Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 92: "Drag It Out" (1971)

Ed Wood gets the opportunity to interview himself in "Drag It Out."

While working as a writer in the 1960s and '70s, Edward D. Wood, Jr. produced both fiction and nonfiction in staggering quantities. Books, stories, and even whole novels came flying from his typewriter in those booze-soaked years. He didn't have the luxury of spending weeks or months on a manuscript. He really needed the money, and the only way he knew to survive was by being hyper-prolific and making one sale after another. In a way, this is one of the strengths of his writing; there's a feverish immediacy to his hastily-written prose. There's nothing careful or cautious about it.

Writer Leo Eaton.
But the relentless pace meant that Ed didn't have time for such niceties as research. When tasked with producing nonfiction, he often relied heavily on his own memories and imagination. Or, to put it more bluntly, he just made stuff up and passed it off as the truth. It's likely that his editors didn't much care, as long as Ed's text wasn't blatantly plagiarized or recycled. Leo Eaton, who worked alongside Eddie at Pendulum Publishing in Los Angeles in the early '70s, remembered that some of Ed's coworkers did get fired for such things. Here's his version of those events:
While we liked the extra money from writing the books, none of us (except maybe Ed) liked the idea of spending our free time writing them, especially since people only bought them for the pictures. Before I joined Pendulum, the younger writers had developed a unique short-cut, dipping into the files for magazine articles that had been written a year or more before, collecting seven or eight together, then rewriting the first paragraph of each to fit a new generic title. Such a "new" manuscript was then sent straight down to typesetting. I think the record for 'writing' a 'new' non-fiction book was an hour. Eight hundred bucks is certainly good pay for an hour's work! Ed used to disapprove strongly and always wrote his manuscripts completely, although he too culled heavily from the [preexisting] T. K. Peters [sex research] material. Apparently the scam was discovered some months after I'd left Pendulum, and at least one of my fellow writers was fired.

So Ed Wood was nominally more honest than the other employees at Pendulum. But his scruples didn't prevent him from churning out completely bogus articles like the one that is our focus today. What this story lacks in veracity, it more than makes up for in entertainment value.

The story: "Drag It Out," originally published in Hit & Fun (Calga, June/July 1971). Anthologized in Short Wood: Short Fiction by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Ramble House, 2009).

Synopsis: A reporter from Hit & Fun magazine interviews a transvestite named Shirley. First though, the article dispels some myths about cross-dressers. Not all transvestites are homosexuals, for instance. In fact, the "true" transvestite is heterosexual, and many are married to women. The "most fluent" transvestites try to find employment in places where they can wear female attire every day. The modern cross-dresser is also much more convincing than the drag queens of old, thanks in part to better quality wigs, allowing them to venture into the world with confidence.

As for Shirley, he only wears female clothing and has been doing so for as long as he can remember. When he was a child, his mother used to make him try on girls' clothing, which he loved, and he grew to detest wearing male attire. Shirley admits that wearing women's clothing plays a big part in his masturbation rituals; this is true for all transvestites. Shirley's wife is actually very supportive of her husband's lifestyle, except when she's been drinking.

In general, Shirley's "deviant" lifestyle causes him little grief, though he regrets that the public at large does not truly understand transvestites. Shirley is not homosexual, but he is accepting of homosexuals because they were among the few who tolerated cross-dressing in the bad old days when it was illegal for men to wear women's clothing in public. Today he lives without fear. Since his female attire is so convincing, he can even shop for nightgowns and "dainties" without the salespeople ever suspecting a thing. On the rare occasion when he is "spotted" by a keen-eyed cashier, he simply finds it amusing.

Wood trademarks: Cross-dressing (cf. Glen or Glenda, "A Piece of Class," Killer in Drag, much more); "lovely" (cf. "Cease to Exist," "Insatiable," "Trade Secrets"); character named Shirley (cf. Orgy of the Dead, Necromania, "Insatiable," "The Hooker"); angora sweater (cf ."Try, Try Again," "Once Upon a Gargoyle," "Hitchhike to Hell"); emphasis on color pink (cf. "2 X Double," "The Gory Details"); transvestites are not homosexuals (cf. Glen or Glenda); laws regarding cross-dressing (cf. Glen or Glenda); nighties and negligees (cf. "Tears on Her Pillow," "Insatiable," "Return of the Vampire"); whiskey (cf. "Never Fall Backwards," "Howl of the Werewolf"); dealing with salespeople when you're a transvestite (cf. Glen or Glenda); marital discord (cf. "The Wave Off," "Scream Your Bloody Head Off"); "ma'an" (cf. "The Devil and the Deep Blue-Eyed Blonde").

Excerpt: "No one really understands us, or our position. They accept us, some seriously, and some as a sort of joke or to introduce to friends as a 'see what I have here' sort of freak. But no one really understands what’s down deep inside."

Reflections: I think it's significant that Ed Wood gave his own drag name, Shirley, to both male and female characters in his fictional works. But all of these characters have something in common: attractiveness. The women named Shirley in Eddie's films, stories, and books are always paragons of beauty, irresistible to men. Every female Shirley is a knockout. But what of his male Shirleys, like the one in this story? Well, they're always the most authentically feminine drag queens in the world. Here is how "Drag It Out" begins:
The lovely creature sitting before the Hit & Fun Magazine Interviewer wore a pink angora sweater topping a basically yellow and red plaid mini-skirt. Nylon panty hose dipped down into calf high, pink boots with a four inch heel. The hair was blonde and fell below shoulder length. Pink lipstick rounded out the lips which centered below a small straight nose and enhanced the dark mascaraed eyes.
"And of course it will never snag!"
Only after all this buildup does Eddie reveal that Shirley has "a full grown penis and testicles." Up to this point, we're supposed to believe Shirley is not only a female but a perfect female!

It's well known that Ed used to go out in public dressed as Shirley in the 1960s and '70s. But the real-life Shirley was not much like the fictional one from "Drag It Out." I keep coming back to comments made by director Joe Robertson, who socialized with Eddie and cast him in three different movies between 1969 and 1971. In Nightmare of Ecstasy (1992), Robertson describes Shirley as "a 45-year-old bar hooker" and "the grossest thing in the world." He also points out that Eddie couldn't walk in heels and that his wig was always "on crooked." Robertson made similar statements to filmmaker Ted Newsom, criticizing Shirley's "horrible" outdated dress, ill-fitting wig, and patchy makeup. The fictional Shirley, then, was Eddie's ideal, the kind of cross-dresser he wanted to be or wished he could have been.

It's also interesting to me that, as late as 1971, Ed Wood was still incorporating numerous ideas he'd already used in 1953's Glen or Glenda. That early film remains the Rosetta Stone for deciphering much of Eddie's subsequent work. Once again, Ed trots out the story of the boy whose mother dressed him in drag and, knowingly or unknowingly, introduced him to the joys of transvestism. He talks, too, of the brave men who risked arrest by daring to enter the street while in female attire. And, finally, he describes what it's like for a man to buy women's clothing in a department store. If only Eddie had lived to see the era of online commerce, he could have had lacy peignoirs delivered right to his doorstep in a plain brown box. No interactions with nosy sales clerks required!

What's most notable about "Drag It Out" is its overall positive, optimistic tone. It comes from an era of Ed's life that most observers would describe as dark or even bleak, and yet the mood of the article is upbeat and hopeful, with Ed marveling at the progress cross-dressers have made, both legally and cosmetically. The author certainly had his sour, cynical side—it emerges in many of the grungy, violent stories collected in Blood Splatters Quickly and Angora Fever—but "Drag It Out" shows that Eddie never totally lost touch with the can-do dreamer he'd once been.