Glen or Glenda

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Glen or Glenda
Glen or Glenda.jpg
Theatrical film poster
Directed byEd Wood
Written byEd Wood
Produced byGeorge Weiss
Narrated byTimothy Farrell
CinematographyWilliam C. Thompson
Edited byBud Schelling
Music byWilliam Lava
Distributed byScreen Classics
Release date
  • April 1953 (1953-04)
Running time
  • 65 minutes
  • 71 minutes
    (1982 reissue)
CountryUnited States
Budget$20,000 (adjusted by inflation: $202,562)

Glen or Glenda is a 1953 American exploitation film directed, written by and starring Ed Wood (credited in his starring role as "Daniel Davis"), and featuring Wood's then-girlfriend Dolores Fuller and Bela Lugosi. It was produced by George Weiss who also made the exploitation film Test Tube Babies that same year.[1]

The film is a docudrama about cross-dressing and transvestism, and is semi-autobiographical in nature. Wood himself was a cross-dresser, and the film is a plea for tolerance. It was widely considered one of the worst films ever made upon release. However, it has since been reevaluated and has become a cult film due to its low-budget production values, idiosyncratic style, and early cinematic themes of transgender acceptance.


Glen or Glenda begins with a narrator, called The Scientist (Bela Lugosi), making cryptic comments about humanity. He first comments that humanity's constant search for the unknown results in startling things coming to light. The cries of a newborn baby are followed by the sirens of an ambulance. One is a sign that a new life has begun, the other that a life has ended.[2][3]

This last comment starts the narrative of the film. The life which has ended is that of a transvestite named Patrick/Patricia, who has committed suicide. A suicide note explains the reasons behind the suicide. Patrick/Patricia had been arrested four times for cross-dressing in public, and had spent time in prison, so he ended his own life and wished to be buried with his women's clothing. "Let my body rest in death forever, in the things I cannot wear in life."[2][3]

Inspector Warren is puzzled and wants to know more about cross-dressing, so he seeks the office of Dr. Alton, who narrates for him the story of Glen/Glenda. Glen is shown studying women's clothes in a shop window. A flashback scene reveals that a young Glen started out by asking to wear his sister's dress for a Halloween party.

The narrative explains that Glen is a transvestite, but not a homosexual. He hides his cross-dressing from his fiancée, Barbara, fearing that she will reject him.[2][3] She voices her suspicion that there is another woman in his life, unaware that the woman is his feminine alter ego, Glenda.[2] The scene shifts from a speechless Glen to footage of a stampeding herd of bison, while the Scientist calls for Glen to "Pull the string. Dance to that for which one is made!", referring to the narrator pulling the strings of a hapless puppet who is not in control of his own destiny.[2]

Alton narrates that Glen is torn between the idea of being honest with Barbara before their wedding or waiting until after. The narrative shifts briefly from Glen's story to how society reacts to sex change operations. A conversation between two "average joes", concludes that society should be more "lenient" when it comes to people with tranvestite tendencies.[2] The story returns to Glen, who confides in a transvestite friend of his, John, whose wife left him after catching him wearing her clothes.[2]

Later, Glen/Glenda is walking the city streets at night. He returns home when the sound of thunder causes him to collapse to the floor; an extended dream sequence begins. Barbara is depicted trapped under a tree. Glenda fails to lift the tree, then is replaced by Glen, who completes the task with ease.[2] The dream then depicts Glen and Barbara getting married, where the best man is a devil. The sequence continues with a series of erotic vignettes containing BDSM, striptease, lesbian, autoerotic, and rape fantasy themes. Throughout these vignettes, the faces of Glen and the Scientist appear, silently reacting to the various images.[2]

The dream returns to Glen in the midst of a jury of public opinion. A blackboard appears, with messages recording what the Scientist or the mocking voices said in previous scenes. The Devil and the various specters on the jury menacingly approach Glen. Then the Devil departs, Glen turns into Glenda, and the specters retreat.[2] A victorious Glenda sees Barbara and approaches her, but she turns into a mocking Devil. Barbara starts appearing and disappearing, always evading Glenda's embrace. The dream sequence ends.[2]

Glen/Glenda wakes and stares at his mirror reflection. He decides to tell Barbara the truth. She initially reacts with distress, but ultimately decides to stay with him. She offers him an angora sweater as a sign of acceptance. The scene effectively concludes their story.[2]

Back in Dr. Alton's office, he starts another narrative. This one concerns another tranvestite, called Alan/Anne. Anne was born Alan, a boy, but her mother wanted a girl and raised her as such. Her father did not care either way. She was an outsider as a child, trying to be one of the girls and consequently rejected by schoolmates of both sexes. As a teenager, she self-identified as a woman. She was conscripted in World War II, maintaining a secret life throughout her military service. She first heard of sex change operations during the War while recovering from combat wounds in a hospital. She eventually did have a sex change operation, enduring the associated pains to fulfill her dreams. The World War II veteran becomes a "lovely young lady".[2] Following a brief epilogue, the film ends.[2]


Ed Wood as Glen


Shot in four days, the film was loosely inspired by the sex reassignment surgery of Christine Jorgensen, which made national headlines in the U.S. in 1952. George Weiss, a Hollywood producer of low-budget films, commissioned a movie to exploit the case. Originally Weiss made Jorgensen several offers to appear in the film, but these were turned down.[4] Wood convinced Weiss that his own transvestism made him the perfect director despite his modest resume. Wood was given the job, but instead made a movie about transvestism. Nonetheless, posters for the film still claimed it was based on Jorgensen's case.[5]

Wood persuaded Lugosi, at the time poor and drug-addicted, to appear in the movie. Lugosi's scenes were shot at the Jack Miles Studios in Los Angeles. He was reportedly paid $5000 for the role, although some stories state the actual amount was only $1000.[4] Lugosi is credited as "The Scientist", a character whose purpose is unclear. He acts as a sort of narrator but gives no narration relevant to the plot; that job is reserved for the film's primary narrator, Timothy Farrell.[6]

This was the only film Wood directed but did not also produce. Wood played the eponymous character, but under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis".[6] His then-girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, played Glen's girlfriend/fiancée Barbara. Wood later returned to Glen or Glenda in his pulp novel Killer in Drag (1963). The plot features a transvestite called Glen whose alter-ego is called Glenda. He is executed in the sequel Death of a Transvestite (1967) after a struggle for the right to go to the electric chair dressed as Glenda.

The erotic-themed vignettes were not created by Wood. They were reportedly added by producer George Weiss. He needed extra scenes to add to what he felt was an overly-short film.[2] While not organic parts of the narrative, they seem to tell their own tales of gender dynamics and so fit in with the general themes of the film.[2] The whipping scene suggests a master/slave relationship. That the man is dominant and the woman submissive, seems to reflect male chauvinism.[2] The flirtatious and striptease-themed vignettes were typical of 1950s exploitation films and grindhouse films, as was the rape scene.[2]

The film has deleted scenes. In the theatrical trailer, included in laserdisc and DVD editions, the scene in which Fuller hands over her angora sweater, is a different take than the one in the release version — in the trailer, she tosses it to Wood in a huff, while the release version shows her handing it over more acceptingly. There is also a shot of Wood in drag, mouthing the word "Cut!"[7]

The second part of the film, titled Alan or Anne, is much shorter, told largely through stock footage, and was made to meet the distributor's demand for a sex change film. Alan is a pseudo-hermaphrodite who fights in World War II wearing women's underwear. After returning, Alan undergoes surgery to become a woman.


Domestically, the film was limited in release, having been pre-sold to some theaters (under alternative titles such as I Led Two Lives, He or She? and I Changed My Sex). Internationally, the film was also limited, and in France and Belgium, the title was translated as Louis ou Louise and in Argentina as Yo Cambié Mi Sexo (I changed my sex); the film had a brief screening in the Republic of China.[4] It was re-released to theaters in 1981 by Paramount.[1]

According to Tim Dirks, the film was one of a wave of "cheap teen movies" released for the drive-in market. They consisted of "exploitative, cheap fare created especially for them [teens] in a newly-established teen/drive-in genre."[8]

It was denied classification by the British Board of Film Classification upon submission on February 26, 1958.[9]

In 2009, Glen or Glenda became the final film to be restored and colorized by Legend Films, who subsequently released it on DVD.[10]


In 1980, Wood was posthumously given the accolade of 'Worst Director of All Time' at the Golden Turkey Awards, and a revival of interest in his work followed. This led to Glen or Glenda being reissued in 1982. This cut included six minutes of additional footage. One of the restored scenes features Glen rejecting a pass made to him by a man. At this point, the film was reviewed seriously, and reclaimed as a radical work, by Steve Jenkins in the Monthly Film Bulletin.[11]

The critic Leonard Maltin names Glen or Glenda as "possibly the worst movie ever made".[12] Richard Barrios describes Glen or Glenda as "one of the funniest and worst movies ever made".[13]

In his book Cult Movies 3, Danny Peary suggests this is actually a radical, if ineptly made, film that presents a far more personal story than is contained in films by more well-respected auteurs.[11]

In 1994, Tim Burton chronicled the troubled production of Glen or Glenda in Ed Wood. The film includes re-creations of several key scenes, including Lugosi's narration and Glen's plea for his girlfriend's understanding at the end of the film.[14]

David Lynch has named the film as one of his favorites.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Weldon, Michael (1983). "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film". Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-34345-X. Page 284
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Craig (2009), p. 30-68
  3. ^ a b c Banta, Mykal (June 14, 2009). "The Unbroken Dream of Edward D. Wood, Jr". Radiation Cinema. Radiation Cinema. Archived from the original on 31 January 2010. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Rhodes, Gary D. (1997). Lugosi: His Life in Films, on Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0257-1.
  5. ^ ""I Led 2 Lives" Based on the Lives of Christine Jorgensen". Archived from the original on 2021-07-08. Retrieved 2017-08-10.
  6. ^ a b Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 97–101. ISBN 0-671-64810-1.
  7. ^ Trailer on Internet Archive
  8. ^ Dirks,Tim. "Citing Website" The History of Film - The 1950s: The Cold War and Post-Classical Era, The Era of Epic Films, and the Threat of Television, Part 1. Accessed March 16, 2015, Archived 2016-05-07 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Glen or Glenda". British Board of Film Classification. February 26, 1958. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  10. ^ "Glen or Glenda (1953)". Legend Films.
  11. ^ a b Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3: 50 More of the Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird and the Wonderful. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-64810-7.
  12. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2003). Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 2004. Signet. ISBN 0-451-20940-0.
  13. ^ Richard Barrios, Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall, Psychology Press, 2003, ISBN 0-415-92328-X, Page 235.
  14. ^ Ed Wood Jr's "Glen or Glenda" The First Trans Film? - The Odyssey Online
  15. ^ ANGORA RISING: TWO FROM ED WOOD - Spectacle Theater


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]