Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Taking Off' (1971)

Tell me about it, girlfriend: a woman experiences sexual regret in Ed Wood's "Taking Off."
NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Swap, a magazine for swingers.
The story: "Taking Off," originally published in Swap, October/November 1971, Pendulum.

Synopsis: Pretty but restless 17-year-old Emily Porterhouse feels like she is going to waste in her sleepy little hometown of Gartersville, a village whose only claim to fame is a nearby auto plant. It's Saturday night, and she has nothing to do. She can't even hang around the house, since her parents are hosting their weekly bridge party and have invited many neighbors to their home. She thinks about her early sexual explorations with her boyfriend, Tommy Rich, a car owner who is kind to her despite acting tough around his friends.

But Emily doesn't want to marry Tommy or any of the boys in Gartersville because none of them will be important in life. Instead, she dreams of moving to Hollywood, where her talent and beauty will finally be appreciated. Desiring to change clothes, Emily decides to enter her own home, regardless of the fact that her parents are hosting a party. Once inside, she sees that the grown ups are not playing bridge but, rather, participating in an orgy! For the first time, Emily understands how the adult world works. "She had simply entered life," the narrator tells us.

Wood trademarks:
  • An angora sweater (baby blue in color this time)
  • Having nothing to do on a Saturday night in a small town (cf. this collection's "To Kill a Saturday Night")
  • Young girl planning to move to Hollywood to become a star (cf. Hollywood Rat Race)
  • The local movie house as escape from suburban boredom (similar to Ed Wood's own childhood in Poughkeepsie, NY)
  • Reference to prostitution (the expression "whore in church")
  • Lingering attention to a woman's body and wardrobe, especially undergarments (this story focuses on Emily's breasts, panties, and brassiere)
  • Reference to snakes (orgy compared to writhing snake pit)
  • Seemingly average folks participating in an orgy (a staple of Ed's 1970s movies with Stephen Apostolof, cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, The Beach Bunnies, The Class Reunion)
  • Female character as irresistible object of male lust
  • A couple whose surname is Trent (cf. Plan 9 from Outer Space)
  • Character named Barbara (common Wood character name since Glen or Glenda?)
  • Speed typing (Ed's own talent).

Excerpt: "A man and a woman were supposed to have sex, that's the way babies were made. They get married and a boy and a girl mate and pretty soon they have a house full of kids... screaming brats running all around the place... screaming house apes with grubby asses and dirty faces. There would be no kids for her."

Ed offers new uses for 7 Up!
Reflections: As I make my way through this collection, I'm coming to realize that Ed Wood was pornography's answer to the Swiss Army knife. Any kind of story you want, whatever your sexual preference or predilection, he's your man. A real Johnny-on-the-spot of smut, you might say. The Pendulum/Gallery/Calga publishing empire released a whole slew of erotically-diverse titles in the early 1970s, and Ed Wood wrote for as many of them as he could, bouncing from one sexual orientation to another. Swap was Pendulum's magazine devoted to the "swinging" lifestyle.

The wonderful Bob Blackburn, the man responsible for getting Blood Splatters Quickly into print, has been kindly sending me artwork and contents pages from the original magazines, and I've noticed that Pendulum wanted to indulge its readers' fetishes and reassure them that whatever they were into was normal and acceptable. Besides running pictures and articles that catered to readers' specialized interests (even if that interest was sex with the Devil or whatever), Pendulum also tended to run supportive editorials on its magazines' contents pages, many of them written by Ed Wood himself. Here's what Swap has to say about swinging, for instance:
The swinging swappers have made a whole new thing out of the ancient and traditional institution of marriage. It has long been apparent that swappers -- married persons who switch off mates with one another -- have been eating away at the foundations of that traditional edifice called marriage, but some experts in the field are now beginning to wonder if they really are the termites they once seemed to be. Might it be that they are having the opposite effect, shoring up what's left of the old structure?
With that in mind, you might think that Ed Wood's story for a swingers magazine would be written from the perspective of the swingers themselves, in this case the grown-ups of Gartersville (and how about that name, huh?) who gather every Saturday night and pretend they're "playing bridge" when they're really swapping partners. All week, they toil in the automobile plant -- rather like the foundry workers in Glen or Glenda? -- then cut loose on the weekends because they've earned a little fun.

But the story isn't really about swinging or swingers at all. It's about a young woman who feels stifled in a small town and yearns for the excitement and glamour of Hollywood. If Eddie has a surrogate in "Taking Off," it's would-be starlet Emily Porterhouse, who possesses the perfect feminine beauty Ed always dreamed of achieving himself. He even makes Emily a super-fast typist, just like he was! Curiously, Ed's showbiz manual, Hollywood Rat Race (ca. 1965), contains numerous cautionary tales about girls just like Emily who move to Tinseltown only to find rejection, poverty, and humiliation there. You might be a big deal in your home town, Ed repeatedly suggests in that book, but you'll find that there are thousands just like you in Los Angeles.

The most common bit of advice in Hollywood Rat Race is "stay home," but you can tell from this story that Ed still sympathizes with the dreamers of the world, particularly young girls, who look West and think that the Hollywood dream factory still offers something better than they can find at the local gas station or malt shop. The ending of this story is presented as a birth or rebirth for Emily. If Alan/Ann from Glen or Glenda? is "a woman born at the age of 24," then Emily Porterhouse is a woman born at the age of 17.

By the way, in "Taking Off," Professor Ed offers one bit of helpful, little-heard sex advice for you ladies out there: a freshly shaken-up bottle of 7 Up makes a good post-coital douche for those times when you want to prevent pregnancy. Just make sure to have a handkerchief handy for afterwards!

Next: "Sex Star" (1973)