Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: "In the Stony Lonesome" (1972)

Ed Wood finds ways to have fun in a graveyard in "In the Stony Lonesome."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Ed wrote repeatedly for Young Beavers.
The story: "In the Stony Lonesome," originally published in Young Beavers magazine, July/August 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: As a small child, Hector Jacobson is scared to walk past a mile-long cemetery on his way home from school, especially during the winter months when it gets darker earlier. He calls it "the Stony Lonesome." In his imagination, the sights and sounds of the place take on sinister, supernatural meanings. These feelings reach a crescendo one day when he encounters a sinister black figure he deems either the Grim Reaper or the Devil. At first, Hector is sure this creature is coming for him, but he is surprisingly spared. Then, he realizes that the Grim Reaper or the Devil must have been visiting the cemetery to claim the soul of old lady Kanthru, who had been buried just that morning. From there on, Hector takes on a new-found confidence and even becomes quite a bully in his teenage years, forcing the boys to give him money and forcing the girls to submit to his sexual demands. He arrogantly dubs himself "the Grim Reaper." The cemetery, in fact, becomes his favorite place to take sexy young women. He especially loves to defile them on the flat marble grave of old lady Kanthru. During one such encounter, when he's with a girl named Shirley Wilson, Hector senses that the old lady is beckoning to him. He begins to have aural and visual hallucinations and runs away in terror, but it is to no avail. Taking on a life of its own, the cemetery crushes him to death.

Oh, that sweater: a white angora cardigan.
Wood trademarks: Cemetery as a setting (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead); taking a date to the graveyard (cf. Orgy of the Dead); paranoia about shadows and darkness (cf. Final Curtain, Orgy of the Dead); association between sex and death (cf. Necromania, Orgy of the Dead); character named Shirley (Ed Wood's own drag name and the name of several of his female characters); breast fetish; sweaters (worn by several of Hector's victims); angora and soft things (Shirley Wilson has a "white angora cardigan" which is described as "soft, fuzzy wool"); violent mutilation of a female breast (cf. this collection's "Breasts of the Chicken" and "Scene of the Crime"); funeral scene (a Wood staple going back to his earliest film, Crossroads of Laredo); resurrection of the dead (literal this time, cf. Plan 9, Night of the Ghouls, etc.); panicked inner monologue (cf. Final Curtain, this collection's "The Night the Banshee Cried" and "Dracula Revisited"); phrase "the last of the sun's rays" (compare to Orgy's "the first sight of the morning sun's rays"); epithet "old bat" (cf. this collection's "Private Girl" and "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); the Devil as a character (cf. Glen or Glenda?, this collection's "Hellfire"); fixation on women's undergarments (Hector loves brassieres and panties so much he doesn't completely remove them from his dates, just pushes them down a little); heavy use of ellipses; juvenile delinquency (cf. Night of the Ghouls, The Violent Years, Devil Girls); aversion to work (cf. Glen or Glenda? - "Too bad we was born to work" and The Snow Bunnies - "Work is the curse of the modern system").

Excerpt: "He could lick any guy in town and he proved it over and over again. And he didn't have to work. There were guys who would shell out to him just so they wouldn't get their ears cut off. He liked to carry a big knife... Something like he'd seen pictures of the Grim Reaper carrying. He liked that name... The Grim Reaper... and he used it through most of his threats upon the other guys."

The hypothetical WOODIVAC-9000 computer.
Reflections: If "Never a Stupid Reflection" was a thematic departure for Ed Wood and "Scene of the Crime" a stylistic departure, then "In the Stony Lonesome" is prime, textbook, on-the-nose, dead-center, archetypal Ed Wood. Apart from snakes and alcohol -- both curiously absent here -- all of the classic themes and motifs from Blood Splatters Quickly are united in this one story. He has a character named Shirley (a redhead, just like Pat Barringer's Shirley in Orgy of the Dead) wearing an angora sweater in a graveyard, for Christ's sake. How much more Ed Wood can you get than that? If one were to throw all the "Wood trademarks" from these reviews into a giant UNIVAC-type computer with great spinning reels of magnetic tape and have it spit out a story based on that data, "In the Stony Lonesome" is the kind of tale it might generate. Particularly Wood-ian is the author's ability to create a genuinely menacing, supernatural atmosphere while still making such apparently naive, unintended sexual innuendos as: "He could lick any guy in town and he proved it over and over again." Of course, every Wood creation (novel, story, or film) needs some kind of wild card or "x-factor," and in this case, it's the transformation of Hector Jacobson from a scared little kid into an overconfident, knife-wielding thug who's just begging for his comeuppance. Eddie has written many rambling, paranoid monologues and stream-of-consciousness stories in which characters begin to see and hear freaky things when they're in dark, spooky locations. That's nothing new for him. But what is new is having his main character temporarily overcome his fears, use his freshly-minted confidence as a weapon against those around him, then finally succumb to all his old phobias in the end. I don't know where that comes from. Did Eddie identify in some way with Hector? He and Hector certainly share a lot of the same fears ("ghosts and ghouls," to quote the story) as well as the same fetishes (ladies' undergarments). Is the swaggering, violent bully in the story the kind of man Eddie sometimes fantasized about being, someone who could just take whatever he wanted without fear of reprisal? In that case, who or what might "old lady Kanthru" represent? Ed's wife, Kathy? His mother, Lillian? His generalized fear of getting old? Even at his most typical, Edward Davis Wood, Jr. remains, to some extent, opaque.

Next: "Come Inn" (1971)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Scene of the Crime' (1972)

"Scene of the Crime" shows Ed Wood experimenting as a writer.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

This story appeared in Body & Soul.
The story: "Scene of the Crime," originally published in Body & Soul magazine, July/August 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: Rance Hollerin, reporter for KTTN-TV News, broadcasts from the parking lot behind the Happy Supermarket, where pretty young Miss Penny Carlyle has recently been murdered by an unknown assailant. Concealing his identity with a mask or stocking, the murderer emerged from the shadows, grabbed the young woman, stabbed her repeatedly in the breast with a large knife or razor, and ran away. Hollerin interviews a dozen witnesses to the crime, all of whom had the opportunity to help Miss Carlyle but did nothing. These people (Mrs. Clem Polosky, Harry Kline, Jim Ready, Larry, Mary Myers, Tom, Laura, Bob, Dick, Marty, Jean, and Norm) are a cross section of the population: young and old, male and female. All had excuses for not wanting to get involved, most of which boil down to the fact that they didn't want to get injured or killed themselves. Hollerin is appalled by this and wonders aloud how these people can sleep at night. One final witness, a man named Norm, says he would have run to the young woman's rescue "if someone else had moved first."

Wood trademarks: Yet another character named Rance (this is the fourth in Blood Splatters Quickly); alcohol (Penny purchases whiskey at the grocery store, while one of the witnesses is a liquor store owner); repeated use of the expression "ma'an" (Wood's preferred spelling of "man" when that word is used as an exclamation); copious amount of blood and guts (a staple throughout Blood Splatters Quickly); sensational news coverage (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space, Glen or Glenda?, Meatcleaver Massacre); reference to prostitution (Jean thought Penny and her murderer were a hooker and her john), the word "fluff" (Dick describes Penny as a "little piece of fluff"); symbolic resurrection of the dead (Jean says the victim was screaming loud enough to wake the dead); reference to making movies (Bob thought Penny and the killer might have been "play acting" for "hidden cameras"); use of the word "bastard" (classic Wood pejorative); phrase "That was a mighty big knife he was carrying" (compare to Glen or Glenda's "That's a mighty pretty dress you're wearing"); victimization of women by men (constant theme in these stories); war (Bob is a veteran).

Excerpt: "Crazy character like that swinging a knife makes him just about the tallest creep in the world. I'm a truck driver. Now where would I be for making a living if one of my hands got stuck and it became useless? You don't know of any one handed truck drivers do you? Naw... I figure if somebody's out to get killed then that's their business... all their business and I can't get in the middle."

Reflections: Before we examine the moral and social implications of "Scene of the Crime," which is one of the preachier stories in this collection, it is worth pointing out that this particular tale is something of a stylistic exercise for Ed Wood. Rather than traditional prose, "Scene of the Crime" is formatted more like a script for a radio play. It consists of nothing but dialogue, with each utterance given its own attribution in italicized capital letters and separated by blank lines. Like so:
NEWS: It would seem there were a considerable amount of people on the street this morning... yet the tragedy happened? 
TOM: She's an old lady*, what could she have done against a bruiser like that? 
NEWS: You seem to be a strapping young man? 
TOM: Truck driver. Acme Truck Lines. Four blocks down the street.
*Here, Tom is referring to Mary Myers, another witness, not the victim. 

And so on. Whether "Scene of the Crime" was a repurposed, slightly refurbished screenplay or whether Ed Wood simply wanted to try something different for a change, I don't know. I can say that, as someone who has attempted to write fiction, it can get awfully tiresome putting those "he said"s and "she said"s into your stories. And this format also allows Eddie to ditch the scene-setting and descriptive passages, which can also be a chore to write. If what you really want to write is dialogue, why not just get right to it and dispense with the formalities? Not that it's appropriate for every story, of course. Something like "Dracula Revisited" is virtually all scene-setting and atmosphere-building. But the formatting change makes "Scene of the Crime" stand out from its brothers in a collection like this.

Kitty Genovese
As for the plot of "Scene of the Crime," it seems to be inspired by the crime-ridden neighborhood where Ed and his wife Kathy were living in the 1970s. According to Nightmare of Ecstasy, a nearby 7-Eleven was attracting a bad element to the area surrounding the so-called "Yucca Flats" apartment complex. "It was a nice little building," recalled Paul Marco, "then all of a sudden that 7-Eleven came in, and it became quite a hustler place." Neighbor Shannon Dolder, who lived in Ed and Kathy's building, remembered: "Two prostitutes were murdered in the Hollywood 8 Motel, right around the corner on Cahuenga, on the other side of the 7-Eleven." During those same grim years, Ed was also frequently mugged on his way to and from the neighborhood liquor store. It's no surprise, then, that he would write a story whose jumping-off point is the brutal murder of a young woman who has just purchased a bottle of whiskey. The real focus of "Scene of the Crime," however, is not on the murder itself but on the inaction of the bystanders. This, I would guess, was inspired by the Kitty Genovese murder case in 1964. Genovese, a Queens, New York resident, was stabbed to death by a man named Winston Moseley, who remains a prisoner to this day. What made Genovese's case remarkable were the reports, later shown to be exaggerated, which claimed that numerous bystanders failed to come to the young woman's aid or call the police. A contemporaneous New York Times headline declared: "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police." Posthumously, Genovese became synonymous with the so-called "bystander effect," in which people are less likely to act when others are present. Among the excuses given by the witnesses in Ed Wood's story:

  • "There was a lot more people closer than me... right over here on this side of the street."
  • "I thought it was some broad having a fit."
  • "You never know what a crazy creep with a knife is going to do."
  • "Me and Jim both have families. They need us alive and kicking."
  • "I'm not well you know! Arthritis... Lumbago... I don't see too good!"
  • "I didn't pay much attention."
  • "I got a baby fourteen months old. Now what would he do without his momma?"
  • "I just couldn't believe my eyes. I was stunned. I guess I was near shock."
  • "We've got our own lives to live."
Maybe I'm overreading, but I couldn't help but notice there were twelve witnesses and one victim. Could Ed Wood have been attempting some kind of biblical parable by making Penny Carlyle a Christ-like martyr who dies for the sins of mankind? In any case, on his 1967 Pleasures of the Harbor LP, Texas-born folk singer Phil Ochs released what might be the definitive song about the bystander effect, an ironically upbeat number called "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." It makes an ideal soundtrack to "Scene of the Crime," as its lyrics neatly parallel the plot of this story. It, too, seems to have been partially inspired by the Genovese case. Enjoy.



Next: "In the Stony Lonesome" (1972)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Never a Stupid Reflection' (1973)

"Never a Stupid Reflection" is an outlier in the Ed Wood canon.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Fresh from the pages of Fantastic.
The story: "Never a Stupid Reflection," originally published in Fantastic magazine, February/March 1973, Gallery Press.

Synopsis: Terri Mills, 19, has been told all her life by teachers and classmates that she is "stupid," though she considers herself "just a little slower" than those around her. Raised by her aunt and uncle after her parents die in an automobile accident, Terri takes five years to graduate from high school and then has trouble finding work. She lasts a week as a hotel maid, three days as a filing clerk, and only one day as an employee at a movie theater. To ease her depression over her chronic unemployment, Terri starts visiting bars and cocktail lounges and drinking Manhattans on a regular basis. Due to years of stress and overthinking, she looks older than her years and is mistaken for 25. Her local bartender comes to accept Terri's odd, somewhat childish behavior, as when she becomes fixated on a child's toy ring she finds on the sidewalk. One night, Terri is delighted to see a quadruple reflection of herself and her ring in her cocktail. She downs drink after drink in order to replicate the optical illusion, unwittingly becoming quite drunk. She is so out of it that she barely notices when a portly customer at the bar sits down next to her and whispers in her ear. Passive as always, Terri leaves the bar with this strange man. The bartender recognizes the fat man as Jake the Pimp and figures Terri must have needed the money.

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (Terri prefers Manhattans, while Jake drinks scotch and water); bars and cocktail lounges (perennial Wood hangouts, both in fiction and in life, cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); prostitution and pimps (cf. this collection's "Private Girl"); effects of drinking described (Terri feels the booze "delightfully heat her insides"); fixation on pretty, feminine things (Terri's obsession with the ring - "It sparkles").

Excerpt: "She didn't really like to drink. But sometimes it was the only way she could get some measure of mental release. She found that out after the second job folded under her. There had been this little cocktail lounge near her apartment. She'd never, up to that time, been in one before and she'd never tasted any kind of alcohol before. She figured she couldn't go wrong as long as she took something sweet."

The very edition I own.
Reflections: One of the books which has come into my possession over the years is a 1954 "junior deluxe" edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I've held onto this volume for many years because I find the contents quite interesting and funny, not so much the well-known standards like "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Little Red Riding Hood" but the lesser-known, somewhat forgotten tales like "Prudent Hans," "Clever Else," and "Hans in Luck." In fact, I was so enamored of these fables, especially the last, that I once attempted to write a parody of the Grimm Brothers' style called "Prudent Fritz." (You will be the judge of whether I succeeded or not.) In making my way through Grimm's Fairy Tales, I learned that many of these stories were cautionary tales about characters who behave quite foolishly and rashly yet consider themselves wise, brave, and fortunate. One fellow, "Clever Hans," is such a dimwit that he tries to impress a girl by (I'm not kidding here) tearing the eyes out of still-living animals and throwing them at her. Needless to say, this does not work. Ed Wood's "Never a Stupid Reflection" strikes me as a modern day version of these Grimm tales, only one intended for adults. The people close to Terri -- her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her psychiatrist -- have all told her that she is not stupid, so she has faith in her own talents and abilities. But just like the characters in the Grimm stories, Ed Wood's heroine has a series of comedic misadventures which cast grave doubts on her intelligence. I was particularly fond of Terri's filing system:
How in the hell would anybody know the names were filed by their last name? Didn't the first name always come first? Even when somebody addressed somebody by their last name there was always a Miss or Mister in front of it. Of course that might make the "M" file pretty full, but that's the way she figured it. and there were a lot of Toms and Bills and Joes.

Truth be told, "Never a Stupid Reflection" is a story which initially stymied me, and had I encountered it in some other context without the byline at the top, I might not have identified it as being the work of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Perhaps Eddie was in a bar one night, saw his own reflection in a whiskey glass and thought, "Hey, maybe I could get a story out of this." A lot of the story takes place in Terri's mind, and it's clear that there's something amiss with this young lady. Is she mildly autistic? She seems not to pick up on social cues, and she shuts the rest of the world out when she focuses on something seemingly insignificant, like the toy ring or the reflection in the cocktail glass. I guess this could be considered another story of Ed's in which predatory men take advantage of vulnerable women. In that sense, getting back to the fairy tale theme, Jake the Pimp plays the Big Bad Wolf to Terri's Little Red Riding Hood.

Next: "Scene of the Crime" (1972)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Breasts of the Chicken' (1972)

A deceptively bland-looking businessman enjoys a meal in "Breasts of the Chicken."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

One of Ed's several Gold Diggers stories.
The story: "Breasts of the Chicken," originally published in Gold Diggers, Vol. 4, No. 2, May/June 1972, Pendulum Publishers, Inc.

Synopsis: After taking out loans on his house and car and saving his money for months, businessman Rance Wilkerson is finally able to afford a $5000 meal at an exclusive, hidden-away restaurant which specializes in extremely rare delicacies. After taking a limo ride through a storm to the castle-like structure, Rance is taken to an elegant dining room with just one table. There, he is given chilled champagne and treated like royalty. Then, the staff bring out a group of drugged-up young women and give the customer his choice. Rance selects a redhead, whose breast is cut off and expertly prepared for consumption, with the girl's internal organs being used as stuffing. The businessman thoroughly enjoys his meal, so much so that he feels he needs to go to the bathroom to masturbate in private. He is led to the men's room, only to realize too late that he has stepped into a trap. From behind a pane of glass, a wealthy old lady orders Rance's penis to be served to her "medium rare," and our hapless cannibal connoisseur is dragged away, screaming, by guards.

Wood trademarks: Yet another character named Rance (cf. this collection's "Superfruit" and "Epitaph for the Village Drunk"); breast fetish; systematic dismantling of a woman's body (cf. this collection's "Scream Your Bloody Head Off" and "The Gory Details"); thunder and lightning (a Wood staple since Glen or Glenda?); driving in a storm (cf. Night of the Ghouls); numerous Gothic trappings, including wolves howling, bats, a castle, and a forest (cf. this collection's "Dracula Revisited"); disparaging reference to "narcotics"; phrase "The whole thing was becoming an obsession with him." (compare to Glenda's "It was becoming an obsession to him."); alcohol (in this case, chilled champagne); horny man running off to a bathroom to masturbate (cf. "The Autograph").

Excerpt: "The nervous sweat was most noticeable in the crotch of his shorts than anywhere else. The chill of the night froze the sweat quickly and it was actually uncomfortable. But there were definite sexual implications in his thoughts. Sexual implications which centered around that delicacy he was about to sink his teeth into."

The mag's innocuous cover.
Reflections: First, I'd like to offer a little unsolicited business advice to all you restaurateurs out there. If you own a super-high-end, fantastically expensive restaurant which caters exclusively to cannibals, maybe -- just maybe -- it's not a great idea to kill off one of the few customers who actually knows your business even exists. In this story, Rance Wilkerson liked the joint so much he was already planning a return visit. And you killed him anyway! (Presumably, that is. Things certainly look bad for Rance at the end of "Breasts of the Chicken.") Is this how your fancy-schmancy restaurant treats its high-paying clientele? How do you expect to maintain good word of mouth? I mean, I'm sure the dowager countess at the end of this story specifically demanded a human penis with a sprig of parsley, but I doubt she demanded that said penis come from a middle-aged, middle-manager-type nonentity like Rance Wilkerson. Why was she not given her choice from a lineup, the way Rance was? Shouldn't the restaurant have rounded up a chorus line of well-endowed studs for the lady's pleasure? I think both of these customers got ripped off. I'm certain the Better Business Bureau will be hearing about this. And I wouldn't want to see the Yelp reviews for this establishment. No, wait. Scratch that. I'd love to see the Yelp reviews.

In all seriousness, "Breasts of the Chicken" is the most gruesome and disturbing story I've encountered so far in Blood Splatters Quickly. This one will stick with me, especially every time I order chicken in a restaurant. As with "Scream Your Bloody Head Off," the "two wrongs supposedly make a right" morality of the ending again seems derived from the Tales from the Crypt comics of the 1950s, where all manner of bad behavior was acceptable as long as it came with terrible consequences. (That mentality was definitely carried over to the '90s Crypt series on HBO.) In its gleeful brutality, "Breasts of the Chicken" presages such torture porn films as Bloodsucking Freaks (1976) and Hostel (2005), particularly the former, which contains a stew made of eyeballs, women used as furniture and dartboards, and the climactic severing of the protagonist's penis.

But this story also reminded me of a couple of Stanley Kubrick films, specifically The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), which both suggest that the combination of wealth, privilege, and isolation lead to toxic decadence. I was already making the Kubrick connection in my mind before Rance arrived at the "red velvet-draped gold room" where he eats his sickening supper. The Gold Room, of course, is one of the infamous locations from The Shining. Rance's journey to the restaurant, meanwhile, reminded me of Dr. Bill Harford's ominous car trip to the mansion where a super secret society is holding an orgy in Eyes Wide Shut. Both Bill and Rance arrive at their destinations in rented clothes and rented vehicles and then try -- with disastrous results -- to indulge in the pleasures normally only available to the incredibly wealthy elite. Leave it to the perennially cash-strapped Eddie to write a cannibal story whose hero spends nearly as much time worrying about money as he does devouring human flesh.

Next: "Never a Stupid Reflection" (1973)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Private Girl' (1975)

Ed Wood returns to the theme of prostitution in his late-career story, "Private Girl."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Contents page from Vue, January '75.
The story: "Private Girl," originally published in Vue magazine, Vol. 29, No. 1, January 1975. Allary Enterprises, Inc.

Synopsis: Prostitute Rita is one year into her special arrangement with pimp Danny, whom she met at a cocktail lounge. He keeps her as his "private girl" in a plush apartment and doesn't make her turn tricks like all of his other girls. She's enraged, though, that he has taken on a new girl and has just come from making love to her. Rita claws Danny's face, and he hits her in the lip. Once things calm down, the two begin to talk. Rita worries that Danny will get rid of her once she begins to age, but Danny reassures Rita that she's still his special girl and that she has a lot of good years ahead of her. Then, Danny asks if Rita will entertain Tom Weaver, a friend of his from Detroit -- just talking, he assures her, no sex. Unbeknownst to the prostitute, Danny is going to use this opportunity to move Rita out of the apartment and move his new "private girl" into it. From now on, Rita's freeloading days are over. Danny will put her to "good use."

Wood trademarks: Prostitution and streetwalkers (cf. Orgy of the Dead); alcohol (vodka plus Ed's personal favorite, Imperial whiskey); "love nest" as euphemism for vagina (cf. this collection's "Scream Your Bloody Head Off"); man beating up hooker (cf. The Snow Bunnies); character named Danny referred to as "Danny boy" (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space - "I can't resist your charm, Danny boy."); breast fetish; expression "You'll shit if you eat regular" (cf. this collection's "Flowers for Flame LeMarr"); repeated use of word "bastard"; pink nightgown; pink satin miniskirt; temperamental, violent woman (cf. "Flame LeMarr"); liquor store; cocktail lounge (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); reference to oral sex in public alley (cf. this collection's "Hellfire"); long-term effects of alcoholism (Danny tells Rita she drinks too much); expression "old bat" (cf. "Flame LeMarr").

Excerpt: "You were something special. The way you moved your legs. The way your hips swayed, not like some little tramp pick up. You had class. I mean your body had class. You could stand some English lessons, but all the rest of you spells class. And class I like. Class I got to have. And that's what you have, A-1 class."

This Vue is yours for $50.
Reflections: The most damning, damaging passages of Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. appear in its penultimate chapter, "It's a Kind of Glow," which deals with Eddie's ever-worsening alcoholism in the mid-to-late-1970s and his tumultuous, occasionally violent life with Kathy Wood in their last few years as a married couple. After you make your way through those 13 pages of hell on earth, it is difficult to recapture your image of Ed as the misunderstood, goofy 1950s dreamer who made Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda? If there is a single sentence from Nightmare which haunts me, it's this simple pronouncement from Kathy: "Eddie wasn't nice when he was drunk." Actor John Andrews, who once donned an ill-fitting werewolf mask and howled amid the machine-generated fog in Orgy of the Dead, fills in the details. "Eddie," he says, "was a violent drunk" who nearly killed Kathy when she wouldn't stop nagging him. Various associates and friends, including a few of the actors who appeared in Ed's movies, tell war stories about Ed and Kathy's booze-fueled battles during those dark years. Particularly disturbing are some racial slurs attributed to Kathy, allegedly directed at her neighbors.

"Private Girl" is a product of that bleak time in Ed Wood's life. On the surface, it is a thin rewrite of "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" and again tells the story of a woman in the sex trade who is usurped by a younger replacement. But this story is so ugly and violent, it makes "Flowers" look optimistic in comparison. It's depressing but not surprising to read in Nightmare of Ecstasy that two prostitutes were murdered around the corner from where Eddie was living at the time on Yucca and Cahuenga in Hollywood. Chronologically the most recent of the stories included in Blood Splatters Quickly, it is also the first I've encountered in this collection which does not seem to originate from Bernie Bloom's multifaceted, multimedia publishing enterprise. Business-minded Bernie had to cut unreliable Eddie loose eventually, all loyalty aside, and it seems like the split between them occurred in 1974 or 1975. Instead, "Private Girl" ran in Allen Stearn's Vue, a photo magazine which launched circa 1948 and which got progressively sleazier over the decades, lapsing from celebrity gossip to outright pornography during its sordid final years. Despite the long history of this publication, very little has been written about Vue. (Here's a nice exception.) The magazine seems to have given up even the last vestiges of respectability when it ran "Private Girl," which is more sexually graphic than Ed's other stories. By then, the magazine's slogan had changed from "America's Photo Digest" to "The Magazine for the Modern Man." I can find no references to Stearn or to Vue past 1975.

Despite the grimness which permeates "Private Girl," there is the occasional flash of Wood-ian charm here, as when Rita says to Danny, "What will you do with me when I do get older, Danny? Throw me out to pasture like a glob of horse turds?" Those looking for insight into Eddie's racial views, meanwhile, may find some clues in this passage, which I will merely excerpt without further comment. It is an exchange of dialogue between Danny and Rita:
     "What in the hell could you have that's unpleasant to remember?"
     "Things. Black things."
     "You been fuckin' the blacks?" He drew back violently. As a first thought he might have clubbed her again. He didn't.
     "You weren't the first. I got around before I came with you."
     "That's not what I asked you."
     "No!"
     He calmed. "Course there isn't anything wrong with fucking with blacks. Some of my best clients are blacks. But my girl has to be straight all the way. Of course I know you wasn't a virgin when I picked you up." 

Next: "Breasts of the Chicken" (1972)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Flowers for Flame LeMarr' (1973)

"Flowers for Flame LeMarr" is not to be confused with "Flowers for Algernon."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The magazine where "Flowers" debuted.
The story: "Flowers for Flame LeMarr," originally published in Spice 'n' Nice magazine, February/March 1973, Pendulum Publishing, Inc.

Synopsis: Aging stripper Flame LeMarr is outraged that she is to share her private dressing room with Donna, a new dancer who is due to arrive soon from San Francisco. In her anger, she throws a hand mirror at stage manager Jimmy and hits him on the chin, drawing blood. She also demands to speak to her agent. Jimmy then meets with the theater's owner, Oliver Pertnell, who somewhat reluctantly agrees with Jimmy that Flame has to go immediately. They call Art, Flame's agent, in for a meeting. Far from being protective of his client, Art easily agrees to terminate Flame's contract and says he'll probably get her some work in pornographic films ("skin-flicks"). The conversation of the three men is interrupted by the sound of scenery crashing down. Knowing her days were numbered, Flame has cut the ropes and injured herself. This way, she will be able to retire and make it look like it was by her own choice. Oliver orders flowers to be sent to the hospital.

Wood trademarks: Our old pal alcohol (it's scotch this time from the "full bar" in Oliver's office); temperamental woman causing misery for men (cf. Bride of the Monster, Tim Burton's Ed Wood, Orgy of the Dead, this collection's "Just One Question" and "Scream Your Bloody Head Off"); women's lingerie (Flame wears a "pink marabou, floor length negligee"); repeated use of the epithets "bastard" and "shit-head"; feathers (cf. Orgy's "feathers, furs, and fluff"); marabou (next to angora, Ed's favorite material, cf. Bride and the Beast); the color pink (Flame's face powder and nightgown); behind the scenes at a theater (cf. Jail Bait, Final Curtain); reference to snakes (Flame compared to rattlesnake); pornographic film industry; use of the term "final curtain" (cf. Final Curtain).

Excerpt: "Flame's flame is burning mighty low these days. Any of the other girls wouldn't have to burn so bright as to light up a guy's body heats. Look, face facts. Flame has burned out, or at least gotten so low that she couldn't give a hard on to a guy if she went right out in the audience and gave him head. Face it... she's over the hill... call up the old ladies home and make her reservations."

Reflections: It's a fictional scenario which reappears time and again throughout our culture, from fairy tales like "Snow White" to movies like All About Eve and Black Swan. A woman, once prized for her beauty, is threatened by the arrival of a younger, more vibrant (read: sexier) female rival. We have a lot of unflattering archetypes for older women in our society -- the witch, the hag, the old crone, the wicked stepmother, etc. This story's heroine, Flame LeMarr, whose very name suggests the fires of hell, is unkindly referred to as an "old bat" and an "old dog" by the insensitive men who want to get rid of her. On some level, their feelings are justified. Flame's violent behavior, after all, makes her seem like a cross between Medusa and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. But maybe, this woman is just doing what she has to do to survive in a world controlled by men. If that makes her a "bitch," so be it. Women are prized above all for their physical beauty, and once that starts to fade, men carelessly discard them like empty bottles of scotch. This is especially true for women in the sex trade, from prostitutes to porn actresses. Pulp Fiction reminded us that "boxers don't have an old timers day." Neither, one would imagine, do strippers. One can hardly blame this woman for raging against the dying of the light. How horrifying that, in order to retire on her own terms, Flame LeMarr has to literally mutilate herself. Today, one supposes, she'd probably overindulge in Botox injections and plastic surgery.

It's within the realm of possibility that Ed Wood saw something of himself in Flame LeMarr. It's telling that he associates her with some of his own favorite things: feathers, marabou, the color pink. Moreover, Ed was pushing 50 by the time he wrote "Flowers for Flame LeMarr," and it's obvious from much of his writing that he was more than feeling the devastating effects of time, the aging process hastened by years of drinking and dozens of career setbacks. Filmmaking, too, is often a young man's game, and Ed wasn't so young anymore by 1973. It's interesting that a lifelong transvestite would choose a female character to reflect the theme of lost youth. It's also fascinating to see that Ed Wood gives a glimpse of the pornographic film industry in this story and how its standards had changed over the years. Art, Flame's agent, tells Jimmy and Oliver that Flame "did some flicks in the old days... Had to wear pasties and pussy patches then. She might like it in the total like they do these days." That's progress for you -- from "pasties and pussy patches" to complete nudity. Let's hear it for the Supreme Court, huh?

Next: "Private Girl" (1975)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Superfruit' (1971)

An artist who dubbed himself "El Warpo" illustrated Ed Wood's story "Superfruit" in 1971.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

5585 W. Pico Boulevard today - a strip mall.
The story: "Superfruit," originally published in the premiere issue of Luscious magazine, 1971, from Libra Press. Although Libra may seem to be a new or different company, it shares an address (5585* W. Pico Boulevard) with all the other Calga/Pendulum/Gallery magazines put out by Bernie Bloom.

*some magazines say 5583.

Synposis: Freelance writer Rance Hillborn is confined to his Los Angeles penthouse during an uncharacteristically lengthy rainy spell. But he has enough food, cigarettes, and booze to tide him over for days. He receives a call from a distraught friend, Lawrence, and invites him over. Once at Rance's place, Lawrence begins to ruminate about his problems. He's distraught over the very recent death of his lover, William, and his half-million-dollar fruit business is in the doldrums. Lawrence thinks that Rance, being a professional writer, might give him some guidance. Rance tells him that the truly successful professionals are those with specialties. Lawrence should gear his advertising to homosexuals: selling fruit to the fruits. "The whole population," says Rance, "will know you as the SUPER FRUIT."

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (whiskey sodas mainly, but also gin and vodka); homosexuality; character named Rance (cf. this collection's "Epitaph for the Village Drunk"); expression "for love nor money" (cf. For Love and Money); reference to freeway accident rates (cf. Night of the Ghouls); looking down on vehicles and speculating about the lives of the drivers (cf. Glen or Glenda? - "All those cars, all going someplace" speech); the life of a successful writer (cf. Orgy of the Dead); disparaging reference to marijuana (it's "no fun" and brings on "law problems"); completely gratuitous reference to women's boots and how they complement the female form; fur fetish (in this case, a white nylon fur-covered chair); fixation on death ("How many winters and summers do we have?"); dialogue "I've got a problem." "Haven't we all?" (taken verbatim from Glen or Glenda?); speculation about the word "conventional" (cf. Necromania); going to a friend for help with a personal problem (cf. Glen or Glenda?, Drop Out Wife).

Excerpt:"The whole point is that you haven't tried everything. You've stayed conventional. Conventional ads. Conventional business practices. Conventional this and conventional that. To hell with conventions. That's why my books are not conventional. They have a lot of startling happenings which drag my readers in by the score and the publishers are begging for the next sheet as it comes out of my typewriter."

Editorial page from Luscious magazine.
Reflections: It was certainly not my intention when I started analyzing Blood Splatters Quickly, but this project has developed into an exploration of Ed Wood's views on homosexuality. Because of his work for Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Press and its many, many subsidiaries, Eddie had to write a lot of stories about homosexual characters. Sometimes, these were for straight publications (Gold Diggers); other times, they were for gay titles (Male Lovers). Luscious seems to be a straight magazine, since its inaugural cover featured a "young lady" who "could cause an unwary male a lot of heartache." Its focus seems to be on the erotic possibilities of food, with particular emphasis on fruits and vegetables. Its contents page describes it as being "dedicated to all that is especially delicious, particularly edible." I can imagine Bernie telling Eddie, "Give me something about sex and food, maybe fruits." Ed Wood's response was to write a story which essentially hinges on a pun: the double meaning of the word "fruit." This makes it a first cousin to "Missionary (Position) Impossible," whose entire reason for being was a play on the double meaning of the word "queen." At least here, Wood does not make the two main characters into swishy stereotypes, the way he did with the "white queen" from "Missionary." I wonder, though, why Eddie felt it necessary to give Rance a "Princess phone" rather than some other kind.

But even though this story could be interpreted as another extremely convoluted setup to a silly punchline, there is something personal and humane about Eddie's writing in "Superfruit." Once again, as in "The Autograph," he has written a story about gay people coming out of hiding and being honest and open about their sexuality. "What do you have to hide from?" Rance tells Lawrence. Beyond that, it seems obvious to me that Ed Wood envies the cozy life of gay writer Rance Hillborn, whose very surname seems to suggest privilege and superiority. "His freezer," Ed writes, "was well stocked, his cigarette box was full and the wet bar was housed by a goodly collection of gins, whiskies, vodka and the other drinks his guests preferred." And if that's not enough, Rance seems to be all set, career-wise: "Work, however, was no problem for Rance Hillborn. He was a freelance writer and he worked out of his apartment and when finished there was the apartment mail drop and the postman could brave all kinds of weather from there on in." I'm sure there were many times when Ed would have gladly switched places with Rance, "fruit" or not.

Next: "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" (1973)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'The Autograph' (1974)

Well, that's one way of getting an autograph: one of Ed Wood's later short stories.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Congrats, Ed. You made it into Boy Play.
The story: "The Autograph," originally published in Boy Play magazine, January/February 1974, from Gallery Press.

Synopsis: Reporter Harry has been sent to interview cowboy star Tex Warren and is embarrassed when he farts loudly in front of the actor, but the genial celebrity laughs it off. The reason for Harry's visit is that Tex has recently announced his homosexuality. After confirming that Harry, too, is homosexual, Tex explains his reason for coming out of the closet. For years, he's been forced to date women and even marry a few of them to maintain his "butch" screen image. It's been great for his career, but it has played havoc with his love life. He's had to hire the services of "call boys" and even kept a long-term lover on as his personal secretary so people wouldn't be suspicious. But the women's lib movement has given him the incentive to be honest about his sexual identity... at least in real life. He'll continue playing straight characters onscreen. That said, Tex takes his "monster" penis out and shows it to Harry, whose first impression is to go into a bathroom and masturbate. But with a little encouragement from Tex, the nervous reporter agrees to perform oral sex on the movie star.

Wood trademarks: Alcohol (martinis mostly, but beer and whiskey soda are both mentioned); cowboy actor (not only did Ed idolize cowboy stars, he hired a few to be in his 1950s movies); reporter sent to investigate a manly screen star's homosexuality (exact plot of The Beach Bunnies); phrase "behind the locked doors" (cf. Glen or Glenda? whose working title was Behind Locked Doors); "not my bag" used as an excuse (cf. Fugitive Girls); extensive use of ellipses (cf. virtually every story in this book); prostitution (male this time); character named Tex (cf. Crossroads of Laredo, the Story Ad films).

Excerpt: "There are no longer any long-term contracts. Only picture by picture. I doubt if anybody in all of Hollywood any longer has a long-term contract. So to HELL with the morals clauses. Besides I'm already signed for three more pictures due to the announcement I made about myself...being homosexual I mean. I suppose they figure the audiences will pile into the theater just to see what kind of freak I am..."

Reflections: "What a curious vanity it is of the present," wrote novelist Julian Barnes in Flaubert's Parrot, "to expect the past to suck up to it. The present looks back on some great figure of an earlier century and wonders, Was he on our side? Was he a goodie? What a lack of self-confidence this implies." Insecurities aside, this is what I am forced to do when I write about Edward Davis Wood, Jr., who to many was "a great figure of an earlier century." Especially when dealing with Wood's treatment of sensitive issues like LGBT rights, I feel obligated to examine Wood's writing from a modern perspective and indulge in what Barnes calls "adjudicating on its political acceptability." On the one hand, a story like "The Autograph" may attract scorn from modern readers since its characters use now-frowned-upon terms like "homos," "fairies," and "faggots," while furthering the stereotype that the women's liberation movement consists largely of "butch" lesbians who want to be "truck drivers and high steel workers." These same critics may point out that "The Autograph" presents its gay characters as absurdly indiscreet and promiscuous, transitioning too quickly and casually from a professional interview into sexual intimacy. One might even take umbrage at the fact that Ed Wood undercuts the eroticism of this story by beginning it with a lengthy anecdote about farting and by using such silly-sounding phrases as "He unzipped his fly and took out his giant dork." But throughout Eddie's gay-themed stories, there is the motif of homosexuals being normal members of society and wanting to be treated as the equals of heterosexuals. In "Island Divorce," one character claiming to be gay says, "We come in all walks of life my friend. The wife and the kids came along before I even knew my own mind." In "The Autograph," meanwhile, Tex Warren gives several long speeches about the acceptance of homosexuality. The actor is tired of pretending to be straight, and he's not going to do it anymore. Tex actually seems to anticipate the modern LGBT movement when he says:
Those lesbians are standing up to be counted... that's the only way to get changes. You know this sexual revolution is a young thing... it's got a long way to go, but because it has started and there are those, like myself, who are standing up to be counted, it is going to remain with us. It's not going to be put down behind the locked doors again.
Ed Wood wrote those words, my friends. How much of his own opinion is in them, I do not know. I do find it significant that he uses the phrase "behind the locked doors" here, because that's the very same way he described the plight of transvestites in Glen or Glenda? back in 1953.

"Improved with DDT": A Flit ad with art by Dr. Seuss.
It is impossible to forget that "The Autograph" is a product of another time. It was written 40 years ago, and there are aspects of the story which must have seemed quaint even then. Tex, for instance, is written as a traditional cowboy star from the 1940s or 1950s. I pictured him looking and talking like John Wayne. (Like Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison, "Tex Warren" also works under a pseudonym. We never learn his real name.) By 1974, however, new-style stars like Robert Redford, Al Pacino, and Dustin Hoffman were on the rise. Tex Warren's man-out-of-time quality is highlighted when he makes this joke after Harry's loud fart: "Get the Flit, I do think there's a bug in the place." I'll admit this was something I had to look up. Flit turns out to be an incredibly-unsafe insecticide which was on the market from the late 1920s to the 1950s. It was already quite obsolete (and rightly so, given its tragic history) by the time this issue of Boy Play hit newsstands. If Flit is remembered for anything today, it's a long-running ad campaign with whimsical artwork by Dr. Seuss and the catchphrase, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" This, it would seem, is what Ed Wood was trying to reference here. I don't know what exactly I expected when I decided to read some of Eddie's attempts at gay porn, but I surely wasn't anticipating a crash course in the history of pesticides.

Next: "Superfruit" (1971)