Ed Wood - Another Hudson Valley Resident
My daughter picked up a magazine, “edible in Hudson Valley” at a local Farmers’ Market and in amongst the recipes, local advertisements and other short articles was one about Ed Wood.It was entitled “Hudson Valley History Lesson,A Toast to Hudson Valley native and kitsch cinema pioneer Ed Wood .”I had seen the film Ed Wood directed by Tim Burton when it came out in 1994 so I knew about Edward Wood, I had even seen one of his movies, but when I decided to write about him I wasn’t prepared for the journey he would take me on! Not only did I learn more about Ed Wood but I also found he is definitely a cult character and not your mainstream actor/director.
Young Ed Wood
Edward Davis Wood, Jr. was born Oct. 10, 1924 in Poughkeepsie, New York, right here in the Hudson Valley.When he was seven years old he saw a Bela Lugosi movie at the Rialto in Poughkeepsie and so began his love of horror films and Bela Lugosi.It is said his mother really wanted a girl so she dressed Edward in girl’s clothes until he was twelve years old.Evidently he enjoyed it because he continued to do so for the rest of his life.When he was in the Marines it is said that he wore a red bra and red silk underwear under his battle fatigues at the Battle of Guadalcanal.A very odd paring for sure.A heroic figure who was wounded in battle yet he was wearing women’s underwear!He also won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart yet, he was a cross-dresser in the Marines!Anyway, back to his youth.
His first job was as an usher in a movie theater.As a teenager he learned to play several instruments and started a band called “Eddie Wood's Little Splinters,”other sources callhis band “The Sunshine Mountaineers,” so he either had two bands or he changed the name of his band, not really sure about that one.For his 17th birthday he was given a video camera and he filmed the Hindenburg as it flew over the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked Ed joined the Marines at 17 years of age.A Japanese soldier had relieved Ed of several teeth and one of his legs was wounded as well.Many believe he served as a spy for the Marines after the war posing as an ice skater in the ice capades. Most articles I read say he joined a freak show after his discharge from the Marines, with his missing teeth and injured leg helping him to fit in.He played a bearded lady which suited him, all things considered.It is said he made his own ‘prosthetic breasts’ for the role.
Hollywood for Ed
Ed moved to Hollywood in 1947 where is true career began.He did everything he could including writing scripts, filming commercials, directing tv pilots and even worked on several really low budget westerns that never went anywhere.Up to this point, in my opinion, his life is brave but sad.He seems to be going in many directions at one time while his goal is to make movies. He worked at Universal studios for a while doing whatever he could including acting and here he came in contact with many big names like Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, Lou Costello and others.He also worked as a stunt double in a movie called “The Baron of Arizona.”
Ed joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1951.In 1952 he was asked to write a script for George Weiss.The name of the film was “The Lawless Rider.”It was a big hit but didn’t have Ed’s name on it.He was left out of the success of a film he had written the script for.Then came another Weiss project he was going to call “Behind Closed Doors” about Christine Jorgensen who had had a sex change.That film never came about because Christine Jorgensen wanted a lot of money for her story.So Ed wrote a similar but different story about a transvestite.The film’s name was changed many times and wound up being “Glen or Glenda”.He offered Bela Lugosi a role in the film but Lugosi turned him down.Eventually, however Lugosi’s wife talked him into doing the film because they needed the money.The star of “Glen or Glenda” was none other than Ed Wood.
As an aside, not to do with Ed Wood, Bela Lugosi created the costume that Count Dracula wore in all his movies. He also was responsible for Dracula's mannerisms.
After “Glen or Glenda” Ed focused on TV.He made a western pilot with Tom Keene (a popular western star at that time)and couldn’t believe it when none of the networks were interested.He went back to movies and tired a gangster movie but that was a flop too.IN 1954 and 55 Ed worked on “Bride of the Monster”, however he never received any money for the film.He had sold all his rights to the film to raise money for production.
Ed met the love of his life in a bar where he was depressed over the loss of his western horror film which was never made.He was with Bela Lugosi but Lugosi had gone home.This pretty girl, Kathy O’Hara and Ed Wood fell in love.Kathy loved Ed just the way he was.She accepted his smoking, drinking AND cross-dressing. She was with him until his death on December 10,1978.His first wife, Norma McCarty did not approve of his cross-dressing and kicked him out on their wedding night.The marriage was later annulled.
Ed had managed to film a few scenes with Lugosi that he would use in future movies.One, probably his most famous, horrible film is “Plan 9 from Outer Space.”Like most of Ed’s films it was shot in five days and very low budget.This was a sci-fi space film.The flying saucers were toy plastic models or according to some accounts Styrofoam plates on strings.The movie was made in 1956 but not distributed until 1959 due to lack of funding.
Toward the end of his life he wrote pornographic movies and racy, sex novels. I don’t know the exact number of movies Ed Wood made but it has to be around 15, not counting the ones that never got released.He enjoyed his work but never really reached success.
Additional Facts about Ed Wood:
- He loved angora and often wore womens angora sweaters
- The Edward D. Wood Jr. Official Home Page states;Come on in, put on your angora sweater, and look around.
- Ann Gora was one of Ed Wood's pen names
- He thought of Bela Lugosi as a father figure
- Orson Wells was his hero
- To obtain financing he once convinced his staff to be baptized into the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills
- He tried to get Gene Autry to star in one of his films. Autry agreed until he saw one of Wood's films then backed out
Ed Wood as a Cult Figure
After his death he was awarded a Golden Turkey Award as Worst Director of All Time.This was the beginning of the success of Ed Wood, Jr.Additionally some of his ‘lost works’ have contributed to his current cult status.Jim Morton wrote: "Eccentric and individualistic, Edward D Wood Jr was a man born to film. Lesser men, if forced to make movies under the conditions Wood faced, would have thrown up their hands in defeat."
The University of California holds an annual Ed Woods Film Festival in which students are challenged to write, film, and edit a short Ed Wood inspired film.I found this as the truly most interesting; in 1996, the Reverend Steve Galindo of Sacramento, California created a religion with Ed as it’s savior.I kid you not!This is a legally authorized religion and is called The Church of Ed Wood.According to their web site they have 3,000 followers worldwide.Their church is also referred to as Woodism.
Since his death many works have appeared about Ed Wood:
Rudolph Grey's biography NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY: THE LIFE AND ART OF EDWARD D. WOOD, JR. (1992)
FLYING SAUCERS OVER HOLLYWOOD-THE PLAN 9 COMPANION (1992)AKA: THE ED WOOD STORY-THE PLAN 9 COMPANION. Interviews with the cast and crew of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Directed by Mark Patrick Carducci. Written by Lee Harris and Mark Patrick Carducci.
LOOK BACK IN ANGORA(1994) A campy film about the life and movies of Ed Wood using clips from his movies. Written and directed by Ted Newsom.
1994 Film ED WOOD directed by Tim Burton
In 1995 a film about Ed Wood entitled THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EDWARD D WOOD JRDirected and written by Brett Thompson
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