|It's time to talk about one of Ed Wood's most shocking books.|
One of the pivotal literary discoveries of my youth—apart from finding a well-worn paperback copy of Dan Jenkins' Semi-Tough (1972) in the basement—was stumbling across Nancy Friday's Forbidden Flowers: More Women's Sexual Fantasies (1975) at the local library. I'm not sure how I found this book. I was unfamiliar with Ms. Friday and wouldn't have known to seek out her work. But I saw something titled Forbidden Flowers on the shelf, and it called out to me. Little did I know I was about to have my adolescent mind blown.
|This book shocked me.|
Nancy Friday (1933-2017) was not a scientist or an academic. She was, rather, a sex-positive feminist who interviewed women about their erotic fantasies and turned her findings into the best-selling book My Secret Garden (1973). The book that I found, Forbidden Flowers, was the sequel. It was, by a wide margin, the most explicit volume I'd ever seen. It left even Semi-Tough in the dust. Here were women sharing their innermost thoughts about taboo topics in terms more graphic than I thought were legally allowable in print. And some of the stories in the book were from women who'd read My Secret Garden and were relieved that they weren't the only ones in the world with certain fantasies.
I thought about Nancy Friday occasionally while making my way through one of Ed Wood's least-known yet most disturbing books: The Oralists, published in 1969 by Tiger as part of its "Case History Series" and credited to the fictional Jean Spenser and Roger West. The publisher's conceit is that Jean and Roger are two sex researchers who are married to each other and write books together; this is their scientific study of oral sex and those who enjoy it. Ed's equally salacious Bloodiest Sex Crimes of History (1967) from Pad Library is also attributed to the nonexistent Spenser and West. In The Oralists, Ed alludes to the existence of another S&W book called Sexual Fantasia. According to reader Guy Devrell, this extremely rare title was also published by Tiger as part of its "Case Histories Series." (Fantasia was designated PP191, and The Oralists was PP190.)
While the veracity of Nancy Friday's books was sometimes questioned, the author vigorously denied making up the fantasies herself. I believe her; the women's stories strike me as genuine. On the other hand, Ed Wood's The Oralists is pure literary invention. As with much of Eddie's so-called nonfiction, there's not an ounce of genuine research in it. The supposed interviews and testimonials within it are all just Ed talking to himself. Whether they represent the author's own fetishes and kinks, I don't know. I sincerely hope not. I suppose that the publisher credited the book to Spenser & West and presented it as a clinical study of sex in order to give it a sheen of respectability it would otherwise not have.
I've long delayed writing about The Oralists for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this book will not appeal to most Ed Wood fans. If you've come here for mad scientists, plywood gravestones, and flying saucers dangling from strings, you will not find them in this book. This is "down and dirty" Ed, wallowing in extreme topics and incredibly graphic language. In particular, Chapter Two and Chapter Seven will be more than most readers will be able to take. Another problem in reviewing The Oralists is that each chapter is devoted to a different, self-contained story, so it's really more like a short story anthology than a novel. A lot happens in this book, in other words.
There's no way around the first problem, i.e. the subject matter and tone of this book. This is Ed Wood at his grungiest and least ingratiating, and we just have to accept that. As for the second problem, the overabundance of material to talk about, I've decided to divide this review into two parts: four case studies now, four more next week. That way, I can discuss all the major characters in The Oralists without shortchanging any of them.