Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 04
Ed Wood October 10, 1924
Ed Wood born

The man widely considered the worst film director ever, Edward Davis Wood, Jr., was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, on this day in 1924. Wood’s childhood was notable for two things: his great love of cinema, which made him play hooky from school in order to spend time getting a different kind of education at his local movie theater; and the fact that his mother, who had wanted a girl rather than a boy, often dressed Wood in girl’s clothes, apparently until he was 12. At 17, Wood joined the Marines, and was most likely the only soldier who fought in the Battle of Guadalcanal wearing women’s underwear beneath his combat gear. After the war, he became a carnival worker, playing the freak as well as the bearded lady (which allowed him to crossdress and wear fake breasts). Wood is now celebrated, in a mostly ironic manner, for the films he directed in the 1950s, particularly the cross-dressing drama Glen or Glenda and sci-fi movie Plan 9 From Outer Space, in which bountiful enthusiasm failed to distract from the low production values, terrible acting and writing, lack of continuity, etc. Wood’s career was boosted by his use of an ailing Béla Lugosi in his movies, however after Lugosi’s death in 1956 Wood’s movies now lacked star power, as well as any other redeeming qualities. He made a few (mostly pornographic) films after Plan 9, and instead made money working as a screenwriter on exploitation movies and writing pornographic novels and magazine stories. After his death in 1978, he was known only as a figure of ridicule, but his reputation was boosted in the early 1990s due to Rudolph Grey's biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) and Tim Burton’s loving biopic Ed Wood, in which Johnny Depp played the eponymous lead.


More Flashbacks
December 4, 1998
Psycho remade

Nearly 40 years after Alfred Hitchcock released his seminal horror film Psycho, Gus Van Sant offered a remake that caused as much controversy as the first one, albeit in a different way.

Read more »
December 4, 1987
Rouben Mamoulian Dies

21 years ago today, Hollywood lost one of its great pioneers and stylists, Rouben Mamoulian, though the director had been an almost forgotten figure for nearly 30 years prior to his death. In many ways, Mamoulian was emblematic of old Hollywood: a European immigrant, he came to America as an unknown, enjoyed huge success as a director and saw his career come to an end as the structure of the studio system collapsed in the late 50s. Born in Tbilisi (now the capital of Georgia, but then part of Russia), Mamoulian started out as a musical theatre director after relocating to England. From there, he transitioned to Broadway, arriving in 1927 and getting his first cinematic assignment only two years later on the backstage musical Applause. Though he returned to musicals on the big screen and the stage, Mamoulian refused to be pigeonholed and is now remembered for the cinematic ambition and inventiveness he displayed: in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), he opened the film from the perspective of the protagonist (something which initially baffled audiences), he was a major proponent of moving the camera (at a time when it was difficult and noisy to do so), and used innovative sound design, such as in Love Me Tonight, where the film begins with a jazzy, rhythmic blend of street sounds and snoring. Mamoulian was also the first director to ever use three-strip Technicolor, in his adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp (1935), a film on which his dedication to his vision of a rich cinematic aesthetic was clearer than ever. Sadly, Mamoulian never quite had that one hugely successful picture that would have cemented his reputation and had a fair amount of bad luck, such as being fired from the noir classic, Laura (1944), on which he was replaced by Otto Preminger. After making the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings in 1957, Mamoulian never completed a film again, as he was fired from his last two directing assignments, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and five years later died of old age, at the age of 90.

Read more »