Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'Island Divorce' (1969)

"Island Divorce" is one of Ed Wood's lesser-known, gay-themed stories.

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Male Lovers Annual 1970
The story: "Island Divorce," originally published in Male Lovers Annual 1970, Gallery.

Synopsis: Wealthy but aging homosexual Jerry Hall has reached a point in his life where he has to pay his young male "tricks" for sex. Although rather disappointed by this, he has accepted it as reality. Besides, he can afford it. He is astonished and delighted when, while playing a round of golf at a country club, he meets handsome Robert Grant, who seems willing to volunteer his services despite having a beautiful wife named Shirley and two young children. Jerry then escorts Robert to his own private island, situated somewhere in one of Michigan's Great Lakes. Jerry invites his new acquaintance into his home, and the two strip down in preparation for lovemaking. As Jerry kneels down in front of Robert, however, a red-headed woman suddenly appears and takes a couple of incriminating photos of the men. Robert and his accomplice tell a dazed Jerry that they'll meet him at the bank the next day.

Wood trademarks: Homosexuality; a blackmail scheme perpetrated by a hetero couple (cf. The Class Reunion); alcohol (in this case, martinis); anti-drug message (in this case, "narcotics"); snakes (another cobra metaphor); emphasis on the color pink; libidinous older fop with younger lovers (cf. Killer in Drag, The Love Feast); sexual proclivity as life-sustaining force (cf. Glen or Glenda?); a character named Shirley (Ed's own drag name) presented as a paragon of female beauty.

Excerpt: "From the very beginning of his own realization, the homosexual form of sexual deviation was a life-giving motivation for actually living. He was proud then. But age has a way of catching up with all life. Jerry found himself in that category with the suddenness of a striking cobra."

Some of the magazines for which Ed wrote.
Reflections: Was Edward D. Wood, Jr. gay or at least bisexual? It's a question that comes up occasionally when people examine his life and work, since homosexuality is a rather common theme in his writings. Would-be biographers toy with the idea, batting it around like curious cats playing with a particularly attractive ball of yarn. Many viewers have noted that that Ed's own character in Glen or Glenda? (1953) is clearly, repeatedly defined as a transvestite but not a homosexual. Is Ed Wood protesting too much here? It feels like overcompensation. What are we to make of the stereotypical, lisping "sissy" characters in Wood-scripted films like The Class Reunion (1972) and The Beach Bunnies (1976)? On the other hand, how do we account for Ric Lutze's complicated character from The Snow Bunnies (1972)? This man is outwardly masculine, after all, but sexually impotent and prone to rage when his hetero status is questioned.

It's true that Ed contributed stories to a number of gay-themed publications in the early 1970s, such as Bi-Sex, Boy Play, Boy Friends, Man to Man, and the source of today's story, Male Lovers. What most of these magazines have in common is that they belong to the Gallery/Pendulum/Calga adult publishing mini-empire, which produced X-rated magazines and novels under a wide variety of titles and employed Ed Wood again and again during the Nixon years. (A terrific pocket history of the company can be found in Tom Brinkman's 2008 book, Bad Mags.) It is well within the realm of possibility that Ed wrote homoerotic fiction simply because he was a "company man" and was eager to prove that he could handle any assignment that editor Bernie Bloom threw his way. If they wanted a "gay thing" this month, by god, that's what he'd give them. Nothing more complicated than that. You could almost say that Ed Wood was the literary equivalent of "gay for pay." Notice that the homosexual in "Island Divorce" is punished at the end of the story. In fact, he receives exactly the same punishment as Ron Darby's character in The Class Reunion: humiliation and blackmail at the hands of a scheming, scoffing heterosexual couple. In both cases, however, I have to wonder why the supposedly straight men in these stories are so comfortable with homosexual foreplay.

And then there is the matter of Ed Wood making each of his stories, including "Island Divorce," so specific and personal. There is no getting around the fact that fumbling, lecherous, always-on-the-prowl Jerry Hall bears a strong resemblance to Ed Wood himself. In fact, the character seems like the gay equivalent of Eddie's tragicomic Mr. Murphy from Love Feast (1969). The first description we get of Jerry could also be of Mr. Murphy or Eddie himself: "He was too pudgy and his cheeks were almost an unhealthy pink, although his face wasn't unpleasant... at one time in the not too distant past he might actually have been called handsome." Even though Jerry Hall is ultimately revealed as a frivolous fool (Ed has him literally fall flat on his ass), there is an undercurrent of poignancy to the character, as if the author understood him on a deeper level.

Next: "Missionary (Position) Impossible" (1971)