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September 5, 2011

Book Review: Watts Collection by Ed Wood

Aahhh, the complications and tragedy of the Watts race riots in 1968 were nothing but story material to Wood. It is also rumored that Wood’s apartment was firebombed after the reading public got their hands on these two volumes and Toni…Black Tigress. Whatever the outcome, Wood provides a unique version of the riots and the participants therein. Watts… the Difference begins the two-part story and Watts… After finishes this particular epic.

Rocky is a young black man in Los Angeles. Now, Rocky is a good kid… but through no fault of his own has gotten mixed up in a Black Panthers-type organization, one which he wants no part of. The organization, which has adopted Swahili as its language, is a separatist movement. Young Rocky is in way over his head. For a majority of the novel, Rocky is already a movie star and relating the riots to Angie.

Another character that Wood carries through both novels is Angie, the southern beauty queen that stayed in Hollywood to become a star. She is Rocky’s love interest. Here, the explanation for her trek to Hollywood is explained (pay special attention to the books that she reads to prepare for life in La La Land):

During a tour of the studio, another of her prizes, she met a few important people who—to stay in Hollywood. And a girl would have to be stupid if she didn’t take advantage of the situation as it stood. She had read “Hollywood Rat Race,” and a few of the other books which informed her of what to expect in tinsel town, but she didn’t care. She had finally broken out of the Cotton-Bible Belt and there was no turning back – ever.

Angie, of course, meets Rocky and the two of them become a controversial item. How could they not? A young white woman and a black man? The sexual mores of the sixties were about to be broken (and leave it to the pen of Ed Wood to do so).

Being with Angie causes strife for Rocky in the black separatist movement. Preacher Moses, the neighborhood proponent of the movement, is actually a puppet leader for a Ugandan witch-doctor type. The real leader of the group, Foremost, has more sinister plans and wants a war with whitey. Before Rocky can do anything, Watts erupts into violence.

At the time, Rocky’s girlfriend, Mala, is stuck in the middle of the fires. Rocky races there and attempts to rescue her. The firemen are busy with another building as the flames licked on Mala’s apartment. Rocky takes the unconscious Mala into his arms and jumps from the burning building. Of course, Mala is already dead from an overdose, but things are about to change for Rocky. While telling Angie all about the riots and his life the two of them have lots and lots of sex. After the last time, Rocky provides a summation of the story and ruminates on his place in the world:

“How’d you get started as a movie actor?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. But the ending of it was that some producer saw me jump out of a burning building, and thought I’d be just right for something he had in mind.”
“You must be kidding?”
“No it’s true. I jumped out of a burning building and the television newsreel cameras were on me all the time. The producer got in touch with me and it was as simple as that… There I was, a movie star.”

Rocky now stars in a western television show called, cunningly enough, “The Tucson Kid” (the subtitle of Wood’s 1953 western pilot). Rocky wonders, at the end of the novel, why BLACK is bad. Why it represents evil. Angie coyly points out that Rocky is a good guy on “The Tucson Kid” and wears a black hat. Rocky must have accepted this lame excuse because he changed the subject to the point of the book:

“You know Angie. Looking back over my life, you’re just about the best bed partner I’ve ever had.”
“You do pretty good by yourself too…” Rocky rolled over close to her and let his hand melt into the angora fur of her breasts.

I am not sure exactly how his hand melted into her furry angora boobs, but you get the picture. Watts…the Difference picks up almost immediately after Watts…After on the set of “The Tucson Kid.” Rocky is still a movie star, Angie is still sleeping with him and the separatist movement is still bugging him. Rocky now lives in a big house near the mountains and has millions of fans across the country. The movement, with a new leader named Swahili, believes that Rocky is the perfect spokesman for their organization and threatens both him and Angie in order to achieve their goals. This time, though, they are playing for keeps. The organization has blackmailed a washed up TV director to produce and direct a special television program where Rocky will tell the world that the black man has been persecuted and should rise up against his white oppressors. If Rocky doesn’t comply with the men, they will ruin him and divulge his participation in the riots. Rocky agrees to the show.

Before we go any further, the majority of the book is sexual escapades including transvestites (the director’s blackmail information), hulking lesbians (Angie’s former flame) and other perverts. Now, this takes us to the pulse pounding, live broadcast that will start the ball rolling and cause a race war… this is tense… take a deep breath… ok…:

“And now ladies and gentlemen of the audience, and of the television audience across the country. I take pride, as does Swahili, in presenting the famous television actor, Rocky Alley, of the “Tucson Kid” television program.” Rocky heard his name mentioned, and with strictly mechanical movements he got up from the plush chair and went to the space marked for him.

He looked again across the audience to Angie, and he saw Sonny Jones take the seat next to her. He tried for a smile, and was answered again by the reassuring eyes of Angie.

Rocky tore the script in four parts and left the paper snowfall to the stage. Sawtooth came forward in his chair, but dared not to do anything further. Rance gulped, and Angie beamed. Sonny took her hand in his and they showed their faith in Rocky.

“The only time,” he started. “That I use a prepared script is on my television show. This is one which I do not believe in.”

The show was live. It could not be stopped. “When I see a character like this so-called God, Swahili, I can only remember the words of a really great American, and then I get chills all over, thinking that the freedom of speech could so be used for the blasphemy this man has used it. But even with the freedom of speech, and the freedom of choice, I repeat only a few lines. ‘Forescore and seven years ago our father brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ ”

Angie stood up and applauded. Sonny joined her, and as Rance let the tears flow freely, Rocky could read Angie’s lips as they said, “I’ll marry you my darling…”

Thanks to Rocky, the world is a safer place. Of course, after the broadcast he was probably slaughtered in an alley somewhere, but that’s not the point, now is it?

Both of the Watts books are fairly accessible. Expect to pay in the range of $60 apiece. The reprint of Watts…the Difference titled Burn, Baby, Burn is a little more difficult to find. It turns up, but since the author’s name is Ray Jones, many sellers assume it is a normal piece of smut and is priced accordingly.

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