From the time he was only 7 years old, Ed Wood wanted to make movies. After seeing the 1931 movie Dracula, he started spending as much time at theaters as he could. He got his first camera when he was a teenager, and he hoped to one day be a writer, director, and actor just like his idol Orson Welles.
After serving in the marines during World War II, Wood moved to Hollywood to make his dreams a reality. There were a few false starts, including one failed production company and an uncompleted western film. But Ed Wood got his big break in 1952. He had heard that George Weiss was planning on making about the sex-change story of Christine Jorgensen. Weiss wasn’t able to obtain the official story rights, but he hired Wood anyway to make a movie tentatively called, I Changed My Sex! It was later retitled Glen to Glenda.
Wood was happy to work on a subject so close to his heart. For unknown reasons, Ed Woods’ mother had frequently dressed him as a girl when he was young. That became a behavior of Ed that he continued for most of his life. Wood wrote, directed, and starred in the movie. Wood was also thrilled to work with Bela Lugosi who had played Dracula in the 1931 film that inspired Wood to work in Hollywood in the first place. Lugosi had fallen on hard times and needed the work, so he gladly played a mad doctor in Glen to Glenda.
Wood starred as Glen, a transvestite struggling with the decision to reveal his secret to his fiance, played by Wood’s real-life girlfriend, Delores Fuller. During the filming of the movie, Wood prevented Fuller from ever seeing him in drag. It wasn’t until the movie premiere that she got the full effect. Although the fiance in the film accepts Glen’s transvestitism, Fuller was horrified. She didn’t break off her relationship with him then but later said that she never married him because of his cross-dressing. They ended up breaking up in 1955.
The film was a sincere plea for the acceptance of transvestitism from Ed Wood, but the movie bombed. Maybe 1950’s America just wasn’t ready to accept cross-dressing. Or maybe it was Wood’s nonsensical insertion of stock footage of buffalo or Bela Lugosi’s odd rambling lines that caused the film’s downfall. Or it could have been the 20 minutes long, silent dream sequence featuring the devil and an overturned couch. We’ll never know.
After Glen or Glenda, Wood made several more films:
Jail Bait (1954) – A criminal lures a teen into a life of crime, and then blackmails his plastic surgeon father to alter his face to evade arrest. The title of the movie, and its tagline, “DANGER! These Girls Are Hot!” had nothing to do with the plot.
Bride of the Monster (1955) – In this film, Lugosi stars as the evil Dr. Vornoff, who hopes to use atomic energy to create an army of supermen.
The Bride and the Beast (1958) – Laura, a new bride, has a problem. She’s more interested in her husband’s gorilla than her husband Dan. Hypnosis reveals that she was Queen of the Gorillas in a former life.
Night of the Ghouls (1959) – This sequel to Bride of the Monster has a phony psychic summoned to Dr. Varnoff’s house for a seance. The movie wasn’t released until 1981 when the film labs processing fee was finally paid.
Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) – After eight tries to take over Earth, evil aliens have designed a terrifying ninth plan: to conquer Earth with an army of zombies. It featured lousy acting, bad dialogue, flying saucers made out of hubcaps on strings, wobbly cardboard tombstones, and a terrifying zombie army of …three. This was Lugosi’s last movie. He died before the film wrapped.
After Plan 9, which made no money, was mostly ignored at the time, Wood continued to make low-budget junk. In the early 1960’s he started publishing pulp novels. No one is sure how many he wrote since he often used a pseudonym, but he published at least 75 novels with titles like Death of a Transvestite and Hell Chicks. His films became more and more exploitive and fell into the realm of adult entertainment. He kept working until he died in 1978 from a heart attack. His death went largely unnoticed as no Hooywood trade papers ran his obituary, and his ashes were scattered at sea.
Unfortunately, Ed Wood died before his name would become famous among B-Movie fans. When Michael and Harry Medved wrote a book called The Golden Turkey Awards in 1981, they asked their readers to write in to vote for the Worst Film of All Time. Plan 9 From Outer Space won in a landslide and continues today to be considered the worst movie ever made.
In the ultimate irony, director Tim Burton turned the story of Ed Wood’s life into an Oscar-winning movie starring Johnny Depp as Wood. Filmed in black and white, Ed Wood was a loving tribute to the oddball director. Burton spent take after take recreating the mistakes and bloopers in Ed Wood’s films…mistakes that Ed Wood left in his movies because he didn’t like to spend more than two takes on any one scene. The budget for Ed Wood was more than the budget for every film Ed Wood ever created combined. Burton’s title sequence alone cost more than all of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Like Wood’s movies, Burton’s film didn’t perform well at the box office, but it has since become a cult classic hit with fans across the world…just like Plan 9 From Outer Space.