately, Bela struggled to find work, selling possessions at public auction and moving to a more modest apartment in Los Angeles.


After Lillian's departure, Bela became depressed, drank, ate poorly, and lost weight. These changes are evident in his gaunt features and skeletal hands in the New Year's Eve photo. It was then, as Lennig tells it, that Bela "was roused from his misery by the indefatigable Ed Wood, who booked Lugosi into a New Year's show in San Bernardino, California, to usher in 1954." The tone of this statement confirms Tim Burton's Ed Wood biopic, reinforcing the theme that Ed rose above his challenging reality.

Robert Cremer's Bela bio Lugosi: The Man Behind the Cape (1976) likewise notes that, at the New Year's Eve show, "sandwiched between films, Lugosi gave a well-received speech, after which he remained to shake hands and sign autographs."

Article about the West Coast Theatre.
By far, the most thorough account of the night was included in Ed Wood's Hollywood Rat Race. Wood used the New Year's Eve show as a parable about redemption and determination. It is up to the reader to decide how much of Wood's story is true and how much is wishful thinking.

In any event, as part of a chapter called "Hate," Wood describes a 71-year-old Bela Lugosi as being "despondent" and "outwardly ready to quit" due to his dire financial circumstances in late 1953. His older films had started playing on television by then, but young viewers watching these classics didn't know whether Lugosi was alive or dead. Wood specifically mentions Maila "Vampira" Nurmi hosting a broadcast of White Zombie (1932) on Los Angeles' KHJ-TV. This incident seems to have been the basis for a memorable scene in Burton's film, with Bela (Martin Landau) and Ed (Johnny Depp) watching Vampira's show from a lumpy couch in Bela's cluttered home.

Desperate to find work for Lugosi, who by then was too frail to appear in stage plays, Wood hit upon the idea of having the legendary actor make a personal appearance where he would interact with his fans directly. The elderly actor, Wood reports, was enthusiastic about this plan. But Lugosi had no real act, in the traditional vaudeville sense, so it was difficult at first to find a proper venue for him. Luckily, Wood had previously done business with a gentlemanly exhibitor named Albert Stetson, who owned several movie theaters in or near Los Angeles at the time. It was Stetson, Wood says, who devised the New Year's Eve program at his San Bernardino location, about 61 miles outside of L.A.

Wood goes on to describe the hoopla preceding the big night, with Lugosi giving numerous interviews, attending various club functions, and even meeting George Blair, the mayor of San Bernardino. The day of the show, Ed and Bela drove out to the theater, braving cold, misty weather along the way. They were accompanied by Dolores Fuller, described by Wood as Lugosi's "lovely assistant." Once he arrived in San Bernardino, Lugosi was immediately corralled into doing yet another radio interview instead of being allowed to relax.

After that ordeal, Bela, Dolores, and Ed all attended a "final cocktail party for the press" held at a nearby hotel. Wood makes a point of saying that Lugosi diligently refrained from drinking that day, even though the actor "had always enjoyed his scotch and room temperature beer." But the party dragged on and on, Wood says, and Lugosi was getting tired. Finally, the actor was allowed to go to his hotel room to put on his "full dress suit" and prepare for the evening. Wood tells us that Bela "demanded solitude even from his friends" before a show.

An ad for Bela Lugosi's New Years show.
According to Hollywood Rat Race, the bill of fare that memorable evening consisted of "five features, several cartoons, and a hundred-dollar bank night drawing." The program, Wood alleges, began at 9:00 that night with a screening of Arabian Nights (1942) with Jon Hall. Bela had not yet arrived. Dolores had been dispatched to retrieve him from the hotel. Attendance was initially sparse to nil but picked up substantially within the first hour until the box office had to display a "Standing Room Only" sign. Wood says that the local police and fire departments were brought in to handle the crowds and traffic generated by the show.

After Arabian Nights and an obscure Terrytoons short called Runaway Mouse (1953) had ended, Lugosi finally pulled up in a limousine, only to be mobbed by autograph seekers. There was no longer any doubt, Wood says, that the audience was there specifically to see the aged actor. "A rerun movie and a gross of cartoons hadn't attracted people from parties on New Year's Eve," Wood writes. "It was the great Lugosi who had come out of hiding after all those years." Finally, at 10:58, Lugosi took the stage and tearfully delivered the following short speech:
My dear friends: I greet you here tonight on a new, great, New Year. May the coming year bring the joy and success deserved. I wish, with all my heart, that I might meet each of you on the mezzanine in a few minutes where I might personally shake your hand and say ... God bless you.
Lugosi's "performance" that night lasted less than a minute by Wood's reckoning. Bela had disregarded the three-minute speech Eddie had written and instead "designed his own speech." The Dracula star then ascended to the mezzanine, where he and Dolores distributed autographed photographs to waiting fans.

This show business fairy tale ends with Albert Stetson sending Ed Wood a letter thanking him for breaking box office records at the venue. The letter, as quoted in Hollywood Rat Race, is effusive in its praise: "Mr. Bela Lugosi's personal appearance at the West Coast Theater [sic] has truly given our theater a wonderful evening."

The now-demolished West Coast Theatre (later the Crest) was an ornate house hailing from the height of the silent era. Despite its auspicious beginnings in 1925, the place was no longer showing first-run features by 1954. The ad for the New Year's show in The San Bernardino Sun (December 30, 1953) lists only two of the five promised features. It was one of the smaller ads on the page, dwarfed by promotions for New Year's floor shows elsewhere as well as for John Wayne's Hondo, admittance to which would cost you $1.25. The West Coast, meanwhile, advertised 50 cents for an entire show. And the ad tells us that the show—with Bela present and presenting "speeches" that could very well have been penned by Ed, alongside an assortment of B and second-run features—ran for an incredible four days.

Acknowledgements
  • Special thanks this week to artist and illustrator Milton Knight for instigating, unwittingly or not, both a whole new Wood Odyssey and a brand new space in my head. Make sure to check out his incredible blog, The World of Knight.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Odyssey, Part Seven by Greg Dziawer

South of the border, down Mexico way: Another Ed Wood loop has been identified.

¡Libre al fin!

A series containing The Jailer.
"He did a loop where he played a Mexican jailer. He had a dildo and a big sombrero." So remembered cinematographer Ted Gorley of his occasional employer Ed Wood in Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy back in 1992.

Now, a full quarter century after Grey ID'ed this particular loop simply as The Jailer in the book's annotated filmography (pg. 215), I finally came across it online a few days ago. This film has long been something of a Holy Grail for me. I stopped dead in my tracks when I looked at the screencaps for a loop titled Prisoner Love Making. The very first image was of a shirtless jailer in a sombrero. 

Although the loop was posted well over a year ago to a site called Vintage 8mm Porn, the page does not credit Ed's appearance. I quickly downloaded the loop and verified that it is, indeed, Ed.

There is no title card, but the loop opens on a sign on the wall that concisely establishes the narrative: PRISONERS LOVEMAKING LIMIT 15 MINUTES. This being an 8mm loop on a 200-foot reel, they'll only need eight minutes or so. The speed of the transfer is a tad slow, evident in the movements, and runs over nine and half minutes. Although the color is nearly gone, the image quality is serviceable.

The camera pulls back from a close-up of the sign to reveal a prisoner, wearing a hat that says "Vacationing at Leavenworth," anxiously pacing the floor in a room with a brick wall as backdrop. The shirtless jailer, holding a rifle with a pistol tucked into his pants, enters the shot from the left with a girl in a nightie. Wearing a ridiculously large sombrero, he pushes the girl into the prisoner's arms and the camera assumes its focus on the couple. The sex scene is rather perfunctory, taking place on a mattress right on the floor of the set... er, jail, I mean. A grated window adorns the wall above them.

Ed appears for a total of six shots throughout the film, the camera sporadically cutting away to him, off to the right of the couple having sex. The cutaways are blink-and-you'll-miss-it brief, on average just two seconds or so. In total, Ed appears onscreen for under 15 seconds in total, but he memorably closes it out, jerking a dildo while scrunching up his face comically. His demeanor in the earlier shots is inscrutable, his back sometimes to us or glaring stoically at the couple.

Ed Wood is a jailer in Prisoner Love Making.
Released under the label The Best of the NM Series as loop #17, Prisoner Love Making is certainly the fabled jailer loop mentioned in Grey's book. The box cover carries a 1974 copyright, but the loop is likely a few years older. Cinematically, we have yet to evolve into the dreamy mannerist loops we've obsessed over here in the Wood Loop Odyssey, or arrived at subtitling. The other loops in the NM series, and the index numbers I've seen go as high as 30, also betray the same more primitive yet functional artistry. Undoubtedly, the NM 1974 releases are of loops that Noel Bloom/Cinema Classics had issued earlier.

Although the set is very spartan, the iron grate over the (fake) window is the same as the one above the kitchen sink in The Young Marrieds. The brick wall backdrop shows up often in early Cinema Classics loops, and even serves as a set for photos from Sexual Practices in Witchcraft and Black Magic Book 1.

For those who only read about it and wondered if it would ever turn up, the answer is yes. In fact, for a select few in-the-know Woodologists, the loop was passed around on tape for years. For me, I can now definitively state of Ed's certain involvement in a loop, even if only this brief but wonderful cameo.
Bonus: Some uncensored, mildly NSFW images related to Prisoner Love Making are available at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr. Go get 'em. The entire movie has been uploaded here. It is obviously NSFW, but those who count themselves as Ed Wood fans should see it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Magazine Odyssey, Part Fifteen by Greg Dziawer

Looks like at least two pages to me.

NOTE: Greg Dziawer has been looking through those 1970s adult magazines for Ed Wood's work again. His article is NSFW and for mature audiences only, so it's been moved to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.  The main article is here with additional related images here. If you're over 18 and comfortable with explicit material, enjoy. - J.B.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

I'm sorry, Aunt May. I'm sorry.

Guest appearance by Vera Miles. Thanks, Vera.

I fully realize that the character of Aunt May, Peter Parker's nigh-saintly guardian in The Amazing Spider-Man, has undergone a rather dramatic makeover in the movies. She was played by Sally Field in the previous Spider-Man film series, and she's played by Marisa Tomei in the current one. But the Aunt May of my own youth—the one depicted in the Marvel comic books I grew up on—was an impossibly decrepit old lady with a gaunt, haggard appearance and a wardrobe out of the 1890s. She was supposed to be lovable, I think, but I found her off-putting and even frightening, more threatening in her own way than any of Spidey's declared foes. Imagine the Crypt-Keeper dressed as Granny from Looney Tunes.

Anyway, the "classic" Aunt May lives on in the daily Amazing Spider-Man newspaper comic. And she's as unsettling as ever, as evidenced by today's strip. So I decided to have a little fun with her, Hitchcock style. No offense, Aunt May. Really.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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

Three-time Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty had a connection to our own Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Mayor Yorty and Mr. Hyde

Logo for Yorty's local chat show.
In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992), actor Conrad Brooks claims that, circa 1967, Wood "was either driving a cab or working for Sam Yorty, writing campaign speeches." In that same book, Grey states that Ed Wood worked for Sam Yorty in 1964 at KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles and "may well have directed segments" of Yorty's local talk show.

Mayor Sam, as he was sometimes affectionately known, endured three tumultuous terms as Mayor of Los Angeles from 1963 through 1971. Although he remained active in politics before and after this, including two terms in the House of Representatives from 1951 to 1955, his occasional appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, per the IMDb, all occurred during his stint as Mayor. Yorty also helmed his own talk show in LA, on and off again, through the '60s and '70s, and even appeared on Truth or Consequences with host Bob Barker. 

As we begin to examine the connections between Wood and Yorty, consider the following pieces of evidence:

  • Buddy Hyde is a name familiar to serious Wood fans, no doubt. He is quoted a handful of times in Nightmare of Ecstasy. Buddy produced Cris' TV show Criswell Predicts. Additionally, Buddy and Cris were invited by Ed to attend the shoot of Necromania and peruse the film's two principal sets. Furthermore, Ed and John Agar stopped by to see Buddy in 1977 to borrow some cash for booze. Buddy attended Ed's funeral service, as did Cris. And Buddy, too, worked for Sam Yorty. 
  • Ed has also been credited as working on the TV series Criswell Predicts

So what does all of this mean?

I was googling a couple of weeks ago, digging into Sam Yorty, wondering if I could somehow find a clue that linked to Ed's involvement with the Mayor. Not far into it, I hit upon an article that startled me. It was about Buddy Hyde.

From a newspaper story about Hyde.
The article, published twice locally in Hyde's hometown of Hagerstown, MD (on October 5 and 7, respectively), is a treasure-trove of relevant details. Apart from painting a very reverential portrait of Hyde—deservedly so, as the article reveals a fascinating career—we learn of Hyde's close association with Mayor Sam Yorty. (And Christine Jorgensen?!?) 

If Ed did, indeed, work on shoots for Yorty's LA-market talk show as early as 1964, we have to wonder if Buddy was also there. Despite the quote in Nightmare of Ecstasy that Hyde produced Criswell Predicts in the late '60s, the show itself—originally 15 minutes of filler also sometimes repeated and scattered throughout the day's schedule—aired from 1953 through 1961, initially on LA's Channel 13 KCOP. Could Ed and Buddy have linked up that early, and with Cris? 

This is just the starting point for this Odyssey, ultimately endeavoring to identify the nature of Ed's work for Mayor Sam Yorty. As an accountant would say, we are also promised positive externalities. Namely Criswell. And a better handle on Cris' relationship with Ed, as well as a clearer understanding of the famed psychic's TV series, radio show, and syndicated newspaper column. 

As one final bit of ephemera: Criswell name-checked Buddy Hyde in that selfsame column, which by then was in its final days. (Also a common theme in Criswell Predicts: predicting that female impersonators would stage The Women in Vegas, "creating a new trend.") By 1975, Criswell's column retained the tagline "An Accurate Glimpse of Your Future," but Cris' picture had been replaced by a simple graphic image of an observatory and a few surrounding planets. 

Ed's star, too, had disappeared from the firmament, though not for long.

We'll return to the Wood Yorty Odyssey here, in future Ed Wood Wednesdays, and untangle the impossible story of Ed's involvement in the day-to-day dialogue of the national political scene during a cataclysmic time. 

And—oh yeah—while he was involved in that, he was also writing porn.

NOTE: Additional newspaper clippings related to Buddy Hyde and Criswell can be found at the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The existential ennui of Jeffy

Alone. Why must he be alone?

Context is everything. Bil Keane's heartwarming Family Circus is a single-panel feature, meaning that we really only get to see a few seconds of the characters' lives at a time. Maybe if we saw what happened right before and right after, we'd have a different view of the proceedings. So it is with today's cartoon. Jeffy is really only there to be a sounding board for Dolly. But what if the larger, more interesting story were all about Jeffy? That's what I've tried to convey here.

Speaking of recontextualizing the funnies, here's my pitch for a spin-off of Crock.  It'd be about the adventures of a imaginative, rambunctious boy and his best friend, a sassy talking vulture. You might think this looks a little familiar, but trust me -- it's all original, baby.

Nothing second-hand about this.

And just to round things out, here's a little comic I pieced together out of panels from Mark Trail and Rex Morgan, M.D. Enjoy.

You'd best not talk to Jules that way, June.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ed Wood extra: 'The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946' by James Pontolillo

What did you do in the war, Eddie?

Ed Wood: Portrait of the artist as a young man.
My learned colleague, Greg Dziawer, is still working on what should prove a fascinating article about an under-reported aspect of Ed Wood's career. Stay tuned for that next week. In the meantime, allow me to say a few words in support of an extraordinary new book called The Unknown War Of Edward D. Wood, Jr.: 1942-1946 by James Pontolillo. This volume, just released and boasting a foreword by Mr. Dziawer himself, contains a thorough and scrupulously factual account of Ed Wood's experience in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, starting with his enlistment in May 1942 and following him all the way through the war and beyond. Pontolillo based the book on official U.S. government records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

To be sure, this is an unsentimental and unromantic book. Its sole aim is to let fans know what Eddie's military career was really like. In addition to a detailed chronology, The Unknown War also contains facsimiles of the documents that Pontolillo obtained from the National Personnel Records Center. The author does not spare the reader from details that might be upsetting or disillusioning. I will not spoil any of The Unknown War's many revelations, because I want you to read the book for yourself.

Why is this book important? Eddie's stint in the Marines was clearly a pivotal event in his life. He drew on his war experiences for years in his films, books, and short stories. In addition, it is clear from reading Rudolph Grey's Nightmare Of Ecstasy that Wood never tired of discussing his time in the service with family, friends, and professional associates. The filmmaker knowingly cultivated and propagated what Pontolillo calls "the Legend of Battle Eddie." The colorful details have become integral parts of the Wood mythos. But how much is actually true? Read The Unknown War and find out.

To my mind, there is no way to understand Ed Wood without taking his military experiences into account. There is no separating the man's life from his work. They are forever intertwined. Trying to avoid talking about Eddie's military record would be like trying to avoid talking about his alcoholism or his cross-dressing. It can't be done. At least we should be basing our judgments on accurate, truthful information. That is what James Pontolillo's book provides.

P.S. While reading The Unknown War, I could not help but be reminded of this scene from the Coen Brothers' 2001 film The Man Who Wasn't There. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Loop Orbit, Part Eight by Greg Dziawer

John Holmes and a buddy in the 1974 loop Pier Passion.

NOTE TO READERS: It's time for the latest installment of Ed Wood Wednesdays. This week, Greg Dziawer takes a look at the 1974 two-part porn loop Pier Passion, featuring legendary adult actor John Holmes. Once again, this article is extremely graphic and decidedly NSFW, so I have decided to post it to the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr instead of this blog. The main article, profusely illustrated, is here. There are additional photographs here. If you're over 18 and comfortable with explicit pornographic material, enjoy with my compliments. Thanks. - J.B.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Brooklyn's Ambassadors of Love: More from the TMBG mailbag!

The two Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell, choke themselves in this photo by Chris Cuffaro (December 1990).

I saved pretty much everything, every insignificant little scrap of paper, from my early days as a fan of the alternative rock duo They Might Be Giants in the 1980s and '90s. I have already shared some of that material with you here and here, but there is much more of it in my archives. Hence this third (and probably not final) post. Hopefully, there is still significant interest among TMBG fans to continue this series.

Just to show you I was not kidding when I said I saved everything from that era, here is a packing slip that was included with a TMBG baseball cap I ordered in 1992. I'm including it here because of the whimsical coffee cup design and to give you some insight into how low-tech TMBG's merch business was in the early '90s.

An official TMBG packing slip (1992).

And, yes, I still have -- and wear -- the hat.

Wearing my "TMBG: Building Better Music" hat (2017).
   
In the pre-internet era,
They Might Be Giants kept fans updated by means of printed newsletters like the one below. This particular example is from early 1990, a crucial time in the band's history. John Flansburgh and John Linnell had made the move from Bar/None Records to Elektra Records by then, and TMBG had just released Flood, its major label debut and still its best-selling album. With tracks like "Birdhouse In Your Soul" and "Particle Man," the LP brought They Might Be Giants lots of new fans, a fact that is addressed in the newsletter. 

But the fan club was still a humble, homemade operation by today's standards. Note the request for fans to send in two SASEs (that's "self-addressed stamped envelopes" for you youngsters). The back side of the newsletter makes reference to the aborted Purple Toupee EP and mentions a possible B-side anthology from Bar/None. That turned out to be Miscellaneous T from 1991. (More on that later.) Other items of note: updates about Flansburgh's new glasses and Linnell's new sax, plus a whimsical Mark Marek drawing of the title character from the 1942 children's book The Poky Little Puppy. TMBG appropriated that image, originally created by Swedish-American illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, and used it on merchandise in the late '80s and early '90s. And, as always, there are coffee cups.

TMBG newsletter from early 1990 (page 1).

TMBG newsletter from early 1990 (page 2).

Steve Skovran
What else do I have to share today? Well, here's a tour itinerary from December 1988. TMBG would have still been promoting Lincoln at that time. You can tell this list was typed on an actual typewriter, with a crudely xeroxed "They Might Be Giants" logo stuck to the top of the page. This was a very busy month for the Johns, taking them across the United States. They had very little time off to relax and enjoy the holidays that year.

Beyond that, this scrap of paper is like a glimpse into a lost world. Club Lingerie, a former hot spot on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, is long gone. So is the I-Beam in San Francisco. Ditto One Step Beyond in Santa Clara. The Starry Night in Portland bit the dust in 1991. The Sundance Saloon in Bozeman, Montana seems to have gone the way of all flesh decades ago, maybe not even surviving past 1988. Wally Gators in Madison, Wisconsin is likewise defunct.

Maybe the most puzzling listing is for a December 21, 1988 appearance on the MTV talk show Mouth To Mouth. Anyone remember this one? It was hosted by a comedian named Steve Skovran, who went on to be a prolific TV writer-producer (Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.). The short-lived, totally forgotten show featured comedy by Skovran, live performances by rock bands, and animated bumpers by Bill Plympton.

A TMBG tour itinerary from December 1988.

Speaking of Lincoln, here's a press release from Bar/None regarding that album. It's a nice little snapshot of where the band was nearly 30 years ago, thrilled to have shared the stage with LL Cool J and Suzanne Vega. Also dig this bit of wisdom from Flansburgh: "I think we've also learned that our arrangements might actually be less fussy than they used to be. We tend to leave the kitchen sink in the kitchen now."

A press release for Lincoln from Bar/None Records (1988).

I've been debating how best to present some of these newsletters, since the text is smaller and may not be legible if shrunken down to blog-friendly size. And yet, I still want to preserve the original formatting of the pages. So rather than chop them up into pieces, I've decided to present them at a smaller size while encouraging readers to CLICK on them to see them at a larger size. Is that acceptable?

Okay, then, here is a newsletter whimsically titled "The Might Be Times" from December 18, 1990. This had been a year of triumph for They Might Be Giants, with Flood and "Birdhouse In Your Soul" burning up the charts in England. This newsletter gave the boys a chance to crow about their success, while also working in some information about Dial-A-Song and Miscellaneous T.

A TMBG newsletter from December 1990. Click to see at larger size.

Conveniently printed on the back of the December 1990 newsletter was the Winter 1991 newsletter. This was more housekeeping-type stuff about the mailing list itself, with reminders about address changes and the like. But there is some background information about William Allen White, the Kansas newspaper editor whose image was used in many TMBG videos and concerts in the early days. Again, you'll have to click on this to see it at a legible size.

Winter 1991 newsletter. Click to see at larger size.

You thought we were done? Don't be silly. The TMBG discography is now so unwieldy that it takes a team of experts to keep track of it all, but in the early days, the band's entire output could fit comfortably onto a single piece of paper. The fan club occasionally sent out copies of the discography back then, allowing fans to keep up with all the releases, and here's an example from 1990. Again, you'll need to click to see them at a legible size. I guess what's interesting here is that the discography is broken up into two sections. The material from 1985-89 (the indie years) is on one side, and the material from 1990 onward (the major label years) is on the other. Also take note of the cartoon Johns from the "Hotel Detective" music video.

TMBG discography, page one. Click to enlarge.

TMBG discography, page two. Click to enlarge.

Getting back to the band's innovative music videos, TMBG put out a VHS compilation of them called simply The Videos 1986-1989. The following ad for the tape could scarcely be more bare-bones, but that's how They Might Be Giants rolled back then. The Videos 1986-1989 was originally VHS-only but later came out on laserdisc. I swear I had a copy of the LD version but must have gotten rid of it years ago, probably when it was made obsolete by the Direct From Brooklyn DVD and, of course, YouTube. Silly me. The thing is now a collector's item, fetching up to $80 on Ebay. Whoops.

This was TMBG's entire video output circa 1989.

I think I'll close with a reprint of They, an elaborate TMBG newsletter from the fall of 1991. Once again, you're going to have to click on these pages to see them at a more legible size. The fan club newsletters varied wildly in size and format from issue to issue. They seems like an attempt to create a standard magazine-type template, but it didn't last beyond this one issue. TMBG didn't have a new Elektra album to promote that year, but they did have the Miscellaneous T compilation from Bar/None. In addition, the fan club assembled two pages of "Arcana From The Archives" to share with fans. Some really fascinating little oddities here, concerning Dial-A-Song, Lincoln, and more. The last page of They is the typical "TMBG Information Bulletin," this time giving a progress report on Apollo 18 and teasing a TMBG songbook that never happened.

And then, my friends, there is this quaint announcement:
It's hard to believe it's been five years since TMBG's first album came out, but it has, so we decided to have a party. John & John and lots of past and present folks from TMB Productions, Bar/None Records, Hornblow Music Management and Dubway Studios (where They Might Be Giants was recorded) gathered at a Manhattan eatery earlier this month along with family, friends and assorted hangers on to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Giants' debut album. It was great seeing all those folks together again for the first time and a swell time was had by all.
Could they have known they'd still be doing this three decades later?

Fall '91 newsletter, page one. Click to enlarge.

Fall '91 newsletter, page two. Click to enlarge.

Fall '91 newsletter, page three. Click to enlarge.

Fall '91 newsletter, page four. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A heartwarming moment from today's 'Judge Parker'

No need to go on Maury, Randy. You are definitely the father!

I've had a love-hate relationship with the comic strip Judge Parker this year, especially when this long-running legal soap opera spent several months heaping misery and sorrow onto the smug, rich Driver family. I mean, sure, they deserved it. Big time. But after a while, enough was enough. That story seems -- at long last -- to have concluded, and the strip has shifted its focus from the Drivers to the Parkers. (Dig that symmetry, huh?) Specifically, hotheaded Randy Parker has just reunited with his estranged wife, April. And, to put it mildly, he didn't handle it well. But his temper tantrum did provide the inspiration for the parody you see at the top of this post. Here is the original for comparison.

Did someone ask for an Armadilloid version? No? Well, here's one anyway.

Isn't she lovely? Isn't she wonderful?

And why not a Mary Worth crossover, too?

I like how Wilbur's flowers match his/her glasses.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 67: Revisiting 'The Sinister Urge' (1960)

Scratchy-voiced Gloria Henderson (Jean Fontaine) made her debut on MST3K in 1994.

Neglected no more: The Sinister Urge.
Edward D. Wood, Jr. really didn't direct that many feature-length films during his so-called "golden age," i.e. the years before he permanently descended into the world of pornography in the 1960s. There are the big three, naturally: Glenda, Plan 9, and Bride Of The Monster. The ones everyone knows from the Tim Burton biopic. The standbys. There's Jail Bait, too, a neglected "middle child" that has never received as much love and attention as its siblings. The Violent Years, though scripted by Wood, was (at least nominally) directed by William Morgan, so it doesn't quite count. Wood claims he edited two of those made-for-TV Tucson Kid episodes with Tom Keene into a quasi-feature, but this has never surfaced. Wood's other titles from this era (The Sun Was Setting, Final Curtain, etc.) are featurette-length.

That just leaves The Sinister Urge, an anti-smut scare film from 1960, by some counts the "last" movie Ed Wood ever made. When reference books say Ed Wood only directed five movies, they're ending their tally with this one. For whatever reason, despite its importance in the Wood canon, The Sinister Urge has gotten rather short shrift in this project. Sure, I did a complete write-up on the movie back in 2013, but I haven't rewatched it since then. I basically sat through it once all the way through, shrugged, and moved on. And yet, here is a full-length movie written and directed by Ed Wood when he was still sort of in his prime. He was only 36 when it came out. Thanks to some repurposed footage from the abandoned juvie flick Hellborn, Ed even plays a semi-prominent (if brief) role in it. Doesn't that deserve more attention?

I started wondering if maybe there were more to The Sinister Urge than I'd originally gleaned. So I decided to rewatch the movie with fresh eyes. Right away, I was struck by the first shot: a blonde (one-film wonder Betty Boatner), clad only in a bra and slip, running in terror toward the camera on a dirt road. The camera seems to be on the back of a car or truck, because it's moving, too. For an Ed Wood movie, this is a very dynamic beginning. Keep in mind that Glenda starts with Bela Lugosi sitting in a chair, and Plan 9 starts with Criswell sitting behind a desk. In contrast, The Sinister Urge doesn't have any scene-setting narration or preamble. Other than the title appearing onscreen, it doesn't even have opening credits. More so than at any other time in his filmmaking career, Ed Wood seems eager to get the action underway. This is as in medias res as he gets.

Don't worry, though; the usual Ed Wood inertia is not far away. In his DVD introduction to the film, Ted Newsom suggests that credited cinematographer William C. Thompson only shot the interiors for The Sinister Urge. And, true to form, there is a marked difference between the indoor and outdoor scenes in this movie. One plot thread has pompadoured hoodlum Dirk (Dino Fantini), driven mad by exposure to pornography, stalking and killing young women in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. These scenes crackle with an energy that vanishes once the film heads inside.

For the most part, this film is even more static and talky than usual for Wood. Our heroes are two hardworking, grim-faced policemen: Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan) and Sgt. Randy Stone (Duke Moore). Matt is a little sharper than Carson, sort of the Sherlock to his Watson, but neither is particularly energetic. Matt and Randy spend most of their time in the former's dark, wood-paneled office, discussing a string of porno-related murders and decrying the rottenness of the smut racket. When they do venture out to a crime scene, their hard-boiled dialogue goes like so:

Randy: (examining a woman's corpse) Just like the others. 
Matt: Pretty kid, too. 
Randy: She doesn't look much like a kid now. 
Matt: Maybe she grew up during that moment of truth. When she died. 
Randy: The same M.O. Killed the same way. The same everything. 
Matt: With one great difference. 
Randy: What's that? 
Matt: Her name will be different.

Duke Moore and Kenne Duncan in The Violent Years.
Move over, Joe Friday, huh? Actually, The Sinister Urge may be the best movie yet to illustrate Ed Wood's obsession with Dragnet-style police procedurals. I still maintain that Jack Webb was one of Eddie's greatest unheralded influences, more so than Tod Browning or James Whale. Why else would Glen Or Glenda, a film ostensibly about gender fluidity, be structured around a police investigation? Wood was so enamored of the tough-guy repartee between Duncan and Moore that he wanted to build an entire second feature, The Peeper, around their characters. Maybe he even had dreams of a mini-franchise starring these two. It's obvious why that never happened, though. To cast sleazy, sarcastic Kenne Duncan as a good guy seems all wrong, and Duncan's chemistry with bland, pudgy Duke Moore is virtually nonexistent. At one point, Wood tries to lighten the mood with a scene in which Randy plays a mischievous little prank on Matt, who has fallen asleep at his post. But "impish" just isn't in Kenne Duncan's wheelhouse, and the scene falls flat.

On the other side of the law, we have porno filmmaker Johnny Ryde (Carl Anthony), a man who "used to make good movies," and his boss/distributor/lover, scratchy-voiced Gloria Henderson (Joan Fontaine). They, too, spend a good deal of time sitting around and talking. Interestingly, Johnny and Gloria have both their strategy sessions and their makeout sessions in Gloria's sparsely-decorated living room, making this movie yet another example of Ed Wood using the homestead as his favorite backdrop. Gloria's house, in fact, doesn't look much different from the troubled homes featured in Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait, and Plan 9. And just like those domiciles, this one is threatened by outside forces. When knife-wielding Dirk breaches the perimeter, it spells doom for the household and everyone in it.

The character of Gloria, on this viewing, reminded me a lot of Vic Brady (Timothy Farrell), the gangster from Jail Bait. Both of these people spend their lives in a constant state of agitation, always snapping at the people around them. Irritation is Gloria's default reaction to pretty much any stimulus. There is a scene, for instance, in which Johnny introduces Gloria to gawky, naive Mary Smith (Jeanne Willardson), a starlet he plans to exploit. Before Johnny even attempts to say Mary's name aloud, Gloria explodes with rage: "Names at this stage are unimportant! Names are your department anyway!" If the crooks are trying to win Mary's trust, this is a strange way of going about it. One wonders how Gloria ascended to a position of prominence in the underworld with so little finesse.

As for Carl Anthony's character, reader Milton Knight points out that the name Johnny Ryde is very similar to that of Johnny Hyde (aka Ivan Haidabura), the Russian-born talent agent who was instrumental in shaping Marilyn Monroe's early career. Hyde changed Monroe's image drastically, a process that included plastic surgery, and helped her secure important early film roles. Certainly, then, there are parallels to Johnny Ryde's treatment of innocent Mary Smith, who is encouraged to change her hair, wardrobe, deportment, diction, and place of residence. Hyde had already been dead a decade when The Sinister Urge was released; Monroe herself died in 1962.

All in all, my opinion of The Sinister Urge hasn't really changed since 2013. I still find the film suffocating and sluggish at times, though eccentric characters like Gloria and Dirk help liven up the proceedings. Johnny Ryde might be an onscreen stand-in for Ed Wood, but Carl Anthony plays him as such a colorless dullard that it hardly matters. The Sinister Urge closely follows the template of Reefer Madness, simply substituting pornography for marijuana, but Wood's film lacks the transcendent nuttiness of Louis Gasnier's anti-pot parable. Of the films from Eddie's classic era, this will probably be the one I watch the least. Some have praised this movie for being more coherent and focused than Wood's other efforts, and it is. Personally, though, I feel Wood's appeal rests on his abnormality, his asymmetry, so coherence is not necessarily what I'm looking for in his movies.

But I'm glad I revisited The Sinister Urge just the same, because there are some prime Wood-ian moments that I had forgotten. Perhaps my favorite comes when a group of tough-looking young women, another one of Eddie's many girl gangs, storms into an ice cream parlor at the behest of Gloria and Johnny to beat up the proprietor, a stocky older man named Claussen who has snitched to the cops. There's a closeup shot of one of the girls shoving a vanilla ice cream cone right in Claussen's fat face. Eddie doesn't hold the shot quite long enough for my taste, but it's a thing of surreal beauty nevertheless. The moment is worthy of Bunuel.

An episode from 1994.
Just to make sure no stone was left unturned, I finally decided to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of The Sinister Urge. For some reason, I'd been avoiding this one, maybe figuring it would be a bit too mean-spirited. Wood's movie was used as the basis for an episode during the show's sixth season back in November 1994, when it was still on Comedy Central. This wasn't MST3K's first voyage into the Wood canon by any means. The show had memorably tackled Bride Of The Monster during its fourth season and had razzed The Violent Years just three episodes prior to The Sinister Urge. Since the show's theme song promised viewers "cheesy movies, the worst we can find," it's only natural that they should aim their sights at a filmmaker widely considered "the worst director of all time."

The MST3K episode turned out to be a lot of fun and nothing to worry about. The Violent Years gets off fairly lightly here. It doesn't provoke the same agonized reactions as Manos: The Hands Of Fate or Red Zone Cuba. Host Mike Nelson and his robot pals (voiced by Kevin Murphy and Trace Beaulieu) don't threaten to mutiny or anything like that. In The Mystery Science Theater Amazing Colossal Episode Guide (1996), writer-performer Paul Chaplin describes Wood's movie in almost affectionate terms:
In this movie, the production end of Gloria's empire seems rather charming: the smut involves women in baggy swimsuits being photographed by a kindly elfin immigrant. Arousing? Not particularly. But is that really the main point of smut? For reasons too complicated to get into, Gloria kills Dirk when she means to kill Johnny (or is it the other way around?). The cops reveal the mistake to her, and she emits a harshly nasal "Nuh! Uh-uh! No way!" it's become one of our favorite moments. Gloriahard, raspy, and shrillserves as a reminder of the world Ed Wood inhabited. You get the idea this is a real woman playing herself.
Along with the usual string of pop culture references, invoking everyone from Eric von Stroheim to Marian McPartland, the episode's main running gags involve Joan Fontaine's harsh voice (the show claims you could shave with it), the stiffness of Carl Anthony's performance (he's compared with Hymie, the robot from Get Smart), and the resemblance of actor Dino Fantini to a young Bob Dylan. There are also some jokes about Ed Wood's tendency to pad his films with dull, extraneous shots, like people parking or getting in or out of cars. (A typical riff: "Film it all, Ed!") A few token references are made to Ed Wood's transvestism (he is said to have dressed like the aforementioned Ms. McPartland), but these do not get out of hand.

There are also a number of jokes about the character of Officer Kline (Fred Mason), a complete nonentity who pops up periodically throughout the film. Mike and the 'bots pretend to be hugely excited by Kline's utterly unexciting appearances. Weirdly, The Sinister Urge ends on a shot of Kline, who stands guard over the bodies of Dirk and Johnny as Lt. Carson takes Gloria downtown. So maybe this character really was of great significance to Ed Wood.

At one point during the recycled Hellborn footage, Mike Nelson comments: "I think Ed Wood has directed himself into a corner." Wood himself is onscreen that very minute, literally standing in the corner. Moments later, Tom Servo (Murphy) exclaims, "I think these scenes are from a completely different movie!" "Maybe," replies Crow (Beaulieu), "but they work so well here!" Is it possible that the MST3K writers knew this footage had been repurposed, or was it just a lucky guess on their part? Or was it so obvious that they figured it out on their own?

By the way, it seems initially that the episode's host segments, i.e. the scenes that take place outside the theater, have little to do with The Sinister Urge. There's an episode-long plot about the character of TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) becoming a mad bomber after seeing too many violent movies. But, eventually, even this cycles back around to Ed Wood. Sort of. Mike Nelson and the robots decide to crack the case, and Tom and Crow start talking and dressing like the cops in the movie. "Don't play schoolgirl with me!" Crow barks to an informant (Chaplin). "I've got so much on you, I'll send you so far up the river, you'll think you were a salmon!"

As Grade B dialogue goes, that's Grade A.