Anyone off the street, after spending years hearing him being labeled as the worst director of all time by the press, would falsely describe Edward D. Wood Jr’s life as something along the lines of “notorious.”
The real story of Ed Wood, much like the story of Jesus Christ, is a positive tragedy. It’s a story of sadness and suffering, a story of one man’s quest to promote a message of acceptance, and a story of suffering and eventually death, only to be justified after death with everlasting life in the minds and hearts of people worldwide. Yes, that’s right. I said everlasting life. Ed died broke and saddened, a man broken in every possible way by society and now, only after his death, every video store in American carries the Tim Burton film Ed Wood at the very least and many video stores even go so far as carry some of Ed Wood’s films. And the websites preaching Ed’s works and messages continue to grow in numbers as the years go on.
And all of this because Ed Wood was the worst director of all time.
Isn’t that what you want to hear?
If you’re reading this, then chances are you want to hear the humorous, tragic stories of Eddie Wood’s life and laugh. The idea, the concept of Ed as being this humorous hack director, it’s a media image that has permeated our American subconscious starting in the early eighties. Shortly after his death, the rise of the vcr facilitated America with an all new way of watching motion pictures as well as opened the door to an all new library of films. Watching and collecting bad movies suddenly became a widespread American fad.
This is best represented by two items: first, the early eighties film It Came from Hollywood, a thrown together bad movie compilation piece featuring as hosts Ginda Radner, Cheech and Chong, Dan Ackroyd, and John Candy hosting a salute to Ed Wood, who he calls “a true master of the B-movie … well … D-movie.”
The second, more important example, is the movie reviewing duo the Medved brothers and the release of their book “The Golden Turkey Awards” which announced Ed as the worst director of all time and his movie Plan 9 (Grave Robbers) from Outer Space the worst film of all time.
Since that time, Ed Wood has falsely been labeled as the world’s worst moviemaker and his so-called “bad” movies have become legend.
And therein lies the ultimate irony of Ed Wood and his works. It’s very easy for Woodites to become angry at Michael Medved for labeling Ed as the worst director of all time and yet without the Golden Turkey Awards manklind might not have known about Ed Wood. This also beings up the point that Ed’s films are only bad because of money; no budget for better effects, better actors, better sets.
Were his films bettered with a sizeable budget, then Ed’s films would have probably gone unnoticed and no one would have cared at all about Ed Wood. His films needed to be labeled bad in order for people to care about him and his life’s work. If Ed made movies without bad sets and bad acting and bad effects, then the world would never have given a damn about the man and his life and legacy would have gone unnoticed.
So, as much as it pains die-hard Woodites to admit, the image of Ed as the worst director of all time must go hand-in-hand with the image of Ed as an original, energetic, enthusiastic martyr for his art for one image truly cannot coexist without the other. Edward D. Wood as savior must co-exist with Edward D. Wood the bad director for indeed one begat the other.
And somehow, that is in essence the life of Eddie Wood.
Edward Davis Wood Jr. was born October 10th, 1924 Poughkeepsie, New York at 115 Franklin Street. His fatherwas a maintenance man for the post office and his mother, Lillian, was a quiet, domineering woman of the times. Growing up, little Eddie loved reading comic books and science fiction stories. He also liked music and formed a small time music band called The Sunshine Mountaineers with his local boyhood friends. But his lifelong love was acting, the stage, and movies.
There are conflicting reports here as to how Ed developed his trademark transvestism. Most people sort of guess how he got it, others have heard Ed say different stories as to how he got it at different times. Some people point to the scene in Ed’s 1953 film Glen or Glenda where Glen wears his sister’s dress for a Halloween party and, as the line goes, “then one day, it wasn’t Halloween any more.” Others point to the Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood where Ed proclaims that his mother used to dress him in “girlie clothing” because she always wanted a girl and it just became a habit. Others say that Ed’s mother dressed him in drag as some sort of punishment. No one knows for sure. But this transvestism became his second lifelong love next to the silver screen and, right behind bad movies, the second most famous thing he became known for.
In 1942 Ed was working as a theater usher when he signed up for the Marine Corps and fought in World War II. Most reports, with the eye of Ed as the “bad filmmaker,” simply focus on the fact that Ed would wear a bra and panties underneath his military uniform. This is true, but Ed’s military days weren’t a joke. Ed won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and more for the action he saw in Tarawa and the Marshall Islands.
His time in the Marine Corps, and then later as a G-2 agent in the South Pacific, would haunt him for the rest of his life.
The year 1946 is hazy in the life of Ed Wood. Reports vary regarding what Ed did with his life once he was discharged. Stories include Ed joining a travelling carnival as the half man/half woman, Ed studying acting and creating writing at Northwestern University, Kingsmith School of Creative Arts, and the Frank Lloys Wright Institute, and Ed squatting in an abandoned theater in Chicago.
Another, even more fanciful story, sees Ed, still a G-2 spy for the United States Marines, worling undercover posing as an ice skater for the Ice Capades, skating and touring across American while ferreting out Russian and German spies.
Whatever the case, Ed moved to Hollywood in 1947 ready to make a name for himself.
This was a different time.
When Ed moved to Hollywood, the streets were clean and safe, it was okay to go out at night, and the whole city was alive with an abundance of positive creative energy. Ed immediately started getting work, small bit parts mainly in various stage productions. Then, in 1948 things really started happening for Wood and it was around this time that the man Edward D. Wood, the man we would all eventually come to know and love, started to emerge.
After meeting veteran cameraman Ray Flin at Monogram Pictures, he set to work writing, producing, directing and co-starring in his first motion picture, a classic shoot-em-up Tombstone western called Crossroads of Loredo, also known as The Streets of Loredo. This thirty-minute, never-released film was to have sound and music dubbed in later, which never was, and has been seen only by a small few. But it is here, on the set of his first movie at the tender age of twenty-four, that Ed Wood first emerged as a man with limitless energy and optomism. Here, Ed learned to work with a small budget, improvise with what was available around him, and use his boundless enegry and positivity to create happiness for everyone around him.
Ed didn’t know the first thing about riding a horse and yet this did not stop him from casting himself as ahorse-riding villian in the film. This edge-of-your-seat optomism and determination to create despide the obstacles that surrounds him is what set apart Ed from everyone else.
One legendary story from that shoot concerns a coffin. During shooting, they realized that they needed a coffin for a certain shot. Within an hour, Ed had made a coffin out cardboard, threw water on it to make it look aged, and got his shot. Cast members were stunned, as would millions later on, at how ingenious Ed was and how quickly he could use the things around him improvisationally to create what he needed for the scene.
The footage for the unfinished Crossroads of Loredo is a timeless Woodian treasure and the Woodites of the world can only hope and pray that it one day sees the light of a video shelf.
With a motion picture under his belt, albeit an unfinished one, Ed began to toy around Hollywood, working here and there, creating his own brand of art whenever the moment presented himself. On October 25th, the same year Ed made Loredo, Ed wrote, directed and starred in a play based on his war experiences entitled “The Casual Company.” And in typical Ed fashion, even though it garnered lousy reviews and closed soon after it opened, Ed still found positivity enough to turn the play into a novel which remains unpublished.
As the 40’s came to a close and the 50’s started, Ed found work at Universal Studios at their scheduling department and eventually worked his way up to the story department. Here, Ed rubbed shoulders with legends, working late nights and becoming friends with such celebrities of the time as Lou Costello, Tony Curtis, and Danny Kaye.
During this time, Ed did many runs of local theater in and around Hollywood and continued to get some small bit parts here and there, wherever he could find a place that was willing to take him on. In 1950, he worked as a stunt double in the film The Baron of Arizona and in typical Ed fashion, he was in drag for the part. This led to Ed becoming a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild in 1951. This seemingly opened the door for him and led him towards directing a half hour television drama entitled The Sun Was Setting. Ed’s career was filled with promise. Things were happening to Ed. This was a good time.
It was around this time that Ed met and fell in love with a beautiful young blonde actress named Dolores, a woman who would act in infamy in two of Ed’s most notorious films, Jailbait and the now legendary Glen or Glenda.
Dolores Fuller was married and had two children when Dolores decided to get a divorce and chase her dream of being an actress. She had dome some small parts in a few films when she auditioned for a young director named Edward D. Wood Jr. in his offices on Hollywood Blvd. at the only spot in Hollywood where Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. connect. Ed immediately fell for her and told her matter-of-frankly that he was going to make her a star. And he did, too, in a roundabout sort of way.
Theirs was a scandalous relationship for their time, two people living together unmarried in the fifties, the woman being a divorcee and the man being a transvestite, although for the first year of their relationship he hid the fact that he liked to dress in drag. But Ed really seemed to love Dolores and despite the fact that eventually she left him to lead a normal life, their relationship really helped fuel Ed towards new heights of Woodian creativity.
The importance of these early years of Ed’s life cannot be stressed enough. It truly seemed as if Ed was really on the verge of breaking through into the mainstream at this point in his career and it seems too as if this might have been where he was at his happiest and yet, given the fact that none of his early pre-Glenda work is readily available to the public, this is the part of his life that usually is overlooked or simply brushed aside for juicy anectdotes from Plan 9 from Outer Space.
However, despite the exclusion of Criswell or cardboard tombstones or stolen octopi, this early part of his life must be studied and discussed for it is this early segment of Ed’s life, this mad rush of creativity and positivity and endless possibilities and mainstream success only a few chess moves away from Ed is what drove him through the rough periods later in life. It is right here, in his early days, where the director known as Edward D. Wood Jr. really came into fruition as a person and as a director.
The story of Glen or Glenda really begins a year later in 1952 when Ed Wood was introduced to a small-time exploitation movie producer named George Weis, who convinced Ed to write a script for him.
The film, The Lawless Rider, was the first in a series of hurtful successes Ed Wood vicariously had in his career. On a number of occasions in his lifetime, Ed wrote scripts, directed by other filmmakers who paid Ed a small amount for a Wood-penned script and said script would go on to become a huge hit for someone else, leaving Ed with nothing more than a small paycheck for services rendered and a feeling that if he only made the film himself, then he’d finally be rich and famous. The Lawless Rider was the first such event for Ed.
He filled his script with the classic cowboys and sinister bad guys and horse riding and exciting gunfights, the sort of things that delighted him in his childhood. It was everything he wanted to do in “Loredo” but couldn’t. The film, directed by stuntman Yakima Canutt, went on to be a big hit and Ed was paid just a few hundred dollars and the screenplay credit went to the pseudonym “Johnny Carpenter”. This wouldn’t be the last time Ed had a brush with success.
Possibly to pay him back for his screenplay, George Weiss set Ed up to be the writer and director of a film he planned to make to cash in on the hot-off-the-presses story of transsexual Christine Jorgensen that Weiss planned to call “Behind Locked Doors.” But when Christine Jorgensen heard of Weiss’ plans and demanded to be payed for his/her story, Weiss decided to continue on with the production and planned to simply change a few names here and there and still release “Behind Locked Doors” as a sensationalistic sex film-style faux documentary exploitation film on the lurid life and shocking secrets of transsexuals.
And then Ed got hold of it and turned it into a surreal biography of himself as well and a cinematic plea for acceptance to a world that shunned him for wearing women’s clothes. It has been called many titles – The Transvestite, I Changed My Sex, He Or She, Behind Locked Doors, I Led Two Lives – but it stands today as one of Ed’s most well known and certainly Ed’s most infamous film, starring Ed Wood, Dolores Fuller, and featuring Bela Lugosi as God – it is the legendary Glen or Glenda.
Bela Lugosi as God? Yes, you read that correctly. Bela Lugosi as God. This film pulled no punches.
It is as if the film had no script and was just violently yanked directly from the inner recesses of Ed’s brain. His use of shadows, fog, nursery rhymes, symbolism, and silence is just unmatched for any early fifties motion picture and adds to the mood of the film, making any watching of Glenda seem like a strange dream instead of what it was intended to be which was just a sleazy throwaway exploitation film.
And having Bela Lugosi play God suggests a much deeper meaning hidden within the film. Having Bela’s omnipotent Godly narrator act as judge over Glen/Glenda takes the burden of transvestism off of Glen’s soul, saying that perhaps it is not Glen’s own “choice” to be transvestite but that he was born a transvestite instead. This says that Glen/Ed is in no way responsible for his transvestism, that he was born a transvestite in the same way that gays and homosexuals are said to be born with their tendancies. This concept was unheard of in the world in 1953 except for in the mind and films of Ed Wood.
It should be noted that Bela was not a willing particpant in Glen or Glenda as the Tim Burton biopic suggests. Bela, who still saw himself as a superstar, didn’t want anything to do with Ed and his strange semi-biographical exploitation sex art drama film at first, mainly because he didn’t see a star of his magnitude doing a motion picture with any studio other than the major ones. He didn’t want to work for an independant. And yes, he knew that it was going to be a transvestite/sex change film. He didn’t blindly agree to being in the film because he thought that it was something of a “Jeckyl and Hyde production” as Burton’s biopic again suggests. Bela might have been old and decrepid and hooked on the needle but he wasn’t stupid. Bela’s wife Lillian eventually convinced him to say yes. They were almost broke and needed the money.
Also of note is the false idea that Ed directed all of his films in drag. This is yet another false idea suggested as truth by the Tim Burton film. Being the star and director of “Glen or Glenda,” Ed was forced to direct most of the film while still dressed in his “Glenda” drag costume. This isn’t something he did all the time during every film that he directed, as funny and as endearing as that image may seem to be. Instead it is something that he had to do for this one particular film and that has evolved over time to be some sort of urban legend that has haunted Ed’s life since his tragic death and it simply isn’t true.
Adding to the overall surreal strangeness of the picture is Ed’s need for realism. The film featured a motley cast of REAL transvestites and transsexuals in the supporting roles. And also there was the fact that, this being a poorly produced George Weiss picture, Ed was forced due to budget constraints to film scenes in two takes or less, adding a wild, breakneck speed to the film that would eventually become an Eddie Wood trademark.
Another Wood trademark first used in Glenda is his liberal use of stock footage to lengthen the film. Ed would get unused footage from newsreels and from other motion pictures, stock footage gathering dust in vaults, and added these shots into his own film to make the film seem longer and more professional. It rarely works. Ed’s stock footage comes at you fast and reckless and almost out of control. Old war footage, work at a steel mill, explosions, a shot of a buffalo stampede, all used to strengthen the overall quality of the film. And it succeeds, albeit in a mesmerizing sort of way.
As much as one loves Ed Wood and loves all his works of cinematic genius and respects the ideals that Ed stands for, one must admit that many points of “Glen or Glenda” quite frankly suck. Especially sucky is the annoyingly bland, robotic, nasally done acting horseshit of Dolores Fuller and a strange last-minute addition by George Weiss of a surreal silent musical bondage montage spliced in the middle of a touching dream sequence.
Beyond its flaws, Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda is truly his first real film, a motion picture that to this day stands firm as a strange, intruguing nightmare, a sympathetic testament to transvestism, and a phenomenal achievement of (possibly) accidental cinematic brilliance.
That same year as “Glen,” Ed tried to get his hand into the still young television industry and created a pilot for a series he called Crossroad Avenger: The Adventures of the Tucson Kid featuring former cowboy star Tom Kenne as The Tucson Kid and former B-Western movie star Tom Tyler as his trusty sidekick. Ed had such faith in the project that he actually filmed a pilot sequel that he called “Boots: The Crossroad Avenger Returns” and tried to sell both to the major television networks.
Given the high amount of crappy, low-budget cowboy shows on television at the time, it’s suprising that Ed’s show was never picked up. Ed claimed that the show was passed up in favor of Wild Bill Hickock although this has never been verified.
In 1954, Ed tried to go mainstream with a gangster crime noir film called The Hidden Face but was later renamed Jailbait, the title referring to a gun acting like jail bait for one of the characters and not in reference to some sexual term. The film was originally written to be a serious, non-horror, non-mad scientist, non-vampire role for the aging Bela Lugosi who desired to play at least ONE serious role that didn’t require monsters or make up or fangs. Bela was to portray Dr. Boris Gregor, a plastic surgeon who is forced to perform plastic surgery on a gangster, played by delightfully monotone Glen or Glenda narrator Timothy Farrell, so that he can successfully escape the police.
This is a strange film for Ed. And that is really saying a lot.
There seems to be set in society an arcetype Ed Wood film, one with a rubber octopus and cardboard tombstones and angira sweaters and spaceships on strings and men in drag. These are all the things that Jailbait isn’t. When you think Ed Wood, you don’t think dark, haunting crime noir films. You think mad scientist and aliens and not understated dark gritty crime dramas. And yet somehow, someway this film exists as the black sheep of Ed’s films. This was probably a direct attempt of Ed’s to try to broaden his horizons and sort of show off as a director. It is obviously not as personal a film as Glenda was for him.
For starters, the plot may or may not have been raped from the 1947 Humphrey Bogart film Dark Passage. The final shot of the film, which sees the gangster shot dead in a hotel pool, is an idea liberally borrowed from Sunset Boulevard, released three years earlier. The musical score for the film was taken from the 1952 film Mesa of Lost Women and was composed by the man who would later compose the theme to television’s The Jetsons. And finally, a blackface vaudeville routine is stonel and placed in the early goings of the film during a nightclub scene. The blackface scene is usually replaced in recent video releases with a boring, stolen striptease from some film no one remembers.
The cast of Jailbait is a rather suprising one. Horseface shit actress Dolores Fuller is there in all her bland glory and if she were just taken out of the picture and replaced by someone better, Loretta King perhaps, then maybe the film might have actually gone somewhere. Wood stable staple Lyle Talbot is present as well, but new blood in the form of Steve Reeves and Theodora Thurman spice up things nicely.
Steve Reeves, Mr. America (1947) and Mr Universe (1950) who would later become the world famous star of the 1959 film Hercules, made his uneventful film debut here. Being the athletic pretty boy that he was, in the scene where he is getting dressed it apparently took him twenty-seven takes just to correctly tie a tie. Jailbait is noteworthy in that his boring, bland voice is not dubbed, as it is in almost all of his other films.
Theodora Thurman is a tremendous actress who really explodes in every scene she is allowed to speak. She eventually became famous as the “Sexy Weather Girl” on television’s Jack Parr Show.
Bela Lugosi was set to star in the film and if he had, then Ed probably would have had a major hit on his hands and would have finally suicceeded in breaking through into the mainstream and finally becomming a major Hollywood player. But sadly Bela fell ill and the part went to distinguished actor Herbert Rawlinson, a legendary Hollywood actor whose career began in the silent era and carried on into the fourties and fifties.
If you thought that Bela looked sickly in the old armchair spouting likes about slips and snails and puppy dog tails, then just wait until you see old man Herbert, the walking corpse.
Rawlinson, a walking pile of bones, lacks any semblance of energy or strength in his role and it is obvious why – he died of lung cancer the morning after filming was completed. And you can tell it by his dead, nonsensical acting. He has the acting ability of a corpse with a stick up its anus, but that’s not to say that he does an entirely horrible job. He has his dramatic moments of flair hidden within miles and miles of nonsensical line deliveries but in all honesty even a corpse with a stick up its anus does a fairly good job now and then.
This is the lesser recognized of Ed’s film, probably because of all Ed’s films this one looks most like a normal film. And that’s not what people look for in an Ed Wood film. They want to see cardboard tombstones and laugh at the special effects. This film is quiet and moody and understated throughout, not slapping you across the face like most of Ed’s films. Perhaps that is why it didn’t take off.
This seems to be Ed’s film of possibilities.
This film easily COULD have taken off and it COULD have been a success and it COULD have been a major hit for Ed. But it wasn’t. Jailbait was another failure financially, due mostly to shady dealings from the film distributor, Howco. And yet, to a Woodite, Jailbait seems to suggest what might have been, a look into some alternate dimension where this film was one of Ed’s breakthrough films, the one that really seemed to solidify him as a major Hollywood player.
On October 26th, 1954 filming began at Ted Allan Studios for one of Ed’s greatest and probably most “normal” scirnce-fiction films, Bride of the Atom, later re-named Bride of the Monster.
This is the sort of stuff that Ed is known for. This is the ultimate Ed Wood movie, warts and all.
If Plan 9 from Outer Space is Ed Wood’s Godfather, then Bride of the Monster is Ed’s Godfather Part II.
The script, the plot, is all a carefully painted homage to the classic Universal monster movie but with a slightly less epic scale and more of a sixth grade production of Frankenstien. The plot revolves around a mad scientist named Dr. Eric Vornoff (the nationality of the good mad doctor is purposefully never specified, although the character’s name sounds vaguely Russian) who hopes to create a race of atomic supermen to conquer the world. There are monsters and thunder and rain and a cohesive, coherent script which makes this the sort of movie you’d half-see on a bad-reception, black-and-white UHF station at midnight on a sunday. But in a good way.
Bela is in perfect form here as the a-typical mad scientist trying to conquer the world. This film may have a bad set and a sub-pac script but what it lacks in razzle-dazzle it makes up for with Bela Lugosi in his last speaking role before his death. Despite the bad effects and the rubber octopus and the stock footage octopus, Bela is superb at his role and any other mad scientist that ever came before him or dares to come after him simply pales in comparason to Bela’s almost perfect Vornoff.
As bad as Ed Wood supposedly is as a director, the scene between Professor Strowski and Dr. Vornoff where Bela has his “Home … I have no home …” speech is a beautiful, well written, wonderfully acted scene and one that should rightfully live on in history as one of the greatest monologue ever performed for film. Sure this is an Edward D. Wood Jr. production with Eddie doing his Orson Wells schtick of writing, producing, and directing, but through and through this is obviously Bela’s picture, Bela’s baby, Bela’s final curtain and a fitting end to his long and illustrious career, “Plan 9” nonwithstanding.
You can talk about the other actors and about the “Kelton the Cop” trilogy and the well-rounded acting and the better screenwriting, but this is Bela’s movie. This film is 110% Bela Lugosi and when history has its final say on his illustrious career he will be eternally remembered for Dracula and for Dr. Eric Vornoff.
Eddie, ever the cinematic carnie, realized this and tried as hard as he ever did to milk Lugosi to his absolute cinematic advantage, casting Bela as the a-typical mad scientist in the a-typical laboratory with the a-typical lightning illuminating the dark mansion lost in the foreboding marsh. Ed even went further than that in his quest to milk Bela’s legacy for his own gain. Close inspection of the movie poster shows that for no reason other than to exploit his legendary marquee status and a Hollywood film icon, Bela’s mad scientist character is drawn with small protruding vampire fangs, the subconscious message here being “This man was Dracula for Christ’s sake so go see this damn film.”
One falsehood that has been attached to the filming of Bride of the Monster is the idea that Eddie had originally meant to cast his girlfriend Dolores in the lead role of reporter Janet Lawton but recast actress Loretta King as the lead, mistakingly believing that she had $50,000 to invest. This story, false though it is, prevails in society as a result of the famous “No water! No liquids! I’m terribly allergic to them.” scene in Burton’s Woodian biopic. This could not be further from the truth. Come on! Give Ed some credit here. Sure he’s had a lifetime of bad luck and mistakes, but even Ed Wood wasn’t THAT stupid!
The truth of the recasting lay in the cold, hard fact that as much as Eddie loved Dolores and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her he knew that she, as an actress, sucked big fat donkey balls and didn’t want her as the lead.
Watching Bride of the Monster, it’s obvious that Ed was trying to stray from the introspective, crusading, uber-personal message of Glen and the unsuccessful smokey crime nior that was Jailbait and tried to construct a more modern, more readily available film. This is a movie that your mother or grandmother would have no problem seeing.
Ed was trying to make a modern day big boffo box office mad scientist flick that could reach the biggest possible audience and to do that he knew that he needed to loose the boring monotone death rattle-sounding acting styles of his girlfriend Dolores. He wanted to make a GOOD film here and Dolores just plain stunk up any and all movies she was in. Eddie knew he had to lose her. So how does one fire their girlfriend and still maintain boyfriend and girlfriend status?
They make up a complex and yet highly possible story about Eddie being a money kluzt and hiring a woman solely because he thinks she would produce the film. Believeable, isn’t it? Of course it is, given Eddie’s constant budget problems. And it also places the blame on Loretta and away from Eddie, leaving him and Dolores still able to maintain their relationship together … for a WHILE, at least.
The bottom line is in the acting.
Watch Dolores Fuller put the dead to sleep in her role in Jailbait and then watch Loretta King interact with Bela and Tony McCoy in Bride of the Monster and hands down without a shadow of a doubt Loretta King, unlike Dolores Fuller, actually has some semblence of acting talent. Dolores was the woman that Ed HAD to put in his films. It was his girlfriend, for Christ’s sake. He was obligated to cast her in his films. He was even more obligated to throw parts her way given that, when Ed was low on money or work, Dolores was there for him, giving him money and a place to stay during the early lean times. So Dolores is the unfortunate actress in so many films. Loretta King was the woman that Ed WANTED to put in his films.
Either during or after the filming of Bride, Dolores broke things off with Eddie. Ed took this incredibly hard and was known to stand outside her hpouse and cry, screaming “Let me in! I love you!” Ed had always begged Dolores to marry him but she needed a “normal” life and for a while there Ed was lost without her, hurt and lonely and saddened and depressed, a man broken by women and broken by Hollywood.
Dolores later moved to New York and wrote eighteen hit songs for Elvis Presley – crappy throwaway songs from the lesser known films that Elvis made. Ed, sad and alone, would later meet the woman who he was meant to spend the rest of his life with, his beloved Kathy.
Ed spent a year raising the money to start filming “Bride of the Monster” and got only three days into shooting when George Becwar, the actor who played Professor Strowski, called the Screen Actor’s Guind on Ed and had the production shut down, which was fine seeing as how Ed had run out of money anyway.
Filming resumed in March of 1955 when Hank McCoy, owner of the Meat Packing Service Corporation put up the rest of the money for the film on two now legendary conditions: one, that the film ended with lightning striking the “atomic” Dr. Vornoff and setting off an atomic explosion, and two, that his son Tony starred in the film. Tony McCoy acted in one more film after Bride, the 1956 film “The Naked Gun,” and guest starred in episode # 3.12 of television’s “Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin” in November 1956 and was never heard from again.
And Ed was almost never heard from again, as well. Prior to Mr. McCoy’s production credit, Ed sold over 100 percent of the film to get it financed and found himself at the mercy of the very angry investors. “Bride of the Monster” did fairly well for an Ed Wood film and did in fact make a good chunk of money but, once again, Ed Wood, who outsold the rights to his only money making motion picture, was paid only his original director’s fee of $350.
Ed’s bad luck didn’t stop there.
Shortly after Bride of the Monster Bela Lugosi checked himself into a drug rehabilitation center to try and kick his addiction to morphine. His life in the rehab center was one of pain and suffering and long, lonely nights and his one and only ray of hope during this bleak time was that Ed Wood would be waiting once he got out of rehab with a big “comeback” picture for him.
The press was indeed thrilled to interview Bela when he checked out of the clinic. Footage still exists of one such interview done with Bela right on the steps of the clinic and has been included as an extra in certain releases of Plan 9 on DVD. In it, Bela talks of his next picture, “an Eddie Wood production,” Bela says, entitled The Ghoul Goes West. This film was never filmed and, once again, if filmed it more than likely would have took Ed into the higher eschelon of Hollywood fame and glitz.
Ed’s basic idea for The Ghoul Goes West, at one point refered to as The Phantom Ghoul, was to mix classic horror movies with classic western movies, an idea best represented by the Robert Rodrigues crime-shash-vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn. (although not in any way based on Ed’s original idea, the basic genre-blending premise is indeed there)
Ed’s unrealized Ghoul project was to have cowboys come upon a seemingly deserted wild west town that secretly is populated by blood-thirsty vampires who duke it out fang-to-gun in a tense Woodian climax. Cowboy superstar Gene Autry came to Bela’s aide in the days following his exit from the clinic, saying that he would star in the cowboy lead if Bela Lugosi would star as the villanous vampire. Very touching words from a heroic American cowboy … until legend has it that Gene Autry actually had a chance to SEE one of Ed Wood’s films, at which point the heroic American cowboy quietly backed out of the project.
Ed tried to get the project back up and running with old time, one time iconic but now faded cowboy actors Ken Maynard or Bob Steele taking the vacant Gene Autry position but with Autry out of the picture it never got off the ground.
Ed and Bela, distraught, tried once again to press on.
It was somewhere around 1955 that Ed Wood entered a bar called the Cameo Room with Bela Lugosi. Kathy O’Hara was also there on a date. When the date ended, she decided to stay and have one more drink. Eventually, Bela left and Ed stayed to also have one more drink. And Eddie started to cry. And Kathy, her heart breaking at the sight of Eddie Wood crying at the bar, came up to him and asked him why he was crying. Ed said that he simply had a cold. And so the two strangers started talking. And that, not a cold, sterile chance meeting in the lobby of a rehab center like Tim Burton’s film would have you believe, was the beginning of the long lasting love affair between Kathy and Eddie Wood.
Kathy fell in love instantly. She didn’t mind his drinking or his smoking or even his transvestism. And Ed loved having a woman that would stay up all night with him and flip through his scrapbook and listen to his crazy stories. Eventually, they drove to Las Vegas and got married. Through ups and downs, arguments and fights, they stayed married until Eddie’s death in 1978 and after that Kathy never remarried.
When people think of Ed Wood, they think of Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed Wood has become an entity that cannot exist without thoughts of flying saucers on strings and cardboard tombstones falling to the floor.
First off, everything you have heard about the creation of Ed’s most well known film is true.
Yes, Ed filmed a few fleeting shots of Bela in his Dracula cape right before he died and decided to work it into a script he had been working on so that he could bill the motion picture about heroic aliens ressurecting the dead as a last ditch attempt to get their anti-weapon message across as the last Bela Lugosi picture. He couldn’t find normal backing for the picture so he conned the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills to front the cash only if the cast get baptized. So Ed did what he needed to do to get the picture done and got the entire cast baptized as baptists for the film. And yes there are spaceship models dangling on strings and yes there are dimestore shower curtains as set pieces and yes there are falling cardboard tombstones. All of it is true.
Now for the truth behind the legend.
Lugosi was sick and near death and needed a thousand dollars so Ed shot a few seconds of him in his Dracula cape sneaking in and out of Tor Johnson’s house. Sometime around then, Ed heard of an old, decrepid cemetary in Sacramento, California that was going to be demolished. So the two of them drove up to the site and moved the tombstones around so that he could get a few more hauntingly eerie shots of Bela prancing around in a deserted cemetary. Shortly afterwards, Bela died and those fleeting scenes suddenly became frightenly prophetic.
He decided to use these shots in a film called Grave Robbers from Outer Space. He custom tailored the script to better suit the people around him. Paul Marco and Conrad Brooks, two of Ed’s disciples, became police officers. Paul’s houseguest John Breckinridge became the flamboyant Ruler. Vampira, falling on hard times and desperate for cash but still proud enough to not want to be seen in an Ed Wood film, became the dead mute wife of Lugosi. Friends and aquaintances and secretaries became aliens and pilots and mourers. The only problem was the cash, never a strong suit with Eddie.
He wanted the film to seem authentic. A longtime fan of Orson Wells, he wanted his alien epic to have the feel of Wells’ alien epic War of the Worlds and he did this by adding Charles Criswell King, a newscaster turned psychic, as the narrator of an apparently true tale of “the miserable souls who survives this terrifying ordeal.” Criswell’s bizzare delivery of overly-serious dialogue adds the perfect blend of creepy comedy madness to Ed’s already strange science fiction masterpiece.
Now all he needed was money.
Around this time, Ed and Kathy decided to move in together. So they moved into the Mariposa Apartments where the manager also happened to be one of the leaders of the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, J. Edward Reynols, and he had recently aquired the rights to produce the biopic of Billy Sunday, the 1920s baseball sensation and evangelical preacher. Reynolds had only a small fraction of the budget needed to produce the film so Wood convinced him that if Reynolds would take that money and put into his latest film that he would make so much money that they would be able to form a corporation that would be able to produce uplifting religious films such as The Billy Sunday Story.
Reynolds demanded that before any money changed hands that Ed and his entire crew get baptized. Ed, willing to go to any lengths to find financial backing, agreed. Ed urged Kathy to get baptized with him but she refused.
The film is universally known throughout society, thanks in part to the book “The Golden Turkey Aawards,” as the worst movie of all time. But that is simply untrue.
First off, all the acting isn’t bad. It’s easy to point to Tor Johnson and laugh at the bad acting but the truth of the matter is that there are a handful of honestly good performances in this film. Thankfully we are spared Dolores Fuller and her horrid dead corpse style of acting in this film seeing as she had long since broken up woth Eddie at this point and good riddance. Gregory Walcott, who plays Jeff Trent, is an incredibly powerfull and talented actor in the film and John “Bunny” Breckinridge is famboyant but entertaining and believable as the head alien ruler. The scene near the beginning of the film where Vampira exits the crypt with her long nails extended towards the camera is hauntingly eerie.
Also, the script for Plan 9 is a shockingly liberal one if you look beyond the hip chat room film flubs. The good guys are the aliens that the ignorant, hot-headed Americans destroy near the end of the film. The cops are ineffectual whinners. And the government and the military are portrayed as petty and inept and immature. For a science-fiction film released in 1959, that’s some pretty rebellious stuff. Most films released around the Plan 9 era were bland, predictable, achetypal good guy United State Military defeat evil communist-ish aliens films. For a film to be released in this era to have the guts to reverse the good guy/bad guy roles is nothing short of phenomenal.
And here’s a few excellent useless facts for you to whip out in bars and at parties – Bela Lugosi was found dead with an Ed Wood script in his hand. The name of the script? The Final Curtain. Ed Wood was assisted with the editing of the film by director Phil Tucker, the man who created the horribly atrocious film Robot Monster, which in all honesty is the REAL worst film of all time. And the music prevalent throughout the film is actually the song “Iron Foundry” from the Russian composer Mossolov.
Ed felt that, if you want to get to know him, you should watch Glen or Glenda but Plan 9 from Outer Space was his pride and joy, no question about it. Don’t let the Tim Burton film fool you on this one. He knew that the film was cheesy. He knew that the effects weren’t that great and that the acting wasn’t too wonderful. It’s well documented that at the Plan 9 premiere at the Carlton Theater on March 15th, 1957 everyone had a good laugh at the bad special effects and the film flubs and everyone had a good time.
Ed knew the film wasn’t perfect but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the effort. He didn’t work harder on a single film in his life. He worked more and sacraficed more for Plan 9 from Outer Space than he did for any other film before or after that. Our society focuses too heavily on money and box office receipts and exactly how much money did this film make on these days and so on. In that sense, the film did poorly and languished in small release and made extremely little money.
But the true story of Plan 9 lies years later when a new generation ressurected Ed’s pride and joy and laughed and appreciated it and became the new Woodian audience. In his later years, Ed was known to call everyone he knew late at night when they would show his film on some UHF horror show. He would get exuberant as a child in a candy store. It was as if he knew that, though the film was quickly deemed a failure, that one day it would be a success.
Most people do not bother to focus on the remaining years of Ed’s life, mainly because Plan 9, sadly enough, was the high point of his life. The remaining years are filled with heartbreak and tears but they are still a vital part of the life of Ed Wood and need to be discussed.
After Plan 9 Ed ran headlong into a busy 1958. He had another near success with the incarnation hypnotism adventure love story film originally titled Queen of the Gorillas, later titled The Bride and the Beast. Charlotte Austin plays a woman strangely attracted to her soon-to-be husband’s pet gorilla. When the gorilla seemingly attacks her, she is put into hypnosis and it is revealed that she was the Queen of the Gorillas on a past life. Bad stock footage abounds and in the twist ending, the gorilla and the woman live happily ever after.
The film was so strange, so loopy, so intriguingly different, that it was a mid-sized hit in theaters. Unfortunately, Ed didn’t direct. He just wrote the script and was paid a small flat rate for his work. If he were to film the pictire himself, then this film would probably had been his big screen success.
Again, if only.
While Beast was making good money, Ed, undaunted, decided to get back on his feet and make another film. This time he decided to return to the only film that ever made money, the Lugosi octo-fest Bride of the Monster. Since that film was well received and made a semi-decent amount of money for Wood’s standards and since Universal Pictures paved the way with thirty million poorly made Frankenstien sequels, Ed decided to make a Bride of the Monster sequel called Revenge of the Dead or, as it is better known, Night of the Ghouls.
Money being a constant source of problems for Ed, he never stopped looking for a potential backer. One day, a door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman knocked on his door trying to sell him various crap. Ed invited him in and offered him a drink. One drink led to another and another and another, all the while Ed was laying his charm on thick, spinning wide-eyed tales of Hollywood motion picture magic.
After a night of drinking Ed convinced the salesman, George Cilly, to produce Ed’s first and only sequel. Ed cast his friend and actor Kenne Duncan, effectionately nicknamed “Horsecock,” and his blonde sixteen-year-old neighbor Valda Hansen as two con artists pretending to be psychics residing in the remnants of the Old Willow’s Place from Bride. Tor Johnson returns as the mute henchman Lobo only now his face is scarred from the fire and explosion. Upon completion, Ed did not have enough money left over to pay the bill needed to release the film from the lab and it remained unreleased until recently.
Valda Hansen tells a tale wherein Eddie, upset on the set of Ghouls, ran off into the woods. When Valda finally found Eddie, he was crying, saying about the film “They’re going to do me a Plan 9 all over again.”
This is an important tale to remember. Most people think that, simply because of the way he was written in the Tim Burton movie, that Eddie was an eternal optomist and all that is is a lavish paint job over the truth, which is that Eddie Wood sufferend and hurt and bled and cried and the last years of his life are shocking reminders of this.
In 1960, Glenda producer George Weiss started filming a movie called Hellborn. He shot one day on location and then left the picture unfinished for over six months because he ran out of funding. So Conrad Brooks bought the film off Weiss and sold the footage to Ed, who changed the entire focus of the film, turning it into a candid, if seemingly outdated, look into the world of pornography and youth violence called The Sinister Urge.
For the role of the compulsive young rapist killer, Ed visited an acting school on Sunset Boulevard and hand picked eighteen-year-old newcommer Dino Fantini, a man who had absolutely no experience in movies whatsoever. But that’s the sort of thing that Ed did, he accepted people into his small umbrella of motion picture making regardless of their past or talent. All he looked for was drive.
The Sinister Urge is emotionally and spiritually Ed Wood’s last real film.
The strain of failure after failure was starting to show though Ed’s usually optomistic exterior and his world weariness and lack of hope and optomism is evident in the character of Johnny Ryde, played by Plan 9 police office Carl Anthony. Carl plays a down on his luck director who resorts to directing sleazy porn movies to make ends meet.
At one point, Carl says “I look at this slush and remember. At one point I used to make GOOD movies.” Sadly, that line became a prophetic one. At one point, Ed mad good movies and The Sinister Urge is the last of them. Ed planned to make a sequel called The Peeper that was never filmed.
After the dismal failure of Urge, Ed spent the next eighteen years writing sleazy novels and films such as Death of a Transvestite, Necromania, To Make a Homo, Shotgun Wedding, Raped in the Grass, Gun Runners, Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History, The Beach Bunnies, and Sex Museum. Ed’s alcoholism got worse and his directing jobs became few and far between. Lasking the charisma and optomism needed to get backers for his projects, he was forced to work as a hired lackey for other directors and their low-rent sleaze pictures.
That led to Ed’s most well known post Urge projects, working as the screenwriter and second unit director on Stephen Apostolof’s bizzare horror striptease masterpiece, Orgy of the Dead. The film stars Criswell and a blatant Vampira ripoff named Ghoulita as the God and Goddess of the Dead who decide who enters the realm of the dead and who is destoned to remain. At least, that’s what the film is probably about.
It’s hard to understand the nonsensical script and it’s hard to stay awake through the atrocious stripteases. Worse, Criswell is so aged at this point in his career that you actually believe there’s a chance he might keep over and die before the film’s end. Thankfully, what the film lacks in acting, dialogue, and coherance, the film more than makes up for them with the amazing score provided, or more likely stolen, by the Chilean Symphony Orchestra.
Ed’s hardship continued. he foundhimself doing things he never would have agreed to do in his happy-go-lucky days of the 1940s and ’50s. He spent twenty-seven weeks with a company called Autonetics writing and directing films for the government. During most of the sixties, Ed spent all his time sitting in front of a typewriter with a pack of smokes and a bottle of whiskey writing as many as 75 novels.
The seventies began tragically as Tor Johnson and kenne “Horsecock” Duncan pass away. Still struggling, the films now extremely few and far between, Ed hits the bottle worse than ever and finds himself directing softcore, then hardcore, pornographic scenes for a company called Swedish Erotica. Still writing but at a less furious pace, Ed tried to shift his writing from cheap pulp novels to serious, well respected sociological textbooks.
A Study of the Sons and Daughters of Erotica was published in 1971, followed by such wannabe-collegiate novels as Sexual Practices in Witchcraft andf Black Magic, A Study of Fetishes and Fantasies, and A Study in the Motivation of Censorship, Sex and the Movies, books 1 and 2. None succeeded to break the world of collegiate study and failed. Ed sunk so low that he agreed to write and direct films for a Ssex Education Correspondence School.
He was near the end of his rope.
In 1974, Ed Wood got an old copy of one of his never-filmed scripts, Night of Silence, and reworked it into a modern day silent film horror movie crime thriller called I Awoke Early the Day I Die. It featured death, robbery, violence, grave robbing, carnival freaks, and bagpipes. It was the last good idea to come out of the mind of Ed Wood and he clutched on to that script like it was his only child. In it, he saw a ray of hope, a glimmer of positivity, and a way to return to the happy Plan 9 days when there was always another picture. It was going to be the ultimate Ed Wood movie and it was going to finally succeed, become a big hit, and make him the respected filmmaker he always wanted to me.
Sadly, he was drunk almost all the time at this point. He was old and drunk and unreliable. No one wanted to hire him or buy one his scrips.
Ed and Kathy were living in a run down apartment on Yucca Street in the seventies. They drank the night away when they weren’t yelling and arguing. Eventually, they were kicked out. This was the final nail in Ed’s coffin. Broke and alone, cast out of our world for the last time, they were forced to move in with their friend, actor Peter Coe.
He didn’t last long. Edward Davis Wood Jr. died on December 10, 1978. He was found drinking as football played on the television. They carried his body out of the house in a garbage bag.
Shortly after his death, the popularity of video tape in American homes brought Ed’s films to a whole new audience. Suddenly Ed Wood became known as the worst director of all time, causing millions to search out his films and appreciate them for the works of art they truly are. Film festivals showed his movies to packed audiences. T-shirts and trading cards were made and sold and became collector’s items. A biography on Wood’s life was written by author Rudolph Grey and eventually became the basis for the Wood biopic masterpiece from acclaimed director Tim Burton. An entrepeneuer and Ed Wood fan paid the lab bill for Night of the Ghouls and released it to video.
And, most amazing of all, over twenty years after he wrote the script, director Aris Iliopulos bought the rights to Ed’s last script. The film, now retitled I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, featured a dream cast featuring such stars as Billy Zane, Christina Ricci, Andrew McCarthy, Ron Perlman, Vampira, John Ritter, Eartha Kitt, Conrad Brooks, Rick Schroder, Sandra Bernhard, and in an amazing cameo, Ed’s own wife Kathy Wood. The authorative FINAL Ed Wood film, it has never been released in America, forcing a nation of Woodites to fight one another for copies on ebay.