Many people have a “funny uncle,” some eccentric, older blood relation or larger-than-life, close family friend. But few are funnier than Jason Insalaco’s late, great-uncle Paul Marco.
Marco was a close friend of the director Ed Wood and played a character called “Kelton the Cop” in three of the much derided auteur’s movies, including 1959’s infamously terrible Plan 9 From Outer Space. Not that Marco himself believed there to be anything wrong with the film or the cinematic chops of his pal Wood.
“Paul was his right hand man and they would socialize a lot,” recalls Insalaco, who works as an executive producer for Clear Channel Communications. “He was passionate about his career with Ed Wood up until his death. He would tell people all the time, ‘Hey, I was in these great movies with Ed Wood.’ At times, he would wander around in his cop uniform and, even if he wasn’t dressed as the part, he would tell anyone who would listen that he was Kelton the Cop. People got a kick out of it although some people looked at him like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?'”
One of the subjects Marco liked to discuss was a TV pilot the filmmaker had directed in the late ’50s called Final Curtain. The short horror film starred another Plan 9 cast member Duke Moore and concerned an actor who makes the mistake of exploring a theatre on his own late at night.
Wood originally wanted his favorite actor Bela Lugosi to star in the project and it is rumored Lugosi was clutching a copy of the script when he died in 1956. “Whether that’s true or not, who knows,” says Insalaco. “But I know Ed Wood boasted that that was the case.”
Wood had intended the film to be the pilot episode of a series called Portraits of Terror. But Final Curtain was never screened and the footage had long been lost. Recalls Insalaco, “Paul would say, ‘Oh, Final Curtain is great stuff, it’s better than the Twilight Zone. He definitely would talk about it as this lost piece of Ed Wood’s work that was worthy of discovery.”
Paul Marco himself passed away in 2006 — “In fact, he died in his Kelton the cop uniform” says his great-nephew — and Insalaco decided to set out on a quest to find Final Curtain. “I just felt like it was kind of bringing a sense of closure to Paul and for the whole [Ed Wood] group, to find this lost film,” he says. Insalaco spent two years hunting his prey, haunting monster conventions and Ed Wood-related events. At first, all he found were dead ends. But, like Wood himself, Insalaco never let the prospect of failure stop him from ploughing on. “It became kind of an obsession,” he says.
Insalaco’s quest heated up when he was told of a Los Angeles memorabilia collector who had acquired some cans that, so it was rumored, contained the film. “I met with the fellow and [the cans] said, Final Curtain on them,” he says. “They were in horrible shape. I know nothing about film restoration but I made a deal, got the cans.” Insalaco took the footage to a friend named Jonathan Harris, who did know a thing, or five, about film restoration. “He worked painstakingly to restore it,” says Insalaco. “After months and months of getting these vinegar-smelling cans prepared we realized, ‘Oh my gosh, we actually have a complete film.’’’
More than half a century after it was shot, Final Curtain will finally be screened this Monday at the Slamdance Film Festival—the “alternative” Sundance—in Park City, Utah.”I can’t wait,” says Insalaco. “There’s a real thirst for Ed Wood stuff. You know, it’s so hard to get a film made. Obviously Ed Wood’s filmmaking was ‘unique.’ But he got films made. And heck, television was a new medium and the fact that he was able to put this pilot together, I think that’s commendable. I think that’s the spirit of Slamdance and I think that’s why Slamdance is interested in showing this. The spirit and enthusiasm that Ed Wood brought to filmmaking is infectious.”
Insalaco’s cinematic sleuthing may not be over yet. “I spoke with someone who said he believes there might be another episode of this series that was possibly made,” he reveals. “Would I be tempted to try and find that? I certainly would be. Sure. Why not?”