|"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.
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 that 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)