Ed Wood, Jr.
Edward Davis Wood, Junior (October 10, 1924 - December 10, 1978) is a film maker known for his awful movies and transvestite tendencies. He is probably the best-known maker of B-movies, famed for his ultra-low budget horror, science fiction and cowboy motion pictures. He was eventually reduced to making pornography and writing schlock transvestite-themed novels drawing from his own fetishes.
Wood's posthumous fame started two years after his death, when he was awarded a Golden Turkey Award for being the worst director of all time. He is generally respected by film scholars and historians — not for his talent, but for his zeal and honest love of movies and movie production. The very lack of quality in his work has earned him and his films a considerable cult following. Some of his films have been lampooned on the television series Mystery Science Theater 3000, which has given those works wider exposure.
Ed's father, Edward D. Wood Sr. worked for the Post Office and his family was shunted around America as a result of this career. Eventually they settled in Poughkeepsie, New York where Ed Wood Jr. was born.
In childhood, Ed was interested in the performing arts and pulp fiction. He collected comics, pulp magazines and adored movies, most notably Westerns and anything involving the occult. As a result of his obsession with film, he would often skip school in favor of watching pictures at the local movie theatre. Stills from that day's picture would often be thrown in the trash by theatre staff but Ed would salvage them, making them additions to his extensive collection.
It is reported that Ed's mother, Lillian Wood, always wanted a girl child and sometimes dressed Eddie up in girls' clothing. Some have presumed this to be the origin of Ed Wood's non-sexually oriented transvestite tendencies.
One of his first jobs was as a cinema usher although he also sang and played drums in a rock/country music band. Later, he fronted a singing quartet called Eddie Wood's Little Splinters. He also learned to play a variety of string instruments.
Ed was given his first movie camera on his 17th birthday: a Kodak 'City Special'. One of the first pieces of footage he shot was of a German plane crashing to the ground in his neighborhood, a piece he was endlessly proud of.
A patriotic boy, Wood enlisted in the Marines at age 17; just months after the events at Pearl Harbor. He survived much combat and became a war hero, secretly wearing a brassiere and panties beneath his uniform.
Fascinated by all things weird, Ed joined a carnival after being relieved from the marines. He'd lost several teeth from combat with Japanese soldiers and had a badly wounded leg from machine-gun fire. This, combined with his personal fetishes and acting skills made him a perfect candidate for the freakshow. Ed played, among other roles in the carnival, 'the geek' and, perhaps more aptly, a half-man-half-woman. Still with rugged facial hair, he donned women's clothing and completed the illusion by creating his own breasts. This was achieved (allegedly) by piercing the nipple and inflating the breast skin with air. This experience resulted in a respect for carnival freakshows and a reinforced adoration of the abnormal. Carnivals appear in Ed's novels and movies quite often, most notably (and semi-autobiographically) in the novel Killer in Drag.
Other 'Wood Vices' included soft drugs, alcohol and sex. While he respected women and was completely faithful to his girlfriends (most notably Dolores Fuller and his wife Kathy O'Hara ), Ed was a notorious womaniser in his younger days.
Wood and his movies
"If you want to know me, see 'Glen or Glenda', that's me, that's my story. No question. But 'Plan 9' is my pride and joy. We used Cadillac hubcaps for flying saucers in that." - Ed Wood.
Wood's movies were notoriously low budget, and car hubcaps were famously used as flying saucers in Plan 9 from Outer Space (actually, the first time you see the saucers, they are model kit UFOs but the store from where they'd been purchased had run out of kits by the time more had to be constructed so Wood improvised with the hubcaps only in the later shots). The octopus at the end of Bride of the Monster was supposed to have a motor to create the effect of a violent flailing beast but the motor could not be located at the time, so it looks as though the actor in the scene is wrestling with pure rubber.
Ed prided himself on the fact that he was writer, director and usually an actor in most of his films and that the only other film maker to be so dedicated was Orson Welles. Welles was a hero of Wood's in that Wood admired his ambition and passion for making films. Perhaps in truth, though, Wood took on all of these positions in his films to save time and money. Unlike his counterpart in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Wood never actually met his hero.
The movies have a definite rushed quality to them. This was usually because Wood and his crew were working to a tight schedule due to funding constraints. Most directors will film one scene per day (or just a fraction of one in most modern pictures) but Ed would complete up to thirty. He would seldom order a single re-take, even if the take was obviously flawed.
A number of has-been celebrities were involved in the most iconic films of Wood's career. Bela Lugosi was worshiped by movie fans for his performances in White Zombie and Dracula but became an alcoholic wash-out when Hollywood decided they'd had enough of his genre movies. Lugosi was given a second chance by Wood and starred in his best and most famous pictures. Some suggest that Wood exploited Lugosi's fame, which he probably did to an extent, but most documents and interviews with other Wood alumni suggest that the two of them were good friends and that Wood helped Lugosi through the worst days of his depression and morphine addiction. Other Wood alumni include the Swedish wrestler, Tor Johnson; the TV presenter, Vampira ; the camp movie star, John 'Bunny' Breckinridge and the TV mystic, Criswell who would often open Wood's films with a spooky (and awkwardly written) prologue. This cast (sometimes referred to by modern fans as 'The Wood Spooks') would appear time and time again in Wood's bigger movies so that he would be guaranteed stars to put on the billing and be more likely to attract funding. The Wood Spooks would sometimes feature in his pictures completely illogically. For instance, Vampira's character in Plan 9 served little or no purpose to the plot and the horror presence of Lugosi in Glen or Glenda is completely out of place.
Ed would go to radical extremes to drum up funding for his movies. Most notably, on Plan 9 from Outer Space he convinced members of a Baptist church to invest the initial capital. There were always bilateral catches to these unorthodox funding methods though, and in this case the Baptists wanted a member of their own church to take a lead role in the film and demanded that every member of the cast (including Vampira, Tor, 'Bunny' and Criswell) be baptised prior to filming. They also changed the name of the movie from Grave Robbers from Outer Space and removed much of what they considered profanity from the script. Such editing from producers and financers was one factor contributing to Wood's depression and was something he personally attributed to his lack of commercial success.
Angora, Wood's most fond fetish, was regularly featured in his films (most notably in Glen or Glenda). Kathy O' Hara and others recall that Ed's transvestitism was not a sexual inclination but rather that angora appealed to him because of the neo-maternal comfort of it.
Wood Pulp: Ed as author
While he is famed for his work as a film maker, Wood also penned innumerable novels. In his later years, he was unable to make any more films due to lack of money and an alcohol addiction, so he dedicated himself to writing. He would write screenplays for other directors and his own novels for six years after his filmmaking career had drawn to a close.
Most of Wood's novels derived from his own transvestite fantasies as well as tapping into his love of crime and the occult. Wood’s careers of novelist and filmmaker would often intersect in that his books would often be novelisations of his own screenplays or that the stories from his novels would give way to the writing of a screenplay. Most notably, the character ‘Glen/Glenda’ from the movie ‘Glen or Glenda’ would appear in two of his novels (either that or Ed simply recycled the name).
His stories typically careen off into different and unforeseen directions halfway through, as though no planning had taken place at all, and that Wood had sat down at the typewriter and simply made the story up as he went along.
Some of his novels are shocking to the average film/literature historian in that Ed Wood is generally seen to be an naive and friendly individual with high hopes but an easy-going attitude -- an image perhaps deriving from Johnny Depp's and Tim Burton's portrayal of him in the 1994 biopicture. However, Wood's dark side emerges in such sexual shockers as Raped in the Grass or The Perverts and stories preying on racial fear such as Toni: Black Tigress. One might argue that Wood was writing for a specific market and that the content of these books are not personal opinion, but it is true that most of his books did derive from Wood's own vices.
In his last days, Ed had become financially stricken due to exploitative directors. He would turn out full movie scripts for as little as one hundred dollars each and the entirety of his personal belongings were packed into a single leather suitcase. His film career degenerated into directing (and occasionally appearing in) bottom-of-the-barrel pornographic films. Wood had become depressed and spent a great deal of time in the bottom of whisky bottles. Evicted from his Hollywood apartment, Wood and his wife moved into the bungalow of an actor friend. Only days after the move, Ed died of a heart attack, aged 53.
Posthumously, his extensive portfolio of terrible motion pictures earned him the Golden Turkey Award for being the worst director of all time.
Ed Wood (1994)
The 1994 film Ed Wood, by director Tim Burton, tells the story of Wood and Bela Lugosi and the making of the three films they did together (Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space), from a sympathetic point of view. Wood is played by Johnny Depp, and Martin Landau won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Lugosi. Burton's respect for Wood is also hinted at in his film Edward Scissorhands—the director has stated that he named the lead character in the film "Edward" because of its similarity to the name "Ed Wood."
Burton's research for Ed Wood relied heavily on Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey (ISBN 0922915245), a full-length biography, which, though somewhat dryly written, is excellently researched, drawing on interviews from Wood's family and colleagues.
- Necromania (1971) - The screenplay to this Wood-directed movie is based on his own novel, 'The Only House'. A married couple are having sexual problems and they, for some reason, decide to employ the assistance of a necromancer called Madame Helles. Helles' assistant, Tanya takes care of them both physically before they meet the necromancer herself. A scary film in that it's supposed to be erotic but in actual fact, there really is nothing sexy about the concept of a zombie penis. It's ultra-cheap and shot on 16mm film for about $7,000.
- The Only House (1971)
- Excited (1970) - Ed Wood wrote and directed this film under the name of 'Akdov Telming' for reasons unknown. Perhaps even Wood recognised what a clanger this coming-of-age softcore porn story turned out to be.
- Take it out in Trade (1970). Wood's first completely pornographic picture. This picture mostly featured friends' ex-girlfriends and people from Ed Wood's neighborhood, most notably real-life sex worker, Nona Carver.
- Orgy of the Dead (1965) - Also known as Revenge of the dead, this is an iconic and pivotal Ed Wood film in that it marked the definite transition of his interests from horror to erotica. In the film, a writer and his girlfriend crash their car and find themselves in a cemetery where they're forced to watch the dead dance for a lord of the dead, played by Criswell. A bevy of dancing strippers outfitted in various motifs make up the bulk of this movie, though it also oddly features a werewolf and a mummy. A cult favourite since it is so poorly put together, so surreal in its plot and so blatantly low-budget. What many forget, however, is that Ed Wood was only assistant director on this project, although he also wrote the screenplay.
- Shotgun wedding (1963) (Screenplay only). There were many films written in the 1950s by Ed Wood but not involving him in any other way. The rest of these movies have not been included in this filmography.
- The Sinister Urge (1961) A totally rubbish crime picture about women going missing or turning up dead in a local park. Police suspect the involvement of the pornography industry and the mob.
- Night of the Ghouls (1959) This famous Ed Wood movie was filmed in 1959 but hilariously wasn't released until 1987, due to the fact that Wood could not afford to pay the fee to process the negatives. The plot revolves around a confidence trickster, Dr. Acula, played by Kenne Duncan , who pretends to be able to contact the dead, and charges people large amounts of money to speak to their relatives. The movie is a pseudo-sequel to Bride of the Monster, and stars Tor Johnson as Lobo, the same part he played in Bride. The ending has Acula inadvertently summoning a group of real ghosts, and being imprisoned for all eternity. This is one of the movies featuring a Criswell prologue.
- Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) This is Wood's most famous movie and is widely regarded as the worst movie ever made. Wood conned money out of a church in order to get this one produced, which only adds to the legend surrounding this horror/sci-fi masterpiece. Oringinally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space, the plot of the film revolves around alien invaders concerned with mankind's development of a weapon that can explode 'particles of sunlight'. Various means of preventing the development of the weapon fail so the alien commander (played by John "Bunny" Breckinridge) orders the implementation of Plan 9: the reanimation of human corpses in order (presumably) to assist in destroying the Earth weapon. Lugosi's name famously appears on the billing despite the actor being dead since some Wood-filmed promotional footage of him was used. Tor Johnson and Vampira play the reanimated corpses of a cop and a 'vampire girl' respectively.
- The Night the Banshee Cried (1957)
- The Bride and the Beast (1957). Also known as Queen of the Gorillas, this film tells the story of a woman who becomes sexually attracted to a great ape kept in her husband's cellar. When hypnotised, it is discovered that she, in a previous life, was queen of the gorillas.
- Final Curtain (1957)
- The Violent Years (1956)(Screenplay) A neglected rich teenage girl and three of her friends go on a crime spree, which primarily consists of robbing gas stations and vandalizing classrooms. Worth seeing for the scene in which the girls come across two lovers in a car on the side of a country road. The girls tie up the woman in the car and lead the man in the car to a field at gunpoint, where at least one of the girls has sex with him.
- Bride of the Monster (1955) Originally titled Bride of the Atom , this is probably Wood's most famous film after Plan 9. Lugosi plays a mad scientist bent on creating a race of atomic supermen that might allow him to take over the world. Tor Johnson plays Professor Vornof's lumbering assistant, Lobo. The film contains a lot of (mostly inexplicable) stock footage, some reluctant acting on behalf of a drug-addled and under-paid Lugosi and a wonderful rubber giant octopus (actually stolen by Wood and colleagues from storage at Republic Studios ) in the finale. The leading lady in the film is played by Loretta King , a woman whom Wood believed would be helpful in financing the picture, despite the fact that he had written it for his own lover, Dolores Fuller. Tim Burton affectionately relates much of the story behind this movie in Ed Wood (along with those of Plan 9 and Glen or Glenda).
- Jail Bait (1954) Sometimes referred to as The Hidden Face, a generally enjoyed Film Noir-style Wood classic in which a criminal has a face swap operation in order to avoid the cops.
- Boots (1953)
- Crossroad Avenger: The Adventures of the Tucson Kid (1953) (TV movie)
- Glen or Glenda (1953) This fictional documentary approach to transvestitism, also known as I changed my sex! or I led two lives!, was semi-autobiographical in nature and many suggest that Wood filmed it as a plea for tolerance. The story revolves around the real world's first successful sexual reassignment operation. Movie producer, George Weiss wanted to monopolise on the current buzz by making a freak-show type film about sexual reassignment surgery. Ed Wood made a pitch, took the money and instead, much to Weiss' horror, produced this compassionate documentary about transvestites. This one stars Wood alumni, Lugosi, Fuller, Talbot, Brooks and Ed Wood himself.
- Trick Shooting with Kenne Duncan (1953)
- The Lawless Rider (1952). Not released until 1954.
- The Sun Was Setting (1951) (TV movie)
- Streets of Laredo (1948) Also known as 'Crossroads of Laredo', this was Wood's first ever film. He wrote, directed and stared in it but the film was never really completed: it was shot without a soundtrack, which was never added.
- Black Lace Drag (1963). Also known as Killer in Drag (from 1965), this most famous Wood novel sees Glen from ‘Glen or Glenda’ working as a transvestite assassin. By day he is normal, ordinary Glen Marker and by night he dons the angora in order to become his ruthless killer alter ego, Glenda Satin. When Glen suspects he has been set up by his bosses, he goes on the run and winds up joining a carnival. This is probably one of Wood’s better novels and certainly one of the most iconic. Despite (or rather because of) the clunky writing and a storyline that hurtles out of control, this book is definitely worth a read. There is a character in this novel called Dalton Van Carter who appears to be based upon the real-life film director, William Desmond Taylor.
- Orgy of the Dead (1966). This novel was released after the movie of the same name but was actually written prior to it. It also features sequences from other wood movies including ‘The Night the Banshee Cried’.
- Parisian Passions (1966). This story involves a transvestite cop investigating the strangling of a number of Paris strippers. The pseudonym on the cover reads ‘J. X. Williams’ although in a printing error, Wood’s name appears on the inside title page.
- Watts - The Difference (1966). A series of flashbacks as a Hollywood cowboy actor and his lover reminisce. While not a transvestite-themed novel, one of the main characters does have an angora fetish.
- Sideshow Siren (1966). A carnival freak escapes a sideshow and a series of gruesome murders ensue.
- Drag Trade (1967). A story about a psychologically damaged male character who was made to wear pink dresses as a child. Ed Wood actually appears in drag on the cover of this book.
- Bloodiest sex crimes of history (1967). His first non-fiction book is written under the pseudonym of ‘Spenser and West’ and details real-life stories of vampirism and cannibalism.
- Security Risk (1967).
- Watts - After (1967).
- Devil Girls (1967).
- It takes one to know one (1967).
- Death of a transvestite (1967). This is the sequel novel to 1963’s ‘Black Lace Drag’ and sees Glen Marker on death row. He requests to die in drag. The story is mostly told through documents such as police reports. As with ‘Drag Trade’, Ed Wood features in drag on the cover of some versions of this novel although his anonymity is maintained by a black bar positioned across his eyes. It is sometimes published under the pseudonym of ‘Woodrow Edwards’.
- Suburbia Confidential (1967).
- Night time Lez (1968). Tales of sexual experimentation.
- Bye Bye Broadie (1968).
- Raped in the Grass (1968). This brutal pornographic novel depicts two young American girls being tortured and raped by rogue Native Americans. It is accompanied by black and white photographs, allegedly taken from a movie of the same name. However, no such movie has ever been found. Raped in the Grass is probably the most outrageous Wood story there is.
- The Perverts (1968). Just about every sexual fetish and depravity imaginable can be found in this novel published under the name ‘Jason Nichols‘.
- The Gay Underworld (1968).
- Sex, Shrouds and Caskets (1968).
- The Sexecutives (1968).
- Sex Museum (1968).
- The Love of the Dead (1968).
- One, Two, Three (1968).
- Hell Chicks (1968).
- Purple Thighs (1968). A ill-informed story about the sexual freedom of hippies. Also titled ‘Lost Souls Delivered’.
- Carnival Piece (1969).
- Toni: Black Tigress (1969).
- Mama’s Diary (1969).
- To Make a Homo (1971).
- Sexual Practices in Witchcraft and Black Magic (1971).
- Black Myth (1971).
- The Sexual Woman: Book 2 (1971).
- The Sexual Man: Book 2 (1971).
- Mary-Go-Round (1972).
- A Study of the Sons and Daughters of Erotica (1972). A supposedly non-fiction piece including a quote or two from Criswell.
- The Only House (1972). This is the novel version of Ed Wood’s movie, ‘Necromania’.
- A Study of Fetishes and Fantasies (1973).
- A Study in the Motivation of Censorship, Sex and the Movies, Book 1 (1973).
- A Study in the Motivation of Censorship, Sex and the Movies, Book 2 (1973).
- Tales for a Sexy Night (1973).
- Tales for a Sexy Night 2 (1973).
- Outlaws of the Old West (1973).
- Death of a Transvestite Hooker (1973).
- Forced Entry (1974).
- TV Lust (1977).
- The IMDb entry on Wood
- An extensive Wood filmography with descriptions of each movie
- The Church of Ed Wood Literally a church devoted to the 'teachings' of Edward D. Wood Jr.