In this never-before- published memoir of Hollywood, Ed Wood, Jr., reveals the down and dirty about the cutthroat world of movie-making.
- Da Capo Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
Hollywood and You
You became a typist for an insurance company!
You became a clerk in a department store!
You tried your hand in one of the many laundries!
You had to take a waitress job at a drive-in!
You failed as an actor or actress in Hollywood!
Some of you started in grade school or even as early as kindergarten. Perhaps it was only to dress up in Mother's clothes or put on Dad's pants, hat, and vest, but in actuality you were playing a part. It is natural in the very young to play act, to make believe.
Then later, other desires and ambitions take over. The drama teacher may have a hard time finding enough exhibitionists for the annual plays, but you are not shy. Not you! You knew you wanted to be an actor or actress more than anything else in the whole wide world. Haven't you been reading every movie magazine you could get your hands on since the time when you could only understand the pictures? Aren't you always the first to volunteer? Aren't you readily acceptable? At the outset, you get only the smaller parts--a gingerbread girl or boy in the yearly Hansel and Gretel or one of the group in the just as yearly Alice in Wonderland.
Then the following year you'd made it. You played a wicked stepfather or mother in Hansel and Gretel, followed by a fine job as the mean old Mad Hatter or Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
So sad! It seemed, even early in your career, you were destined to be the old, wretched ones. Where are the fine clothes of the lovely ladies? But all that changed the following year when you got the lead.
You've arrived. You're just wonderful. Your mom, your dad, and all your friends say so. Even your teacher, she's given you an A. (It probably should have been an E for effort.) Nothing can stand in your path now. You even played the lead in your middle-school graduation pageant.
The long summer. You read all the movie magazines--end on end of movie magazines. The stars wear those pretty clothes ... the men are so handsome ... the bright, wonderful smiles (courtesy of their dentists) ... not a care in the world.
With a glow to your cheeks, with a gleam in your eyes, you proceed to high school! Now it's just a bit harder to get a part in a play, even a walk-on. You find this very difficult to figure out. You were in great demand in elementary school, why not here?
And so you ponder it until you talk to other aspiring young talents. Then you face the facts. High school is the melting pot of many grade schools and their drama classes. Your competition stronger. You must work harder and harder, even the plays are stronger and even the one-line or one-speech bits have become more difficult, as have the teachers. Then comes Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice. But still you cling to your ever present movie magazine.
The glamour, the lights, the great silver screen of Hollywood. You must act! You must! You must! You must! But how? The competition has become so strong in high school that you want to cry in the hopelessness of the situation. The lines, much more difficult to learn. The teachings and direction, more demanding. It had been so easy back in grade school. Miss Ipswitch had never been this tough. And she liked you. She was a good drama teacher--she knew real talent when she saw it. But that high school drama teacher ... what's with her? She wouldn't know talent if it jumped out of a bush and bit her.
Is this, then, a first look at what the art of acting is going to be like? More than you can possibly realize.
Acting is an art not easily practiced. Certainly it seemed like all fun (and no work) in the beginning. It was amusement for your friends, parents, and classmates. Now the friends, parents, and classmates are joined by outsiders--people you have never seen before, nor they you. Besides they are a paying audience and paying audiences want a little more than just you, unless you can really cut the mustard. Now mixed with friends and relatives are those who do not pat you on the head and say, "My, you were wonderful," even if you were not. There may even be a local newspaperman who finds unkind things to say. Certainly the write-ups in the school newspaper will be supercritical.
Throughout your freshman year, you've seen this happen to others, which was bit frightening to say the least. What can you do to avoid that same spot, or shall we say, spotlight.
Ahh, but then it can't happen to you. You're really good. Why you could outact any of the others with your eyes shut. Then why the fear? You've read all the classics. You've seen the best movies, even some foreign movies on the late show on television. And you've read all the movie magazines.
You walked right in and told that teacher you were good. And the teacher told you to study harder and harder and harder. You are finding that acting is not an art easily practiced. Your teacher says work and show me how good you are! Is this, then, another glimpse into the future? Isn't acting just getting on stage, or in front of a camera, and saying your lines, then going out and meeting your public to sign autographs? Wearing beautiful satins and furs at the gala openings and premieres that they show in the magazines? Must one work at acting?
In your second year there are no parts for you, you receive C grade for class work, and you realize acting is 90 percent work and study.
Next year you try it and really study harder. More study. More. Your grades go up. You get the second lead in the first play of the season, Uncle Vanya, a tough one to do. Your family, some strangers, even the critics are especially kind. That night at the local sweet shop, you catch your first glimpse of the great 10 percent of the business--glad-handing.
And you look ahead to the glorious future beyond, when school days and school plays are far behind and you are headed for Hollywood where you will try for a career in front of the magic eye of the movie camera. You, young lady, (young men visualize your own packing) will have your suitcases full of your high-school best: sweaters (including a good, fluffy pink angora that cost plenty), blouses, skirts, and the frilly formal you wore to the senior prom. You wonder if these will be good enough for Hollywood as you pack the old school book bag crammed with movie magazines.
You are going to get off the train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Having read and reread all your movie magazines you already know what it looks like. You're going to take a taxi right to a hotel. You're going to bathe; have a good night's sleep; then next morning dress in your expensive pink angora sweater and brown skirt; grab your scrapbook (you've read this is a necessary item to show producers how good you were); and take the studios by storm. Here you are in Hollywood. And Hollywood is damned well going to know it.
Again the taxi comes in handy! "To the nearest studio," you grandly order. You find yourself at Columbia Pictures on Sunset Boulevard at Gower Street.
So you go! Columbia Studios!
Not a very impressive sight, it's a gray set of buildings and barnlike structures. Not very intimidating at all, even the old school buildings looked better. This will be a snap. All you have to do is walk into the casting office and wait for the receptionist, a lovely young lady (you wonder why she isn't in pictures herself) to say, "Are you represented?"
"Represented? Do you have representation? An agent?"
"Well, no! I just arrived in Hollywood. I starred in our school play. I know I'll be a great star if you give me the chance. Here, look at my scrapbook." (If this receptionist has been with the studio for a year, she has gone through this same procedure and listened to the same story over a thousand times. If it's more than a year, add up the thousands.)
"Would you like to leave a picture?" she asks.
"I don't have one."
"Are you a member of SAG?"
(And then you've really had it!)
"The Screen Actors Guild," she informs you.
"Leave your name and address," she says kindly. "Honey, don't call us, we'll call you."
And you're on your way out of the studio. So what? After all, what does Columbia know about real talent, you say to yourself. You'll show them. The other studios certainly will know real talent when they see it, and they're bigger studios, too.
But you're tired after Warner Brothers, MGM, 20th Century-Fox, Paramount, and Universal Pictures, then the television studios and a rash of independent (both motion picture and television) producers, have all responded the same way.
What are you to do? Your money is running low! The hotel is very expensive. Perhaps a little room in a boarding house! Your money could last another two months that way, but can your feet? You've long since had to give up taxicabs for shank's-mare (feet) or a seat on a bus, if the producer you hope to see is absolutely too far away for walking.
Maybe all you've been told is right after all. You got your head shots, and they set you back plenty. You've left them everywhere you've been, but no one has taken a further interest. In fact, you haven't even seen a producer, or even a bona fide casting director, only receptionists and secretaries. Perhaps you do need a representative, or an agent.
So, you leave the hotel. You find a small room for fifteen dollars a week (no meals), in advance of course. A run-down, two-story place on Orange Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard. Strange such a dump could cost so much, but still it is better than the hotel at sixty dollars a week--that is if you can stand the silverfish in your pillows (they furnish those and possibly a cockroach or two in the middle of the night at no extra cost), and no meals. Even at that, your budget wouldn't allow for another two-month stay.
At a hock shop on Vine street you hock the hundred-dollar watch Dad gave you for graduation for ten dollars (the going exchange rate is about 10 percent). Your graduation dress and beautiful pink angora sweater bring another twenty at a second-hand ladies clothing store on Sunset Boulevard just west of Western Avenue. You've nothing left to pawn. Eating a doughnut and coffee for breakfast, skipping lunch, and having light dinner (you call it supper, perhaps) except for twice a week, you can make the two months now--just barely.
Or can you? You've got to stick it out, except a certain loneliness has set in. More shank's-mare up one side of Sunset, and down the other. Leave a picture--you're getting low on those also, and you have no more money to buy more (eight dollars a hundred, plus your resume on the back for another healthy chunk). "Don't call us, we'll call you." There are more agents in Beverly Hills, some of the very big ones. And there are more in downtown Los Angeles, the lesser ones.
Then it's all over but the phone call home. "Dad, please send me train fare." And it is really over, watch the skyline of Los Angeles as the train pulls out of Union Station where you arrived such a short time ago.
You've left the glamour capitol of the world without ever seeing a camera, except for the equipment in the windows of the camera stores on Cahuenga Boulevard.
You haven't even seen a movie star, except in the Santa Claus parade which moves up Hollywood Boulevard on Thanksgiving Eve every year (and you just happened, in your few months, to be here at that particular time).
You came, you didn't see, you didn't act. You went broke, and you left, having never made the slightest dent in the Hollywood armor. So? Where did you go wrong?
You weren't really all wrong. You started out right, right up to your graduation. You suffered the same joys and hurts, thrills and spills, even when you knew you had to work hard, harder than anybody else to get your first part in that strong high-school competition.
You did not fully realize how much stronger the competition was going to be when you arrived in Hollywood only partly prepared for it. Ten thousand newcomers a year, just like you, just as handsome or pretty, and just as talented, come to Hollywood, and all looking for the same job--yours!
Those foolish enough to come here in the first place should have enough finances to last six months or a year--prices are high in Hollywood. Three hundred to four hundred dollars a month is not unreasonable.
There are such excellent theatrical boarding and rooming houses, such as the Hollywood Studio Club (for girls only) on 1215 Lodi Place. A safe and sane way to live. Do make arrangements well in advance.
Don't kid yourself, you must have photographs. They are expensive. But they should be done by a photographer who knows his business and, knowing his business, he knows what agents and producers want to see.
The next step, after pictures, is to type, or print clearly, your name and experience, including amateur, on the back, along with your phone number (a twenty-four-hour message service is best). List your height, weight, bust, waist, and hip measurements, eye color, all sports, skills, and any unusual things you can do, and most important, your agent's name, address, and phone number.
An agent. Unless you are the luckiest of the lucky, in all probability, you will never get beyond the casting office receptionist without being represented by an agent. You wasted so much money and precious time in taxicabs, buses, and on shank's mare, traveling to studios that would never look at you. Columbia and Paramount are the only studios actually located in Hollywood (except for some television organizations). 20th Century-Fox is one block out of Beverly Hills in West Los Angeles. MGM is in Culver City. Universal is in the San Fernando valley in Universal City, and Republic is in North Hollywood.
To acquire an agent is a necessity to break into the movies, even for the smallest one-line bit. Producers won't hire an actor or actress without a SAG card. The Screen Actors Guild is a union which controls all actors and actresses from one-line wonders right up to the biggest stars in Hollywood. And SAG will not admit you without your first being signed by a producer for a film part.
Sounds like impossible, doesn't it? No job, no card--no card, no job. But it's not. Land an agent and convince him you're as good as you say you are; it'd be up to him to make it work. He'll convince a producer of your talents--he knows how. It's his business. And if he convinces the producer, and the producer will request that SAG make you a member. Remember, this is the only way to become a member. The initiation fee is two dollars, going up every year, another price to keep in mind before leaving home.
Sounds like a real problem to stick it out, doesn't it, and expensive, very expensive. It is. But you can always work nights as a waiter or waitress (about the only night work out here unless you want to drive a cab), since you must keep your days open in case of a studio or agent call.
Yet there is a much easier way: stay home. I don't mean to be as cruel as it sounds.
There is a way of avoiding the preliminaries of the Hollywood rat race for the beginner. Your early drama successes do not make you an actor or actress. Check out an excellent drama school that it is well recommended near home. But before you spend your parents' money, realize that you must work hard. There is more to being an actor or actress than getting on stage and saying a bunch of meaningless lines. Those lines are your bread and butter, suffered out by some writer, and you better understand what they say.
What is acting?
It is to portray with all your ability and sincerity a character, a person, with all your heart and soul.
Who is this character? Say she is a horse woman! How can you play a horse woman if you don't know the first thing about horses, or riding them?
Golf! Swimming! Diving! Tennis!
Your acting teachers can teach you the fundamentals of acting but you must find the true emotion by doing.
You're a typist--learn to type! You're a laundress--do the laundry. You're a housewife--be one! You're a nurse or a doctor--don't become a nurse or a doctor necessarily, but at least study their work.
You never know what you may be called upon to do. Acting is a demanding business and every day it becomes more demanding. It is not all satins and furs, a look at your television set any night of the week will prove that.
Feel dirt--dirty your face and hands. Hepburn, Colbert, Leigh, Davis--all your greats have won acclaim, not by being glamour girls, but by hard, hard work. The so-called glamour queens are short lived. Where are they now? Take out your old movie magazines and trace the queens of yesterday. There are a lot of yesterdays for them but no tomorrows, but then perhaps they enjoy looking at their scrapbooks. Glamour comes second. Hard work comes first.
Play baseball. Doris Day had to.
Play football. Linda Darnell had to, god rest her soul.
Fight, yes, I said, fight. Shelly Winters and Marie Windsor had to.
Ski. Claudette Colbert has to.
Learn to ride. Bette Davis had to, as a forerunner to the hundreds of Westerns being made each year for movies and television.
Swim! Esther Williams had to, as did another of the glamour queens gone into the great beyond, Marilyn Monroe.
Dance--all forms from the minuet to the potato masher. The waltz to the tango. The Charleston to the jitterbug.
Learn the fundamentals of makeup and hairstyling. Many of today's great personalities design and apply their own makeup and hairstyling.
Learn everything in your own hometown. Out here in Hollywood, learning is very expensive, and there are no friends to comfort you in time of distress. And one does not learn to ride, or do anything else, over night.
The more you know, the more you're prepared for your art and the better chance you have. Learn all you can! In the acting profession you must know something about everything. It's not easy. Don't expect it to be. But be sensible while you are learning.
Then let's say you think you have mastered your chosen trade. It is still not time to head for Hollywood. There are others who have also studied drama, and you'd only be caught up with again. Too many for too few parts. Realize how many of our young stars of today have been found in little towns across the country and the world for that matter, and how few actually are picked from the ranks of the newcomers on the streets of Hollywood.
What do you do?
Have the pictures taken by your best local photographer, using one of the hundreds of wonderful photos in movie magazine as a guide. Have several poses taken in different outfits. Try sweaters, but the really tight ones went out with the forties. Chose fluffy ones such as mohairs or angoras, ones that look expensive, even if they're not. Wear bathing suits. A dress. A suit. Select four poses from your photo proofs and have them put on a single 8 x 10 composite. Any photographer can do this for you. An agent or producer likes to see several poses but does not like to shuffle through a sheaf of photos. Have your hair set into four different styles to match the clothing worn.
Take your time. You don't have to do all the photographs in one setting. Time is what makes perfection. Don't smile all the time. Life and movies aren't like that. If you're going to be an actor or actress, get serious about it. Smile some day later at the job you've done, or while you're cashing your check at the bank. Forced smiles are phony anyway and prove nothing.
When the composite photographs are finished, have copies made, and print or type the information on the back as directed earlier in this chapter, with the one change--since you do not yet have an agent--put your own address.
A tape or record recording of your voice can also be of great help. I do not recommend a home recording because you will want top quality. Your voice may sell you. Your pictures are good, so make the recording of the same excellent quality. At this stage in your career, you can't handle the classics, so find a simple play. Study your scene. Study it! Study it! Then study it again! Find out who you are! Then record with all your heart and soul. If you are not satisfied with the results, an agent or producer won't be either, so do it over until you are.
Mail the finished photographs and recordings with an enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope to an agent in Hollywood. Also, enclose a brief resume. Always remember, agents are on the lookout for new talent--it is their business and their life. But don't expect miracles overnight. Agents are busy, hardworking people. And if one agent doesn't give you a tumble, try another, try and try again.
You may just happen to click with one. And if you do, you're on your way. But in the meantime, you've stayed home, learned your trade among friends who want to help, and you've felt none of the hardships of waiting it out and failing as most do in a place called Hollywood. You haven't come to Hollywood, lost your finances, face, hopes, dreams, and your faith.
Complete your home study by keeping up with the action. Everyone in show business reads Variety or the Hollywood Reporter. Trade papers, we call them, and they keep us informed as to what the studios and producers are doing, in television as well as movies. Who! What! Where! When! And the Friday edition gives a complete list of pictures which are presently in production and those that are about go into production, along with the names of the main cast, director, producer, writer, and crew. Prices for subscription rates may be gotten by writing to Daily Variety, 6404 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California and to The Hollywood Reporter, 6715 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Now, let's be optimistic. You've clicked. You have an agent, a SAG card, and a producer who is going to give you your first part.
You're in front of the cameras at last. The lights go up. The assistant director screams, "Quiet on the set!" The director says softly to the cameraman, "Roll 'em," and the camera purrs as the film passes through it. The soundman, his tape racing up to the speed the film is going through the camera, yells, "Speed!" The director looks to you and again speaks softly, so he doesn't disturb your mood. "Action." And you are acting.
Only time, then, will tell if the public welcomes you into their hearts and spends their money at the box office or not, which will make or break you, the actor or actress, who only a few short months before studied your script late into the night, got up at five, made it to the studio and in makeup and hairdressing by six, got a wardrobe fitting at seven-thirty, and was ready to shoot at eight--day in and day out! Hard work. Everyday production continued and the scenes became more complicated. Work and more work. Endless hours under the hot lights for a few fleeting moments of glamour at the premiere weeks later. Behind your bright, happy smile, the strange questions lurk: "How long will I remain a star?" "Will they like me?" and most of all, "When is my next picture?"
The most crucial concern of every actor and actress, even in the midst of shooting is "When is my next picture?"
So you want to be an actor or actress?
If you still do, you've got as good a chance as the next one and as a writer-producer-director who has given many a young actress her first chance in films, I say, "Good luck to you!"
Meet the Author
Ed Wood was the subject of the 1994 Tim Burton film Ed Wood. His movies include Plan 9 from Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead, and Necromania.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews