Looking at ‘the worst director of all time’

Mike Selby profiles Ed Wood Jr.—a novelist and movie director in the late 60s and early 70s.

Mike Selby

A scholar, editor, and longtime collector of science fiction novels, Legault had—somewhat unfortunately—become fascinated with with an unnamed genre of paperback books published in the late 60s and early 70s. Although they appeared to fall into the science fiction / fantasy / horror category—they were basically sleaze. Most were written by hacks using a bizarre array of pseudonyms, and for very little pay. The companies that published these books weren’t the reputable sort that kept records or paid royalties.

Trying to make bibliographical sense of these books was practically killing Legault, but he kept at it, working an almost nonexistent paper trail (long before the advent of online book databases and google). One thing he was fairly sure of: books written by J.X. Williams, Spencer West, Woodrow Edwards, Jason Nichols, Ann Gora, and Kathleen Everett were so close in language, theme, and style that they all had to be the same person: Edward D. Wood Jr.

Yes, that Ed

The man knowns as “the worst director of all time” had also produced a few horrendous books as well.  More than just a few. Along with ones published under his own name, Legault had collected 80 novels by Wood. As bad as they were, it was still an astounding body of work, written by someone no one had heard of until 1980.

That was the year Putnam Books published ‘The Golden Turkey Awards,’ written by film critics Michael and Harry Medved. Nothing more than a  book of lists categorizing all that is bad in Hollywood, the authors concluded that 1959’s ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ was the worst movie ever made, and its director—Ed Wood—the worst director in the history cinema.

This verdict by the overly-stuffy Medved brothers produced an unintended reverse effect, with everyone wondering just how bad ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ was. It soon began to be shown on campuses and art houses all over North America and Europe, as well as on late night television.

Screenings of Wood’s other films began to take place, and books about him began to appear. Interest was so high that Disney made a feature film about him in 1994 which won two Academy Awards

?Just who was the worst director of all time and author of adult sex novel

Edward D. Wood Jr. was born in October of 1924 and raised in Poughkeepsie NY. He appeared to have the normal middle-class American childhood of the time except for one thing: his mother had wanted a girl. So young Ed was from time to time made to wear dresses and high heels. This crossdressing and a special fondness for wearing angora sweaters Wood took with him into adulthood

He joined the Marines during World War II, and was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart for acts of bravery and being shot several times in the South Pacific. Unbeknownst to the military brass at the time, Wood had been wearing a bra and panties underneath his Marine uniform. Much later he stated he  was more scared of having his secret discovered by his fellow Marines than of being killed by the Japanese

After the war Wood landed in Hollywood, and was soon writing, producing, and directing plays and television westerns. He went on to star and direct in his first feature film, ‘Glen or Glenda,’ which just happened to be about a male crossdresser. A complete box-office failure, Wood somehow just kept going, producing the films ‘Jail Bait,’ ‘Bride of the Monster,’ and what would . be his magnum opus, ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space.’ Every single filmed tanked at the box off

With even the lowest-budget and disreputable studios closing their doors on him, Wood turned his talents to writing. In less than a decade had written hundreds of short stories for magazines, and at least 80 novels,such as ‘Black Lace Drag,’ ‘Orgy of the Dead,’ ‘Devil Girls,’ ‘Sex Shrouds & Caskets,’ ‘The Sexutives,’ ‘Purple Thighs’ ‘Death of a Transvestite Hooker,’ and ‘Let Me Die in Drag.’  As can be seen in a few titles, a man wearing woman’s clothes features prominently in these stories

Wood also paid the rent by writing hundreds of short stories which were published in adult magazines. These are much more like his films, dealing with a mix of horror and science fiction peppered with social commentary. These are quite good, considering he had only three or four pages to “get in and get out while telling a story that makes sense.” (It is doubtful anyone bought these magazines at the time to ‘read’ anything between the covers. Today, they are worth hundreds and thousands only because of the story printed in them)

Sadly, Ed Wood never did get any breaks or recognition while he was alive. He died at age 54 of a heart attack in 1978. Unable to pay rent, he and his wife had been sleeping on friend’s various couches. His wife Kathy (a BC girl!) passed away in 2006. Her headstone reads “She hitched her wagon to star,” which is how she felt about her husband

All 80 of the novels Legault collected are now the property of Cornell University Rare Book Library.  Earlier this year OR Books in New York published ‘Blood Splatters Quickly’—a collection of Wood’s short fiction. The book comes complete wrapped in its own angora sweater

Is ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ the worst film ever made? Absolutely not. It is terrible, but is it terrible in a good way. It remains supremely entertaining to watch