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Ed Wood, Jr.
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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 most prolific manufacturer of b-movies in existence, famed for his ultra-low budget horror, science fiction and cowboy motion pictures. He was eventually reduced to manufacturing pornography and writing schlock transvestite-themed novels drawing from his own fetishes.

Wood was awarded a Golden Turkey Award as the worst director of all time two years after his death — this being the start of his posthumous fame. He is generally respected by film scholars and historians — not for his talent, but rather for his zeal and honest love for making movies. The very lack of quality in his work has earned him and his films a considerable respect and cult following.

Table of contents
1 Early Years
2 Wood and his movies
3 Last Days
4 Ed Wood (1994)
5 Filmography
6 External links

Early Years

Ed's father, Edward D. Wood Sr. worked for the Post Office and his family was shunted around the country as a result of this career. Eventually they settled in Poughkeepsie, New York.

In childhood, Ed was interested in very little aside from 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 and add them 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 many 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 a German plane crashing to the ground in his neigborhood, a piece he was endlessly proud of.

A naively 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, all the time a transvestite with 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 womens' 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 cropped up 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 UFOss but the store had run out of kits by the time more had to be constructed so Wood improvised with the hubcaps). The octopus at the end of Bride of the Monster was supposed to have a motor to allow motion but it could not be located at the time, so it looks as though the actor is wrestling with pure rubber in the scene.

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 contraints. 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 alcholic 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 morphine addiction. Other Wood alumni include the 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 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 featured in Wood's films quite often (most notably in Glen or Glenda) in that it was his most fond fetish. 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.

Last Days

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. 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 excellenty researched, drawing on interviews from Wood's family and colleagues.


External links