Born in 1924, Wood was a highly decorated WWII Marine with an itch to wear women's clothes, make movies, and drink to excess. During his lifetime he would be notorious for transvestitism and alcoholism; he would also be involved in some twenty films, all of them cheaply made, all of them remarkable for their ludicrous incompetence. At the time of his 1978 death he was a raving drunk scratching out a living by writing pornography, and his film career was considered so trivial that not a single industry trade paper bothered to run an obituary.
But time does strange things. Within a few years of his death, Wood's films began to gain a cult-following, and in 1992 Rudolph Grey published NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY, a loosely structured "oral history" of Wood's life as related by those who knew him best: his various wives and girl friends, his actors, his employers, his friends. The book would form the basis of Tim Burton's brilliant 1994 film ED WOOD.
Wood comes off as considerably less likeable here than in Tim Burton's bio-pic, which stopped short of detailing some of his more unsavory antics--including fraud, vicious alcoholism, the occasional fit of wife-beating, and his work in pornography. The Ed Wood of the 1950s might have been fun to know, at least so long as you didn't have any money in his ventures; the Ed Wood of the 1970s, however, was someone you would might have crossed the street to avoid.
Although a number of Wood's acquaintances led solid lives and attempted to help Wood as his life spiraled out of control, by and large Wood seems to have acted as a magnet for Hollywood hustlers, riff-raff, and trash--and before too long Wood himself became indicative of Los Angeles lowlife scene. While the interview subjects give conflicting accounts of specific events in Wood's life, the end result is the same: a tremendous sense of wasted effort, futile dreams, and unending pathos. This is some seriously bitter stuff.
NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY concludes with a fairly solid chunk of factual data, including biographical notes on interview subjects, a chronology of major events in Wood's life, a bibliography that includes passages from Wood's novels, a comprehensive filmography--and even an annotated list of projects Wood was never able to get off the ground. I recommend the book, but I do so with a warning: if you're looking for a restatement of Tim Burton's film, you'll be significantly disillusioned.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer