The Truth About Eddie:
Remembering POOR PRETTY EDDIE
by Chris Poggiali
I’m willing to bet that if you were a fly on the wall during any conversation about POOR PRETTY EDDIE that has ever taken place in the 36 years since it was first released, at some point during every one of those discussions you would’ve heard somebody say “I’d love to know the story behind that one!” Both stylish and sleazy, frequently at the same time, it’s a creepy melodrama to some viewers and a black comedy to others. Self-consciously arty one minute, gleefully tasteless the next, it stands with FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE as one of the most durable genre-blending oddities to ever hit the exploitation circuit, sold to the masses as everything from a horror film and a sexy thriller to a redneck revenge flick and a blaxploitation programmer during its nearly decade-long tour of drive-ins and grindhouses. Made by pornographers yearning to go legit, it drops a talented cast of familiar faces and old pros into a rundown hotel in the Georgia backwoods and sticks them with a dialogue-heavy script more suited for an off-off-Broadway stage than the silver screen.
Ironically, as strange and sordid a movie as it is, POOR PRETTY EDDIE was viewed as a mainstream Hollywood project with crossover appeal by its chief investor, notorious Atlanta porn kingpin and underworld figure Michael Thevis. Responsible at one time for the distribution of 40% of the pornography in the U.S. -- not to mention the violent deaths of several competitors -- Thevis owned over 400 sex shops and X-rated theaters across the country and realized he could be heading for a very big Capone-like fall at the hands of the FBI without a few legitimate business ventures to funnel his money through. He already owned Cinematics, a company that made peepshow booths, as well as a music distribution firm, General Recording Corporation (GRC), which would later find great success with Sammy Johns’ multi-platinum hit “Chevy Van,” but in 1972 Thevis decided to expand his interests and try his hand at filmmaking. He invested first in the stateside release of a Chinese kung fu movie, BLOOD OF THE DRAGON (1973), then began production on a western comedy with Troy Donahue titled THE HOLE IN THE LEG GANG (a.k.a. THE LAST STOP), which has seemingly vanished if it was indeed ever finished.
Meanwhile, another low-budget western, TO HELL YOU PREACH (1972), had just been completed by director Richard Robinson and cinematographer David Worth, a production team that had previously made ADULTERY FOR FUN & PROFIT (1971) and other “adults only” movies of the soft as well as hard variety. Robinson and Worth knew Thevis through the distribution of those X-rated films and approached him with a script they owned, which had been penned by busy TV scribe B.W. Sandefur. “Richard got Thevis to finance the film,” says actor Michael Christian, one of the stars of TO HELL YOU PREACH and best known to TV viewers as the streetwise Joe Rossi on the popular series PEYTON PLACE. “Robinson knew Thevis wanted to make ‘straight’ motion pictures for PR and because I think [the FBI] was after him for any number of things. So that’s actually how I got the job. I had just played a Billy the Kid type of character for Richard in TO HELL YOU PREACH, and that led to me getting the part of Eddie. The girl I was dating at the time was friends with Shelley Winters from the Actors Studio, and so Richard hired Shelley through Jack Gilardi, who was an agent of mine, to play the part of Bertha.”
STAR TREK fans take note: Before singer Leslie Uggams landed the lead role, Nichelle “Uhuru” Nichols was up for the part of Liz Wetherly. “[The producers] flew her to Atlanta to meet with them, and she was going to do it,” says Christian, “but then they went with Leslie instead and they were very pleased with that decision, as was I. Leslie was a joy to work with.”
“Shelley was a wild and crazy lady,” Uggams recalls. “She was so unpredictable. You never knew exactly what to expect.”
Special thanks to Leslie Uggams, Michael Christian, Paul Nuckles, Lawrence Cohn, Fred Adelman and Joe Rubin