Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 21
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
Rocky November 21, 1976
Rocky premieres

Though Rocky, released November 21, 1976, tells the great underdog story of Rocky Balboa, the tale of how the movie got made is arguably an even more inspirational example of an outsider beating unthinkably long odds.

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November 21, 1944
Harold Ramis born

Harold Ramis, born today in 1944 in Chicago, is the kind of director that Hollywood loves.

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November 21, 1924
Scandal at Sea

On 21 November 1924, Hollywood’s elite, such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, gathered to bury Thomas Ince, the man who’d practically founded the studio system. After working for years as a silent film actor, he graduated to director, engineering an assembly line procedure that became the prototype for studio productions. Ince put his theories of production into practice in 1912 when he found his own studio “Inceville” –– which later moved to Culver City to become Culver Studios –– and started to churn out western after western. But in November 18, 1924, at the young age of 41, Ince died of acute indigestion on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht Oneida. Or so the death certificate said. But many attending his funeral on November 21 believe something else happened, something Hearst’s absence all but confirmed. The story being whispered about town was that Hearst killed Ince by accident. Believing that Chaplin was having an affair with his mistress Marion Davies on his own yacht, Hearst had taken a shot at a man he believed to be the little tramp, only to discover afterwards that he had fatally shot Ince in the head. The rumors grew so fierce that the San Diego District Attorney was forced to open up an investigation, but by that time there was little evidence to examine, and no one willing to talk. One possible witness, entertainment reporter Louella Parsons, remembered nothing. Of course, immediately after the trip Parsons had coincidently been promoted from Hollywood reporter to nationally syndicated columnist, thus initiating her own dynasty. (The suspected murder was dramatized years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s 2001 drama The Cat’s Meow).

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