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Dolores Fuller dies at 88; actress dated director Ed Wood

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Dolores Fuller, the onetime actress-girlfriend of cross-dressing schlock movie director Ed Wood who co-starred with Wood in his low-budget 1950s cult classic "Glen or Glenda," has died. She was 88.

Fuller, whose show business career included writing the lyrics to a dozen Elvis Presley movie songs, died Monday at her home in Las Vegas after a long illness, said her stepdaughter, Susan Chamberlin.

As the former girlfriend and two-time leading lady for the legendary filmmaker who came to be known as the world's worst movie director, Fuller became something of a cult figure herself in her later years.

"Ed always said he'd make me a star," Fuller told the Kansas City Star in 1994. "I just didn't realize it would take 42 years."

At the time, Fuller was caught up in the flurry of publicity surrounding the release of director Tim Burton's biopic "Ed Wood," starring Johnny Depp as the eccentric D-movie director and Sarah Jessica Parker as Fuller.

"Not in my wildest nightmares did I ever think I'd see the day when Eddie's movies would be popular," said Fuller, who was in Kansas City to appear at an Ed Wood Film Festival.

She was a bit movie player, a model on TV's "Queen for a Day" and Dinah Shore's stand-in on the star's musical TV show when she responded to a casting call and met Wood in late 1952.

"When I got to the casting call and first laid eyes on the young Edward, I just thought he was extremely handsome, and his personality was bubbly and fun," Fuller recalled in a 1994 interview with Tom Weaver for Fangoria magazine.

"Then when I found out he was also a director and writer as well as a producer and actor, I was very impressed. … I knew immediately that he liked me, too."

The divorced Fuller soon moved in with Wood, who cast her in "Glen or Glenda," the 1953 film in which she played the fiancee of Wood's secret cross-dresser who has a passion for angora sweaters.

Fuller said in the Fangoria interview that she "didn't know Eddie was a transvestite when we first got together — even the first year, I didn't know."

Her first clue, she said, "was when he was writing one evening and we were having a glass of wine together, and he said he'd like to borrow my white angora sweater.

"I said, 'Why do you want to borrow it?' and he said, 'Well, it helps me write, I feel so much more comfortable. I hate men's hard clothes, I like soft, cuddly things. It makes my creative juices flow!' Well, we were all alone and I saw no harm in it. … That was my first inkling that maybe he had a fetish. But I didn't realize it went any further."

When she saw the final version of "Glen or Glenda," with Wood in a wig and women's clothing, she said, "I wanted to crawl under the seat!"

Fuller, who described herself as the "breadwinner" while she and Wood lived together, went on to star in his 1954 crime thriller "Jail Bait." She also had a small part in his 1955 horror film "Bride of the Monster."

Wood had written that movie for her to play the female lead, but then gave it to another actress. That, combined with his drinking, led Fuller to split up with him in 1955, according to the Fangoria article.

She moved to New York, where she studied with Stella Adler at the Actors Studio. "I decided I needed lessons after seeing Ed's films," she told the Kansas City Star.

A friendship with producer Hal Wallis led to her co-write (with composer Ben Weisman) "Rock-a-Hula Baby" for Presley's 1961 movie "Blue Hawaii."

She went on to co-write other songs for Presley movies such as "Kid Galahad," "It Happened at the World's Fair," "Fun in Acapulco" and "Spinout" — as well as co-writing "Someone to Tell it To," which was recorded by Nat King Cole, and "Losers Weepers," which was recorded by Peggy Lee.

Fuller also founded a record company, launched Johnny Rivers' recording career and served as a talent manager.

She was born March 10, 1923, in South Bend, Ind., and moved to California when she was 10. Her family was staying in a motel in El Monte when she had her first brush with Hollywood, as a background extra in Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night," which was shooting at the motel.

Fuller, who began modeling at 16, chronicled her life in her 2009 autobiography, "A Fuller Life: Hollywood, Ed Wood and Me."

She is survived by her husband, film historian Philip Chamberlin; her son, Don; three grandchildren and numerous stepchildren and stepgrandchildren.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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