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Hollywood Rat Race

Hollywood Rat Race [PDF]

This is my first five-star book of 2014, but I want to be clear: it’s the text of the book I loved, not the edition. The publishers did a poor job with it, and I hope to see a more serious historical edition printed someday. The worst offense is the cover price - $15.95 for a 138-page book that looks like it was put out on a café-press-type system (over ten cents a page!). That’s bad enough, but it also lacks any kind of historical front matter, like an introduction explaining its place in Ed’s career, and it really could use an index, to make it easier to find the personalities and movies Ed refers to. There are also many typos and errors, which might be Ed’s or the editor’s, it’s hard to know. If they are Ed’s, I’d favor leaving them in, but some kind of explanatory note should be included or better yet, an asterisk indicating each case where the editor has left the prose intact.

This book is Ed Wood’s “advice book” for people (mainly girls) who want to break into the film business. Since Ed is today lauded as the “worst director of all time” and was at the time of writing this living on the brink of poverty and beginning a shaky career in nudie films and porn novels, he has a unique perspective on the situation. Yes, he’s a little bitter at the time of writing this. But so much of what we love about Ed (those of use who do love Ed) is still there: his boyish fantasies, his stilted prose, his obsession with women’s clothing and especially angora sweaters.

But, more than that, Ed frequently slips from the advice-book genre into autobiography, as he uses examples from his own life or his friends in the business to illustrate some point about filmmaking. He never mentions “Glen or Glenda,” his most personal picture, but there are references to “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” “Bride of the Monster,” “The Sinister Urge” and even “Orgy of the Dead” (!). The most poignant section of the book is a ten-page description of his work to arrange a personal appearance for Bela Lugosi in a movie theater on New Years, 1953. It begins when Bela sees a letter to the newspaper inquiring whether he is still alive. Lugosi movies were being shown on TV, but no one had heard from the old man in years, and he didn’t know how to reach his audience. In Ed’s telling, he came up with the idea of a personal appearance, which stressed Bela out, made the theater owner nervous, and was met with doubt by the press agent who appeared. Then Bela walked out on stage, told his public how much he appreciated them, and invited them to the mezzanine for autographs. The crowd went wild. I see it as sort of an early version of fan-cons.

At the time all this took place, Bela Lugosi was 71, which added another level of pathos for me. Ed died in 1978 at the age of 54, from alcoholism and years of self-neglect. If he had lived another two years, he would have lived to see an upsurge in interest in his work after he received the “golden turkey” award. If he had lived two years after that, he would have seen Dan Aykroyd and John Candy remake his “sweater” scene from “Glen or Glenda” in “It Came from Hollywood.” If he could have held out until he turned 71, in 1995, he would have seen Johnny Depp’s sensitive portrayal of him in “Ed Wood,” and would have witnessed Walter Matthau receive an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi – the Oscar that Bela himself deserved. More important, he could have attended cons and made personal appearances, and lived to know that thousands of his fans love him with the same devotion as Bela’s fans in 1953.

If you loved Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” you’ll love getting to know Ed in person, and reading this book is sort of like having a chance to see him at a fan con
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