Crowned as “The Worst Director of All Time,” Ed Wood is still a cult phenomenon today. His low-budget, high-camp Science Fiction and horror films are beloved by a certain spooky set, while his secretive and scandalous personal life makes his Hollywood history one for the ages. From his strange habits to his on-set antics, here are 42 ghoulish facts about B-movie master Ed Wood.
Ed Wood Facts
1. Mommy and Me
Wood was born in 1924 in Poughkeepsie, New York to Edward Wood Sr. and his wife Lillian. On the surface, the Woods seemed like the perfect nuclear family—but dark secrets lurked beneath. According to Wood’s second wife, Lillian always wanted a girl, and took it out on little Edward by forcing him to dress in girls’ clothing.
2. By Any Other Name
Ed Wood used a truly incredible number of pseudonyms. One of them, “Adkov Telmig,” was actually just his favorite drink spelled backwards, AKA “vodka gimlet.”
3. The Misfits
Wood loved using his films to collect Hollywood’s forgotten and neglected artefacts. Among his most notable collaborators were Tor Johnson, a washed out Swedish wrestler; the campy Vampira; and the Amazing Criswell, an American psychic and TV personality. Like so many TV psychics, Criswell was infamous for giving out shockingly bad predictions.
4. Ed the Baptist
Wood often went to disturbing lengths to secure funding for his films. In one infamous incident, he had to even accept money from the Baptist Church in Los Angeles to finance his “so-bad-it’s-good” movie, Plan 9 From Outer Space. But even the money had a price. In order to get Wood’s hands on that holy moolah, multiple cast members were baptized on set.
5. Putting the “Fun” in Funeral
Wood loved toasting his Hollywood friends in very bizarre style. When his pal and fellow B-movie director Kenne Duncan passed away, Wood threw a party no one would soon forget. The wake was a BYOB event at an apartment building’s pool. Guests were asked to “solemnly” eulogize Duncan while standing on a strange stage: the diving board.
6. Playing Hooky
As a child, the young Wood was obsessed—and I do mean obsessed—with films. He particularly loved Westerns as well as the occult, and he would frequently skip school just so he could sneak into the movie theater and watch his beloved matinee stars.
7. Call of Duty
In 1942, Wood enrolled in the Marines just after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Though there are some conflicting reports about his time there—Wood was a notorious teller of tall tales—Wood went through absolute horrors. He lost two of his teeth, reportedly after a Japanese soldier bashed him in the face with a rifle butt.
8. A Softer Side
Maybe because of his unorthodox childhood, Wood was a lifelong devotee of cross-dressing. In fact, one of his most scandalous nom de plumes was “Ann Gora,” a reference to the textile angora, his favorite kind of women’s clothing to dress up in. The director was reportedly obsessed with the soft, fuzzy feeling of the fabric on his skin.
9. Quantity Over Quality
Wood had an infamously breakneck pace when it came to writing and shooting movies. He penned the script for Plan 9 From Outer Space in under two weeks, and his film Glen or Glenda took just four days to complete.
10. It’s a Circus
Its’ no surprise: Ed Wood was one delightfully weird dude. He claimed he even worked for a travelling circus for a brief period, where he performed some of the carnival’s most gruesome and bizarre tasks. At first, he started out biting the heads off chickens, but quickly got promoted to the “half man, half woman” character.
11. Gun-Slinging and Blood-Sucking
Wood’s favorite actors as a boy were Western star Buck Jones and horror idol Bela Lugosi.
12. The Tim Burton Treatment
Probably the most famous film concerning Ed Wood wasn’t one of his own; it’s Tim Burton’s biopic Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp. Like most things “Ed Wood,” critics panned the film when it first came out, but it’s since developed a cult following.
13. Never Meet Your Heroes
In 1952, Wood got the chance to meet his childhood icon Bela Lugosi—but it was far from a happy meeting. At the time, Lugosi was aging, impoverished, and dependent on morphine. Even so, Wood accepted the Old Hollywood thespian and gave him work in several of his productions, including Plan 9 From Outer Space.
14. From B-Movie to X-Rated
In his later years, Wood slid from camp master to seedy hack as he worked on more and more exploitation films, then skin-flicks, then right into bona fide adult video. But you couldn’t say he didn’t work hard at it. At the end of his life, Wood wrote at least 80 smutty crime and bedroom novels as well as literal hundreds of shorter stories.
15. Dear Dolores
In 1952, Wood met beautiful actress and singer Dolores Fuller. They quickly started up a relationship, and the director began to use her as his muse, casting her in three of his films. Fun fact: Fuller later went on to write songs for Elvis Presley.
16. The Art of Influence
Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the director in Ed Wood has gone down as one of the great impersonations in cinema history, but Depp drew from some very bizarre influences. He claims that in order to imitate Wood’s voice, he combined Ronald Reagan’s “blind optimism” with DJ Casey Kasem’s “vocal attack” as well as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.
17. Famous Friends
Surrealist maestro David Lynch is a big fan of Ed Wood, particularly his film Glen or Glenda. Lynch paid homage to the director by using the “howling wind” effect from Glen or Glenda in his own masterpiece Eraserhead.
18. Trouble in Paradise
According to one story, Dolores Fuller and Wood broke up after he dealt her a heartbreaking betrayal. Not only was he drinking excessively during this time, he had also promised her a prominent role in his upcoming film Bride of the Monster—and then reneged, cutting down her part to a one-minute cameo. But it got even worse: He then cast another actress as the lead.
19. Rolling in Dough
One of Wood’s many odd habits? He insisted on paying off his cast and crew in cash.
20. Playing Favorites
Wood always claimed that Plan 9 From Outer Space was his favorite film.
21. The Smoking Gun
Wood’s sets were notoriously haphazard affairs, but one story takes the cake. In Plan 9 From Outer Space, viewers often note that a detective points a gun at himself several times. This wasn’t some stupid flub, though. The actor was doing it on purpose to check if Wood would even notice. Ed Wood, being Ed Wood, did not. The actor’s prank is in the film to this day.
22. Gee, Thanks
In 1980, Ed Wood earned true cult status when film critic Michael Medved crowned Plan 9 From Outer Space “The Worst Film Ever Made.” The dubious honor posthumously shot the neglected director back into the spotlight.
23. That’s the Real Me
When Wood cast his girlfriend Dolores Fuller in his early movie Glen or Glenda, she was in for an unpleasant surprise. In the film, Wood’s “character” experiments with cross-dressing—a pastime of Wood’s that Fuller had absolutely no idea about. When Fuller saw him dressed up, she was reportedly shocked and mortified.
24. The Making of a (Cult) Classic
After his death, Wood’s films gained further notoriety when they made frequent appearances on the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
25. The Big Leagues
According to one biography, Tim Burton’s budget for Ed Wood was “more than one hundred times greater than every Ed Wood budget combined.” Which…sounds about right.
26. Back From the Dead
When Wood started Plan 9 From Outer Space, Bela Lugosi was already dead—leaving the director only with unused footage of the late actor from a previous project. In order to shoot the rest of his scenes, Wood came up with a plan so bad, it went down in film history. He asked his chiropractor, Tom Mason, to fill in as Lugosi’s body double. It, uh, wasn’t exactly a perfect fit.
Mason was noticeably taller than Lugosi and had to cover his face with a cape to make the stunt even somewhat believable. He was also a CHIROPRACTOR, not an actor. Still, Wood of all people knew that a finished film is a finished film.
27. Star-Crossed Love
In the end, Fuller and Wood’s relationship crumbled at least in part because of his unorthodox tastes. Fuller was simply too conservative to handle his true self, and even turned him down when he showed up at her door begging her to take him back and marry him. As Fuller said, “I’m a very normal person. It’s hard for me to deviate! I wanted a man that was all man.”
28. Veto Power
The Baptist ministers will have their due. Plan 9 From Outer Space was originally titled Grave Robbers From Outer Space, but the holy bankrollers felt that was an immoral title, and forced Wood to change it.
29. Just Gonna “Borrow” This
The biopic Ed Wood includes a scene where the desperate director steals an octopus prop from Paramount Studios to finish shooting a set piece from Plan 9 From Outer Space. Wood claimed this actually happened in real life, and both he and his one-time girlfriend Dolores Fuller would frequently boast about the feat.
Others, however, say that’s a complete lie; the octopus was only ever a mere rental. Another reminder that you can’t always trust Wood on Wood.
30. I Need a Drink
Wood and Bela Lugosi developed a deep friendship, but tragically, it had a dark, co-dependent side. According to Wood, Lugosi once called him up in the middle of the night and begged him to come over with a bottle of scotch. When Wood did, he found a disturbing sight. Lugosi was shaking, crying, and holding a gun pointed right at him.
Lugosi then said, “Eddie, I’m going to die tonight. I want to take you with me.” Wood stayed calm and defused the situation by simply saying, “Well, I’ve got your scotch here.” Always works for me, anyway.
31. Can’t Please Everyone
After filming Ed Wood, Johnny Depp revealed his behind-the-scenes pet peeve: He was totally sick of angora sweaters. As he put it, “The first thing I learned is that angora feels amazing on someone else, [but] not on you.” Apparently, the material kept shedding, and Depp claimed to have “inhaled more angora than oxygen.” Sorry Eddie, it looks like angora just doesn’t cut it.
32. Three’s Company
Third time was the charm when it came to marriage for Ed Wood. He married his third wife Kathy O’Hara in 1959, and the couple were together until his death. After she became a widow, Kathy never even remarried.
33. Yas, Queen
Wood often went out in public dressed in drag. His drag name was “Shirley.”
34. Freud Would Have a Field Day
According to Wood’s third wife O’Hara, Wood loved cross-dressing for one specific reason. An avowedly straight, heterosexual man, O’Hara claimed that he enjoyed dressing in women’s clothing not as a sexual fantasy, but because it gave him a kind of maternal comfort from the memory of his mother, particularly feeling his beloved angora.
35. You’re Outta Here
By the end of Ed Wood’s life, he’d sadly turned into the desperate Hollywood detritus he often cast in his films. In 1978, he and his wife O’Hara were impoverished alcoholics, and they had even been newly evicted from their home. Without anywhere else to turn to, they had to take up residence in a friend’s apartment. Tragically, Wood would never leave it…
36. Happy Death Day
Wood’s birthday, October 10th, is the same day that Wood’s role model Orson Welles died years later. Awkward…
37. Goodbye, Eddie
On December 10, 1978, Wood and O’Hara were day-drinking heavily when Wood went to lie down in the bedroom. A while later, he yelled out to her to bring him a drink, but Kathy angrily refused. Next, he screamed, “Kathy, I can’t breathe!” But these four chilling words weren’t enough for O’Hara to get up. It would be her biggest regret.
After hearing nothing from him for 20 minutes, O’Hara sent a friend to check on her husband. They found him dead from a heart attack in his bed.
38. I Never Forget a Face
O’Hara remembers Wood’s final day in awful detail—including the disturbing look on his face. As she recalled, “I still remember when I went into that room that afternoon and he was dead, his eyes and mouth were wide open. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He clutched at the sheets. It looked like he’d seen hell.”
39. Pitiful Prank
Sadly, had Wood been less of a joker, he might have lived longer. He was apparently infamous for pranking O’Hara about his death—so when his real demise actually came, he was just the tragic boy who cried wolf.
40. The Second Coming
All Hail Our Lord and Savior Ed Wood. No, really—Ed Wood has his own religion. Reverend Steve Galindo initially started the Church of Ed Wood as a joke, but the faith now has a tidy 3,500 followers. They call themselves “Woodites,” and even celebrate “Woodmas” on Wood’s birthday, October 10th. He really puts the “cult” in “cult figure.”
41. State Secrets
Wood has said that during his time fighting in World War II, he was more terrified of getting injured than he was of dying—because he was hiding a steamy secret. Underneath his Marines uniform, he claimed he was actually wearing a bra and women’s panties. He lived in fear that a medic would tear off his clothes and reveal his “dirty laundry.”
The jury’s out on whether this is fact or classic Wood fiction, but I sure hope it’s true.
42. Wedding Night Surprise
In 1955, Wood had a whirlwind romance with actress Norma McCarty. The pair married while filming Bride of the Monster together—but it was doomed to a heartbreaking end. They never consummated the union, as McCarty reportedly kicked Wood out on their wedding night after discovering, you guessed it, that he was wearing women’s underwear.