Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 86: "For Love or Money" (1969)

Ed Wood did it all for love... and money. Mostly money.

An out-of-print Wood anthology.
Didn't I already review something called "For Love or Money"? Close. Back in 2013, I examined Don Davis' For Love & Money (1967), a feature film based on The Sexecutives, Ed Wood's novel of naughty corporate espionage. That film remains a real time capsule item, a garishly colorful snapshot of the swinging 1960s. Though Davis' movie is almost entirely forgotten today, more of Wood's fans should check it out, especially for its mindlessly catchy theme song and its cast of young lovelies like Michi Tani and Michelle Angelo.

But Eddie also wrote a short story called "For Love or Money" (note the change in conjunction) in 1969 for one of Bernie Bloom's many adult magazines, in this case a publication called Wild Couples. This particular erotic tale was one of Eddie's earlier short stories for Bernie. It predates most of what's in Angora Fever and Blood Splatters Quickly, but it's nevertheless highly indicative of Ed Wood's quirky style, even building up to one of the author's trademark twist endings. And I think it even offers some insight into Ed's mind and shows us how he saw the world.

The story: "For Love or Money," originally printed in Wild Couples (1969). Credited to "Charles Chadwick." Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: Meg, 26 and gorgeous, has two men in her lifeMarty and Artie. Handsome young Marty is an aspiring actor without a penny to his name. Meg has sex with him purely out of love and plans to marry him someday. Fat slob Artie has gotten wealthy through "dirty" means and lives in a luxurious apartment. Meg has sex with him strictly for the money he gives her. In fact, Artie is unwittingly subsidizing both Meg's lifestyle and Marty's acting career. One afternoon, while Marty is out on an audition, Meg has a rendezvous with Artie. The fat man's plan is to urinate on Meg while another man makes love to her. "A friggin' orgy," he calls it. But Meg is very surprised by the identity of Artie's hired stud!

Wood trademarks: Phase "for love or money" (cf. "Superfruit"); prostitution (cf. "Private Girl"); neologism "sex-voice" (compare to phrases like "sex dumb" from "Tears on Her Pillow," and "sex region" from "Pekka at the Circus"); post-coital conversation (cf. "The Hazards of the Game," "Never Look Back"); reference to hippies on the Sunset Strip (cf. Death of a Transvestite); ellipses (Ed's favorite punctuation); reference to classic movie actor (in this case Edward G. Robinson).

Excerpt: "How happy she felt, even as the door was being opened for her by the leering, gaudily-uniformed doorman in front of the obscenely luxurious apartment house above the strip where fat-fart Artie lived. She went up in the elevator, her thoughts of Marty blocking out the muzak and the image of Artie in his black silk dressing-robe. Imagine? A black silk dressing-robe in this day and age. When he smoked a big Havana, hands in robe pockets, talking out of the side of his mouth, he looked like a B-movie Edward G. Robinson."

Edward G. Robinson: An inspiration to Ed Wood.
Reflections: Why did I single out "For Love or Money" for an article in this series? After all, I've already written many times about Ed Wood's fixation on prostitutes and how he uses that profession as a metaphor for his own experiences making movies in Hollywood, constantly having to sell out his own ideals to please the moneymen. And that's true again here. I mean, our heroine literally goes from sleeping with a broke aspiring actor to sleeping with a disgusting, corpulent gangster. The story's very title makes a clear division between doing things for love and doing things for money, but it's a theme Ed Wood has explored in many other stories.

Our heroine is another classic Wood archetype. Meg (aka Maggie) is a woman who is aging in the sex trade and compares herself to younger women. This, too, is a theme Ed Wood revisited again and again as he himself grew older and saw a younger generation entering the business. Take "Private Girl," for example, or "Flowers for Flame LeMarr" or "Hooker by Choice." "For Love or Money" is just a slightly earlier variation on that theme.

In other words, this is all old territory.

So is there anything that makes "For Love or Money" special? Well, for one thing, it has some screwy stylistic quirks all its own, most notably the fact that it shifts without warning from third person perspective to first person at about the halfway point. Meg is always our viewpoint character, but at first she's not actually narrating the story herself. Here's a typical excerpt from that part of the story when Marty tells Meg his next audition will be successful:  "She believed him. She knew about acting from her own brief flirtation with it, knew how rough it was to break in. But Marty would do it. She was sure."

At some point in the writing process, Eddie must have gotten a little lost or disoriented, because he has Meg take over as narrator. Another excerpt from Meg's date with Artie: "I set down my half-finished drink and walked over to where he sat. I reached behind me and slowly zipped down my dress. That’s what he wanted. He wanted me to tantalize him, torture him with expectation. When I had the dress unzipped, I drew it gradually off over my head." Keep in mind, this POV switch occurs after Meg has already had a flashback to her teen years and her first sexual experience. So we already had backstage access to Meg's mind and thoughts.

My guess is that Ed's writing underwent little to no copy editing. Bernie just printed whatever Ed wrote, verbatim. That's why I say these short stories give us the author in his most raw, unrefined, and pure state. Ed's creative process was famously chaotic; he was well known for typing at a furious pace while simultaneously eating, drinking, watching TV, and carrying on a conversation. I was reminded of "Exotic Loves of the Vampire," another of Ed's stories for Wild Couples. That one starts as a diary entry and ends up as a letter, as if Ed forgot what kind of story he'd been writing.

Content-wise, my favorite part of "For Love or Money" comes when Meg snootily evaluates Artie's way of talking and his use of slang.
     "C'mon in, Tootsie-Babes."  
     "Tootsie" from the forties; "Babes" was hippie talk. She walked in nonchalantly, oblivious to the fat little rich man, inured to his crudity from the many times she’d done it with him. 
     "A drink?" he offered predictably.  
     She took it. Inure her still further. He pinched her bare arm as he gave her the drink. What the fuck? That’s what he was shelling out for. He sipped his drink, watching her now from his favorite easy chair. She was sitting demurely on the couch across from him, watching him as he sat with his legs spread apart, the robe covering his hard-on. And she knew that he surely had a hard-on. It was what, besides the money, she would leave him without. 
     "Today I got something special for us."  
     Today I got. Edward G. Robinson talk. He had never been anything more than a front for the real mafiosos. They probably laughed at him behind his back. I got. In this day and age.
What's amusing here is that Ed Wood's own dialogue in his films, stories, and novels is famously stilted, and his grasp of slang was never exactly precise. So this is a real pot and kettle situation.

Regrettably, we must delve into the fact that this story includes some urine-play. (Yes, I know there are other terms for this activity. No, I don't want to use them.) Even after six years of writing these articles and nearly 30 years as a student of Ed Wood's work, I've still only read a small fraction of the man's writing. Maybe five percent, and that's being generous. I don't know if there's a lot of this fetish-y stuff lurking in his stories, novels, and loops. I was genuinely surprised to see it introduced here. And it's done so casually, too. Meg doesn't even bat an eye, to coin a phrase. But I did. Reading "For Love or Money," I felt that Ed Wood and I had crossed yet another threshold.

A controversial horror film.
Considering what Marty and Meg go through in this story, I was vaguely reminded of Srđan Spasojević's A Serbian Film (2010). In that highly controversial, often-censored horror movie, a retired porn actor (Srđan Todorović) agrees to participate in an experimental underground movie. He thinks he's providing financial security for himself and his family, but the project turns out to be an extreme snuff film involving unsimulated rape, murder, pedophilia, incest, and numerous other atrocities. Once the actor realizes what he's gotten himself into, he tries to escape, but it is to no avail. Not only does his initial decision—made purely for monetary reasons—utterly ruin his life, it has truly horrifying consequences for several members of his family. And all of this seems to be made possible by a vast, powerful criminal underground totally immune from the law.

Now, don't get me wrong. "For Love or Money" looks like Sesame Street compared to A Serbian Film. No one is murdered or raped in this story, and no children are harmed. I'm not equating these two works. But there are some similar themes between them. Marty is an actor who can't seem to land a job. He needs money. And so, like the unfortunate porn star from A Serbian Film, he agrees to do business with unsavory gangsters. This choice has longstanding consequences for himself and his future wife, Meg. "For Love or Money" ends on a truly depressing note, as Meg ponders how her future with Marty is now irrevocably stained by this experience.
Yes, we would get married and sit across a dining table from each other many evenings. We would live together and have sex together, and sit across the dining table from each other many times. Marty would go on struggling for success as an actor, and we would get the money we needed whatever way we could. But it wouldn’t be the same. We would do the best we could, and go on together because we were in love, deeply in love with each other, but it would never be the way it could have been.
Wow, Ed. That's not as bleak as the violent, perverse ending of A Serbian Film, but it's quietly sobering in its own way. "For Love or Money" becomes one of Ed Wood's most potent parables about the dangers of selling out.