Thursday, January 13, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Drag it Out" (1971)

You'd never guess this is a man in drag. Very convincing cleavage.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex (BearManor Media, 2021).

The article: "Drag it Out." Originally published in Hit & Fun (Calga Publishing), vol. 2, no. 2, June/July 1971. 

Excerpt: "I have a high voice when I want to use it, and I make up pretty damn well and I certainly have the figure for the dresses and other clothes like this angora sweater and mini-skirt I have on. But occasionally the more seasoned veteran saleslady will see through the deception. I've never met one who went off screaming rape, or murder. They giggle a lot, but that's about all there is to it."

This is where Shirley shops!
Reflections: For at least the third time in this book, Ed Wood interviews himself for the aptly-titled "Drag it Out." In this article, he plays two roles: an investigative reporter for Hit & Fun and a "true transvestite" named Shirley. Do I really need to keep pointing out that Shirley was Ed Wood's own drag name and that he gave this moniker to numerous characters in his short stories, novels, and films? Ed's fans should already know this. 

What's important is that some of the Shirleys in the Wood canon are women (like the characters in Necromania and Orgy of the Dead), while others are men in drag (like the one in this article). Either way, to Ed Wood, Shirley is the epitome of femininity and sex appeal. The one Eddie interviews here boasts that he never wears men's clothing and is almost never detected.

I referred earlier to this particular Shirley as a "true transvestite." That's a term Ed Wood had been using since at least 1953, when he had Timothy Farrell say it in Glen or Glenda. It means a man who dresses as a woman habitually but is exclusively heterosexual. The Shirley in this article is married, and he proudly tells the interviewer that his wife "buys all [his] nighties and negligees." But don't think that this marriage is 100% perfect: "If she's had a few too many shots of whiskey she hates me and attempts tossing snide remarks." One has to wonder if this is Ed's portrait of his own wife, Kathy.

"Drag it Out" happens to be one of the articles in When the Topic is Sex that I've already reviewed on my blog. When I discussed this story back in November 2019, I talked about the article's "positive, optimistic tone." Revisiting it in January 2022, I realize I may have oversold the sunniness of this story just a little. After all, Shirley does refer to homosexuality as a "sexual deviation," which sounds vaguely disreputable. But our "true transvestite" does not shun gay men. "We associate," he says, "but we don't associate if you get what I mean."

Was there anything new that jumped out at me this time? Well, Shirley mentions going to a clothing store called Robert Hall, which I hadn't heard of. One of the first "big box" retail chains, it started with a single store in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1937 before expanding to 350 locations in 36 states. The Robert Hall chain produced all its clothes domestically, including a factory near Ed Wood's hometown of Poughkeepsie. Unfortunately, this was what killed the business in 1977. Other clothing manufacturers outsourced their labor to foreign countries and were thus able to charge less than Robert Hall. (It seems like we as consumers should have learned a lesson from this. We didn't.)

All that's left of the once-mighty Robert Hall chain are some fading memories and a few catchy jingles. "You better buy clothes down at Robert Hall! There's real economy for all the family!" Shirley might agree.

Next: "From Birthday Suit to Shrouds" (1971)