Edward Davis “Ed” Wood, Jr. was an American screenwriter, director, producer, actor, author, and editor, who often performed many of these functions simultaneously. In the 1950s, Wood made a number of low-budget genre films. Toward the end of his life, Wood made pornographic movies and wrote pulp crime, horror, and sex novels. During his childhood, Wood was interested in the performing arts and pulp fiction. He collected comics and pulp magazines, and adored movies, most notably Westerns, and anything involving the occult. He would often skip school in favor of watching pictures at the local movie theater.
It is believed that Wood’s mother, Lillian, always wanted a girl and would sometimes, until he was about 12 years old, dress her son in skirts and dresses. For the rest of his life, Wood was a heterosexual crossdresser. On his 12th birthday, Wood received his first movie camera. One of his first paid jobs was as a cinema usher, and he also sang and played drums in a band. He later fronted a singing quartet called Eddie Wood’s Little Splinters, having learned to play a variety of string instruments. Wood enlisted in the Marines at age 17, just months after the Attack on Pearl Harbor. He served from 1942–46 and claimed that he had participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal while secretly wearing a brassiere and panties beneath his uniform.
Fascinated by the exotic and bizarre, Wood joined a carnival following his discharge from the Marines. Wood played, among others, the geek and the bearded lady. Carnivals would be frequently depicted in Wood’s works, most notably the semi-autobiographical novel Killer in Drag. Wood had one child, a daughter named Kathleen Emily Wood. His film career began after moving to Hollywood in 1947. He wrote scripts and directed television pilots, commercials, and several forgotten micro-budget westerns. Wood wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Casual Company, a play from his unpublished novel which was based on his service in the United States Marine Corps.
Wood’s big break came in 1953 when he was hired by producer George Weiss to make an exploitation film, I Changed My Sex, based on the life of Christine Jorgensen. After Jorgensen refused to collaborate on the film, Wood wrote a new autobiographical screenplay titled Glen or Glenda. About his films, Wood is quoted as stating, “If you want to know me, see Glen or Glenda. That’s me, that’s my story, no question.” Wood directed and, using the alias Daniel Davis, played the titular character who has a fetish for cross-dressing and angora sweaters. Angora was regularly featured in his films. Ann Gora also happened to be one of Wood’s pen names. Even in his later years, Wood was not shy about going out in public dressed in drag as Shirley; his alter ego—female characters named Shirley also appear in many of his screenplays and stories.