|The real-life Martha Jane Canary (1852-1903), better known as Calamity Jane.|
NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.
|A saloon gal services Hosenose Kate in this illustration.|
Synopsis: Deadwood, South Dakota, 1876. The legendary gambler and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok has been shot in the back during a poker game. Mourning him is Calamity Jane, a butch lesbian stagecoach driver who declares that Bill was the only man she would ever love. After making some threats to local undertaker Uncle Zeke, Jane seeks solace at a saloon called the High Dyke, which is owned by notoriously crooked and obese card dealer Hosenose Kate, so named for her booze-bloated face and trademark red nose. Kate, herself a lesbian, has a frank and sexually explicit conversation with Jane, during which they discuss Wild Bill's death and other local gossip. Vulgar, coarse-mannered Kate, who never leaves her chair, even when being serviced by prostitutes, implies that Will Bill was bisexual and offers the heartbroken Jane a free night with one of the High Dyke's beautiful saloon girls, including newcomer Barbara. Kate is not bothered or offended when Jane repeatedly throws drinks in her face during their talk. Instead, Kate tells Jane that a woman named Cattle Anne, with whom Wild Bill had a sexual relationship, is driving a big herd of cows from Texas and should be in town soon. Jane vows to gun Anne down when she arrives, though Kate advises against it. When Cattle Anne and Calamity Jane finally meet, everyone expects a bloody showdown. Instead, to Hosenose Kate's (and everyone else's) disappointment, the two women break down in tears when they see each other and go off to mourn Wild Bill Hickok together.
Wood trademarks: Old West setting (cf. Crossroads of Laredo, Crossroads Avenger, Revenge of the Virgins, etc.); real-life woman from history (cf. "Pearl Hart and the Last Stage"); comical supporting character named Zeke (cf. Crossroads Avenger); tough women acting and talking in a masculine fashion (cf. The Violent Years, Fugitive Girls); alcohol (both Jane and Kate are described as hard drinkers; Jane throws "rotgut whiskey" at Kate); bars (saloons in this case, predecessors to the modern day bars and lounges of Ed's other work); dildos (cf. this collection's "Come Inn"); multiple references to prostitution (saloon girls or "ready meat"); the word "fluff" meaning young women ("damned good fluff, them girls"); "fluff" meaning soft clothing or accessories ("the fluff and finery," a phrase which also turns up in Glen or Glenda?); a blonde character named Barbara (cf. Glen or Glenda?); "meat whistle" as a euphemism for the penis (cf. this collection's "Sex Star"); the now-mandatory references to death and its attendant rituals (Jane and undertaker Zeke discuss Wild Bill's coffin); name-calling directed at homosexual or effeminate men (compare this story's "You know what they calls men that does that kind of thing." to Glen or Glenda?'s "There are names for boys who go around wearing girls' clothes.")
Excerpt: "Why in hell I ever come to this creep dive I don't know. What do you know about anything anyway? You sit there with them big black cigars lettin' the ashes go down between your boobs, and you swig this rot gut all day, and you don't never get out of that chair. What in hell do you know what's going on outside them swinging doors? You ain't seen the street out there since it was a dirt path."
Reflections: The Old West and the colorful characters who populated it were lifelong obsessions for Edward D. Wood, Jr., going back to his childhood in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he was a regular patron of the local movie house in the 1930s and 1940s. Those were boom times for the Western, and those pictures left their mark on little Eddie. Had absolutely everything worked in his favor when he moved to Hollywood, Ed might have carved out a cozy little career making formulaic cowboy pictures for thirty or forty years and been quite happy doing so. But very little worked in Ed Wood's favor, as we know, so he made a few obscure Westerns for himself and scripted a few more for other directors but never came close to establishing himself as a cut-rate John Ford or Zane Grey. Of all the genres in which Eddie toiled -- horror, science fiction, crime, juvenile delinquent, skin -- Westerns were closest to his heart. You could see it in his casting choices from the 1950s. Why else dredge up D-listers like Tom Keene, Bud Osborne, and Kenne Duncan to act in stories which had absolutely nothing to do with the range? Working with these people, all Western film veterans, gave Eddie the chance to pay tribute to the kinds of movies he truly loved.
Thus far in Blood Splatters Quickly, Ed Wood the short story writer has not made too many trips out to cowboy country for inspiration. "Calamity Jane" is this collection's first clear example of a Western tale, and it shows how both the country and Eddie himself had changed from the 1940s and 1950s to the 1970s. In Ed's aborted first film, Crossroad of Laredo (1948), no-goodnik Tex (played by Don Nagel) frequents the local saloon and carouses with the cheap women there, but Eddie's prudish camera does not follow him past those infamous swinging doors. That film had its own character named Barbara, but she was a wronged woman who finds true love with the film's hero, Lem (Duke Moore), not a newly-debauched prostitute like the Barabara in "Calamity Jane." In fact, if you follow the trajectory of Ed Wood's further Western career from Crossroads Avenger: The Adventures of the Tucson Kid (1953) to Revenge of the Virgins (1959) to "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne" (1973), you can see Ed becoming progressively raunchier and less optimistic. In this story, he gives us an especially grotesque character in the Jabba the Hut-esque Hosenose Kate, whose own alcohol-induced physical decline seems to be a grim parody of Ed Wood's own personal mutation from dashing, Errol Flynn-type loverboy to double-chinned drunken sot. As for the story's sexual politics, the knee-jerk reaction is to say that this is another example of Ed stereotyping lesbians as hyper-masculine "bull-dykes." But a closer inspection shows that the lesbians in this story just want to be able to enjoy the kind of power and freedom that men do, even if that does bring on unwanted prejudice. As evidence, I present this dialogue between Kate and Jane, as the two discuss Wild Bill Hickok's past escapades with other women:
"You ain't in town all the time. You're always out there on the prairie driving that six up stagecoach of yours."Clearly, suggests Ed Wood in this story, some women in the Old West have learned that there are societal advantages to acting and dressing in a masculine fashion. For Calamity Jane and Hosenose Kate, it's a matter of deeply-felt personal identity, and it's every bit as integral to their lives as Glen's angora sweater and blonde wig were to him in Glen or Glenda? To quote that film's wise Dr. Alton: "To take it away from them might do as great a harm as taking away an arm or a leg or life itself."
"Well I gotta' make a livin'."
"You live like a man does."
"That's what I like."
"And livin' like a man you got to have a woman when you came to town. Now you don't want to live like a man and have a man take you to bed. You know what they calls men that does that kind of thing."
"What in hell do you think girls that take on girls are called? What in hell about that?"
"Ain't the same. Some girl thinks like a man, then by the hell's fires she's got to be a man, and a man always needs his woman. Now you was thinkin' like a woman when you got all worried up about the dead man out there takin' on a woman. Yet you sit right over there across from me and you're all dressed up like a man and you smoke cigars like a man... just like me."
Next: "Pray for Rain" (1972)