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.

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. 

"Improved with DDT": A Flit ad with art by Dr. Seuss.

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)