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Conrad Brooks - master of B movies

July 02, 1998

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

In "Sinister Urge," one of Conrad Brooks' many B movies, one scene called for a car to crash off a cliff.

Director Edward D. Wood Jr. rented a car and drained the gas (to prevent an explosion, of course).

"Ed looked at me and said, 'We gotta get a stunt man,'" Brooks said.

So the young Brooks was recruited. What else could he do when, as usual, Wood was running low on both money and daylight?

Brooks wasn't wearing any padding, so he was bruised pretty badly from rolling down the cliff.

"We got it on film. That's what counts," said Brooks, smiling and giving two thumbs up.

Today, Brooks is 68 years old and calls the Hagerstown area home.

But he lives his life with the same happy-go-lucky spirit and still jumps at the chance to make movies, no matter how bad or low-budget.

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Born Conrad Biedrzycki in east Baltimore, he adopted the stage name Brooks when he went to Hollywood as a young man.

Brooks is most famous for his role as a bumbling cop in the 1959 film "Plan 9 from Outer Space," also directed by schlockmeister Wood.

"Ed Wood told me it was going to become the most famous movie in the world," Brooks said.

The Baptist Church bankrolled the movie to the tune of $25,000 because church leaders thought it would be a quick way to make money for the religious films they wanted to make.

"Plan 9's" low budget showed.

The flying saucer scenes were originally shot using $2 plastic models suspended from piano wire over a miniature town. After many of the models were damaged, Wood claimed he substituted painted Cadillac hubs.

The movie got little attention when it was released.

It wasn't until 1980, when it received the Golden Turkey Award, that it was lifted to cult status.

Brooks claims it has grossed $30 million in the theater and on video, including a five-year stint at a New York City movie house.

Brooks has taken advantage of his cult fame, appearing in "about 199" movies and making frequent appearances at sci-fi and monster movie conventions up and down the East Coast.

He has appeared with Linda Blair of "The Exorcist" fame, and Johnny Sheffield, who played "Boy" in the Tarzan movies of the 1940s.

Between appearances, he stays at a trailer in River Bend Park in Falling Waters, W.Va. He also spends a lot of time with his daughter Connie Granda and ex-wife, Ruthie, who live in Huyetts.

His latest movie, "Misfit Patrol" with Vernon Wells, is supposed to hit video stores next month.

The movie took longer to film than any of his previous movies - eight weeks. Most movies were shot in three to five days.

When Brooks arrived in California to shoot the film, he got off the train and producer Anthony Cardoza handed him a script. Shooting began the next day.

Other movies never had scripts, just an outline.

"I love 'em all. Whether it's a $5 million movie or a $500,000 movie, I put my heart and soul into my performance," he said.

The result, in his case, is often a movie that's so bad it's good.

And it all started with Ed Wood.

When he met Wood in the 1950s, Hollywood was a much smaller town with a few big stars.

Brooks learned about Wood's eccentricities the first day he met him. He and his brother, Henry, went up to his apartment and found Wood - wearing a dress.

"Didn't make any difference to me. We just figured he was a Hollywood character," he said.

Brooks sometimes paid Woods' rent and kept him in alcohol and cigarettes.

In return, Woods made him an actor.

The oddball director was immortalized in Tim Burton's 1994 "Ed Wood."

Brooks had a cameo as a bartender who served the fictional Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp).

"I'm always ready to do a movie," he said.

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