Born: October 10, 1924, Poughkeepsie NY
Died: December 10, 1978, North Hollywood CA
Ed Wood was pretty much ignored all through his career and died broke at the relatively young age of 54. Then in the early 1980’s, the organizers of The Golden Turkey Awards named Ed Wood the worst director of all time (I believe that honor goes to Coleman Francis, but I digress) and Plan 9 From Outer Space the worst film of all time, prompting a new generation to rediscover his films. Ever since, lovers of bad movies have guffawed at his wonderfully awful work. A man who had a film sit unreleased for 23 years (That film is Night of the Ghouls) because he couldn’t pay the lab bill is bound to be remembered for all the wrong reasons now, will he?
Before going on to prove the world he was a misunderstood transvestite, had endless ambition and no talent, he was–believe or not–a decorated war hero. Wood enlisted in the Marines in 1942 and reportedly went to into battle wearing womens underthings. He took part in the invasion of Tarawa where he got his front teeth knocked out and machine gunned in the leg. In 1944 he was honorably discharged with a Silver Star, Bronze Star, a Sharpshooters Medal and two Purple Hearts.
Aside from making terrible movies, Wood also made his mark on the pulp-porn book scene (if there is such a thing). Some of his titles include such classics as Let Me Die In Drag!, To Make a Homo, and Death of a Transvestite, some of which are still available. In 1998, a manuscript believed to have been written by Wood (well, it’s got his name on it) was published called Hollywood Rat Race.
But it’s Wood’s foray into the wonderful world of films that would eventually get him noticed even if it did happen after his death.
One of his first “masterpieces” was 1953’s Glen or Glenda? What started out as a movie about the sex change of Christine Jorgensen ended up a bizarre journey into Ed Wood’s mind and a call to tolerate transvestitism. Featuring none other than Ed Wood himself in drag (under the name Daniel Davis) and his then-girlfriend Dolores Fuller, and Bela Lugosi (who had hit the barrel’s bottom by this time, probably even sooner) in a role that no one, probably even Ed Wood himself, can explain. The plays out like one extra-long acid trip and has to literally be seen to believed. Between the stock footage, Woods legendary dialogue, Lugosi’s hammy role (Pull de strings!!), and the dream sequences, one has to be completely sloshed for it to make any sense.
Wood’s next film with Lugosi was 1955’s Bride of the Monster, also featuring the one and only Tor Johnson as Lobo and Ed Wood’s stable of bad actors including Paul Marco, Duke Moore and Harvey B. Dunn. The story of a mad scientist putting spaghetti strainers on peoples head, a rubber nuclear octopus, a sexist policeman and a whole lotta mismatched stock footage added up to a master work of complete ineptitude. Be sure to check out the platform forms Lugosi’s stunt double wears during the fight with Lobo!
But it wasn’t until Plan 9 From Outer Space that Edward D. Wood, Jr. cemented his place in Hollywood lore even if he didn’t know it. Filmed in 1956, it sat unreleased until 1959 when a distribution company would touch it. Bela Lugosi died four days into filming. He was replaced by Wood’s wife chiropractor, and the fact that he was significantly taller and younger than Lugosi ever was didn’t stop him. He just held a cape over his face and hoped no one would notice. Originally titled Grave Robbers From Outer Space, the Baptist church who funded the film objected to the title and it was eventually changed (and what were the first eight plans? We will never know). And you could spend weeks picking out all the continuity errors–night turning to day turning to night, boom mike shadows, flubbed lines, stock footage, wobbling headstones, and mismatched audio. It all adds to such a hilariously goofy movie you can’t help but love it.
Alas, fame was never meant to be be for Ed Wood. He eventually sank into alcholism and hardcore pornography, eventually dying prematurely from a heart attack. Ironically, he is now more famous than ever thanks to The Golden Turkey Awards and Tim Burton’s wonderful biopic Ed Wood. One can’t help but wonder if Wood is looking down on all of us now and thinking “Ha Ha, I told you so.” One can only hope.