Monday, April 22, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "Wanted: Belle Starr" (1973)

A real wanted poster for the real Belle Starr.

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

The story: "Wanted: Belle Starr," originally published in Woman's World, vol. 2, no. 2, March/April 1973.

Synopsis: Notorious outlaw Belle Starr is in bed with her lover, equally notorious robber Sam Bass. Belle says Sam is the only man who can truly satisfy her, though these two are far from exclusive. Her choice of profession keeps her on the run, so Sam doesn't see her too often. Something is on Belle's mind, and it's not the bounty on her head. In her travels, she's encountered a new group of women called lesbians. She tries to explain to Sam what lesbians are, but he can't believe it. Belle tells Sam that she has experimented with lesbianism and liked it. She now considers herself bisexual. Sam doesn't know what that is either, but Belle has plenty of time to explain.

Wood trademarks: Real-life Western figures (cf. "Pearl Hart and the Last Stage," "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate Loves Cattle Anne"); the Old West (cf. Crossroads of Laredo, Crossroad Avenger, The Lawless Rider); post-coital conversation (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor"); character named Hose Nose Kate (cf. "Calamity Jane"); tough female criminal (cf. Fugitive Girls, The Violent Years, Devil Girls); whorehouses (cf. "The Whorehouse Horror"); "pubic region" (cf. "Mice on a Cold Cellar Floor," "The Responsibility Game," "Gore in the Alley"); "pecker" (cf. "Starve Hell," "Insatiable").

Excerpt: "Girl, you should never have taken up in my path. You should never have taken up bank robbing, and stage robbing and cattle stealing. It's taken you to the worst places on earth. It’s spoiled my little sex broad. You should have stayed right here and let me do all them other kind of things. Now you got wanted posters all over the place and a price on your head and you’ve been lesbianed."

Reflections: Fans of Stephen King know that many of his stories and novels take place in the same universe and will occasionally overlap. The characters in Misery, for instance, briefly discuss the events of The Shining. There's not much like that in the works of Ed Wood, since his career in film and writing was of such a peripatetic, piecemeal nature, but there is at least some crossover action in the Wood canon. The character of Officer Kelton (as played by Paul Marco) shows up in three of Eddie's films from the 1950s, for instance, and Night of the Ghouls (1959) is a pretty direct follow-up to Bride of the Monster (1955). Furthermore, Eddie had planned on making a sequel to The Sinister Urge (1960) called The Peeper, but it never happened.

Writing-wise, Eddie occasionally got the urge to pen sequels to his novels. Death of a Transvestite (1967) is an update on the main character from Killer in Drag (1963), while Watts... the Difference (1966) spawned Watts... After (1967). Most of Eddie's short stories are one-offs, though he did bring back his "Captain Fellatio Hornblower" character for an encore story.

So our man was not necessarily averse to sequels. What's really rare in Ed Wood's work is the kind of sly, Stephen King-esque nod to continuity you see in "Wanted: Belle Starr" when the title character tells Sam Bass about her introduction to lesbians at "Hose Nose Kate's place." This leads to some dialogue between Sam and Belle.
      "That old whore still running a place?"
      "Bigger than ever. But anyway, you know she's going to make a buck any way she can. She’s got all them girls to service the men. But she done found out that there are some women who want to be taken care of too…"
Those who had read Tales For a Sexy Night, Vol. 2 (1973) would be able to nod in recognition at this moment. And those who hadn't would still be able to follow this (nearly plot-free) story without any trouble. Little moments like this make me feel like the Ed Wood Expanded Universe isn't such a far-fetched idea. Maybe all of these ghoulish and sordid little tales are happening in the same world. Isn't that exciting?

Incidentally, there's no evidence that the real Belle Starr (1848-1889) and Sam Bass (1851-1878) ever crossed paths in reality let alone had an affair. They were both colorful criminals of the Old West, though, and we know that Eddie was fascinated with that era and wrote about it as often as he could. Supposedly, Belle's exploits didn't garner much fame during her own lifetime, and she didn't really become a legend until after she died and The National Police Gazette began circulating exaggerated and invented stories about her. Which basically makes her the Ed Wood of crime.

Next: "The Devil Collects His Dues" (1971)