Sunday, April 14, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Never Fall Backwards" (1972)

This guy is already breaking Rule #1.

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

The story: "Never Fall Backwards," originally published in Fantastic, vol. 1, no. 1, January/February 1972. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Synopsis: Top stuntman Rick Perry is getting loaded on Scotch at a cocktail lounge. He meets up with his friends, fellow stunt performers Terri and Vance. They're concerned abut Rick because he drinks so much, but he doesn't seem that worried. They talk shop. The next day, Rick is doing a very risky dive from a biplane into the ocean. Terri and Vance try to talk Rick out of it, but he's sure he can do it, even on a stomach full of whiskey. Rick good naturedly kids Vance, a second-tier stuntman whose next job is doubling for an actress named Shirley Lane as her character falls from a car. Terri wishes Rick could be careful like Vance, but she's in for a big surprise in the near future.

Wood trademarks: Stuntmen (cf. Hollywood Rat Race); cocktail lounge (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses); Scotch (cf. "Where Did Charlie Get on the Train?"); character named Shirley (cf. Orgy of the Dead); "ma'an" (Wood's peculiar spelling of "man," cf. "Craps"); alcoholism (compare to Ed's own life); cross-dressing (cf. Glen or Glenda).

Excerpt: "This is the way I like my Scotch. All that water cuts the taste. This way I can feel it burning all the way down to my balls… That’s the way I like things. All the way down to my balls. Hey, how about you and me going over to your apartment for a couple of hours, Terri?"

Reflections: Ed Wood obviously had a great deal of respect for stuntmen. He did a little stuntwork himself and wrote about the profession with great affection in Hollywood Rat Race. So it's only natural that he would eventually write a story like this. I was honestly not anticipating the twist ending for this story, though, so kudos to Eddie for still being able to surprise me at this late stage in the game.

As a writer, Ed Wood had lots of tropes and trademarks. When scanning one of his texts, I always look for ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation) and long, lingering descriptions of women's clothing or lingerie, especially when these have little to do with the plot. Character names like Glen, Barbara, Shirley, Rance, and Mac are dead giveaways, too. Furthermore, Ed often sets his stories in bars and cocktail lounges, and his characters are usually heavy drinkers, guzzling down whiskey or cheap wine by the gallon. And then there is his fixation on soft textures -- "feathers, fur, and fluff," as Fawn Silver says in Orgy of the Dead (1965). "Never Fall Backwards," for instance, contains a completely gratuitous but very on-brand reference to a fur blanket.

But "Never Fall Backwards" is a good example of one of Eddie's favorite subjects: the super-studly, hyper-masculine man of action. A lot of Ed's protagonists seemed to have stepped directly out of a Marlboro ad. They have dangerous jobs (often as hitmen or hired killers), but they're always cool and detached. They drink whiskey like it's water and never seem to be without a gorgeous gal on their arms or, better yet, in their beds. Rick Perry is a prime example of this character type. In this story, it's no surprise to learn that Rick and Terri are friends with benefits. I wonder if this is the kind of guy Eddie always wanted to be.

Ed Wood died three years too early to see the hit ABC series The Fall Guy (1981-1986), but I'm sure he would have loved it. It starred Lee Majors as macho stuntman Colt Seavers -- what a great, Wood-ian name -- who moonlights as a bail bond agent to pick up some extra cash. I remember tuning in every week to see the death-defying stunts. In that department, The Fall Guy was the only thing on TV to rival The Dukes of Hazzard. I'm sure, if he'd been alive, Eddie would have been tuning in, too, and maybe even crooning along with the hit C&W theme song, "The Unknown Stuntman." The lyrics easily apply themselves to Rick Perry: "I've never spent much time in school/But I've taught ladies plenty/It's true I hire my body out for pay/A-hey-hey!"

Next: "The Saga of Rance Ball" (1972)