Conrad Brooks pictured with his friend, Hollywood legend Bela Lugosi. (Courtesy Conrad Brooks)
He’s been called “The John Gielgud of Bad Films” and “King of the B’s”, which is okay by him. This weekend, Conrad Brooks – star of such epics as Night of the Ghouls, Jail Bait, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, Misfit Patrol and Guns of El Chupacabra – will be back in his hometown of Baltimore, to meet and greet the faithful and the curious alike at this week’s Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. The Baltimore Post-Examiner caught up with Conrad to talk about his forthcoming trek east and to ask about a few of his equally infamous Hollywood friends.
BPE ~ Thank you so much for joining us today.
Conrad ~ Who did you say you write for?
BPE ~ The Baltimore Post-Examiner.
Conrad ~ Are you a print newspaper?
BPE ~ No, we’re online. We’ve got a huge readership in the Baltimore/Washington area. Over two million reads…
Conrad ~ Oh, I don’t fool around with computers. Who’s got the time?
BPE ~ Exactly.
Conrad ~ (hearty laughter) Hehehehehe
BPE ~ Umm.. Could you tell us a bit about the Nostalgia Convention?
Conrad ~ I’ve been a regular since the get-go. They started near Delaware – I think Aberdeen – but the show has grown so big they’ve moved to the bigger place in Hunt Valley.
BPE ~ You’ll be there to sign autographs and sell videos?
Conrad ~ Yeah, I’ll have Plan 9 posters, and you can get a picture if you want. One of the videos is called Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf. It’s a picture we shot at Quality Studio where Ed Wood shot Plan 9 From Outer Space. So this particular film has a lot of history to it. I shot 80% of it there at the studio. Maybe 90%! I was lucky to get in there because it’s kinda going downhill. They aren’t using it much for movies. Occasionally, TV people would come in there. It’s rather on the small side. I did a documentary and while I was there, I said, ‘You know, it’s been years since Plan 9. I’d love to shoot a movie here again’. So that’s what we did. Also, Glen or Glenda was shot there. It brought back a lot of memories.
I had a good story and the right actor to play the Tor Johnson role, so it just kept rolling through my mind.
BPE ~ Who did you get to play the Tor Johnson role? Tor was such a unique looking character. Wasn’t he also a professional wrestler?
Conrad ~ Oh, sure. He wrestled in Japan. I’m pretty sure he wrestled for the title over there. He was Swedish, you know. He had some big bouts. I don’t know if he was ever the champion, but he was popular. He was so popular, they put him in the movies!
Conrad ~ Yeah, Mike. I knew Mike. He worked in our movies, too.
BPE ~ You had a small part in the movie, Ed Wood with Johnny Depp. You played the bartender?
Conrad ~ Yes, I had a cameo. Then there was the guy who portrayed me named Brent Hinkley. He was very good, very good. But I wanted to play myself. They said, ‘But Mr. Conrad – you’re too old!’
BPE ~ Well, Brent did a pretty good job playing you, didn’t he?
Conrad ~ He’d better, or else I’d have sued him!
BPE ~ I have to ask you a question about one of my favorite clips from Ed Wood. It’s the scene where Brent, playing you, asks Bela Lugosi for his autograph. Lugosi’s reaction is priceless. Did that really happen?
Conrad ~ You mean where Brent says something to Lugosi – he was played by Martin Landau – about being Karloff’s sidekick? No, in real life, that didn’t happen.
BPE ~ But you did work with Lugosi on Plan 9?
Conrad ~ Yeah, I played a cop. There were three cops. I was the youngest one, named Jamie. You know – the good looking guy.
BPE ~ But of course, you were the good looking guy.
Conrad ~ (Laughing) I still am! 85, man.
BPE ~ He was 85?
Conrad ~ No! I’M 85!
BPE ~ Oh, I mean Lugosi. How old was he when they made the film?
Conrad ~ He was in his seventies somewhere.
BPE ~ Do you have any special memories about either Lugosi or Ed Wood that you’d like to share?
Conrad ~ Yeah, everything was good. Because Bela was a sweet guy. He was a very gentlemanly man. You know, I was just a young kid in my early 20’s when I met Bela on Glen or Glenda and he was very sociable. I was his stand-in as well on Glen or Glenda. So I not only worked as an actor in that picture, I was beside him all the time. My brother Henry was in the film also. Henry Bederski. I catered to Bela throughout the movie. He smoked a cigar between scenes, so I would hold the cigar for him when he was filming, and occasionally get him some water to drink. I was his assistant.
BPE ~ And you also got to work with Vampira.
Conrad ~Yes, in Plan 9.
BPE ~ A pretty sexy woman?
Conrad ~ I guess she was. I got to know her years later when we did conventions together. I took her out on a couple of dinner dates. Took her to a show once. Nice lady, though many times, they would book her for certain shows, and occasionally she wouldn’t show up.
BPE ~ Why was that?
Conrad ~ Who knows? That’s Hollywood. People get temperamental. It’s show biz, you know.
BPE ~ So you’ll be in Baltimore signing autographs this weekend.
Conrad ~ Yeah, sure. Why not? That’s my hometown, Baltimore. I miss Baltimore. It’s a great city. A great place. I sold newspapers on Baltimore Street, and I knew all the bookmakers, all the number writers, all the gangsters and hookers. But they never bothered you. You could walk the streets all night in Baltimore.
BPE ~ What newspaper did you sell?
Conrad ~ The Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore American. My brother Joe worked for the Sun, and my brother Ted worked for the American. My brother Henry was a writer. He had a column in Hollywood called Stars Over Hollywood. Henry didn’t want to be an actor, but Eddie insisted he be in the film (Glen or Glenda). John Waters used him also. I’m not crazy about John’s films. They’re for kids. I’m more serious. (Laughing)
But really, John’s movies are different. It’s good stuff but just not my type of movie. I like John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi. I like that heavy, heavy stuff. Action, westerns – I love movies.
When we were making movies in the 1950’s, black and white was on its way out. Everybody wanted color. You could have a great film and if it wasn’t in color, nobody wanted to show it. Black and white films were great – they still are.
Some of these newer European films are black and white and they’re fantastic. And look at the silents. So many great movies. Then the talkies of the thirties, with Cagney and Bogart; Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; Joan Blondell. Wonderful actresses and just beautiful people.
I never intended on being an actor. It wasn’t in my cards. I enjoyed selling newspapers. That was my big deal, selling newspapers on Baltimore Street. I got to meet all the really important people: prize fighters, city councilmen, people like that.
BPE ~ Well, then how did you get into acting if you didn’t want to be an actor?
Conrad ~ They put me in! Eddie Wood put me in films, but actually, I worked in films before I met Ed Wood. I did Clipped Wings and Jalopy with Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall.
BPE ~ Bowery Boys movies?
Conrad ~ Bowery Boys, right, but they used to call them the Dead End Kids. They were just bit parts, but then I met Ed Wood, and he insisted on using me as an actor. You don’t turn down a good thing, man.
BPE ~ Certainly not!
Conrad ~ (Laughing) I wound up doing 200 films in Hollywood. Televison, video, films, you name it.
BPE ~ Speaking of Hollywood, you tell this story about Ava Gardner and a bad day at the race track.
Conrad ~ Yeah, a gorgeous lady. I saw her at the track, and she was losing money. I looked at her and could see she was depressed, so I said, ‘Let me massage your feet.’ (Laughing) She looked at me kinda funny, you know. I wouldn’t dare ask her for a kiss.
BPE ~ So, we talked about Bela, and I’d like to ask you about Ed Wood.
Conrad ~ Go ahead. I’m an open book.
BPE ~ You’re the last of the people who worked on those films.
Conrad ~ Yeah, it’s hard to believe that every one of them from Plan 9 is dead. But I’m still hangin’ in. You see, it pays to stay young, and when you’re young, when you start out, then you last a bit longer. How much longer? One never knows. But I’m still around and can talk about Ed Wood.
Ed was a good guy. You know, he had a drinking problem. Some guys do it for escape, but Ed Wood just loved to drink. I used to enjoy drinking, too. I don’t anymore, but it’s not because I have any hang-ups. At my age, who needs hang-ups?
But Ed, poor guy, died at 55 I believe. I saw him about a month before he died.
I was very close to Ed Wood, you know. I took care of his bills, I mean, he didn’t have much money. You can’t expect to make a low budget film and make a ton of money. It don’t work that way.
There were times when he couldn’t pay his rent and was evicted; I had to help him out with rent money and cigarettes and booze. I’d come to see him and he’d be shaking like a rabbit and say, “Connie – have you got some extra money?” I couldn’t say no to the guy. He was like part of the family. My brother Henry and I had known him since ‘48. That’s a long time.
He had it rough, but he enjoyed it. For a guy that didn’t have any real background in pictures, you know, he came out of the Marines and went to Hollywood and hoped to strike it rich. He did a few plays that weren’t successful at all, but the movies he did – people will remember those.
That’s the important thing.
* * * * *
Conrad Brooks will be appearing this week – Thursday – Saturday, September 17-19 – at the 10th annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. The convention is happening at the Hunt Valley Wyndham in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Joining Brooks will be such Hollywood stars as Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson, Robert Conrad, Jon Provost, Terry Moore, Tina Cole and a reunion of the cast of My Three Sons. Also appearing will be James Bond girls Caroline Munro and Martine Beswick; Dean Stockwell from Quantum Leap; Hammer Horror actresses Suzanna Leigh and Veronica Carlson, and Carol Ford – author of the new Bob Crane biography. Attendees will also have a chance to meet Angela Cartwright – star of Make Room for Daddy, The Sound of Music and Lost in Space. For more information about the convention visit Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia. And if you enjoyed our chat with Conrad, please read our interview with Angela Cartwright.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”