Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Like a Hole in the Head" (1971)

Hollywood is such a meat market sometimes!

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

The story: "Like a Hole in the Head," originally published in Pendulum, vol. 3, no. 1, November/December 1971. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Barbara, 20, is a sweet, uncomplicated supermarket cashier who has dreams of maybe being a dental hygienist someday. Her half-sister Terri, 25, wants to make it as an actress in Hollywood and is trying to sleep her way to the top by bedding some bit players, has-been stars, and low-rent producers. She's getting nowhere, though, because her voice -- fine in person -- sounds terrible when recorded. In her frustration, Terri tries to get a very reluctant Barbara to follow her into show business. After a few dance lessons, Barbara starts becoming more enthusiastic and begins socializing with some mysterious people whom Terri does not know. One day, Barbara disappears without a trace, and Terri doesn't learn the truth until she reads a newspaper article about her sister's terrible fate.

Wood trademarks: Virtuous character named Barbara (cf. Glen or Glenda); cautionary tale about young, aspiring actresses in Hollywood (cf. Hollywood Rat Race, The Sinister Urge); the line "Who put you in the psychiatrist's chair?" (compare to Love Feast's "What are you trying to do, psychoanalyze me?"); marabou (cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); nighties (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "Unfriendly Persuasion"); sweaters (cf. "Hitchhike to Hell," "Gore in the Alley," many more stories in this collection).

Excerpt: "Even dramatic school hadn’t helped any. She sounded beautiful in her normal voice. But it just wouldn’t record. There are many people so inflicted. They just won’t record. But Terri still found this hard to believe… in fact, she wasn’t going to believe it. But deep in her subconscious she wanted someone who would be of a lesser entity in the business she could lord it over."

Reflections: Ed Wood is very consistent in his portrayal of young actresses trying to make it in Hollywood. It's a dreadful mistake, he advises. Don't even try it. You'll just wind up being used and abused -- possibly even raped, enslaved, or worse. While there are legitimate producers in town, wannabe starlets are more apt to encounter predatory sleazeballs. I'm pretty sure that "Like a Hole in the Head," a story whose title is never adequately explained, is the worst case scenario. I only hope that this story was purely a fantasy on Eddie's part and that its depiction of human trafficking is not based on any real-life operation.

What struck me most about this story was Terri's relationship to Barbara. The younger woman is portrayed as sweet and innocent, though she does admit she's "been laid before." Terri, on the other hand, is the proverbial fallen woman, already degraded by the time we meet her. In the paragraph that introduces Terri, Ed Wood writes that she has "some minute lines which could be seen when she took the light make-up off each night before retiring." She's damaged goods, in other words, especially when compared to Barbara.

This story is about how Terri selfishly drags Barbara down to her level and ends up destroying the poor girl in the process. At the beginning of "Like a Hole in the Head," Ed informs us that Terri and Barbara "loved each other as sisters should," but we see little evidence of that love here. Why does Terri do this horrible thing to Barbara? One of Terri's boyfriends, Ted, thinks he's figured it out. “You ain’t making it in the business," he says, "and you want her to get in and flop on her ass also. In that way you have somebody close to you that you can look down on.” Terri originally rejects this idea, but when she finally accepts it, it's too late to do any good.

The lesson here? Be good to your siblings.

Next: "The Responsibility Game" (1972)