Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Fright Wigs" (1971)

An innocent young girl navigates the world of lesbian bars.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
An issue of Wild Cats.

The story: "The Fright Wigs," originally published in Wild Cats, vol. 5, no. 2. Credited to "Donna D. Dildo."

Synopsis: Tomme, an ex-Marine, now works as a private eye. A lesbian, she prides herself on her femininity. Among her current assignments, she's most interested in a missing person case involving an attractive 21-year-old blonde named Gloria Harston. Gloria left her parents' sprawling ranch in Texas some time ago and went to California, where she seemingly disappeared. In her investigation, Tomme learns that Gloria was also a lesbian and that she'd been seen at a bar frequented by a predatory woman nicknamed Dyke Anne. On the advice of a "butch" witness, Tomme searches the local hospitals and finds Gloria in one of them. The poor girl OD'd on sleeping pills once she met Dyke Anne, thinking she was typical of L.A.'s lesbian population, but Tomme is eager to show Gloria another side to the Sapphic lifestyle.

Wood trademarks: Private detective looking for missing daughter (cf. Take It Out in Trade); woman's name similar to a man's name (cf. Glen or Glenda, The Violent Years); cocktail lounges (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); "beer bars" (cf. "Starve Hell"); predatory lesbian hag (cf. "The Hooker," "Calamity Jane"); "fluff" (cf. The Class Reunion, Orgy of the Dead); expression "the gory details" (cf. "The Gory Details");  "butch" (cf. "The Autograph"); chronic alcoholics (cf. "Never Fall Backwards"); maggots (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell"); character named Gloria (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," The Sinister Urge); tight sweaters (cf. Glen or Glenda, many stories in Angora Fever).

Excerpt: "You had money. You just went to a dive…the wrong place to start out. All lesbians don't hang out in the joints, you know. There are a lot of lesbians who wouldn't be caught dead in such a place. And all lesbians don't look like the witches you saw. Those are the bums of the society, the fright wigs of the sisters of Lesbos. You just didn't look in the right places."

Reflections: Wild Cats was one of Pendulum Publishing's lesbian-themed magazines in the early 1970s, though I'm not quite sure if the intended readers were actual lesbians or simply heterosexual men seeking girl-on-girl action. I'm guessing the latter. Still in all, "The Fright Wigs" is written with a certain degree of sensitivity, apart from the disparaging references to "butches" and "bull dykes." The point of the story is that Gloria need not be ashamed of being a lesbian. It's the reason she fled her home in Texas to come to Los Angeles. Apparently, being propositioned by Dyke Anne was enough to drive her to suicide. But Tomme knows another way: "I'll show you how the cocktail lesbians make love." So it's a matter of meeting the right lesbians.

Angora Fever notes that "The Fright Wigs" is missing from Ed Wood's resume but "reads like Ed." (The story was previously included in a now out-of-print 2009 collection called Short Wood.) I'd go one further: it reads like no one but Ed. Only the real Edward Davis Wood, Jr. would have written that Dyke Anne's breath "smelled like maggots." Or pointed out that Gloria "rang the lesbian bell a loud gong." Or used the term "fright wigs" to refer to people rather than to novelty hairpieces. This kind of prose emanates solely from the battered typewriter of Ed Wood.

It's probably too late to make a movie out of any of the stories in Angora Fever. The results would likely be mannered, ironic, and self-aware, treating the source material as "so-bad-it's-good" camp. See The Vampire's Tomb (2013) as an example of how it might go. But, gosh, would "The Fight Wigs" make a fun film. Tomme -- I'm guessing the name is pronounced like "Tommy" -- would make an ideal Wood heroine, and Ed himself might want to play Dyke Anne.

P.S. Reader Guy Deverell reports that Tom/Tommy and Gloria are, respectively, the 2nd and 8th most popular character names in Ed Wood's novels.

Next: "Out of the Fog" (1971)