As the English writer and gay icon Quentin Crisp once remarked, "If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style."
By that standard, Ed D. Wood, Junior achieved Hollywood
immortality, but he never knew it. Ed was too busy trying to make ends meet.
He’d be 83 on October 10 and his legend grew after his death in 1978.
Pretty in Pink: Ed Wood in Glen or Glenda
What a character. As a kid Ed developed a love of movies and
pulp literature that informed his vivid artistic choices. By the time Ed blew
out of Poughkeepsie, New York he was a Marine who later claimed to wear a
woman’s bra and panties into the battle of Guadalcanal. After leaving the
service Wood worked the carnival circuit as a bearded lady.
Ed embarked on a movie career distinguished by perseverance
and bizarre creative impulses. He possessed big time passions and small time
talents. As an actor, screenwriter, director and producer Ed Wood produced no
great work, but left a legacy of memorable bad stuff. “Critical acclaim” and
“Ed Wood” never appeared in the same time zone. While the world was discovering
Audrey Hepburn, Ed Wood wrote, directed and starred in the transvestite drama, Glen
or Glenda. This gamy stew of compassion, angora sweaters, wooden acting and
Bela Lugosi served up an early taste of what to expect from Ed. This is the man
who gave us titles like Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls
and the film that made his name, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Wood’s
entire output enshrined implausible storylines, amateurish staging and dime
store production values. By the time Wood’s career rolled to a halt he was
turning out soft-core movies. His finished products were reliably, relentlessly
ridiculous. And strangely endearing.
Nowadays, Ed Wood is more successful dead than alive.
Unfinished writings and film projects have been released posthumously. His
reputation grew after 1980 when critic Michael Medved called him the worst
director of all time. A cult of veneration has developed: Biographies and
websites are devoted to reexamining Ed’s life and career. His old movies are
now available in colorized versions. The University of Southern California
staged an Ed Wood Film Festival the past few years. Tim Burton made a
well-received biopic that snagged two Academy Awards. There’s even a
Church of Ed Wood with several thousand members!
Like one of his zombies, Ed Wood's memory lives on
I think Ed would be tickled by all the attention, but he’d
understand all that background music didn’t improve his work. Ed would know
something about him strikes a chord with audiences that appreciate a
tacky, uncritical love of film. They know it’s an achievement anytime your name
appears on the marquee — along with Vampira, Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi and Criswell the psychic in a movie
featuring extraterrestrials using zombies to save the universe! Now that
is something to celebrate, especially on a birthday.