Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 83: "The Unluckiest Man in the World" (1969)

The hero of this story can't seem to catch a break.

An offering from Pendulum.
Although it had been nine years since he'd last directed a feature film, Ed Wood hadn't given up on his movie career by 1969. He wrote and starred in two softcore features that year for director Joe Robertson, Misty and Love Feast, and he saw his novel Mama's Diary adapted for the screen as Operation Redlight by producer Jacques Descent. He'd be at the helm of a feature again by the next year.

But Ed's writing career was also staggering forward in 1969. Besides Mama's Diary, his novels that year included Carnival Piece and Toni: Black Tigress. And Ed was also just starting to establish himself as a writer of short stories for Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing. In fact, Bernie included one of Eddie's stories in the first-ever issue of a magazine called Pussy Willow. It's a quirky, colorful little yarn that I believe is worthy of more attention.

The story: "The Unluckiest Man in the World," originally published in Pussy Willow, vol. 1, no. 1, September/October 1969. Credited to "Warren Peace." Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: Ugly, calamity-prone John Smith has been rejected by society all his life. Totally unloved and starved for affection, he goes to Tijuana in the hopes of finally losing his virginity. Even there, though, poor John is barred from entering the whorehouses due to his appearance. In a grubby bar, he buys a drink for a toothless old hag named Belinda who claims she was once beautiful. In gratitude, she gives him a potion she says will grant him one wish. John says his wish is for all people everywhere to love him. Once he gets home and actually tries the potion, John finds it works all too well. Not only does his sexy neighbor, Jo Ann Martin, become enamored of him, but so do all the men and women he encounters! His love life certainly perks up, but the poor guy can't get a moment's rest. John moves out to the country in search of peace and quiet, but he remains the unluckiest man in the world so his plan doesn't work.

Wood trademarks: Voyeurism (cf. "Florence of Arabia"); Sunset Strip (cf. Death of a Transvestite, Plan 9 from Outer Space); bar (cf. "The Last Void"); enormously fat and unappealing woman (cf. Hosenose Kate from "Calamity Jane"); witch (cf. "Witches of Amau Ra"); nipples (cf. "The Hooker"); color pink (cf. "2 X Double"); whorehouse (cf. "The Whorehouse Horror"); "rod" (cf. "The Hazards of the Game"); "manhood" (cf. "The Last Void"); erectile dysfunction (cf. "Try, Try Again"); sexually transmitted disease (cf. "Never Look Back"); alleyways (cf. "Gore in the Alley").

Excerpt: "There was another difficulty, too. John Smith had wished for everyone to love him. Soon, strange men started prowling around his apartment and dogging his footfalls. He let a few of them in, especially the tall, handsome ones with rippling muscles; and while they could nibble and tongue his manhood with fevered enthusiasm, and even find a warm niche for his rod, he found a woman's juicy crack more to his liking."

A vintage postcard from Tijuana, Mexico.
Reflections: Some of Ed Wood's stories read less like contemporary fiction and more like fables or those jokes that men tell each other at barbershops. "The Unluckiest Man in the World" is like that. From his generic name to his "repulsive" appearance, John Smith is clearly a character created only to suffer for our amusement. He exists so that the lonely men reading Pussy Willow magazine can say, "Well, at least I'm not that guy!" Eddie doesn't really describe John all that thoroughly—we don't learn his age, height, or body type—so I imagined him as looking and talking like Shemp Howard. When John spends all his money on "a flashy British sportscar" and almost immediately wraps it around a lamppost, that seemed like the kind of thing Shemp might do.

Belinda, too, seems like something out of a fable or fairy tale. She's a kindly but mysterious witch who gives our hero a magic bottle of "god-awful liquid" that grants wishes. From a lifetime of reading and hearing stories like this, we know well in advance that the wish will have all sorts of unintended consequences for John. The wisher has to be very careful with phrasing. John isn't. "I want everyone in the whole world who never noticed me to love me, and me alone—that’s my wish," he says, foolishly. I guess the wish only applies to people who previously ignored John. Since Belinda struck up a conversation with him voluntarily, she'd be exempt.

Interestingly, Ed Wood attempts to write Belinda's lines in a pidgin English dialect, complete with a Mexican accent. An example: "Make a weesh, dearie; and what it is you want weel be." The results are about as authentic as the Mexican characters that Mel Blanc played on The Jack Benny Program and in Looney Tunes. Maybe Ed was influenced by the way Mexicans talked in old Westerns. It's possible he'd seen too many Zorro and Cisco Kid pictures.

Eddie's highly unflattering depiction of Tijuana ("one of the sin-capitals of the world") and its people (who "looked no more appetizing than John Smith") might suggest an anti-Mexican bias, but this does not appear to be the case in the rest of Ed's life. In Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, Tor Johnson's son Karl remembered his father and Ed going on fishing trips to Mexico, and friend Scott Zimmerman recalled that Ed had aspirations of cliff diving in Mexico. Plus, according to Grey, Ed planned to shoot the film The Day the Mummies Danced in the Guanajuato caves, and Eddie himself claimed that some footage of Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 was filmed in "an old Mexican graveyard that went back to before the turn of the century."

On the other hand, Eddie's former neighbor Florence Dolder testified that Eddie referred to his landlord as a "fucking Mexican" and a "spic." So maybe there was some resentment lurking under the surface. Was Eddie's performance as a Mexican jailer in a 1970s loop a tribute or a slur? You decde.