Tag Archives: bela lugosi

Hail, the Sultan of Schlock!

You rarely hear him described this way, but Ed Wood was an American success story. Wood, the angora sweater-wearing film producer, director, writer, editor, and actor, died on this date in 1978 at the age of 54.

With buckets of desire (and thimbles of talent) he was able to carve out a noted Hollywood career that culminated in a pinnacle of sorts, when he was awarded the Golden Turkey Award as the “Worst Director of All Time.” While certainly not the type of superlative you aim for in a movie career, it has insured Wood a certain cinematic immortality.

Wood was born in New York to a civil servant father and a mother who dressed him in girls clothes until he was twelve. He would remain a cross-dresser for the rest of his life. He served honorably as a Marine in World War II, often wearing panties and a bra beneath his uniform. After the war he joined a carnival where he worked as a freak show performer dressed in drag as a bearded lady.

Wood made it to Hollywood in the late 40s, and first made news as the director, writer, and star of Glen or Glenda?, an exploitation film about transvestitism. Wood appeared in the title roles, donning a skirt, blonde wig, and angora sweater while playing Glen’s alter-ego Glenda. (Wood, who was straight, loved wearing angora and even used “Ann Gora” as a penname.)

Wood assembled an eclectic and eccentric stock company of Hollywood has-beens and never-weres, including Vampira (Maila Nurmi), Tor Johnson, Lyle Talbot, Bunny Beckinridge, television psychic Criswell, and Bela Lugosi, who was by this time a morphine addict. The troupe appeared in a bevy of Wood’s no-budget “classics” over the next few years, like Bride of the Monster, Jail Bait, and The Sinister Urge.

Wood’s “magnum-opus” is undoubtedly Plan Nine From Outer Space, which he shot over five days in Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. The money for the film came from a Southern Baptist church, whose trustees required that Wood and his actors be baptized first into the congregation.

Plan Nine is a story about a race of invading aliens who animate the dead to take over Earth. It has cardboard special effects, terrible acting, and even worse dialogue and direction. It’s so mind-bogglingly bad that it’s brilliant! It’s one of my favorite films.

Wood’s “career” died along with his biggest star, Bela Lugosi. He ended up making smut films around Hollywood until his death. But an auteur like Wood could never be completely forgotten.

In 1994, Tim Burton directed the hilarious film Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp as Wood, and Martin Landau (in an Academy Award winning performance) as Bela Lugosi. Two years later, the “Church of Ed Wood,” a legally-sanctioned religion, was formed by a Sacramento man. Today, the church has over 3000 members, who are known as “Woodites, who were all baptized on-line. The organization’s motto is, “Healing souls and wearing panties since 1996.”

The Tapho Files

This wasn’t a dead weekend – it was a “mostly dead” weekend.

On Saturday, I went back to the Pioneer Cemetery in Sylmar to get some pictures for an article I’m writing. Pioneer was the cemetery used in Plan Nine From Outer Space – the greatest bad movie of all time – and is only open on the third Saturday of the month.

I met two delightful sisters there, Jacky Walker and Alma Wade, who are members of the San Fernando Historical Society, which oversees the cemetery. They confirmed that Plan Nine was indeed filmed there, and Alma has actually purchased a brick for Bela Lugosi in the memorial courtyard to let the world know about the connection.

I will be going back this week to meet with Jacky, with the portable DVD player in hand, to do a scene-by-scene survey of the film to match it up with actual cemetery locations. The ladies hope to use this information for future tours, and hopefully, for a screening of the film at the cemetery.

Bela's brick at the filming site of his "masterpiece."

Bela's brick at the filming site of his "masterpiece."

Alma & Bela

Alma Wade & Bela's brick

Alma & her sister Jacky Walker later that night after getting all "Zombified" for the march.

Alma (right) & her sister Jacky Walker later that night after getting all "zombified" for the march.

I rushed home to pick up my stepson and then sped to Universal Studios where he attended Halloween Horror Nights with some friends.

I made it back in time to go to downtown Newhall to meet with 600 of my closest “life-challenged” friends for a Zombie March. The march went from a comic book store in downtown Newhall to Heritage Junction inside the William S. Hart Park where the Heritage Haunt was going on. It was a gruesome looking crowd, but I had the distinct impression that lots of the marchers looked better with their makeup on than without it.

"We are the three dead amigos ..."

"We are the three dead amigos ..."

Heritage Haunt gets better every year. They began two years ago by creating a wonderful haunted house (inside the Newhall Ranch House, which IS a haunted house. Ask anybody who regularly works there!) They have expanded their efforts to include much more of the property with new attractions like “Psycho’s Funhouse,” “Haunted Village,” “Desperado’s Haunted Hay Ride,” “Chewy’s Pirate Cove,” and a New World Dance presentation of “Sleepy Hollow.” It is fantastic! Hats off to Ed Marg and the rest of the Haunters. Believe me, it’s as good as the theme parks, and a lot cheaper!

Since we don’t have Boingo concerts to attend at Halloween anymore, we now have time to check out other October happenings. I would suggest the screenings of The Haunting next Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. It’s a cool film, and what makes this screening special is that psychic Michael Kouri will be on hand to introduce the audience to the ghosts that never left the building after their show closed.

Until next time …