The movies of Ed Wood are really an acquired taste, though at this stage in the growth of his expanded cinema cult, the peer pressure to claim to love them is almost as overwhelming as the ridicule they received when he first wrote and directed them. But interest or disinterest in his films has no essential bearing upon an appreciation of the incredible life and times, obsessions and addictions exposed and celebrated in this book.
Of course, most of us know the movie based on this book, which featured Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Martin Landau. But what very quickly becomes clear while reading this volume is how much hilarious and heartbreaking, courageous and eccentric material was left out of the film. Needless to say, much of this additional information centers on sex and drugs and aberrant activities, making the plethora of supplementary anecdotes an unexpectedly sordid (which in this context is a positive value) and fabulous bonus. For example, take this little gem from the memory lane of writer-producer-director Tony Cardoza: “In India they sent a 13-year-old-girl up to Tor’s hotel room. So he’s sucking her breast and it tastes kind of bad, and so he turns on the light, and finds that she was dirty, not dark-skinned! And her tit was white where he was sucking it.”
Rudolph Grey collected who knows how many interviews and then painstakingly sifted and assembled them to form a powerful and compelling biography that flows uncannily well. The fractured persona of Ed Wood—transvestite, dreamer, inept hustler and, probably, naive genius—is scarily believable and contemporary. Today, with RuPaul on national television and Hollywood making movies on a seemingly regular basis about drag queens and transvestitism it might be easy to forget the recklessly courageous honesty exemplified by Ed Wood’s “coming out” in Glen or Glenda?. No matter how kitsch his treatment might now seem, make no mistake, he was brave and he was risking everything when he introduced the world to the now mythologized pink angora sweater.
Apart from enjoying tales of the fascinating interplay of wild and bizarre characters who surrounded Ed Wood and, of course, his intense friendship with Bela Lugosi, the reader learns just how truly prolific he was. In addition to the central core of 32 movies that he more or less completed, he also created at least 155 television commercials, also wrote more than 45 books. These in particular beg to be reprinted as seminal explorations of transvestism, cross-dressing and ‘50s-era hustler Hollywood.
Grey includes synopses of these books, which leave the impression that Wood’s books may be the closest readers will get to reading his autobiography. Ostensibly written for sexploitation publishers of cheesy paperbacks the excerpts selected suggest a richness and brutally revealing serial confessional that can only consolidate and increase the reverence in which we might hold this extraordinary man.
Wood died an impoverished and delirious alcoholic, a fact Tim Burton’s film should have addressed in order to lend an agonizing realism to his subject’s demise. For, in the end, what really becomes most apparent and undeniable, and what makes this book and the heroic life it so vividly describes absolutely essential, is the deeply serious implications concerning identity and self and artistic expression manifested by the conclusion we inevitably must draw that… it takes a real man to wear a pink angora sweater with pride. All hail Ed Wood, saint of the gender defused.
Publisher: Feral House
Paperback: 231 pages