Friday, October 21, 2016

America could use another 'Mad Mad Mad Mad World'

Barrie Chase and Dick Shawn in Stanley Kramer's It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Sometimes, when I'm suffering from insomnia, I'll try to put myself to sleep by thinking about fantasy projects that I will never (and can never) possibly complete. Lately, I've been casting an imaginary, 21st century remake of Stanley Kramer's 1963 film, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That epic, all-star comedy ran on TCM a few weeks ago, and for some reason, it caught my imagination like it never had before. Maybe it's because the title seems so true in 2016, or maybe because I can now relate to the middle-aged crankiness and desperation of the main characters. I've watched the movie all the way through about five or six times now, and I've been combing YouTube and Google for more information about it.

I don't know where this notion of mine came from. Maybe it's from this dodgy-looking IMDb entry for a supposed 2017 sequel. But I don't want to do a follow-up. I want to do a big-budget remake of the original, keeping the plot and characters mostly intact. I'd also keep the musical score by Ernest Gold intact, including the songs with lyrics by Mack David. I'd even set it in 1963, mainly because I prefer the clothes and cars of that time, plus I don't want the characters having access to Uber, smartphones, or GPS. The great thing is that, since most of the movie was set in the California desert, the original locations look pretty much the same today.

Milton Berle as J. Russell Finch
So who would be in my 2016 Mad World cast? The whole crux of this project is that I want to cast Louis CK as J. Russell Finch, the character played by Milton Berle in the original. Finch is a milquetoast, would-be entrepreneur who has suffered a nervous breakdown and is trying to soothe his nerves with a "relaxing" trip to Lake Mead with his wife Emmeline (Dorothy Provine) and his fearsome, always-complaining mother-in-law, Mrs. Marcus (Ethel Merman). That's before he and a bunch of greedy strangers get involved in a madcap treasure hunt for a dying gangster's stolen money. For the role of Algernon, the snooty Englishman that Finch encounters and with whom he forms a shaky partnership, I can only think of Ricky Gervais, with whom CK has worked several times. For Emmeline, who secretly dreams of running away to a convent, how about Amy Poehler?  For Mrs. Marcus... God, I don't know. Ethel Merman really owns that part. Maybe Meryl Streep could do something with it. Or Lily Tomlin or Susan Sarandon. Someone of that caliber. But for the role of Sylvester, Mrs. Marcus' whacked-out beach bum of a son (originally played by Dick Shawn), only one modern day actor will do: Will Ferrell. End of discussion. Non negotiable.

Arguably, the central character of Mad World is Captain Culpepper, a grizzled old lawman who has spent his life being an honest public servant and has nothing to show for it but a face full of wrinkles and a head full of white hair. It's Culpepper who is really orchestrating the whole film, using the treasure seekers to find the same money that he has been seeking without success for years. In the original, this top-billed character is played by an ailing, decrepit Spencer Tracy. For my version, I considered Clint Eastwood but decided instead that Nick Nolte would be perfect. For Culpepper's equally grizzled but less honest colleague Aloysius (originally William Demarest), maybe Billy Bob Thornton.

Some of the casting decisions were no-brainers. In the original, Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett play Dingy and Benji, a couple of hipster doofuses on their way to Las Vegas. Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele would knock these roles out of the park. Dingy and Benji spend most of the movie aboard a small private plane with a drunken sot of a pilot who passes out cold while making an old-fashioned in mid-flight. In the original, this character is played by Jim Backus, but we don't really have a modern equivalent of that actor. I think Bill Murray could handle the assignment.

Carell and Fey, together again.
In the 1963 film, Sid Caesar and Edie Adams play the Crumps, a dentist and his wife who join the treasure hunt but find themselves locked in a hardware store basement and have to do crazy, dangerous things to escape. This was another easy one for me. Steve Carell and Tina Fey. Hey, I liked Date Night. They could even reprise their roles from that movie if they wanted.

One role that really stumps me is that of Lennie Pike, the burly truck driver played by Jonathan Winters. Lennie is a true force of nature, famously destroying an entire gas station without assistance, and Winters gives one of the film's best performances. We have no modern day equivalent of that comedian. I could go in completely the opposite direction and hire Larry the Cable Guy, but that would turn off the critics and comedy purists alike. So no to that. Instead, I'll give John C. Reilly a shot at the part. But what about Otto Meyer, the conman who takes advantage of Pike? We don't have a modern day Phil Silvers either, but I'll give Steve Martin another try at it. Remember his Sgt. Bilko movie? No? Well, this will be like that, but less of it.

I think that takes care of all the major parts. But the real fun of Mad World is spotting all the famous comedians in supporting and cameo roles. A list of comedians and actors I'd want to use includes (but is not limited to): Stephen Colbert, Jim Gaffigan, Sarah Silverman, the women of Broad City, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Bill Hader, Amy Schumer, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, Scharpling and Wurster, Christopher Guest (and members of his ensemble, like Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), Neil Hamburger, Dana Snyder, Marc Maron, Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman, and H. Jon Benjamin.

Only a handful of cast members from the original movie survive. Carl Reiner, Jerry Lewis, and Barrie Chase are still around, so they should all get cameos. I know that I said I wanted to set the movie in 1963 and avoid modern technology, but for Lewis' scene, I'd bend the rules a little. In the original movie, Lewis plays a man who drives over Captain Culpepper's hat just for fun.

So in my version, Culpepper would again throw his hat out the window, but this time it would land on the sidewalk. Lewis would come by on a mobility scooter and run it over, cackling to himself.  Culpepper would see him and yell, "Hey, you! Yeah, you! Get back here!" At which point, Lewis would throw his scooter into reverse and run over the hat again, still cackling. Culpepper would then give up in disgust and return to work. But a few minutes later, there would be a callback to the joke when a uniformed officer (played by Patton Oswalt) returns the ruined hat to Culpepper. I don't think mobility scooters existed back in 1963, but I couldn't resist referencing the 1963 film this way.

Speaking of which, could Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings be persuaded to cover "31 Flavors" by The Shirelles?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The 'Glen Or Glenda' Odyssey, Part One by Greg Dziawer

These posters weren't exactly subtle about what inspired Ed's movie.

"A lady is a lady, whatever the case may be."
-Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) in Glen Or Glenda

Christine Jorgensen holds the Daily News.
Born just a year and half after Ed Wood, only in the Bronx instead of Poughkeepsie, George Williamson Jorgensen likewise enlisted in the military in his late teens, having been drafted shortly after graduating high school in 1945. By 1946, both discharged, Ed began pursuing the creative life while George began pursuing Christine.

Finally, after knocking around Hollywood for a half dozen years, Ed landed his big break. A feature. And even better, impossibly, a feature about a subject through which he could Trojan Horse his own story, a plea for transvestism. We all know that's Glen or Glenda, but the rapid-fire sequence of events in getting the film to market is worth mentioning. It's even worth opening a new Odyssey, and sharing a key document that, already in early 1953, months before Glen or Glenda was even released, reveals Ed's awareness as Outside Artist.

"EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY": That Daily News headline from December 1, 1952 started it all, launching Christine Jorgensen into the staid 1950s, where she remained celebrated and, owing to her class and wit, rarely derided. Her return to the United States from Sweden, landing at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in Queens—the busiest international air passenger gateway in the US at the time—was the largest press gathering to date. She was, for a spell, arguably the most famous woman in the world.

Beating just about everyone to the punch, low-budget exploitation film producer George Weiss hired a hungry young Ed Wood to write and direct Glen or Glenda, a film intended to cash in on the Christine Jorgensen case, in early 1953. Although Wood veered far from the nominal source, he turned the assignment quickly, which was all that mattered. Inside of a week from the time that Christine landed in the States, this newspaper article credited to UPI correspondent Aline Mosby was already in syndication. The following clipping originally appeared in the February 19, 1953 edition of the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah.

"A sort of Orson Welles of low-budget pictures."

As much as I'd like to comment
...on this unbelievably early tie of Ed to Orson Welles, as kindred maverick artists by implication, as well as this early recognition of Welles' ultimate place in film history
...on the "tiny studio"
...on Ed and Martha Graham
I'll try to stop and let it speak for itself. Weiss clearly managed quick placement of a promotional piece, the content clearly provided almost if not entirely by Ed. It makes it his first (perhaps only) nationally syndicated newspaper interview.

By April, Glen or Glenda premiered across drive-ins and hardtop fleapits, adopting different titles for different regions. It continued playing these venues for a full decade.

Christine Jorgensen remained a staple of the pop culture throughout the 1950s, appearing in men's adventure magazines (interesting to imagine the average joe's reaction), as spokesperson for the transgendered and belatedly as subject of her own movie bio. She died in 1989 at the age of 62, felled by bladder and lung cancer.

As for Ed, we'll explore more in future Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special Thanks: The scan of the article above is from The Scene Of Screen 13, a blog where you will additionally find a ton of Ed-related movie ads in local papers, and a veritable mountain of ads from the world of ex- and sexploitation during Ed's era. And for more about Christine Jorgensen, make sure to check out the Ed Wood Wednesdays Tumblr.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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

This week, we travel back to Ed Wood's hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY.

1 Fountain Place: Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out

In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, two days after observing what would have been Ed's 92nd birthday on October 10, we're travelling back in time to his 17th birthday in 1941.

Less is doubtless more, and this brief snippet from The Poughkeepsie Journal (the second-oldest daily newspaper in the United States), dated October 13, 1941, is a picture-window on Ed, albeit a smudged one.

Note the discrepancy regarding Ed's age.

Ed was early into his sophomore year at Poughkeepsie High School at that time, and the Netco Theater Corporation (Paramount's northeast subsidiary) ran the Bardavon Theater on Market St in the the city's downtown district, where Ed worked as an usher. The usual record places Ed as usher at the Bardavon in the "late '30s," but this indicates he was still working there not long before joining the Marines. The Bardavon is still active (as the Bardavon Opera House), a performing arts venue now, as it was when it opened in 1869. During Ed's youth, it showed vaudeville acts (Burns and Allen played there) along with films. A few months before Ed's birthday party in 1941, a young Frank Sinatra performed there as vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. And it's worth noting that the Bardavon is haunted by Roger, once a stage-hand there.

Bet you never thought Ira Glass' name would come up in this series.

And here's a look at the Bardavon's entryway.

Ed would have been very familiar with these doors.

Ed grew up at 115 Franklin Street in Poughkeepsie, a multi-unit residence of over 4500 square feet, built in 1890. Until it was torn down recently, real estate listings as late as 2013 mention six units, pictures showing a boarded-up building.

Eddie's first home, 115 Franklin Street.

Today, with the house demolished, the location looks like this:

The lot where 115 Franklin Street used to be.

At some point, the Wood family moved into an apartment building at 1 Fountain Place, a mere four blocks from Poughkeepsie High.

1 Fountain Place as it looks today..

One of Eddie's classmates was George Keseg (last name spelled incorrectly in the birthday article, which also connects George to Ed as fellow employee at the Bardavon), who also lived in the same building as Ed at 1 Fountain Place. They must have been tight. The two enlisted into the military together on the same day.

A newspaper clipping about Ed Wood and his pal and neighbor, George Keseg.

It's worth mentioning—as always seems the case in Woodology, there's a wrinkle— that the birthday article has Ed turning 18 in 1941. Ed's birth year is everywhere listed and universally agreed to be 1924. While I'm no math expert, if he was born in 1924, his 17th birthday would have occurred in 1941. 

Expert Woodologist James Pontolillo speculates: "So far, that one newspaper clip about the party is the only source that doesn't add up. If nothing else turns up to support it, a typo is the most likely explanation."

Map of Poughkeepsie. Fountain Place is in in the upper right quadrant.

1 Fountain Place is the sort of brick apartment building you'll find on street corners in plenty of old northeastern industrial towns, of which Poughkeepsie is a prototype. I don't know why the Wood family moved there, but for whatever reason, they left their apartment on Franklin St. 

1 Fountain Place turned out to be Ed's final residence in Poughkeepsie. Once he left for the military, he never returned. 

But we'll return to 1 Fountain Place, and meet some of his neighbors, and we'll return to Poughkeepsie future episodes of Ed Wood Wednesdays!

Special thanks: To my friend James Pontolillo, whose amazing research into Ed's early life infuses this article throughout; and to Woodologist Stash Surowiec, who graciously shared photos of the now-empty lot at 115 Franklin St and the Bardavon from a trip he made to Poughkeepsie earlier this year, in February.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy 92nd Birthday, Ed Wood! by Greg Dziawer

It's in the public domain now. It belongs to all of us.

Please sing along in celebration of Ed Wood's 92nd birthday today! 
Happy Birthday, Ed and Shirlee!  
Ed celebrates birthdays, but Shirlee celebrates Christmas:

And here's a birthday card forwarded to us from keeper-of-the-flame Bob Blackburn and O/R Books:

Happy birthday, Eddie!

Just a friendly reminder: The excellent Blood Splatters Quickly The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. can be ordered right here. If you don't own it already, please purchase it immediately. Then you can follow along with my story-by-story coverage here.

'Ed Wood: The Musical' needs your help!!

This time, we can make Ed Wood: The Musical a reality!

Back in 2014, I was only too happy to tell you about Rick Tell's Ed Wood: The Musical, a catchy and imaginative stage show detailing the incredible life and bizarre career of Edward Davis Wood, Jr. Packed with memorable songs and bizarre yet compelling characters, Rick's wonderful play has the potential to be another cult musical hit, like Little Shop Of Horrors or Repo! The Genetic Opera. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, it could be bigger than curly fries! All it needs is a little startup money to get off the ground.

Well, today, on what would have been Ed Wood's 92nd birthday, Rick Tell is launching a brand new Indiegogo campaign for Ed Wood: The MusicalThe flexible goal is to raise $50,000 in the next month. This will help mount a proper production of the show, complete with a full cast and all the sets and props mentioned in Rick's imaginative script, e.g. a giant, throbbing brain, plus plenty of plastic flying saucers and plywood graves. Rick brings his case to the public in this entertaining campaign video, also featuring the show's director, Michael Arabian. If you're new to Ed Wood: The Musical, you'll finally get to hear some excerpts of the best songs from the score.

This is the best opportunity yet to make Ed Wood: The Musical a reality. Full details about the campaign, including rewards for various levels of support, can be found right here. There can be no more fitting tribute to the legacy of Ed Wood.

Let's make it happen, America! As Rick puts it, "Pull the string!"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

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

Written by Ed Wood? Greg says no.

Practicing Peters

Some relevant copyright listings.
We've previously shared a chunk of poetically weird photo-captions from the series of adult paperbacks released by the Pendulum-family of publishers circa 1970-1972, from a deeply personal Holy Grail of mine, the fabled source by Dr. T.K. Peters. A comprehensive sex study rooted in his work as a marriage counselor in Atlanta after his "retirement" from Oglethorpe University—enjoying his sunset years with his wife Grace—at the Dunwoody Preserve, an effortlessly ahead-its-time endeavor per the usual for "Kim."

I must confess that I can't resist paging Dr. Peters yet again. In this week's Ed Wood Wednesdays, we're diving into one title from the T.K. Peters source, one of the most-legendary of them all. Did Ed even write it? (If you've been here before, that's a rhetorical question.)

Sexual Practices in Witchcraft and Black Magic Book 1 (SP 111, 1971, volume XVII of SECS Press' Sexual Encyclopedia for Adults), credited to Frank Lennon with Dr. T.K. Peters, is listed on Ed's resume, generally a reliable source. Leo Eaton was the sole author, and it reads nothing like Ed, densely laden with truly factual research and unusually serious for this milieu. Though not penned by Ed, it is, nonetheless, deservedly one of the most beloved of the series. If Ed had any involvement, perhaps it was in the photo-captions, the mind-altering sexual haiku that defined the distinctive Pendulum tone across hundreds of paperbacks and upwards of a thousand mags in less than a half dozen years. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What Torgo does all day

Imagine what Torgo's resume must look like.

For the first day of October, I thought I'd revive an ancient internet meme with a a Manos twist. Enjoy. Or don't. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Wood Promo Odyssey, Part Three by Greg Dziawer

This scene from The Young Marrieds apparently had a second life as a loop in the UK.

The cover of Tip Top.
Every now and again, while I'm surfing for some obscure bit of ephemera or thumbing through vintage adult magazine scans, I unexpectedly come across something related to Ed Wood. Something startling. Something new.

Just a few short years ago, before porn archaeologist Dimitrios Otis connected the dots, The Young Marrieds—Ed's final feature film as director that we know of—was an unknown. Right here a few years back, Joe Blevins superbly dissected The Young Marrieds, opining (a perfectly reasonable inference given no evidence to the contrary) that the film, "...had an original theatrical run and then pretty much vanished for decades." 

Just a few short days ago, I was leafing through some vintage magazine scans, just sort of randomly, not looking for anything in particular. I came across an issue titled Tip Top. I recognized the title as one of Elmer Batters' best-remembered magazines from the 1960s. Pretty much immediately upon opening the file, I realized it was a considerably later magazine (an ad for Zebedy Colt's 1976 roughie porn Sex Wish ballyhoos and completely misrepresents it as the "most erotic film of 1981," dating the issue), with no identifying credits as to publisher or creative talent. Just an appropriation of the title, it seemed, listed as issue "number 1."

Batters' photographic mastery, his distinctive leg art, from the tip of the toes to the top of the hose, is utterly absent. The photos of naked women are sexually tame for 1981, and fairly by-the-numbers. The fanciful and free-wheeling anonymous texts, though, are a riot ("Suck and fuck and flagrantly muck.") that would do Ed and his associates at Pendulum magazines proud:
Liz is a smoothie. All over. It wasn't always that way, though. Time was when an impish and unsightly public vine might be viewed over the pants she liked to wear so low or the dresses she liked to wear so high. So she took an axe to it and chopped the forest down. Now, her clearing is a welcome watering hole for frontiersmen. 
Looking at the ads in this issue of Tip Top gives up another clue: the merchandise (including Super 8mm film loops and videotapes) is all priced in pounds, and all ads list the same company address for Golbek Sales Ltd, in London. Pornography in all forms has always had a complicated, conservative legal standing in the UK, possibly explaining the lukewarm sexual temperature of the photos and suggesting that all of the ads listing loops and videotapes of films were of the softcore variety. 

This ad mentions The Young Marrieds.
"Get to the point, already," I can hear some of you thinking. 

On the inside of the back cover of this issue of Tip Top, a two-page ad (continued from the inside of the front cover) of Super 8mm loops sold directly through the mail listed The Young Marrieds with the following description:
Aroused by watching a strip show, a young man picks up a hooker and drives her out to the country where they make love in the open air. Lots of oral sex close-ups. An all action film that leaves nothing to the imagination. 
That's pretty clearly excerpted from the feature The Young Marrieds, originally released a full decade earlier, some strip show footage followed by frustrated husband Ben coupling with a hitchhiker (in the feature). The ad suggests—with its mentions of "oral sexual close-ups" and "all action"—that this might have gone beyond softcore. The original film, of course, is hardcore. Or could there, perhaps—not uncommon in 1971-1972 as the transition to hardcore was quickly happening—be a softcore feature cut of The Young Marrieds

While we're likely to never know how this ended up advertised in a UK sex rag (all those years later, and roughly three years after Ed's passing), we do know now of a work by Ed in another form. His softcore opus The Only House in Town was, likewise, excerpted for at least a couple of mail-order loops. 

The back cover of the issue, an ad for videotapes by Cal-Vista, rang the death knell. Loops would quickly disappear once the videotape era exploded, initiating a storm of cheap and accessible pornography down across our unworthy souls ever since. 

In 1981, a pound was worth double that in US dollars, so this would have set you back 36 bucks (no shipping charge!). A 200-foot 8mm loop runs—depending on common projection speeds from 24 to 16 frames/sec—roughly 11 to 17 minutes. And surely vintage pornhounds will recognize some of the titles of other loops in that ad. 

It all does make me wonder, though: Will evidence of any loops derived from Necromania turn up? 

Another Dick Trent.
And as an addendum, the day after I found this ad for The Young Marrieds in Tip Top, I was scanning through some vintage posing strap men's physique mags from the early '60s. Not looking for anything related to Ed at all, but I had found some of Carlson Wade's articles in numerous magazines published under Leonard Burtman's Selbee imprint at the time (he later headed Eros Goldstripe, who released two of Ed's paperbacks) and followed Burtman's imprints into a trove of men's physique magazines. The posing strap mags, despite a host of pretenses reaching commonly back to Ancient Greece and lofty ideals of Truth and Beauty, were aimed squarely at men who were gay...or at least curious. The form was the Trojan Horse, so to speak, but in retrospect, the guise is utterly transparent.

If the name wasn't edging the photo, I would have quickly scanned by this pic of a man identified as Dick Trent. Although he sports actual pants—instead of the de riguer posing strap—I found out upon further inspection that he often modeled in this milieu, principally known as Dicky Trent. What is Dicky doing—flying a kite?—in this pic from Guild Press' Manorama No 1 Dec 1960? 

Curiously, Richard Trent, we know, is credited as director of The Young Marrieds, pseudonymously Ed. He commonly adopted the pseudonym Dick Trent is his adult mag and paperback work. 

You know I'll keep my eyes peeled, and report back any findings right here in future episodes of Ed Wood Wednesdays!