Sunday, May 5, 2019

Ed Wood's ANGORA FEVER: "The Loser" (1975)

Ed Wood's heroine, Terry, has a memorable encounter in a bathroom.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Angora Fever: The Collected Short Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (BearManor Bare, 2019).
Rene Bond in The Cocktail Hostesses

The story: "The Loser," originally published in Girl Mates, vol. 1, no. 1, September/October 1975. Credited to "Shirlee Lane."

Synopsis: Terry Abernathy is fired from her office job after a year when she is caught having a romantic liaison with a female coworker, Dena, in the bathroom. Terry and Dena were ratted out by Miss Riley, a frustrated 50-year-old lesbian who can't get any action from the young ladies in the office. Terry tells her troubles to a sympathetic bartender, Henry, then makes a date with her friend and lover, Doris. She tells Doris that she doesn't just want another job -- she's had too many of those -- but a line of work that she truly enjoys. Later, after Doris leaves, Terry is visited by Miss Riley, who has a very unusual business proposal!

Wood trademarks: Office affairs (cf. The Cocktail Hostesses, "The Responsibility Game"); panties (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hooker," "Bums Rush Terror," "The Last Void"); cocktail bar (cf. "Out of the Fog," "Never a Stupid Reflection," "Never Fall Backwards"); paying the rent (cf. "Starve Hell"); negligee (cf. "The Witches of Amau Ra"); nipples and tongues (cf. "The Witches of Amau Ra"); character fired from a series of jobs (cf. "Never a Stupid Reflection"); predatory older lesbian (cf. "The Hooker"); prostitution (cf. "Gore in the Alley," "The Hooker"); adjective "lovely" (one of Eddie's favorites -- he uses it 60 times in Angora Fever).

Excerpt: "Ahh, yes… Miss Riley… the dear old soul… perhaps you'd better get her retirement check ready. I wouldn’t bet on how long it is before she takes on some new chick in the toilet… some little bitch who feels strongly for advancement, and doesn't mind the smell of an ancient crotch to get it."

Detail from the artwork.
Reflections: Thus far, all the stories I've covered in this Angora Fever series were published between 1971 and 1973. "The Hooker" stands out by virtue of having been published as late as 1975. Looking back, the same thing was true of the stories in Blood Splatters Quickly; the vast majority of tales in that collection date from 1971-73, with only a couple being published afterward. In retrospect, the early 1970s might have been the busiest era of Ed Wood's entire life, creatively speaking.

My supposition is that Ed was drinking even more heavily by 1974 and was therefore somewhat less productive. Not that the well ever totally ran dry, mind you. Eddie kept writing until the last year of his life, and there were film projects, too -- both features and loops -- to occupy his time. His creative partnership with director Stephen C. Apostolof was still thriving during these years, for instance. And Rudolph Grey pinpoints 1975 as the year that Ed wrote and directed 12 short films for the Sex Education Correspondence School. But perhaps Eddie wasn't turning out short stories quite as regularly as he had in 1972.

Bob Blackburn, who curated both Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever, explained via Facebook why these stories mostly derive from the same brief historical era:
Those years, 1971-1973, are the ONLY years [for which] Ed lists the story titles [on his writing resume], and that is what I worked off of when collecting them from the original magazines. And you are right: even with his alcohol consumption, Ed was a workhorse during the early '70s, attested by the sheer volume of stories and articles. He lists approximately 170 [of these on his resume], as well as the over 700 -- yes, 716 to be exact -- "short picture stories," and all of this between just those three years!  
It boggles the mind, and as you know, Bernie [Bloom, head of Pendulum Publishing] kept firing and rehiring him. I am not sure of the exact date/year when the final ax fell, but '74 or '75 would be about correct. I have only found a few stories published after 1973, and then of course they recycled a few after '73 that were written prior.
Bob then added that he was very careful about adding stories from outside that 1971-73 time period, unless they were directly credited to Ed or one of his well-known pseudonyms (such as Ann Gora or Dick Trent) or displayed strong evidence of Wood's authorial style. "The Loser" is credited to "Shirlee Lane" -- "Shirley" being the name of Ed Wood's drag persona -- and displays many of the author's usual tropes, as evidenced by my list of trademarks.

So what had changed in Eddie's writing between the Nixon years and the Ford years? Judging by "The Loser," nothing at all. He's still writing about the exact same topics (lustful, cocktail-guzzling lesbian secretaries) in the exact same way. Even the customary twist ending arrives right on cue. What's noteworthy in "The Loser" is his depiction of the older lesbian, Miss Riley. Here's how Eddie introduces her: "She was fifty and starting to shrivel up, but she still wanted some and none of the other girls in the office wanted anything to do with her." Eddie himself was 50, almost 51, when this story was originally published and clearly feeling his age. Miss Riley seems like his in-story surrogate. Had this story been adapted for the screen, Ed might have played that role himself.

Next: "Hooker by Choice" (1972)