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A Fuller life

Ed Wood’s old flame hasn’t lost her power to impress

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Fuller, Wood and Bela Lugosi, in 1953’s Glen or Glenda.

A few weeks ago, Dolores Fuller, the so-called “Queen of the B Movies,” suffered a stroke, and she’s been in pain ever since. But over the weekend, when the 86-year-old actress met me at the Montara Meadows Retirement Community on East Tropicana in a sequined gold sweater, she still retained an astounding amount of her formidable presence. Her long face was still luminous—her eyes are a bright, lustrous blue—and it was clear she was used to a lifetime spent as the center of attention.

Which is why interviewing her was so frustrating. Fuller was clearly uncomfortable throughout, complaining of pain in her leg and appearing uneasy and looking for an exit. For much of the interview, her husband, Philip Chamberlin, and local filmmaker Stan Armstrong fed her questions (and answers) about her long and fascinating career.

Fuller is probably most famous for her roles in three low-budget cult flicks made by her onetime boyfriend Ed Wood: Bride of the Monster, Glen or Glenda and Jail Bait. Tim Burton chronicled Wood’s story in his 1994 film Ed Wood, which starred Johnny Depp as the cross-dressing director and Sarah Jessica Parker as Fuller. Neither Fuller nor Chamberlin had much good to say about Parker’s “mannered” performance. Chamberlin referred to her as Sarah “Jurassic” Parker, because she “resembled one of those cold-blooded prehistoric creatures.” (Chamberlin, by the way, has his own interesting tale: His father, a “friendly rival” of Charles Lindbergh, flew the first transatlantic passenger flight, from New York to Berlin.)

The Details

An Evening Honoring Dolores Fuller
August 13, 7 p.m., free.
Montara Meadows Retirement Community
150 E. Tropicana Ave., 435-3150.

But why all the harsh words? Well, Parker smoked cigarettes in the movie, and Fuller does not. And this matters, somewhat, because Fuller was a health nut who didn’t drink or smoke. She wouldn’t let her boyfriends drink or smoke. “I wish to hell I was healthy now,” she allowed, in a moment of total lucidity, “but I’m not.”

But the primary reason is likely that Parker never came to visit Fuller about the role. “She was too good to interview me.”

After leaving Wood in 1955, Fuller moved to New York and studied with the famous acting teacher Stella Adler, and then drifted into a productive second career as a songwriter. She wrote for artists as varied as Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley. She wrote 18 songs for Presley, including 1961’s chart-topping “Rock-a-Hula Baby.” She also founded her own record label, Dee Dee Records, discovered country-music star Tanya Tucker and helped jump-start the career of Johnny Rivers.

Working with Elvis was a highlight, she says, though the two never dated. But she did date luminaries such as Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Carson and Frank Sinatra. (Carson was a better lover than Sinatra, she says.) Her exploits are recounted in her amusing autobiography, A Fuller Life: Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me. The photo captions alone provide an amusing snapshot of Fuller’s rich and varied life. The best of the bunch is surely: “Marrying Paul Sogg was a mistake. Marrying him a second time was a huge mistake.”

Clips from Fuller’s films, as well as a documentary about her life, Diamond in the Rough, screen August 13 at Montara Meadows. Fuller, assisted by Chamberlin and Armstrong, will host a Q&A session afterward.

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