By Vern Bullough

Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1924-1978)
Hollywood's Worst Director

In 1980 the Medved brothers’ Golden Turkey Awards named Ed Wood as the Worst Director of All Time -- a dubious honor that in recent years has made him a media celebrity long after his death in 1978. The mind-boggling dialogue in his movies and their wacky special effects, neither of which seemed to have any relationship to the plots, are now viewed by many as hilarious comedies, and not the serious works that Wood apparently intended them to be.

Though he is now remembered for his movies, he also supported himself by writing pornography, usually under his real name but occasionally as Akdov Telmig (vodka gimlet backwards). He apparently wrote best when he was partially drunk and wearing some form of feminine clothing (usually an angora sweater) and then the books literally poured out of him, many written in a few days. Usually there was a female character named Shirley somewhere in the book, named for Wood’s feminine persona.

His pornographic fiction covered the field from homosexuality (To Make a Homo) to interracial sex. He also wrote black exploitation "classics" such as Watts Next and Toni: Black Tigress. Several of his novels have transvestite plots as does one of his best known films, Glen or Glenda. This movie, reissued in 1981, played successfully in revival theaters for over a decade. His horror films such as the Orgy of the Dead and Bride of the Monster have been reissued several times. The bizarre Necromania recounts the adventures of a rather slow-witted couple entering a haunted house in search of sex therapy. It was shot in two days for under $7,000. It was the very campiness of these movies that made them a success after Wood's death.

In fact, so popular did Wood become that in 1994 Disney’s Touchstone Pictures released Ed Wood, a "biopic" directed by Tim Burton. It starred Johnny Depp as Wood and featured Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette and Martin Landau. Landau won an Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi, the one-time major star (Dracula) who appeared in Wood’s films at the end of his life. The film has since become a cult favorite in its own right and has resulted in a further revival of Wood's films and novels.

Wood usually wore something feminine with his male clothes, almost always at least a woman’s angora sweater. At night he wore a woman’s nightgown and this habit cost him his second wife. When he dressed fully as a woman he never managed to be convincing, and apparently was unconcerned about this failure. When he wore a wig it was often askew, and when he dressed in hose and heels, one of his friends remarked he looked like somebody in a bad gorilla costume. He frequently wore makeup and often lounged about in feminine clothing, including a brassier with breast inserts, and his friends, and he apparently had many, just accepted him as Eddy.

Whether cross-dressed or not, Wood was a notorious womanizer. He married three times but his transvestism cost him his first two wives. His third wife, Kathy O’Hara Everett, whom he married in the late l950s stuck with him to his death. As the B movie market declined and as his income dropped, Wood hit hard times in the 1970s. One of his last movies, Revenge of the Dead (better known as Night of the Ghouls, 1959) was not released until after his death (and the Ed Wood revival) because he couldn’t afford to pay for the film. During his last years he survived by producing 16mm softcore films, and writing his pornographic novels.

In December, 1978, Wood and Kathy were evicted from their apartment and lost most of their remaining possessions. Shortly after, in the apartment of a friend who took the couple in, he died of a heart attack. He was 54. Two years later, with the newly bestowed honor as the Worst Director of All Time, his movies were revived and his fame has spread. His wife Kathy interviewed after the revival of her husband’s movies said that if Ed had survived, he would’ve loved it.