Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ed Wood Wednesdays: Greg Dziawer on 'Operation Redlight' (1969)

Real-life American GIs with Vietnamese prostitutes in Saigon, 1967.

Note to readers: Once again, this is the time of the week when I hand the reigns of Dead 2 Rights over to Greg Dziawer, who has graciously consented to continue the Ed Wood Wednesdays series for me. This week, Greg has been delving into one of the "missing-in-action" films on Ed Wood's screen-writing resume. Let me thank Greg again for the time and effort he has put into reviving this series. And now, without further ado, here's Greg. J.B.

A Descent into Operation Redlight

One of the most elusive titles in Ed Wood's filmography remains Operation Redlight, a film that has yet to turn up. Any reviews from its era have not survived into the internet era (or have eluded me). It was briefly mentioned here by Joe in a previous Ed Wood Wednesdays article, as part of a review of the Ed-scripted The Undergraduate, owing to both films being produced by the  same man, Jacques Descent. I recently contacted Mr. Descent and happily received a quick reply with plenty of fresh details:
Jacques "Jack" Descent
"I purchased the rights to Ed Wood's book called Mama House, which I produced as Operation Redlight. Ed wrote the screenplay, and Donald Doyle directed, and of course it featured also Ed. It was a co-production with Marty, a friend that put up part of the financing. Marty was the owner of American Film Lab on La Brea Ave in Los Angeles and one of the conditions to obtaining part of the financing from Marty was that his film laboratory would process the dailies. 
The film was shot in 11 days with exteriors in Canoga Park and all interiors at the former house of Norma Talmadge in the Los Feliz Hills. This was definitely a low budget venture and the lab ran into a problem from the first day of production so the whole film was shot without ever seeing a daily. Eventually after the wrap party Marty informed me that all the exposed film was processed in one evening and because of problems and break down over 35% of the exposed film was ruined."
A Bill Ward cartoon
Jack, as he signed this message to me, may be recollecting an original manuscript with that title. The also-elusive paperback was published by Tiger Books/Powell Publications the same year as the film was produced. Release information is yet unknown. In Nightmare of Ecstasy, it's identified as Mama's Diary. In Jack's own filmography and subsequently on the film's IMDb page, the only actor listed is Ed. 1969 was a busy year for the writer/thespian, including two additional adaptions of his screenplays in which he starred: The Photographer (aka Love Feast) and Misty (aka Nympho Cycler), commonly listed as from 1971 but likely shot in '69 and released in '70. The book summary in Nightmare sounds amazing, and at 224 pages this is one of the lengthiest – if not the lengthiest – of Ed's novels:
A popular sex novelist is “drafted” to run a chain of whorehouses in Vietnam. The characters are caricatures evoking the sex cartoons of Bill Ward. According to Kathy Wood, “Eddie treasured that book. It was something he did that he really liked and I liked it too...” Apparently, Wood wrote a screenplay of the book which was made into a movie Operation Redlight by Jacques Descent Productions. Wood was reportedly not entirely pleased with the results.
It's fascinating to imagine Ed playing the “popular sex novelist”, and a tribute to low-budget exploitation film-making that Vietnam was represented by southern California and the environs of a faded Hollywood star's mansion.

A 16 room/6 bath Venetian villa that Norma Talmadge shared with Buster Keaton's producer Joe Schenck, The Cedars, as it became known, makes quite the luxurious Vietnamese brothel! The property – in the hills overlooking Los Angeles – also appears in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950). More recently owned by fashion designer Sue Wong, the estate has housed Errol Flynn, Jimi Hendrix, Dennis Hopper (scenes from Easy Rider were shot there, and the wrap party was held there), Lou Reed, and Arthur Lee of the band Love through the years. Howard Hughes played the piano in the solarium, and Marilyn Monroe partied there. Bela Lugosi and Ralph Bellamy stayed there. And also Johnny Depp, as he was “channeling Ed Wood."

The Cedars today, its angels, saints, and lions restored.

If Ed was, indeed, “not entirely pleased with the results,” he nonetheless curiously saw fit to supply Jack with another screenplay just a year or two later. The paycheck, understandably, was preeminent. In future Ed Wood Wednesdays, we'll hopefully have much more to share about  Operation Redlight and Jack Descent. Needless to say, we heartily thank Jack for sharing!

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