|Time to dive into one of Eddie's books from the Summer of Love.|
You know what's crazy?
|Some other Triumph Fact Books.|
This series has been running for nearly seven years, dissecting seemingly every aspect of Edward D Wood, Jr.'s life and career, and yet we've barely touched on the dozens of full-length books Eddie wrote between 1963 and 1978. I've reviewed exactly three
of Ed's novels
, plus the posthumously published showbiz treatise Hollywood Rat Race
. My colleague, Greg Dziawer, has been more focused on the books Ed Wood didn't
write, i.e. the smutty paperback novels and sex manuals written by his colleagues and contemporaries but sometimes mistakenly attributed
And yet, all the while, there's a mammoth body of literature that we've hardly made a dent in. These aren't "speculative" or "possible" Wood works either. These are undisputed and iron-clad. Ed put his real name on the cover of many of them! For whatever reason, though, we just haven't gotten around to them.
Well, for a change of pace this week, I've decided to cover Drag Trade
, a paperback book released in 1967 by Triumph News Co. Inc. of Van Nuys, CA. Eddie went by his own name on this project. He's listed as "Ed Wood Jr." on the cover and "Edward D. Wood, Jr." on the title page. According to Nightmare of Ecstasy
by Rudolph Grey, that's Eddie himself in drag on the cover. I have no reason to doubt it; the eyes and chin look about right. But the fellow on the cover does
look a bit more put-together than Eddie usually did.
Drag Trade's cover bears the legend
"A Triumph Fact Book," placing it in a series that includes such inviting titles as Virginity: Its Causes and Cures
(1968) by Lydia Swann, The Money Lovers
(1968) by Richard Christy, The Changing Sexual Deviant
(1968) by Lance Boyle, She Prostitute
(1968) by Wallace Arthur, The Mind Benders
(1967) by Jonathan Smith, and the ever-popular Sodomy
(1968) by Matt and Kathleen Galant. It seems this franchise was rather robust in the late '60s. According to the Technical Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography
, Triumph was "one of the most important publishers in the industry"
during this time but was "reportedly not publishing as of July 1970."
But the cover page for Drag Trade
identifies the book as "A Triumph Novel" and "A Novel by Edward D. Wood, Jr." Rudolph Grey, too, refers to it as a novel. So what is this thing? Frankly, it reads more like a series of short stories than it does like a novel. Each chapter—and there are eight of wildly varying length—contains its own individual set of characters. There is no overarching plot here. Instead, Drag Trade
is structured (mostly) as a collection of case studies, as if Ed were relating real-life stories ripped from the headlines. A quintessentially Wood-ian disclaimer at the beginning declares: "These chapters are based on fact. Only the names of characters have been changed... for obvious reasons." (If Jack Webb and Criswell had a baby, that's how it would talk.)
I'm tempted to call Drag Trade
a compendium of fictional
nonfiction. Like "Drag It Out"
or "Trucking's a Ball,"
it's purely the product of the author's booze-soaked imagination, but it's presented as the truth. The book is such a jumble of unrelated anecdotes and pseudo-journalistic digressions that it defies summarizing. Luckily, at the beginning of the penultimate and longest chapter, Ed Wood does manage to explain the premise with some degree of clarity:
"[I]t is not the plain transvestite who interests us here. What is of interest is the homosexual transvestite and the temporary drag who puts on women's clothing for the purpose of criminal activities."
Keep in mind that, throughout this book, Ed uses the word "drag" as a noun to describe a cross-dresser. So, in a larger sense, Drag Trade
is about the overlap between transvestism and criminality. In some areas of the country, Ed Wood reminds us, cross-dressing was a crime in and of itself. But this book is really about men who exist at the fringes of society because of their transvestite tendencies and who turn to a life of crime, including robbery and prostitution, because they see this as their only viable option. In the book's final chapter, labeled "EPILOG," Ed clarifies:
"There are few 'true' transvestites who become criminals, few ever even get themselves into any kind of trouble. But the world is very big, and in it are many houses."
Nevertheless, this book is filled with stories of boys who start dressing as girls and end up either dead or, more commonly, in prison.
One such sad case is that of Charles Myers, aka Charlotte Myers, aka Shirley Myers. The son of a migrant farm worker and a gold-digging "beer-bar floozy," Charles is appalled by his mother's greed and promiscuity and responds by becoming closer to his father. Things go wrong for Charles when he introduces his girlfriend Shirley to his dad. The old man makes such a fuss over the young lady that Charles decides to feminize himself. One fateful night, Charles convinces Shirley to switch clothing with him as some kind of foreplay. Unfortunately, Shirley's parents catch the couple at a most inopportune moment and charge the boy with rape. From there, he spirals into a life of crime from which he never recovers. It ends up with him killing a Hollywood cabbie while in full drag. I doubt even Charles could explain exactly how he got to that point.
That's how Drag Trade
is. These stories take place all over the United States—with a couple of side trips to Japan—but feature a lot of common elements.
- These men often come from unhappy or broken homes, with one parent either absent or emotionally distant.
- Some of these cross-dressers decided to become more feminine in order to please their fathers, while many more were turned into pseudo-daughters by their coddling, overprotective mothers. (Shades of Ed Wood's own, oft-repeated origin story.)
- Either way, the one loving parent dies, and the child is left to fend for himself.
- Many of these characters travel to a big city in search of opportunities. There, they commit crimes in order to feed their addiction to women's clothing.
- Ultimately, after a period of success, they go too far and are arrested.
- Their stories usually end with them going to prison and having to wear drab denim uniforms and get their hair cut short—the ultimate punishment in this universe.