Character actor Conrad Brooks, who attained film immortality (of a sort) by appearing as a bumbling cop in “worst director” Ed Wood’s legendarily inept sci-fi-horror mashup Plan 9 From Outer Space, has died. He was 86.
Brooks was the last surviving member of Ed Wood’s 1950s-era “stock company” of on-screen eccentrics, a group that included TV horror-hostess Vampira, pop psychic Criswell and a then-down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi.
(Plan 9’s rugged, rock-jawed “leading man” Gregory Walcott, who died in 2015, tried hard to forget about appearing in Wood’s film. Wood’s ex-girlfriend Dolores Fuller, who died in Las Vegas in 2011, had been the lead actress in his 1952 transvestite epic Glen or Glenda, where she delivered such earnest Wood-isms as: “Our fourth term in Psychology explains a lot of the facts, but I’m afraid the end of study is only the beginning of reality.”)
Decades before The Room was touted as the go-to “bad film” of record, there was Plan 9 From Outer Space. Shot in 1959 in various locations throughout Hollywood and the Valley, Plan 9 first secured its place in film history as the so-called Worst Movie of All Time thanks largely to Harry and Michael Medved’s 1980 film book The Golden Turkey Awards. That “honor” got the Ed Wood craze going: Where Plan 9 had long been an obscure, 3 a.m. television hoot, now a growing Ed Wood cult would culminate in Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic (Wood had died in 1978 in North Hollywood, after being evicted from his apartment).
Brooks’ role in Plan 9 was brief; he appeared in a few scenes as a patrolman prowling a graveyard (looking for … a zombie!), announcing to fellow cop Paul Marco, “It’s hard to find something, when you don’t know what it is you’re looking for,” one of the more tame Wood-isms in Plan 9’s malaprop-laden script.
Brooks was born Conrad Bederski (or Biedrzycki) in Baltimore in 1931. He and his aspiring-actor brother Henry both came to Hollywood in 1947. Both were doing bit parts when they fell in with struggling screenwriter “Eddie” Wood (fresh out of the Marines, where he was a cross-dressing soldier who’d wear panties and a bra under his uniform while invading Japanese-held islands).
Postwar photos survive of the Bederski brothers with a young and dapper Ed Wood, goofing around in front of RKO Studios (Wood famously worshipped at the shrine of Orson Welles, his laughably unattainable ideal). The two brothers had silent parts in Wood’s first anti-masterpiece, Glen or Glenda.
Cheapness and bad writing were Ed Wood hallmarks. “He rarely asked his actors for a second take,” claimed one Wood documentary. “There usually wasn’t time!” Or money.
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Aside from Plan 9’s lame props, stilted dialogue and corny narration (courtesy of Criswell, a hammy TV psychic who had once prophesized epidemics of “Bedbugs in Baltimore … Katydids in Kansas …”), everything about the film is laughably half-baked and … wrong: Day shots suddenly turn into night, fake tombstones in a graveyard wobble at the touch, modified hubcaps on strings double as “flying saucers.”
Brooks was living quietly in Los Feliz when Ed Wood mania hit L.A. in the 1980s and ’90s. Wood film festivals, bad-movie symposiums, memorabilia conventions: Conrad was always there (along with other Wood survivors like Paul Marco), selling signed 8x10s and ready to chat about his late friend’s tortured, alcoholic, poverty-stricken life (Wood, he claimed, basically drank himself to death: “He would just slug it down … he would be talking to me and just black out”).
As a Wood alumnus, Conrad was in demand, appearing on screen in documentaries including Ed Wood Confidential and Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora. When that all cooled down, he left L.A. for West Virginia, still hustling and acting in cheapo “horror” videos whose names alone are hilarious: A Polish Vampire in Burbank, Toad Warrior, Deathrow Gameshow. Conrad Brooks, the tireless prince of shlock.
But he was amiable to the end, happy to share tales of Wood’s corner-cutting antics in Hollywood with a rueful smile on his lips and his eyes twinkling. He rode the wave, until the sun was setting.