Friday, July 10, 2009

The Spirit of Ed Wood Blogathon :: Weiss and Wood, When Fetishes Collide :: Glen or Glenda (1953)

As far as I know, the exact circumstances that led to Ed Wood crossing paths with producer Georgie Weiss has yet to surface. But cross paths they did, leading to one of the strangest, gonzoidal classics of all time.

Far from the volatile man-mountain as portrayed in Tim Burton's bio-pic,
Ed Wood, by most accounts, Weiss was an unassuming and affable guy, small and stooped in stature, who had a thing for kinky titillation and domineering women. A student of the Kroger Babb school of road-showing, where you could get away with just about anything as long as you presented things as being educational, Weiss had already made his reputation with a tell-all look at artificial insemination in Test Tube Babies, and the horrors of narcotics with The Devil's Sleep.

Originally, Glen or Glenda a/k/a I Led Two Lives, I Changed My Sex, He or She, and The Transvestite, was to be another feature in the same clinical vein, but when Christine Jorgensen refused to sign off on it, and after failing to convince several other well-known transexuals to be involved, Weiss was forced to recalibrate and rethink things. Enter Ed Wood, and with Bela Lugosi tuck
ed in his back-pocket, the tone of the project changed from shocking exposé to full-blown melodrama.

As filming commenced, Weiss was soon faced with two monumental problems. First, thanks to Wood's deficit-style budgeting, the producer was forced to pre-sell the film in order to generate enough money to complete the picture. W
hat always turned out to be Wood's Achilles heel was financing, and what separated the successful independent entrepreneur from the other one-lungers, was a business model where a majority of the profits from the distribution deal on a completed film was then used to help finance their next feature. With Wood, he was usually so far in the hole from over-selling shares and grossly underestimating costs, that whatever money was made went to paying off the last feature, leaving him nothing for the next. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. And then skip out when the bills come due.

The second obstacle Weiss faced was Wood's finished film came in well short
of the required 70 minutes. To fix this, the producer stuck in about fifteen minutes worth of additional, nonsensical footage into the dream sequences, salvaged from an unfinished film of one of Weiss' other associates, W. Merle Connell (Untamed Women, The Flesh Merchant). And while you watch the end results, it isn't all that difficult to see where Wood's weirdness ends and Weiss' naughtiness begins. Looking like snippets of a vintage stag reel, or one of those old Irving Klaw bondage loops, these inserts only add to the overall delirium of Glen or Glenda that super-charges the schlock into something truly unique.

As proof: Here's a quick peek into the mind of Georgie Weiss:

In the end, despite all those title changes, Glen or Glenda just never could find an audience. Too bizarre for mainstream theaters but not bizarre enough for the roadshows, Weiss couldn't get anybody to show the thing and took a bath. Unlike most of his other backers, Weiss held no real animosity toward Wood over their film's box-office failure, and has nothing but nice things to say about the director in Rudolph's Grey's anecdotal biography, A Nightmare of Ecstasy, but it should be noted that the two never worked together again -- except when Wood bought out Weiss' unfinished Hellborn and eventually turned it into The Sinister Urge.

By the time Glen or Glenda was completed, with the draconian Hayes Code starting to show a few cracks in its cinematic foundation, Weiss chucked the educational angle and square-up reels, and shifted his focus to straight-on Burlesque revues and helped pioneer the Nudies in the late 1950's, including a film called Dance Hall Racket, where he broke in another fledgling director by the name of Phil Tucker, who would go on to carve out his own gorilla-shaped hunk of sci-fi infamy with the awefulsomeness of Robot Monster. However, Weiss is probably more famous, and rightfully so, for establishing the Roughie with the lovely Audrey Campbell as Mistress Olga in White Slaves of Chinatown, and later the equally demented Olga's House of Shame and Olga's Girls. And, with Weiss' encouragement, also ushered in the commando sleaze-noir of Michael and Roberta Findlay (Take Me Naked, The Touch of Her Flesh) and the Amero brothers (The Ultimate Degenerate) that helped turn those cracks in the Nation's moral codes into a full-blown breach.

Add it all up, and fans of weird and offbeat cinema, everywhere, owe Georgie Weiss a huge a debt of gratitude.

This post is part of Cinema Style's
The Spirit of Ed Wood Blogathon, a week long tribute to honor the 50th Anniversary of the unjustly maligned Plan 9 From Outer Space. Thanks for letting me participate! And now, please, go and enjoy the rest of the entries.

Glen of Glenda (1953) Screen Classics / P: George Weiss / D: Edward D. Wood Jr. / W: Edward D. Wood Jr. / C: William C. Thompson / E: 'Bud' Schelling / M: Sanford H. Dickinson / S: Edward D. Wood Jr., Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller


Greg said...

W.B., great piece. That montage in Glen or Glenda is one of a kind. Ed and bride and the Devil and Bela and lots and lots of bondage with really bad burlesque music. I love the Bela reaction shots Weiss puts in. What's fascinating about it is that he even bothered to put the reaction shots in at all. I mean, he's clearly throwing in bondage for exploitation effect and yet somewhere, buried in his mind, is the desire to "match" it to the film. Think about it. Who's going to care. But he tried to make it look like it had been made that way. I like to think that's because he thought it might make Ed look bad if he didn't.

W.B. Kelso said...

Absolutely. Couldn't agree more, and I still contend George Weiss is probably the most taken for granted patron saint of schlock cinema that ever shlocked a schlock.

Again, thanks for throwing out such a wide net for the tribute.

Tower Farm said...

Can you believe that even though I've seen most other Ed Wood films, I've never actually watched "Glen or Glenda"? What's wrong with me?

I need to finally give this one the time it deserves. Loved this write-up, and the info about Weiss.

Marilyn said...

Great write-up, W.B. It has been a long time since I saw Plan 9 and don't remember that interpolated footage. I really want to see it again now. The Weiss stills are a hoot!

Greg said...

Marilyn, the bondage montage comes in GLEN OR GLENDA, not PLAN 9. It's a dream sequence that is not actually bad about Glen's apprehensions of getting married and then BAM, it turns into a bondage fest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...