Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, Week 25: "The Cocktail Hostesses" (1973)

Rene Bond serves up alcohol -- and herself -- to drunken businessmen in A.C. Stephen's The Cocktail Hostesses.

"The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails."
-Federico Garcia Lorca

"To me, being grown-up meant smoking cigarettes, drinking cocktails, and dressing up in high heels and glamorous outfits."
-Lorna Luft


Blondes hiding their nipples: An SCA trademark.
Way back in 1998, satirical mock-newspaper The Onion published a brief but memorable article called "Taco Bell's Five Ingredients Combined in Totally New Way." The fictional story explained that the fast food chain was planning to use refried beans, ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and a corn tortilla in an "exciting new" menu item called the "Grandito." The company's CEO promised that this delicacy would be a complete departure from such previous Taco Bell offerings as the "Mexiwrap" and the "Zestito," both of which were (of course) made from the exact same five things.

After watching my fourth consecutive SCA Distributors softcore sex film from the early 1970s, I'm beginning to think of SCA as the cinematic equivalent of Taco Bell. Director Stephen C. Apostolof and writer Edward D. Wood, Jr. were essentially combining the same basic ingredients over and over again in slightly different ways. While Ed and Steve's first collaboration, Orgy of the Dead (1965), is a complete left-field oddity with bizarre characters and a spooky setting, their films from the 1970s tend to be more homogeneous, just a lot of pasty white Californians halfheartedly pretending to hump each other in blandly-hideous bedrooms, motel rooms, and living rooms, while drowsy "beautiful music" drones on in the background. Same actors. Same props. Same busty blonde on the poster, coquettishly hiding her nipples from our view. Even some of the same (basic) shots and dialogue reappear.

What changes from movie to movie is the particular gimmick of each production, the hook which nominally distinguishes one film from its predecessors and successors. Maybe this time, it's people screwing at a ski lodge. Or people screwing at a college reunion. Or people screwing each other's wives and husbands. Or people screwing cocktail waitresses. Something exploitable you can put on the posters or in the newspaper ads. But just like at Taco Bell, the basic ingredients do not vary.

Top: Michael's Los Feliz Inn, February 2011.
Bottom: The restaurant during its glory days.
Perhaps Steve Apostolof thought he was on a roll during the Nixon years, even though his brand of tame sexploitation had peaked in the late 1960s and was in popular decline by the early 1970s, discarded in favor of hardcore features. A willful denial of reality is a major contributing factor to many Hollywood careers, including those of Wood and Apostolof. They pressed on because they had to. It was all they knew how to do. Steve's now-grown children wistfully remember their father as a man who relished the role of a big time Hollywood producer, dressing and acting the part even when he was financing each new production with the meager profits from the previous one instead of preserving a financial nest egg for his future. Working with Steve allowed Ed Wood to indulge in a little playacting, too. Through the SCA films, shady though they might be, Ed was still nominally involved in the motion picture business. Actor David Ward recalls a night when Steve and Ed indulged in a bit of old school Hollywood revelry at a historically significant location:
Steve Apostolof was having a big party before they shot Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife, and Apostolof rented a room at Michael's, which is a pretty ritzy place up on Los Feliz and Hillhurst. Rene Bond, the porno queen, everybody connected with these pictures was there. And Eddie, who wrote the screenplays, wanted me to go along, because he knew I didn't drink, and he was planning to get drunk, stinking drunk, and he wanted me to drive him home. 
This particular evening Ward describes was the source of several photographs of Steve, Ed, and Rene I've used previously in this series. In these snapshots, Steve looks dapper, Rene looks perky, and Ed... well, Ed looks drunk. The restaurant in question was known as Michael's Los Feliz Inn from the 1960s to the early 1990s and was apparently located on the site of the fourth and last-surviving Brown Derby restaurant. The Derby chain, of course, is central to the Ed Wood mythology. The Los Feliz property was sold to an entity known as CMC Asset Investments, Inc. in August 2012, narrowly escaping the wrecking ball. A Google maps image from February 2011 shows a rather dilapidated building which has a domed roof ("a key element of a primitive air conditioning system that allowed water to drip down the sides of the dome and cool the room," according to the LA Times) but otherwise does not resemble a Brown Derby. In its heyday, the restaurant had a derby-shaped sign on the roof. The domed portion of the building was taken over by a Chase bank branch.

Steve and Ed: Living the dream in Hollywood.
Ed's more practical wife, Kathy Everett O'Hara Wood, considered these low-paying SCA movies to be a waste of time and felt that her husband would be better off cranking out more books and stories for Bernie Bloom at Pendulum Publishing. In fact, Ed continued writing lurid faux-educational textbooks, articles, and pornographic short stories for such Pendulum imprints as SECS (Sex Education Correspondence School), Edusex, and Gallery during this time. But Eddie and Steve didn't want to quit what they had going.

In fact, if Steve could have secured financing, he and Ed would have done several more movies in the same vein as the existing ones from 1972-1976. There are several unproduced Wood screenplays from this era whose very titles tell you all you need to know about their contents: The Teachers, The Basketballers, The Airline Hostesses. You don't need to read them to guess that they respectfully concern teachers, basketballers, and airline hostesses screwing their brains out. (A typically coy logline: "Junior college students soon learn the best method to achieve high grades from their instructors.") Only Basketballers has been positively identified as a collaboration with Apostolof, but all three sound like they fit the SCA mold. In his critical survey of the Wood filmography, writer Rob Craig refers to Steve's movies as "stillborn" and simply neglects to cover several of them.

And I can sympathize. This is not the most fun or enticing era of Ed Wood's career to cover, and there are numbers which attest to that. The Internet Movie Database links to about 120 external reviews of Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). In contrast, the site links to just six reviews of Drop Out Wife, two reviews of The Snow Bunnies, and just one (mine) of The Class Reunion. This is not the career path any of us would have chosen for Edward D. Wood, Jr. Goofball late-career projects like Venus Flytrap (1970) and One Million AC/DC (1969) still feel like first cousins of, let's say, Bride of the Monster (1955). It's much tougher to get sentimental over the SCA films. But they represent such a large chunk of Ed's film work -- "numbers too big to ignore," to quote a major hit song of the era -- that we cannot neglect them. If nothing else, they serve as historical records of the times in which they were made, like insects preserved for eons in amber.

 In that spirit, I now present this week's movie for your kind consideration.

THE COCKTAIL HOSTESSES (1973)

A boastful trade ad for The Cocktail Hostesses touts its purported box office success in Boston.

Alternate titles: The Hostesses [working title]; Infernal Nights [French title]; Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine [German title]; Intimate Confessions of the Cocktail Hostesses

Availability: The movie is not currently available for commercial sale, but that doesn't mean you can't still see it. In 1998, Alpha Blue Archives released the film on VHS, and someone has digitized this version and made it available online. In the edition I reviewed, the legend "C. 1998 ALPHA BLUE ARCHIVES"has been superimposed over the opening credits. Should you wish to view the film, a simple Google search will lead you to sites where it may be freely downloaded.

Embury's influential book.
The backstory: Consider that strange beast known as the cocktail, my friends. Detested by many, adored by many more, it is a quintessential component of modern American culture. Just think of all the business deals, romantic entanglements, marriages, and children which have resulted from the imbibing of mixed drinks. Debuting at the cusp of the 19th century in England, cocktails gained lasting popularity in America during Prohibition (1920-1933), when mixologists were creatively combining their potent potables, sometimes diluting them with non-alcoholic beverages, in the hopes of masking the taste of the low-quality hooch which was available to them at the time.

The undisputed king of the cocktails, though, was a New York attorney named David A. Embury, who in 1948 published a seminal guidebook entitled The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, which offered a more sophisticated and urbane take on the topic, emphasizing the use of quality ingredients and aesthetic finesse in the preparation of spirituous beverages. The basic purpose of the cocktail, however, remained the same: to make raw alcohol more palatable and pleasing.

Some purists consider this to be akin to blasphemy and maintain that real men should drink their booze as God intended, without trying to disguise its true nature. Writer Raymond Chandler, creator of famed fictional detective Philip Marlowe, certainly felt this way, as evidenced by a 1951 letter in which he expresses disdain for "sweet" drinks, including "Honolulu cocktails," which a man like Marlowe "would regard as an insult." And then there are the career drunkards who simply do not have time to waste on such niceties. Every second devoted to the preparation of a drink is a second delaying its consumption. Bartender Nick (Sheldon Leonard) summarizes this viewpoint nicely in Frank Capra's 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life, with his well-remembered line: "We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast." But for social drinkers and functional alcoholics who want to maintain some degree of civility, the cocktail is a trusted companion and wingman. In the middle decades of the 20th century, the cocktail would be the nucleus of a whole strata of vaguely naughty yet still-refined culture -- cocktail parties, cocktail lounges, cocktail bars, etc.

By the 1960s, however, anyone who wanted to consider himself even remotely hip was shunning booze in favor of drugs like marijuana and LSD. These folks were seeking to raise their consciousness, not deaden it. The cocktail became a signifier of squareness, an emblem of the out-of-date. Cocktail lounges lost whatever cachet they once possessed and acquired a tawdry reputation as places where sloshed middle-aged men would grope scantily clad waitresses before staggering home to their wives.

Norman Fields and Rene Bond get to know one another.
Enter Stephen C. Apostolof and Edward D. Wood, Jr. These were men who put in a goodly amount of time in bars and lounges, so it is only fitting that they should follow Mark Twain's famous maxim and write what they knew. Hence an entire film about cocktail lounges and the people who frequent them. As with many SCA productions, The Cocktail Hostesses was probably intended as lighthearted erotica but inadvertently serves as a window into the lives of sad, broken people doing everything they can to numb their senses. In very general terms, the film concerns itself with a young woman who leaves her secretarial job to become a cocktail waitress, earning extra money on the side by prostituting herself to the wealthy customers she meets while serving drinks.

Once again, Steve's leading lady was Rene Bond (billed here as "RenĂ©e Bond"), who would die of cirrhosis of the liver about twenty-three years after making this movie. Rounding out the cast were the usual Apostolof/SCA regulars: Duane Paulsen, Chris Geoffries, Douglas Frey, Terri Johnson, Norman Fields (totally unbilled despite a prominent role), Ric Lutze and Harvey "Forman" Shane. Harvey, of course, was Steve's first lieutenant and worked both in front of and behind the camera on The Cocktail Hostesses and other SCA films, using several pseudonyms which were slight variations on his own. Drop Out Wife bit player Lynn Harris was elevated to the status of supporting actress in The Cocktail Hostesses. Harris had previously worked on such Ed Wood films as Love Feast (1969), Take It Out in Trade (1970), and The Only House (1970), as well as Steve Apostolof's Office Love-In, White Collar Style (1968).

Jaime Mendoza-Nava was on board again as the film's composer, still using the moniker "J. Mendozoff," and cinematographic duties were handled by Robert "R.C." Ruben, who'd shot Drop Out Wife and other films for Steve.

The Irish-themed establishment seen in the film.
Filming seems to have taken place entirely within Los Angeles. SCA Distributors had an office at 6430 Sunset Boulevard in those days in a skyscraper currently occupied by CNN, and it doesn't look like Apostolof and his crew needed to venture too far away from it to make this movie. Virtually the entire film takes place indoors, with only quick establishing shots (a generic-looking office building, a neon-drenched restaurant) to give viewers any sense of place. It is interesting to note that Apostolof habitually uses so-called "Dutch angles" when filming tall buildings, since that is a hallmark of softcore king Russ Meyer's movies as well.

As you might surmise from the vague plot summary I gave earlier, most of the action in this film takes place in a cocktail bar. The inside of this place seems too large to have been a set, so Steve Apostolof must have gotten permission to film inside an actual bar or restaurant. There are several shots of the gaudy signage outside, but Apostolof frustratingly uses a kaleidoscope-type quadruple exposure effect which makes the letters all but impossible to read. The name of the place looks like BLARNEY GRILLE to me, though I can find no such establishment on record. The place had an obvious Irish theme, as denoted by its glowing neon tubes fashioned into shamrocks as well as the long-stemmed pipes and flat-topped hats associated with leprechauns. The sign advertising COCKTAILS in bold red letters lies in close proximity to an ever-burning torch, suggesting the fires of hell. Perhaps this was the inspiration for the film's alternate French title, Les nuits infernales.

Inside, the waitresses wear skimpy, revealing versions of Irish Renaissance dresses with absurdly low necklines and high hemlines (all the better to ogle you with, my dear!), plus puffy sleeves bedecked with further shamrocks. In short, if you're looking for an Ed Wood movie that's appropriate for St. Patrick's Day, look no further than The Cocktail Hostesses.

The film's many lengthy sex scenes play out against backdrops indistinguishable from those seen in Drop Out Wife and The Snow Bunnies. In fact, there are particular pieces of motel room art I've come to recognize as well as a particularly ugly and oppressive-looking wall composed of gray, square-shaped panels or tiles. Our amorous couples might as well be frolicking in a Soviet gulag for all the eroticism implied by that grim-looking scenery.

A major reason for the homogeneity of Drop Out Wife and Cocktail Hostesses is that they were filmed simultaneously and utilized the same sets. Filmmaker Jordan Todorov, who directed the documentary Dad Made Dirty Movies, forwarded me this quote from a circa-1998 interview Steve Apostolof did with publisher James Elliott Singer and Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney:
"I got the idiotic idea to make two pictures simultaneously. The Cocktail Hostesses and Drop Out Wife. Not back to back, simultaneously. It was a nightmare for my editor. I had some of the same actors playing different parts in both films, although they both had different leading ladies, Rene Bond and Angela Carnon. I made sure never to book those two pictures together."
So in retrospect, even Apostolof realized that this gambit was a mistake. It is Todorov's understanding, furthermore, that the interior scenes in Steve's movies were mostly shot on studio sets, not in real houses, motel rooms, or apartments. From screening the two films back to back -- exactly as Steve didn't intend -- any observant viewer can see that he used the same backdrops, furniture, and other set decorations for both films and merely shuffled them around in different combinations to create the not-quite-successful illusion that he was filming in separate rooms. Some of these props, I am informed, came directly from Steve Apostolof's own home.

While we're on the topic, Jordan Todorov also confirmed my assertion that the outdoor scenes from The Snow Bunnies were filmed at California's Mammoth Mountain. "Steve had a friend," he explains, "another Bulgarian emigre by the name of Mike Mikhailof who used to own a hotel at Mammoth Mountain. So Steve, being an avid skier, used to visit Mike in his hotel often and actually shot some of the scenes [from The Snow Bunnies] there." Another mystery solved!

8844 Sunset in 2011. Inset: The Classic Cat in 1972.
Real-life landmarks are rarer in The Cocktail Hostesses. There is, however, one brief nighttime driving sequence in this movie in which Harvey Shane's bartender character escorts Rene Bond home, and it was filmed on the Sunset Strip. My particular copy is too scratched up and blurry to make out much detail, but one clearly-recognizable landmark is the Classic Cat (8844 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood), actor Alan Wells' deluxe topless bar built on the site of a club once belonging to Jerry Lewis. The site was a magnet for male celebrities, including Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, as detailed in the 2002 biopic Auto-Focus. Russ Meyer star Haji was among the dancers at the Cat. After the burlesque club folded, the place became a Tower Records, which itself went under in 2006. A May 2011 Google maps photo shows an empty building with "for sale" signs on it. Echoing the fate of Michael's Los Feliz Inn, the building is scheduled to reopen as a Chase bank branch on January 23, 2014.

The annotated Hostesses screenplay.
A happier sighting occurs a few seconds later in the film, when Apostolof's camera reaches the intersection of Sunset and Clark, and we get a glimpse of the legendary rock club Whisky A Go Go. The marquee even lets us know when this was filmed, as it trumpets the appearance of ZZ Top. The Texas blues rock band formed in 1969 and played the Whisky on March 23, 24, and 25 (a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) back in 1972. This could well be recycled footage, as actress Kathy Hilton's personal copy of the script has some shooting dates hand-written on the cover page:
  • Sun - 22nd
  • Tues. Oct 24th
  • Wed. Oct 25th
  • Fri. Oct 27th
These dates align with the October 1972 calendar, which gives us an idea when Steve was shooting the bulk of The Cocktail Hostesses. The cover bears the title "THE HOSTESSES" (which is denoted as "Prod. #113") and is credited solely to "Edw. D. Wood, Jr."  Furthermore, it has the word "Thurs." crossed out and replaced with "Tues Wed & Fri & Sat nite" along with the following miscellaneous notes: "LORAINE," "Kriss Kross," "party dress red," "Reubans 3:00 morning." The part about the red dress is easy enough to decipher, and Loraine was the name of Hilton's character, but the other notes are anyone's guess.

The standard line on Stephen C. Apostolof is that his career sputtered out in the 1970s and that his films from that era were not financially successful... or at least not financially successful enough to keep him in business. Indeed, he was broke and out of movies entirely by the decade's end. But as of 1973, he was still optimistic about the commercial prospects of his films, as evidenced by a boastful SCA Distributors trade ad whose artwork exactly mirrored that of the theatrical poster for The Cocktail Hostesses, except that the titular hostess (nude but for a pair of hot pants) was carrying a tray containing an overstuffed moneybag garnished with stacks of paper currency. The screaming headline bragged of the film's smash success in Boston: "$31,060.00 at Lowe's West End Cinema" and backed up this claim with a reproduction of a congratulatory Western Union telegram to Steve Apostolof from one "Sumner Meyerson" of the "New England Motion Picture Distributors." While I can find no trace of Mr. Meyerson or his organization, his message to Steve Apostolof is still legible. To wit:
COCKTAIL HOSTESSES NOW IN ITS 5TH WEEK AT EN LOEW'S WESTEND CINEMA BOSTON A 500 SEAT HOUSE GROSS BUSINESS TO DATE $31,060 NEW ENGLAND GROSSES TERRIFIC 76 PLAY DATES IN FIRST 3 MONTHS OF RELEASE NEW PLAY DATES INCREASING DAILY SEND US MORE PICTURES OF THIS CALIBRE AND WE WILL BE VERY HAPPY
The ad further urged exhibitors: "$$$$ Book It Today for Big Profits $$$$" and helpfully included a list of Steve's other "films in current release," including such Ed Wood-scripted titles as Orgy of the Dead, The Class Reunion, Drop Out Wife, and The Snow Bunnies. Potential buyers were advised to contact Al Weiner's Orbit Films, Inc. at either its Indianapolis or Chicago locations. Orbit Films seems to have gone the way of all flesh years ago.

As for Lowe's West End Cinema, I was able to learn of its sad but predictable fate on a comment board devoted to Boston architecture. This particular movie house was first known as the Lancaster Theater, then the West End Cinema, and finally the West End Pussycat. By that time, it was considered a porno theater. Under any name, it is long gone, having been purchased in 1986 by the Bullfinch Development Co. The spot was later occupied by a dive bar called the Penalty Box, which has also now expired. More recently, there have been plans to bring in a new "dining and drinking spot" called Causeway. If that doesn't pan out, they can always turn it into a Chase bank branch.

A feminist anthem of the era.
The viewing experience: Less substantial and affecting than other SCA films of the period. The sociopolitical commentary of Drop Out Wife and The Class Reunion is almost entirely absent here, and there is no bright, cheerful mountain scenery to offset the sordid bedroom shenanigans as there was in The Snow Bunnies. No, The Cocktail Hostesses starts in a fallen world of horny men and mercenary women and remains there for its entire 76-minute running time. (The IMDb lists the film as running 80 minutes, incidentally. Have I been cheated out of 4 minutes?) Perhaps that makes this movie the purest example of Steve Apostolof's personal cinematic vision. In contrast to the diluted and dandified mixed drinks being served onscreen, there is nothing in the script to "sweeten" or "mute" the sleaziness of this story, nor is there any evidence of artfulness or nuance in the filmmaking. This is straight-up, 100-proof Apostolof.

If there is a second level on which this movie can be appreciated, it comes from looking at the film from a feminist perspective. Through the story of "career girl" Toni Rice, we can see a parable about a young, obviously bright woman who uses her exciting, surgically-enhanced body to attain what she wants, i.e. financial independence, in a male-dominated world. Toni unhappily acknowledges the chauvinism which keeps her a wage slave and a sex slave, but she does not directly challenge the patriarchy or try to change the system in any meaningful way. Instead, she pragmatically accepts the reality of her situation and employs her feminine wiles to extract money and gifts from weak-willed men. In doing so, she raises a pertinent question: If women can use sex to manipulate men, then where is the true seat of power in our society -- the penis or the vagina? This probably wasn't what Helen Reddy was thinking when she sang "I Am Woman," the feminist anthem which hit #1 in America in December 1972 (between the making of this movie and its eventual release), but in the Apostolof universe, it's the best one can expect.

The film begins on a typical Friday afternoon in the spacious LA office of a tycoon named Henderson (gaunt, haggard Norman Fields), who is enthusiastically boffing his buxom secretary, Toni (Rene Bond, wearing a terrible blonde wig), on a lumpy beige couch across from his heavy oak desk. This is clearly an ongoing relationship, but when Mr. Henderson and Toni finish their lovemaking and start putting their clothes back on, their conversation is jarringly impersonal and detached. That is, until the subject of money comes up. Then, Toni becomes somewhat peeved and accusatory, while Henderson retains his passionless equanimity.
Toni: Boy, it's been a long day. 
Henderson: As always, Miss Rice, you were perfectly delightful. Oh, if you only knew what a comfort you are to me. If you only knew the home life I lead! 
Toni: Well, you might say I relieve the monotony of a busy week, huh? 
Henderson: Hmm. Friday. How I dread the thought of Friday! Then I have to return to the country and the place I call home. Call home for the lack of a better word! 
Toni: There's always the divorce court. 
Henderson: No, it's impossible. She'd clean me out! 
Toni: Yes, that is a problem in this state. 
Henderson: It's five-thirty. You might as well go on home. As usual, I've had your check sent up here. 
Toni: (opening the envelope) You said there would be a raise! This is still only eighty-six dollars and ninety-one cents! 
Henderson: You'll just have to bear with us a while longer, Miss Rice. Things haven't been going so well lately. We've all had to tighten our belts a little. 
Toni: Business is booming! 
Henderson: Only on paper! You above all should know how much business is done on paper. 
Toni: And on the couch! 
Henderson: Give me to the middle of the month. Maybe I can work something out. 
Toni: The middle of the month is a long time in coming, Mr. Henderson! And then again, we have to consider what month!
Blurry Rene Bond
At this point, Toni gets a thoughtful look on her face while Apostolof does one of his customary zoom-ins and the screen goes blurry. We then see that this has all been a preamble to the opening credits. There is much for the Wood-oligist to note in the film's first scene. As with so many of Eddie's scripts, The Cocktail Hostesses begins with a squabbling hetero couple, this time a businessman and his secretary/mistress.

Norman Fields' disparaging remarks about "home" make an interesting counterpoint to Bela Lugosi's famous speech from 1955's Bride of the Monster. ("Home? I have no home! Hunted! Despised! Living like an animal! The jungle is my home!") While Dr. Eric Vornoff pined for the home and family he had to leave behind, Mr. Henderson wants nothing more than to lose his home and family. Note, too, that his views on the work week ("How I dread the thought of Friday!") are the exact opposite of those expressed by the steelworkers Jack and Joe in 1953's Glen or Glenda? ("You know, I think Monday is about the worst day of the week. A perfectly lovely weekend, then back to the sweatshops.") One thing has remained constant, though: the divorce courts of California are as dreaded and dreadful as the River Styx.

Jackie talks Toni into being a cocktail waitress
Later, still fuming at home, Toni tells her roommate Jackie (Terri Johnson, blank as ever) about her unrewarding and humiliating job. "I've been poked, probed, sodomized, and debauched!" Toni declares. "Keep punching that clock from nine to five," Jackie responds, "and that's all you're ever gonna get. And when you're old and gray, you can say you chocked up a lot of clock time." Does Jackie have a better way? She does. Toni can join her as a cocktail hostess in a nearby bar. In this movie, the job description of such a hostess falls somewhere between barmaid and hooker. These ladies are expected to serve drinks to wealthy men during their regular shifts, then service these guys sexually on their free time. Every last woman in this movie is fine with that arrangement. In addition to her salary, Jackie earns $30 a night in tips, and the previous night she made $50 more for having "the most delightful time with an out-of-town buyer." When Toni admits that this amounts to more than she makes in a week, Jackie asks her, "Why don't you ball where you can get something substantial for your time and money?" Toni is reticent, but Jackie assures her that the job is "strictly legit." It's simply that "smart girls" can make "important contacts" at such a place.

There's a bit more hemming and hawing on Toni's part (she's too "mad" and "tired" to go to the cocktail bar that night), but in the very next scene our heroine has arrived at Jackie's workplace. There, she meets congenial bartender Larry (Harvey Shane) and gets a look at Millie (Lynn Harris), "one of our top waitresses around here." She then goes to interview with the boss (Chris Geoffries, whimsically clad in a red-and-white polka-dotted robe, tan slacks, and a green ascot) in his cozy, den-like office, which has a fireplace and a couch but no desk, phone, filing cabinets, or any other business accessories. With only a modicum of pressure ("Let's see what you have to offer my customers"), the boss convinces Toni to disrobe and have sex with him about a minute after they first meet. So needless to say, she gets the job.

Wood-ologists might take note of some fetishizing of female undergarments here, as Toni tells her boss that many men are aroused by the prospect of removing a woman's panties. No mention of men wearing those panties, though.

One blurry dissolve and an establishing shot later, Toni is at last wearing the ridiculous "Irish" uniform and slinging overpriced drinks to the bar's wealthy clientele. One of these men, a mega-successful diamond importer (drink of choice: gin and tonic), makes a "date" with her when her shift ends. Toni is more than happy to oblige. Later, after they've had sex, the diamond importer asks our protagonist about her career choice. Typical of Wood's characters, Toni is philosophical: "I just figured that life had more to offer me than four walls and a typewriter... and a boss with big, roving hands that always wanted to take but never wanted to dig into his pockets and give." The line about "four walls and a typewriter" is particularly striking because of its resemblance to Ed's spartan working conditions at Pendulum. And very much echoing the sentiments of the characters in The Snow Bunnies, Toni makes it perfectly plain that she is not interested in any "permanent arrangement" with the diamond importer and just wants to enjoy "the time we have together."

A frustrated, depraved man ogles then rapes waitress Millie.
This pleasant  romantic interlude is quickly undermined, however, when the movie cuts back to the cocktail lounge and we see that there is a creepy, disturbed man ogling Millie from across the room. Apostolof lingers on the man as he stares at her but also gives us in the audience leering "upskirt" and "downblouse" shots of Millie. Esentially, then, we are viewing her as the pervert in the movie views her. He gropes her thigh as she passes his table, but she casually rebuffs him and continues with her work. This kind of behavior is a pet peeve of many real life cocktail waitresses, who also want you to know that they are not prostitutes and don't appreciate being treated as such.

No Ed Wood sex film would be complete without a horrific scene which completely negates the attempt at eroticism, so experienced Wood-ologists will be prepared for what comes next. The pervert overhears Millie telling Toni and Larry that she's done for the night and follows her to the parking lot where he accosts her, drags her into his own car, and brutally rapes her. Here, as nowhere else in the film, Jaime Mendoza-Nava's score is tense and unnerving. But Steve Apostolof does one of his characteristic 180-degree turns and cuts back to the bar, where blond-haired piano man Tom (Douglas Frey, also wearing an ascot) pumps out the usual lounge lizard Muzak for the benefit of the place's contented customers. Then, it's back to the nightmarish rape scene, and the horror movie music resumes. Millie's rape goes on for several long minutes of screen time, with the assailant thrusting away without mercy and his victim screaming in agony.

And then we return to the safe, sedate atmosphere of the bar, where smarmy Tom sets up an after-hours three-way with Loraine and Jackie, promising to pay the girls 50 bucks from his tip jar. The juxtaposition is alarming and meaningful. As the patrons of the lounge enjoy the smoothed-out piano jazz and numb themselves with alcohol, they are blissfully unaware that a young woman is being irreparably traumatized and degraded mere yards away from where they are seated. Millie's ordeal, after all, is taking place right outside in the parking lot!

Certainly, the behavior of the rapist should make us seriously reconsider the sexual bartering that goes on inside the bar, where women are routinely "rented" for the evening by clowns like Tom. Disturbingly, when Loraine says she'll have to ask Jackie about the proposed menage a trois, Tom says, "Don't ask her. Tell her." This is a world where saying no is not an option for women. If guys can't buy it, they'll just take it. In the subsequent sex scene, Tom proves his selfishness by balling Jackie while all but ignoring Loraine. When it's Loraine's turn for some action, Tom first has her perform fellatio on him. "Suck it!" he orders. "Let me feel those lips!" Some guy, huh?

Larry offers his services to Toni.
Hands down, the movie's most unforgivable scene happens next, as Toni goes to the parking lot herself and finds that her car, a white VW Bug, won't start. Larry the bartender happens along and offers to help, and the two have the following conversation:
(Toni is in the driver's seat, trying without success to start the ignition. Larry approaches her car.) 
Larry: Trouble? 
Toni: Oh, Larry, you startled me! 
Larry: Sorry about that. What's the trouble? 
Toni: Oh, I don't know. This dumb thing won't start! It was all right this afternoon! 
Larry: Hmm. Hop out. We'll see what's wrong. 
(He opens her car door. She steps out and they both walk to the back of the vehicle, where Larry inspects the engine.) 
Toni: Hey, you really gave me a good scare! I couldn't help thinking about poor Millie and that rapist! What's the latest on her, anyway? 
Larry: (dismissively) Aw, she's a tough kid. Besides, what's a little screw to her? She'll be back by the end of the week. She has to. Tom Southern's giving another one of his big parties at our place 
Toni: Tom Southern! I've heard of him. 
Larry: (shrugging at the engine) I don't know... this. There's nothing I can do about it. (He closes the hood.) I'll tell ya. How 'bout me driving you home and then you stop off at my place for a quick nightcap? 
Toni: Well, I'm not much of a drinker, so, uh... why does it have to be quick? 
Larry: Now, there you've got a good point! 
(They walk over to his car and leave together.)
Hold on here. Whoa. Hit the brakes.

How is Toni not absolutely appalled at this conversation? Larry takes Millie's agonizing and dehumanizing ordeal and calls it "a little screw," then says that the poor woman has less than a week to recover because she's expected to prostitute herself to yet another rich big shot customer in a few days. Then, after pretending to help but not actually doing anything of value, Larry has the gall to sexually proposition Toni in the very spot where the rape occurred! And she accepts! If you'll review the dialogue again, you'll notice that Larry's "generous" offer makes no sense. He'll drive Toni home and then take her back to his place? If the destination is Larry's place, why bother stopping at Toni's place at all?

Obviously, the point of all this is to set up a tryst between Larry and Toni, but I wish Steve and Ed had arrived at this point by some other route. Harvey Shane is the most likable of the male SCA stars, so it's a mistake to have him be a callous monster like this. Fortunately, Larry the bartender regains some of his vulnerability and Toni some of her integrity during a post-coital conversation on the floor of Larry's apartment. Like the diamond importer from earlier in the film, Larry wants to make his fling with Toni "a permanent thing." Toni's gentle but firm response is the same as before: "Look, I'm a free soul, and when I ball somebody, it's because I want to when I want to." She just wants to "take it as it comes." This is a significant moment because it shows that Toni, who has been obsessed with money through the whole movie, treats the wealthy man (the diamond importer) exactly the same way she treats the working class man (the bartender). She does not, therefore, believe in sexual discrimination based on income.

Sodom & Gomorrah, Apostolof style.
Soon enough, it is time for Tom Southern's big party. Jackie, Toni, Loraine, and the completely-recovered Millie are waiting tables. Millie does not mind when one gentleman sticks his nose directly down her cleavage. Meanwhile, the other Tom (the ascot-wearing pianist) is providing the soundtrack, while Larry is back behind the bar. Among the revelers are Ric Lutze and Candy Samples. The free-spending Southern is, in modern parlance, "making it rain" at the club, so much so that Toni and Jackie lament LA's 2:00 AM curfew -- which will put an end to the $5 and $10 tips. Larry is dubious: "Sometimes, I think you girls are on the take." Jackie rationalizes: "Why not, if he's on the giving end?" Larry tells them not to worry; Southern's moving "the whole schmear" to his place.

Apostolof fans know where this is probably heading: yet another listless orgy scene shot in what looks like a room at the Ramada Inn. And sure enough, that's exactly what we get. While another blond piano player tickles the ivories in the corner, the ten or so partygoers dutifully undress and start pawing each other. (Interestingly, during this sequence, Rene Bond canoodles with Ric Lutze, who would have been her ex-husband by the time this movie came out.) It is here, though, that a classic Ed Wood motif emerges. A woman, disappointed and maltreated by men, takes comfort in the arms (and legs) of another woman. In this case, rape survivor Millie has a heart-to-heart chat with sensitive coworker Loraine. They don't seem to mind that an orgy is happening all around them as they have the following intimate tet-a-tet.
Loraine: You must have been so brave! Did he hurt you very much? 
Millie: Brave? Hell, I was scared half to death! That rapist bastard. 
Loraine: Bastards! (surveying the room) They're all bastards. The only thing men are good for are what they keep in their wallets. Anything else about 'em can go to hell! 
Millie: Listen, I wish I had the knife he had. 
Loraine: (nods knowingly) Let's shake this scene.
Two women and a vibrator: Millie and Loraine.
The two women retreat to a private bedroom, where they discuss the drinks and sex toys Mr. Southern has thoughtfully provided for his guests. Loraine whips out a vibrator and declares, "This way, lonely girls don't have to depend on men for their satisfaction." From there, the scene develops into a lesbian lovemaking session with dialogue nearly identical to that of the big Rene Bond/Starline Combs tryst from The Class Reunion. "Men are all animals," says Loraine as she undresses Millie. "They're not interested in what a woman likes or dislikes. They're just simply interested in getting their own guns off and going home. You know, have you ever thought about how much a woman gives and how little she gets in return? All men think about is their own selfish pleasures." This is almost word-for-word the same as a speech given by Rene Bond's character, Rosie, in the previous film. And just like Rosie, Loraine plays a maternal role with her partner. "Tell Mama what it is that you want," Loraine purrs. "Tell her. She'll give you everything that she has to give." Only the use of the comically-buzzing vibrator distinguishes this scene from the parallel one in The Class Reunion.

I'll forgive Ed Wood for recycling dialogue because this tender passage helps to undo some of the damage of both the rape scene and Larry's insensitive reaction to the rape. Rather less forgivable is the umpteenth reappearance of that gray-paneled wall, which gives the room the appearance of a janitorial closet which has been converted into a makeshift bordello.

The animal instinct: Toni spanks a rich client.
The orgy in the main room drones on for several more uncomfortable minutes, during which someone shouts from off-screen, "Hey, everybody! Let's have some fun!" -- a very nebulous exclamation which the others interpret as a signal to congregate together on the floor in carnal abandon. Finally, the movie remembers its main character, Toni, and follows her into yet another private bedroom. This time, she is accompanied by the founder of the feast, Tom Southern himself. At first, Southern wants Toni to pleasure him orally, and she obliges. But like seemingly all of Rene Bond's onscreen male partners, Southern is unable to achieve an erection. (His alibi: "I just don't dig it that much.")

What the rich man really wants is for the pretty young cocktail hostess to spank him. At first, Toni is incredulous ("You're kidding!"), but Southern swears he is sincere. And so, seeing no real harm in it and wanting to please her client, Toni spanks him. This he digs. ("More! Harder!") From what I've been able to glean in my research, the popularity of spanking as a sexual fetish is rooted in the desire to create a feeling of helplessness, which to some individuals is an aphrodisiac. Tom Southern, however, is definitely "topping from the bottom" here, i.e. nominally taking a submissive role but remaining in control of the situation the whole time. He soon demonstrates his total dominance over Toni. Once he is erect, he forcefully takes the waitress from behind like an animal.

I think it's significant that this room has leopard-print sheets on the bed and implements of war (a shield with crossed swords) on the wall, while Jaime Mendoza-Nava's score becomes unusually percussive and aggressive. It seems that Toni Rice and Tom Southern are reverting to what Ed Wood once called "the true instinct, the animal instinct!" in his Glen or Glenda? script. In one shot, the camera is placed behind a fern, giving us the impression that we are watching two creatures mating in the jungle.

Toni and Henderson reunite.
After this delirious scene, we return to the comparatively-tame cocktail lounge, where the exhausted Toni and Larry are slogging through another dull shift. At least Toni has a souvenir from her evening of debauchery -- a bracelet made from 18K gold and diamonds. ("That Tom Southern doesn't fool around!" Toni ironically declares.) Our heroine believes she's in for just another slow night at the bar, until one of her customers turns out to be Mr. Henderson (his drink of choice: a Manhattan). The "chance encounter" is no accident. He has tracked her down because he misses her so badly. She's surprisingly receptive. Toni tells Henderson he can phone her after work. ("It's your dime.") That night, she invites him to her apartment, and he comes a-running. I'd like to think that it was Ed Wood's idea to have Toni greet her ex-boss while wearing a lacy purple nightgown. It's exactly the kind of clothing he would rhapsodize about. Anyway, Toni is all giggles and smiles as she playfully undresses Henderson and lures him into the sack.

What's notable in this sexual interlude is that, for once, Toni is the aggressor, the one taking the lead and guiding the man. And Ed Wood has one last surprise in store for us with the film's conclusion. After making love, Henderson and Toni discuss their relationship while still in bed. He starts by making the kind of offer that Toni has already turned down twice in this movie:
Henderson: I'd sure like to make this a permanent arrangement, Toni. 
Toni: (sitting up) What about your wife? 
Henderson: Well, she never knew then. There's no reason for her to find out now. 
Toni: You really like what I can give you, don't you? 
Henderson: I missed you until I was almost out of my skull. 
Toni: And you want to continue with me? 
Henderson: More than anything else in the world! 
Toni: (straightening her posture) Then we can make a permanent arrangement. 
Henderson: Just tell me how and when. 
Toni: Do you remember what my payday was when I worked for you? 
Henderson: (chuckling weakly) Friday, like everybody else. 
Toni: And what did I make? 
Henderson: (feebly feigning ignorance) Uh, it's hard for me to remember. 
Toni: I remember! 
Henderson: (sitting up a little) Well, what's that got to do with anything? 
Toni: Plenty! You can visit me every Friday, and you can pay me eighty-six dollars and ninety-one cents for that visit. And that, my dear cocksman, is our permanent arrangement. 
(He gulps, nervously. She pushes him gently back down to the bed and kisses him. They make love, with her on top. He moans. Cut to credits.)
Yes, I'm invoking Arthur Miller.
Okay, so it's not exactly a great moment in the Women's Liberation movement. But for a Steve Apostolof movie, this ending is subtly revolutionary. Consider the fact that The Cocktail Hostesses was filmed at the same time as Drop Out Wife, which ends with poor Angela Carnon running back to her abusive, negligent, just-plain-horrible husband. The Cocktail Hostesses also concludes with the reunion of the central couple, but this time the woman is reentering the relationship on her own terms, not the man's.

By studying the body language and vocal inflections of the last scene of this movie, you can really see how the balance of power has shifted drastically from where it was at the beginning, when Mr. Henderson was riding Toni like a pack animal in his office. Now he's in her lair, crumpled up like a rag doll, and she's the one on top and calling the shots. Presumably, she will continue working with Jackie at the cocktail bar as usual and will only rendezvous with Henderson on Fridays. She hasn't gotten a pay raise from her old boss, but she's getting the same amount of money while putting in a lot fewer hours. And she can use that extra time to work as a waitress while having "dates" with other men on the side.

I'm reminded of an insightful analysis of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1948) I found in an otherwise-generic college English textbook with the unpromising title An Introduction to Literature: Expanded Edition (Harper Collins, 1994). In Miller's classic play, Willy Loman (a sad sack businessman just like Henderson) has a mistress who works as a secretary (just like Toni Rice) and "who for money or stockings or perhaps for pleasure has sex with Willy." While the textbook asserts that this woman "is not really an impressive figure," it does give the following defense of her character: "In a society that assumes women are to be exploited by men, she holds her own."

I'd say that's a pretty good description of Toni Rice.

Next week: Even a stubborn guy like Stephen C. Apostolof had to acknowledge changes in the movie marketplace eventually. If plain vanilla sexploitation wasn't grabbing customers anymore, maybe he could try his hand at one of those women-in-prison movies. That way, he'd still be able to give his audience the sex and nudity they demanded, but he could throw in some violence, too. Naturally, he would have to bring his buddy Ed Wood in on a project like this. After all, Eddie had plenty of experience writing female-centric crime fiction, both for the screen (The Violent Years) and the page (Devil Girls). And, hey, while we're at it, why not let Eddie play one of the parts himself? The role of "Pop" seems like a good fit for him. Yeah, that'll work! Of course, Rene Bond will have to play the lead in this thing. I mean, have you seen those bazooms of hers? Sure, they're plastic. But still. Va va voom! Am I right? Okay, folks, get yourselves back here in seven short days when I'll go one-on-one with Fugitive Girls (1974).

6 comments:

  1. The Derby on Los Feliz and Hillhurst was also, during the '90's, one of the prime locations where the "swing" music revival was in high gear. A significant portion of Doug Liman's SWINGERS was filmed at the restaurant/nightclub. By the time I moved out to L.A. though, the club closed shortly after. The Chase bank is still there occupying some of the space, but there is a really great restaurant now open next to it called Mess Hall, which, appropriately enough, has terrific cocktails!

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    1. Cool. It's kinda sad to see this place become a bank, but at least they didn't bulldoze it. Thanks for posting a comment!

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  2. By pure coincidence, this weekend I re-watched Machete Maidens Unleashed. I still have yet to see any of the women-in-prison films covered therein, though. Almost seems unnecessary thanks to the copious clips included in the documentary.

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    1. I must admit, it's not a genre I've visited that often over the years. Shame on me, huh?

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  3. Thank you so much for the Ed Wood blog entries. I just discovered them today and what I've read so far is fantastic...

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  4. Thank you so much for the Ed Wood blog entries. I just discovered them today and what I've read so far is fantastic...

    ReplyDelete