Monday, February 28, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Sex Around the World" (1973)

Ed Wood is in a globetrotting mood today.

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

The article: "Sex Around the World." Also known simply as "Around the World." Originally published in Spice 'N' Nice (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 4, no. 1, February/March 1973. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Excerpt: "San Francisco, and especially the North Beach section, has long had a spectacular night life. However, the topless boom cut severely into straight entertainment. The fine clubs that lined Broadway and intersecting Columbus Avenue felt the bite no less severely than did the girl with the boa of the gay nineties. After all, visitors to the city can be forgiven if they passed up fine entertainment to spend their pennies on a topless fling."

A matchbook from the Blue Note.
Reflections: I may have to revise what I said previously about prostitutes being far more common than strippers in the Ed Wood canon. In retrospect, I had not taken Ed's short-form nonfiction work into account when I said that. Prostitutes sill have the edge, but the gap is narrowing. Today's article, "Sex Around the World," is at least the third piece about stripping in When the Topic is Sex, and it's similar in tone and content to the others. (One of those, "To Produce a Lovely Creature," was also written for Spice 'N' Nice magazine.) Once again, Ed tells us about the kinds of girls who gravitate toward stripping and what they have to do to make it to the top in that profession.

Based on the title of this story, I had thought it might be about sexual morality or even popular sex practices and fetishes in foreign countries. But, no, it's just about young women taking off their clothes for money. Ho hum. The article isn't really even all that concerned with international strippers. As you can see from the excerpt above, Ed devotes a portion of this column to the topless dancers of San Francisco. The strip club circuits of New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas are discussed as well. Ed's discussion of Vegas is at least sort of interesting. According to Eddie, a number of movie and television actresses got their start while dancing there, since Hollywood producers frequent the nudie joints looking for talent. Yeah, I'll bet.

To be fair, Ed does discuss the strip joints of a few other countries. For example, he singles out a venue in Amsterdam called the Blue Note, located "just off the Leidseplein," a busy square at the south end of the city famous for its theaters and bars.  There definitely was a nightclub called the Blue Note in Amsterdam in the 1960s, and there seems to be a concert venue by that name in the city today, but I cannot confirm that the Blue Note ever featured nude or topless dancers. Did Eddie even visit Amsterdam at any point in his life and see the "high quality" entertainment he praises in this article?

UPDATE: Reader Shawn Langrick informs me that the Blue Note in Amsterdam opened on Christmas Day 1957 as a high-class music venue but was featuring topless dancers by 1970 due to audience demand. "Looks like it lasted into the early 1980s," Shawn writes. Thanks, Shawn. This confirms my theory that Ed Wood must've heard about the Blue Note second-hand, since there was no way he could afford to travel to Amsterdam by 1970.

There's another portion of "Sex Around the World" devoted to the strip clubs in Mexico. Here, Eddie may actually be speaking from experience, since he is known to have traveled to the land south of the border. He even wanted to film The Day the Mummies Danced down there. In this story, he writes with a certain wistfulness about the Plaza de Garibaldi in Mexico City:
We then look to the small burlesque houses in the Plaza de garibaldi, perhaps not what might be classed the top of the heap for around the world strippers . . . but it should be mentioned so the young girls will know it's there if they receive an invitation to work there one day. They put on a bewildering variety of performances in clubs that are nothing if not intimate. That's one of the nice results of the small sale of things in that part of town. Between the peso-a-dance girls, the bar girls, and the strippers, there's a nice display of flesh for the weary traveling man. In days gone by, the street named The Sixteenth of September used to feature cubicles right on the sidewalk where a gent could stop in and pass the time with a lady.
Eddie also talks about Tijuana, the border city that also provided the setting for his 1969 short story, "The Unluckiest Man in the World." His portrayal of Tijuana in that story was rather unflattering, but he's somewhat more complimentary to the city in this article. He says that a venue called the Torero has "a better than average floor show." and allows that "the quality of acts has been getting steadily better" at "flashy" places like the San Souci and the Panama Club.

Oddly, Ed Wood chooses to end this article with a lecture/warning for all the young women thinking of entering the stripping profession. He seems to want them to take stripping as seriously as he takes it and warns them against copying each other's acts. His little sermonette reads, in part:
The top jobs never come easy . . . and instead of attempting to copy somebody elses work ... look at it . . . study it . . . then throw the memory into the nearest ash can and come up with your own ideas. The business needs fresh ideas and routines just as much as it needs fresh talent. 
Preach, Brother Wood, preach!

P.S. Here is the artwork that originally accompanied this article in the February/March 1973 issue of Spice 'N' Nice. Enjoy! (You can see why I didn't know if this article was called "Sex Around the World" or just "Around the World.")

Fresh from the pages of Spice 'N' Nice.

Next: "Sex Oddities and the Newspapers" (1971)

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Japan—Sex and Today" (1972)

Ed Wood ventures once more to the ancient land of Japan.

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

The article: "Japan—Sex and Today." Originally published in Flesh & Fantasy (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 5, no. 1, March/April 1972.

Excerpt: "In reality, for a great many years, Japan has had certain claims to being the SMUT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD and the government didn't like that label, therefore they put up a sort of sea wall about eight years ago just before the 1964 Olympics in order to establish favorable images abroad about the sexual morals to be encountered there. But from that date on the authorities, even with a heavy campaign, have been running headlong into the sexual revolution ever since."

 Japanse politician Hideji Kawasaki.
Reflections: Generally, the things that obsessed Ed Wood—such as old cemeteries, rotgut whiskey, and angora sweaters—found their way into both his movies and his writing. In that way, his career has a lot of what Frank Zappa used to call "conceptual continuity." But there are some themes, certain persistent motifs, that really only emerge from Eddie's print work and not his films. The country of Japan is one of these motifs. Quite simply, Ed Wood was fixated on the sexual practices of the Japanese people in a way that you'd hardly guess from just his movies. His 1972 article "Japan—Sex and Today" is but one example of that.

I first learned about Ed Wood's stubborn Japanophilia when I reviewed his bizarre 1967 book Drag Trade. At first, that quasi-novel is devoted to the case histories of American men for whom transvestism led to a life of crime. But then, about midway through Drag Trade, Eddie suddenly shifts the book's focus and starts writing about the cross-dressing "sister boys" of Japan. When I dove deep into Ed's other fiction and nonfiction books, I encountered similar Japan-centric material throughout his vast and bewildering bibliography—never a whole book, mind you, just a random chapter here and there. Eddie seemed particularly fixated on the idea of Japanese female impersonators becoming highly-trained political assassins and spies.

"Japan—Sex and Today" is a more general survey of Japanese sexuality. There is no surgical precision to this article. Rather, it's a shotgun blast of information, spraying out in all directions. It looks like Eddie actually did some research for this one, since he uses specific names and even quotes from a December 5, 1971 article in The Los Angeles Times. Thematically, however, Ed Wood is all over the place. Here are just some of the many, many ideas contained within this approximately 1,900-word article:
  • The Japanese people are less inhibited about nudity because they live in such close proximity.
  • Japan's young people are challenging the strict sexual morals of their elders.
  • Japan produces more pornography than any other place in the world, but some politicians may be uncomfortable with this.
  • America has had a corrupting influence on Japan, especially when it comes to the production of pornographic films.
  • In Japan, X-rated films are called "pink movies" rather than "blue movies."
  • The Japanese people are obsessed with sex, partially because fertility is such a key component of the country's native religion, Shintoism.
  • The Japanese people have two sets of morals: one for "the streets" and another for home.
  • A Japanse politician named Hideji Kawasaki tried to start a nudist colony, but his efforts were stopped by the police. Some found this reminiscent of Nazi repression.
  • People in Japan still read very explicit magazines and comic books in public, even though there have been attempts by the government to crack down on these.
  • The Japanese have long had a liberal attitude toward sex, but the sexual revolution has somehow made them more inhibited. Even mixed public baths are becoming less common.

I honestly don't know what to make of all that. (And, believe me, there's more. That list above is just a sample.) Is Japan a country of libertines or prudes? Are they highly moral or highly immoral? Are they leading the world in pornography or are they being led by the rest of the world? Are we corrupting them or are they corrupting us? Most importantly, are things becoming stricter or less strict in Japan nowadays? It seems like Ed Wood will make a point in this article and then contradict that point in the very next paragraph, until you realize by the end that he hasn't really said anything.

As baffling as this article is, I still loved reading it because it's a treasure trove of quintessentially Wood-ian prose. When Ed Wood was in the zone, he had a way of stringing together words and phrases that was strictly his own. A prime example occurs in this article when Eddie discusses the differences between the generations and their attitudes toward sex:
After all, sex has been an intricate part of the entire history of Japan, and the broad-mindedness dates back into antiquity. But the elders are now wondering just how far the broad-mindedness should stretch. The young have really put themselves out on a sexual limb and some of the elders wonder if they might not be cutting the limb off behind them. But the young are quite sure they are in the right, the same as the young all over the world who have decided to take the sexual world by the tail and give it a few twirls and see what happens. The problem would seem that when they take sex by its sexy tail they are not quite sure, in their youth, just when to let go. The feeling is, if they hang on with all their might they might learn all the secrets of the ages which have previously been denied them.
That passage is alternately poetic, philosophical, and preposterous. I especially savor phrases like "put themselves out on a sexual limb" and "take the sexual world by the tail." Those tortured and torturous metaphors are especially indicative of Ed Wood's writing style.

Next: "Sex Around the World" (1973)

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Those Hidden Happenings" (1972)

It looks like these two keep very little hidden.

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

The article: "Those Hidden Happenings." Originally published in Ecstasy (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 4, no. 2, July/August 1972. No author credited.

An ad for Metrecal. Looks delicious, right?
Excerpt: "Sex makes the world go around. Sex is the universal language . . . and everybody in the world is interested in what's happening on the sex market. Perhaps some of the larger papers should devote a sealed page to such things. Sealed so the little kiddies won't get their grubby little hands on it .. . until they wash them and grow up . . . someday they will grow up . . . all that would have to be done is reseal the pages and keep them in the safety deposit box for that future date and time."

Reflections: We sometimes get just what we deserve in this life. Yesterday, for instance, I went on and on about how Ed Wood did no research for his article "Sex Oddities and the Law." So what do I get to review today? An article that's almost nothing but research! Yes, "Those Hidden Happenings" consists almost entirely of quotes by other writers that Ed found in various tabloids, newspapers, and magazines. There's practically no original Ed Wood content in this piece whatsoever, apart from the introduction and the conclusion.

So what's the through-line here, the organizing principle of "Those Hidden Happenings"? Eh, there's not much of one. Eddie observes that there sure are a lot of newspapers in the world, which means that there are lots of articles containing lots of words, way too many for anybody to read. So what he's done, as a service to the readers of Ecstasy magazine, is rummage through a bunch of other publications and grab little tidbits of information from them that he will now share in this one convenient article.

At the outset of this article, Ed Wood mentions The Los Angeles Times as an example of a typical modern newspaper with lots of words in it. Maybe that was the one non-porn publication he was still getting in 1972. But, as far as I can tell, none of the articles he actually quotes are from the Times. No, Eddie goes back to those adult-oriented tabloids, particularly The National Informer. From that prestigious journal, Eddie cites an article about the legality of wife beating and another about the continuing popularity of chastity belts. 

Ed also tells us that the Informer has an write-in advice column called "Dear Mrs. Adams," which I guess was like their version of "Ann Landers" or "Dear Abby." Ed mentions a letter from one nervous, middle-aged lady named Martha (what a great name for a prude!) who wants to know if it's okay for her and her husband of 25 years to have oral sex. Oh, by the way, Martha's husband is a transvestite. The columnist declares oral sex to be normal and cross-dressing to be weird but harmless if practiced in private.

But Ed Wood does not limit himself to The National Informer. He also delves into an even-sleazier tabloid called The Exploiter. This one has its own write-in column by a man identified as Phillip Pace, Ph.D. In the example quoted by Ed, Phillip tells us that there is no such thing as "breast orgasms" and that a woman who is overly aroused by breast-play might have a "deeper problem" or is simply stuck in an adolescent mindset.

Honestly, I can't tell you which articles Ed got from which sources in "Those Hidden Happenings." When identifying titles, he uses "quotation marks" and italics interchangeably, so it's difficult to know when he's referring to a publication or simply a recurring feature such as a monthly column within a publication. But you don't care about all that, do you? You just want to know what kind of sordid stuff Ed managed to dig up this time. Well, "Those Hidden Happenings," has plenty of it, including some advice for those planning "quickie lunch time affairs." According to a writer named Janet Adams, a young woman planning to have a "nooner" with her lover should drink "a can of Metrecal" before having sex, because she'll be "more energetic" that way.

For younger readers, Metrecal was one of those meal-replacement protein drinks that came in cans. Looking like watered-down Pepto Bismol, it was a predecessor to products like Boost and Ensure, except it was specifically marketed to dieters. Metrecal was introduced by the Mead Johnson company in the early '60s but was pulled from shelves circa 1977 due to health concerns by the Food and Drug Administration. I mainly remember it for being mentioned in "Shticks of One and a Half Dozen of the Other" by Allan Sherman. On that 1963 track, to the melody of "Polly Wolly Doodle," Allan sang, "Fare thee well, Metrecal and the others of that ilk. Let the diet start tomorrow 'cause today I'll drown my sorrow in a double malted milk."

Next: "Japan—Sex and Today" (1972)

Friday, February 25, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Sex Oddities and the Law" (1971)

Ed Wood is about to break off some legal knowledge.

NOTE: This article continues my coverage of Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex (BearManor Media, 201).

The article: "Sex Oddities and the Law." Originally published in Belly Button (Calga Publishing), vol. 2, no. 1, January/February 1971. No author listed.

Excerpt: "Flogging and whipping, or being flogged or whipped, are the most common means for such people to attain sexual gratification. Female sadists have been known to make fierce attacks upon the genitals of their male lovers. On the other hand, male sadists rarely attack the genitals of their sex partners, but frequently inflict injuries to their breasts."

SNL's "Supreme Court Spot Check" sketch.
Reflections: For just a moment, I need you to pretend you are on a game show. I'll be the host; you'll be the contestant. Can you do that? Great. Alright, here's the situation. Hands on buzzers. I'll give you the title and basic premise of an Ed Wood article from the early 1970s, and you'll tell me whether Eddie did any research for it or not. The title is "Sex Oddities and the Law," and it's about how America's legal system deals with certain sex acts and fetishes. So what's your guess? Research or no research? In other words, did Eddie cite any actual court cases or did he just bullshit his way through this assignment? I'll give you ten seconds to think about it.

Time's up. The correct answer is... no research. Ed just decided to wing it this time around. If you got it right, reward yourself with a glass of Imperial whiskey.  If you got it wrong, punish yourself with an entire bottle of Imperial whiskey.

Look, I'm being silly, but the truth is that I can never predict when Ed Wood is going to do his homework for an article and when he isn't. It's a crapshoot. However, I would have thought that this particular article all but required a modicum of research. How can you write about "Sex Oddities and the Law" without mentioning any specific laws? Somehow, Eddie finds a way.

The core idea of this article is that all sex acts and fetishes should be legal as long as the parties involved are all consenting adults and no one is getting hurt. I'm pretty sure that's the prevailing viewpoint in 2022. The sex crimes we actually care about nowadays are those in which the victims either withhold consent or are too young to give consent. As for grownups getting consensually freaky behind closed doors, who gives a damn?

Apparently, things were more uptight in 1971. The legal system back then was concerned with what people—even married couples—were doing in the bedroom. Eddie chalks this up to the law being out of step with the times:
Traditionally, the legal system in most countries is a very slow-moving, almost lethargic monster. Consequently, it is always about a century or two behind the contemporary thinking of a society, and is always imbued with a very thick strain of conservative blood. Small wonder, then, that the legal outlook on sex and equal attitudes is as narrow-minded as it is today.
"A century or two" may be pushing it, but Ed's underlying point is valid. He then describes various kinks and fetishes, including group sex, sadomasochism, and cross-dressing, and states that any of them may lead to criminal charges in this prudish world of ours. Certainly, we remember the tragic story of Patrick/Patricia from Glen or Glenda (1953). And, yes, Eddie reminds us once again that transvestites are not homosexuals. It's nearly twenty years later when he's writing this article, and yet that same subject is still on his mind.

But we all have a tendency to repeat ourselves. For instance, I was once again reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch when I read this article. Back in 1976, during the show's very first season, SNL aired a famous sketch called "Supreme Court Spot Check" in which a young couple, Dwayne (Chevy Chase) and Rhonda (Jane Curtin) find their lovemaking session rudely interrupted by a visit from the United States Supreme Court! The judges, clad in their black robes, want to make sure that Dwayne and Rhonda are doing everything by the book.

One justice (John Belushi) explains that "the government can claim certain unorthodox sexual acts as crimes against nature and the state." When Dwayne responds that he and Rhonda are consenting adults, a second justice (Dan Aykroyd) responds, "Even when both adults are consenting and the act occurs in private." Dwayne and Rhonda continue making love with the judges watching and commenting. At one point, the second justice is very displeased by what he sees. "No, no, no," he objects. "Unlawful fondling." 

Obviously, this SNL sketch is a comedic exaggeration, but it's inspired by actual court rulings. This is the world that Ed Wood was talking about when he wrote "Sex Oddities and the Law." When you think about, the laws are actually odder than the sex!

Next: "Those Hidden Happenings" (1972)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

"Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship" (1972)

Time for more "man on the street" shenanigans with Ed Wood.

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

The article: "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship." Originally published in Couples Doing It (Galley Press), vol. 1, no. 1, August/September 1972.

Excerpt: "When I was a kid we didn't have any television. We did have radio. But we weren't listening to the commercials. We were listening to the shows. I couldn't even tell you one cigarette commercial, or any other commercial that sponsored the shows in those days. But I smoke. I think it's some kind of a natural urge that kids get when they reach puberty. They start thinking about girls and they start thinking about smoking. The two seem to go together."

Did Ed Wood watch Archie Bunker?
Reflections: Before I discuss the main portion of Ed Wood's 1972 article "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship," I want to say a few words about Eddie's introductions to his nonfiction pieces. As we've seen throughout When the Topic is Sex, Ed sometimes researches his articles fairly thoroughly and sometimes completely improvises them. When he writes without doing any research or quoting any sources, his introductions tend to be vague and noncommittal in a way that I find comical. Here, as an illustration, is how Ed Wood begins "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship":
Censorship is a much discussed subject in this modern world of the sexual revolution as well as political motivations and what or what not should be shown on television or written about in magazines and books. But all the answers seem to be coming from the EXPERTS in the field. Sometimes it is wondered who are these experts and how did they become experts in the first place? Others also expound as to how dare they say who should see or do what? But then censorship has been around almost as long as time itself. And there is a good possibility it will be remaining with us for sometime to come . . . certainly it will not be completely abolished anywhere in the very near future. 
No kidding, Ed. This passage reminds me of Bart Simpson's many terrible school reports, when he's clearly put no thought or effort into the assignment at all but knows he must fill up time somehow. Think back to Bart's review of Treasure Island: "It's about these pirates. Pirates with patches over their eyes and shiny gold teeth and green birds on their shoulders." Then there was Bart's enlightening report on Libya: "The exports of Libya are numerous in amount." Ed Wood basically wrote like that, except he got paid for it and never had to stay after school.

Introductions aside, "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship" is exactly what its title promises. Eddie waylays some anonymous (nonexistent) gentleman to talk about the censorship of books, movies, TV shows, and magazines. This randomly-picked fellow wants us to know that he's well-read and keeps up with current events. "Now you ain't talking to some street character," he tells the interviewer. Somehow, while discussing censorship, their conversation veers off to numerous other topics: Judaism, VD, rancid meat, marijuana, Jimmy Cagney, etc. (I'm one to talk. This article is supposed to be about Ed Wood, and I devoted a paragraph of it to Bart Simpson.)

Based on this man's slangy speech cadence and unabashed candor, I pictured him a lot like Archie Bunker, which in turn made me wonder if Ed Wood watched All in the Family. My guess is that he did, since Ed consumed a lot of television in the '70s, and All in the Family was the nation's top-rated show back then. But the guy in this article—goddamn, I wish Ed had given him a name—basically expresses the opposite of Archie's worldview on numerous topics. He's against the criminalization of marijuana. He's opposed to all forms of censorship, even the prohibition of cigarette commercials on TV. He's vehemently in favor of sex ed, especially when it comes to teaching kids about the dangers of sexually-transmitted diseases. In short, he's the liberal Archie Bunker.

What's worth considering here is that Ed Wood is again portraying both the interviewer and the interviewee. They're both him. So when this unnamed man gives his opinions about religion or drugs or sex education in schools, are we actually getting Ed's own views on these topics? For what it's worth, the interviewer compliments his subject: "You sound like you'd be a model parent." Make of that what you will.

NEXT: "Sex Oddities and the Law" (1971)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "When in Rome" (1973)

Don't let the title fool you. This article has nothing to do with Rome.

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

The article: "When in Rome." Originally published Goddess (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 2, no. 3, August/September 1973. Credited to "Dick Trent."

Excerpt: "I suppose there comes a time in everybody's life that they get a little bored with the same old thing. Maybe that's why the Peeping Tom goes out looking in windows . . . he's like maybe tired of doing the same old thing with the same old broad so it's like he's right in there with the couple he's watching. He's getting his jollies . . . his good time."

The Onion's "American Voices."
Reflections: Remember the days of actual physical newspapers, the kind printed on thin, cheap paper and delivered to your doorstep (or driveway or roof) by some kid on a bike? Sure you do. It wasn't that long ago. After you read the sports and comics and skimmed the headlines, you could always use 'em to line your birdcage or train your puppy. A million and one uses, those things.

Anyway, a regular feature of newspaper editorial pages was the "question of the day" that they'd pose to four or five average nobodies they happened to find on the street. They might ask something like, "Should the speed limit be lowered to 55?" and then you'd read what these yahoos had to say about it. I'm not sure what journalistic value these articles had, but it was a way to get your name and picture in the paper. My own high school newspaper, The Blazer, ran its own version of this feature. More famously, The Onion has been parodying these articles for decades with its recurring "American Voices" feature.

"When in Rome" is Ed Wood's take on the "question of the day" article, and he predictably drags it right down into the gutter. We would expect and accept no less from him. The question he poses to several (imaginary) passersby is: what would you think of having an extra person at your sex session? Boy, Eddie sure was into group sex back in the day, huh? Or, I guess, it's what his editors were asking for. Threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes, as they say. That must've been what was selling in 1973.

Writing as Dick Trent, Eddie doesn't even pretend to take this article seriously. He's in full-on goofball mode here. There are those who think Ed Wood took himself  and his work extremely seriously, but this is not strictly true. Sure, there are many times throughout his career when Ed is quite earnest, even preachy—When the Topic is Sex has its share of pleas for tolerance—but he definitely had a playful, silly side to his personality as well. 

There's a naughty, almost schoolboy-like quality that emerges in pieces like "When in Rome." The article's standard joke is that the men practically salivate at the thought of these group sex scenarios, while the women seem to be quite offended at first but cannot help being curious. Here's a typical quote:
"For the life of me I don't know anybody who would be interested in such a question. I'm a perfectly respectful suburban housewife. . . . I'm thirty and I love my husband. . . . Would I really be interested? . . . why I . . . well I never heard of such a thing, I'm a suburban housewife, and things like that simply don't happen in modern day suburbia . . . I don't think so anyway . . . (giggle) . I wonder if any of my friends? . . . you know, sometimes . . . now that you speak of it, they do have those weekend card parties that last all through Friday night and sometimes through Saturday, and the doors are always locked, and I don't remember seeing many lights on in the house. . . . I have wondered how they could see their cards in such a dim light . . . certainly they will all need glasses before many years, those who don't have them now . . . I wonder . . . ? No it's too silly . . . they are simply playing cards as they say. . . . Such things as you suggest simply don't happen in modern day suburbia."
I think that, half a century ago, there was a much more defined double standard when it came to sex. Women had to feign being prudish in public, just to keep up appearances, but they were expected to be sexually adventurous in private. "A lady in the streets and a whore in the sheets," as the saying goes. Men were allowed to be openly lustful and lewd.

Stylistically, "When in Rome" is the kind of piece that any Ed Wood fan should be able to identify even without consulting his writing résumé. His tropes are woven all through this. For instance, Ed (writing as "Dick Trent") stops the article dead in its tracks on multiple occasions to describe in detail what the female respondents are wearing. That's something he does in both his fiction and nonfiction. No points for guessing that one of these ladies is wearing an angora sweater. But, for me, the most blatantly Wood-ian passage arrives right near the end, when a hippie-type dude gives this response, coincidentally the one that gives the entire article its title:
 "I say everybody's got a right to do their thing the way they want to do it ma'an I'd go the whole scene. I'd blow the place apart, that's what I'd do . . . smoke a little pot, and blow it right up the cavern, make it all hot with smoke. Ohhh, daddy I just got to meet up with some of them people you are asking about . . . ma'an, that's cool . . . real cool with all that heat . . . if you get what I mean . . . ma'an . . .When in Rome . . ." 
Ed Wood writes his hippie characters with the same authenticity you'd expect to find on Dragnet 1967.

Next: "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship" (1972)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Swing Loose" (1971)

I'm almost afraid to learn what Ed Wood means by those words.

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

The article: "Swing Loose." Originally published in Wild Couples (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 3, no. 1, April/May 1971. No author credited.

Excerpt: "When the single shows go on we watch and get a boot out of it. Like Margie trying to masturbate herself and she was giggling all the time and couldn't pop her nuts to save her life, so she jerked off her own husband. But when the combined action goes on we're all too busy making the scene with our own partner, or partners as the case may be. We double up in threesomes and foursomes a great deal of the time."

The hot toddy: Ed Wood's drink of choice?
Reflections: As I've mentioned before, Bob Blackburn has organized the articles in When the Topic is Sex into themed chapters. I'm currently making my way through Chapter 7, devoted to Ed Wood's alleged "man on the street" interviews. For the uninitiated, these are bogus, contrived "conversations" in which the respondents are fictional. Ed simply asks and answers all the questions himself.  This makes for some of the most fun, entertaining material in When the Topic because Ed abandons the dry, encyclopedic tone of many of his sexology articles and writes in a more colorful, slangy way. 

It only recently occurred to me that these mock interviews also allow Ed Wood to format his articles more like screenplays. The one I'm reviewing today, "Swing Loose" from 1971, even has what I'd call parenthetical stage directions. This time around, Ed portrays a reporter from Wild Couples magazine who travels to a remote "country town" to chat with Paul and Ida X, two married "swingers" who take part in orgies every weekend. Eddie must've been in a giddy mood when he wrote "Swing Loose," because he barely tries to make the article plausible. Paul and Ida, for instance, are said to be from "Pneumonia, Michigan." (Haw, haw.) Throughout the interview, Eddie reminds us that he and his hosts were downing hot toddies the entire time and getting pretty blitzed in the process.

Before he sits down with Paul and Ida, however, Ed gives us one of his trademark rambling, oddly-formatted introductions. He free associates about Julius Caesar and square dancing (?) before reminding us that swingers may participate in various and sundry homosexual acts but are "not necessarily homosexual" in nature. Again, this harkens back to Glen or Glenda (1955)—that eternal Rosetta Stone of Ed Wood's career—and its famous dictum: "Glen is a transvestite, but he is not a homosexual."

Like most of Ed Wood's imaginary interview subjects, Paul and Ida are remarkably forthcoming and unselfconscious when it comes to discussing their sex life. (I guess Dolores S. from "College Interview" tried to maintain a smidgen of dignity, but most of these characters don't bother.) There's not too much to do in Pneumonia, where the only movie theater shows dull Disney flicks for months on end, and Paul and Ida had even grown bored with each other. "We'd belly-fuck," Paul laments, "and I'd know every move she was going to make before she did it." Ed Wood often criticizes the missionary position, but I think this is the first time I've seen him describe it in these exact terms.

Anyway, the couple's fortunes changed when Paul spotted an ad for a dictionary of sex terms in an adult magazine. This is how he found out about swinging. One wonders how people found out about it in Ancient Rome, since such dictionaries weren't available yet. Maybe people were more creative back then. In any event, attending orgies every weekend has made Paul and Ida better lovers because they've learned so much from getting it on with other couples. A swingers party is sort of a skills exchange workshop, except everybody's naked.

To maintain the conceit that this is an actual interview, Ed asks Paul and Ida a few, uh, probing questions. Does Paul become jealous or angry when he sees his wife engage in sex acts with other women and men? No, because he's also engaging in sex acts with other women and men. There's also quite a lot of discussion about menstruation and how it affects Ida's participation in the orgies. I will not dwell on this material, but rest assured, this topic gets ample time.

One distinguishing characteristic of "Swing Loose" is that the interviewer himself gets more characterization than usual. He tells us that he is divorced and paying "a lot of alimony." So our crusading journalist is not exactly a stand-in for Ed Wood. Toward the end of the article, Paul basically offers Ida to the interviewer, but the latter demurs. As Ed explains:
He simply made minor chit-chat, had a couple more hot toddies, wished he could have taken pictures of the handsome couple and their completely comfortable home, then left to brave the continuing snow storm and made his way back to the hotel where he typed and filed this report.
I guess that's Ed Wood's nod to journalistic professionalism. Never have sex with your interview subjects, no matter how much you might want to. Remember: you're there to report on orgies, not participate in them.

Next: "When in Rome" (1973)

Podcast Tuesday: "Uh Oh! Here Comes the Hammer!"

Hank Aaron and Ron Howard on Happy Days.

This week, Happy Days turns its attention to Cunningham Hardware, the struggling small business that somehow keeps Howard (Tom Bosley) and his entire family living in a house the size of a football stadium. (No, really, look up 565 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Los Angeles on Google Earth. The house and its property are larger than you may have guessed.)  True, in Season 3, they had to take in a boarder, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), to make ends meet. But the Cuninghams never seem to want for anything. There are always clothes on their backs and food on their table, and they always have nice birthdays and Christmases. Plus they go on vacation rather often. And all this on the paltry few hammers and nails that Howard manages to sell at his store each week.

When I was growing up, my family actually had a small business. My mother and grandmother owned and operated a children's clothing store called The See-Saw in a strip mall on Corunna Rd. in Flint, MI. I don't know if I've written about the store on this blog or not. If I haven't, I should have. The See-Saw was a big part of my life when I was a kid. I grew up wearing clothes from that store and spent many hours there, either doing little chores or just waiting for my mom to close. And I'm proud to say that The See-Saw was a financial success. When we closed it in the mid-1980s, it was simply because my grandmother (who had owned her own dress shop, Catheirne's, decades earlier) wanted to retire.

My dad said that, if the store had stayed open a few years longer, we would have done a TV commercial. Now, even though this would have been one of been one of those cheap, lame, shot-on-video local ads, I couldn't help having huge ambitions for this thwarted project, and I was severely disappointed that we never got to do it. However, in the Season 7 Happy Days episode "The Hucksters," Howard and his family do get to make a TV spot for the hardware store... and they somehow manage to wrangle Hank Aaron to be in it!

Does Hammerin' Hank make for a good guest star? Find out when we review "The Hucksters" on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast

Monday, February 21, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Greenwich Village Lure " (1971)

I guess this artwork represents Gwen the Greenwich Gyro.

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

The article: "Greenwich Village Lure." Originally published in Sensuous Strippers (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 2, no. 2, July/August 1971. Credited to "Someone Who's Been There."

Excerpt: "I like Greenwich Village. I had my eyes set on it from the first moment I decided to take up exotic dancing. And with my eyes trained on that one spot there was no turning to another direction because that might weaken my chances. It was to be the Village and the 3-MMM Club as my start or nothing."

The huntsmen: Kenne Duncan and Ed Wood.
Reflections: This is another of Ed Wood's articles about strippers, and it covers a lot of the same ground as "To Produce a Lovely Creature," which was published at almost the same time. We hear again about how there's a hierarchy of strip joints, ranging from expensive, high-end clubs to sleazy low-class dives. We are also reminded that the best-paid, most successful strippers are not only physically beautiful but talented dancers as well. Eddie even uses very similar language: "There are few strippers who know their right foot from their left."

The difference—and the thing that makes "Greenwich Village Lure" one of the gems in When the Topic is Sex—is that this article is written from the point of view of a stripper, namely Gwen the Greenwich Gyro who dances at the 3-MMM Club in Greenwich Village, New York. That's right, Ed Wood wrote this whole thing in character. I think Eddie really got into "portraying" female roles through his writing. He certainly must've enjoyed being Gwen, since this article is one of the longest I've encountered in this entire collection.

And why not? Gwen is a very colorful lady, both figuratively and literally. Let's start with the title of this article. That was supposedly Gwen's choice. She considers herself the human equivalent of a fishing lure, as she explains:
I headed this article with the word 'lure,' and I suppose that's what I really am. But I'm not using the word as a bad description of my character. Actually I'm a rather nice girl working in a job which can pay for, and is equal to, my talents. It's a position I'm well equipped to handle and I give value for value received. After all, a fisherman uses a lure when he's after the best fish, like trout . . . the really tasty ones. And those lures are all bright and shining and colorful and none too few are also adorned with feathers. Doesn't sound too different from me. I affix all the same adjectives and nouns which make me a lure to the better clientele.
This might seem like a wacky, far-fetched metaphor, but remember that Ed Wood was an avid hunter and fisherman. According to Tor Johnson's son, Karl, in Nightmare of Ecstasy, Eddie and Tor used to go fishing in Ensenada, Mexico. Karl also remembered inviting Eddie over to "fire a few rounds." Nightmare even includes a photo of Ed with actor Kenne Duncan posing with some birds they've apparently just killed. And fishing lures are pretty colorful. Have you ever taken a good look at a Disco Midge?

Like "To Produce a Lovely Creature," "Greenwich Village Lure" is about the nuts-and-bolts of the stripping profession and tells women what they should expect from the job, i.e. the hiring process, the hours, the rehearsals, the pay, the customers, etc. But Gwen goes beyond that, too. She tells us why she got into stripping, for instance. Her ambition had been ballet, but there are very few ballerina jobs to be had out there. There are only so many productions of Swan Lake to go around. Gwen also tells us how her parents reacted to the news that their daughter became an exotic dancer. In short, they didn't. She expected them to be shocked, but they weren't.

One unusual aspect of "Greenwich Village Lure" is that, in addition to describing her stripping career, Gwen also describes the process of writing this very article. Offhand, I can't remember too many times that Ed Wood wrote about writing. Here's what "she" has to say about it:
Even as I write this I find that I have forgotten some of the things I wrote at the beginning. I have to go back and check and recheck, then check again. But I think it reads quite good now, and the whole thing is one long piece of fine experienced advice.
And later:
Which brings me, and a cramped hand, to the conclusion of this article. And I hope the cramp in my hand was worth it. It will be if I have gotten through to a couple of would-be exotic dancers.
Does this describe Ed Wood's own writing process? The first quote might, but I have my doubts about the second one. If Gwen is complaining of hand cramps, that suggests she wrote this thing out with pen and paper. And we all know that Eddie worked on a typewriter.

Next: "Swing Loose" (1971)

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "College Interview" (1974)

Perhaps our young college students have some thoughts on sexuality they'd like to share.

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

The article: "College Interview." Originally published in Cherry (Gallery Press), vol. 3, no. 2, January/February 1974. Credited to "Ann Gora."

Excerpt: "With the girls today going to college as I am I suspect there are very few that would ever consider going to an all girl's school . . . unless they were dyed-in-the-wool lesbians . . . but even then few of the lesbians, at this point in their life will completely admit that they are lesbians, and besides there is no problem in their finding lesbian affairs in a co-ed school . . . the same with the male homosexual element."

Reflections: The counterculture of the 1960s and '70s was supposedly about effecting political and social change—stopping the war in Vietnam, combatting racism and sexism, and just generally challenging the long-held beliefs of previous generations on a number of topics. In short, it was a very idealistic movement. At least, in theory it was. In reality, the counterculture was often hedonistic and irresponsible in ways that undercut the message. Simply put, hippies took a lot of drugs and had a lot of sex... not for political reasons, but because it was fun.

Men of Ed Wood's generation looked at this new generation with a combination of contempt, confusion, and undeniable jealousy. I don't think Ed had much affinity for the antiwar movement, and he probably didn't care much about challenging raical prejudice or gender norms either, but he couldn't resist drooling a little when he thought about those college kids screwing like rabbits on every campus across America. 

A poster advertising The Drunkard.
And so we get articles like "College Interview," in which Eddie (or "Ann Gora") pretends to interview a liberated young woman, Dolores S.—named, I suspect, in honor of Dolores Fuller—about her active and varied sex life. By an amazing coincidence, Dolores thinks and talks just like Edward Davis Wood, Jr. She even uses one of Eddie's pet expressions: "the rubber room at the happy farm." I don't know if I've ever mentioned that phrase before, but it's one that turns up a lot in Ed Wood's books and articles.

Before we meet this college student, however, there's a brief preamble about the state of the world. Just as in Glen or Glenda (1953), Ed Wood uses the airplane and automobile as examples of how much life has changed in the 20th century. But this time, there's a twist! In 1974, the United States was suffering through an energy crisis. Gasoline was scarce. The car might be on its way out, Ed says, replaced by the horse and buggy. Somehow, Eddie frets that this could also mean a return to the stifling values and morals of the early 1900s.

Dolores S. doesn't think so. To paraphrase a hit song from the 1970s, she knows too much to go back and pretend. Specifically, she knows about birth control and contraceptives. After that, what's there to fear? Again, this is the 1970s; AIDS hadn't happened. Like so many other Ed Wood characters, Dolores expresses contempt for those old bugaboos, puritanism and the missionary position. She'd rather change things up occasionally, as she discusses in this passage:
Sure I've experienced just about every form of sex there is. I don't have to discuss here which is my preference but I've tried them all and I've rejected some and maybe in the future I'll reject more. But those are things which must happen in trial and error. Just because I don't want one form the first time out I won't condemn it for myself I'll try it again and possibly more times until I'm sure. But just because I reject it it doesn't mean that I should condemn anyone else who possibly might like the action. 
It's that freedom to choose one's path that so captivates Eddie. I think, when he was growing up in Poughkeepsie in the 1920s and '30s, people really didn't have a lot of choice when it came to sex. You pursued a "normal" heterosexual relationship, got married, had children, and didn't think much about it. As someone with a strong desire to cross-dress and an insatiable fur fetish, Ed probably had to keep a lot of his thoughts to himself until he got to Los Angeles and started hanging around with more free-thinking people in the entertainment industry. No wonder that, in this and other articles, he marvels at how we discuss sex so openly these days.

I mentioned earlier that Dolores S. talks suspiciously like Ed Wood. She has the same set of cultural references, too. In this interview, she talks about how the old days of sexual repression probably led a lot of men to alcoholism. "There were never more drunks in the history of the world than there was in that period," she insists. As proof, she refers to the existence of "songs about the drunken father" and "plays like The Drunkard and The Blackguard." The latter title should be familiar to all Ed Wood fans, as Eddie's participation in this obscure 1940s play by Alice C. and Leonard C. Newman was a key milestone in his early acting career. Were it not for Ed, this particular work may have been forgotten entirely.

William H. Smith's temperance play The Drunkard, on the other hand, had much more cultural impact. Debuting in 1844, this "moral domestic drama in five acts" focused on the evils of alcohol and the ruinous effect it has on a family. A favorite of prudes, puritans, and teetotalers everywhere, it ran for decades and was being produced well into the 1960s. Ed Wood certainly would have been familiar with this play, although he manifestly ignored its message. I only learned about The Drunkard when I reviewed a  merciless parody of it called The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940). Even though this drama was one of the most popular stage shows in American history, my exposure to it was by pure happenstance.

P.S. "College Interview" is one of the articles in When the Topic is Sex that I had reviewed previously. Here is my original assessment from 2019. At the time, I called it "minor but interesting."

Next: "Greenwich Village Lure (by Someone Who's Been There)" (1971)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Interview with a Slut" (1971)

Sometimes, Ed gets right to the point with his article titles.

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

The article: "Interview with a Slut." Originally published in Body & Soul (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 5, no. 1, March/April 1971. 

Excerpt: "I like men. Man oh man, I like men . . . there's just no two ways about that. I like their hairy chests, and their strong legs, and if they got a big arm, I like that too .. . especially when they wrap both their arms and their legs tight around me, and I get my legs right up there around their shoulders."

"Bring out the Gimp."
Reflections: I distinctly remember an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head in which Beavis takes exception to Butt-Head referring to Beavis' mother as a whore. "My mom's a slut," Beavis tells his friend. "She doesn't charge for it." Apparently, to him, this is an important distinction. Well, Ed Wood's article "Interview with a Slut" is about a woman who is both a slut and a whore and is damned proud of it.

This is yet another of Eddie's fake interviews in which the author pretends to pose questions to some fictional person, then answers those questions himself. These have been some of the most fun items in When the Topic is Sex because Ed really seems to enjoy getting into character as the interview subjects. In this case, he presents himself as a reporter for Pendulum's Body & Soul magazine talking to a 27-year-old prostitute named Marti C., a woman who truly enjoys her work. In the Wood canon, you can file Marti alongside such joyously crude, foul-mouthed, sex-loving broads as Hosenose Kate from "Calamity Jane Loves Hosenose Kate" and T from "Commentary: Article by 'T.'" I think it's significant that this hooker's name is even androgynous, sounding like the masculine name Marty.

In this one article, you'll find so many of Ed Wood's classic motifs and obsessions: prostitutes, social diseases, fuzzy cardigan sweaters, the expressions "love feast" and "jollies," the movie Sexual Freedom in Denmark (1970), fur rugs, feathered dresses, brassieres, panties, violent trauma to women's breasts, cross-dressers, sadomasochism, even undertakers. Yes, the death-obsessed Ed Wood somehow manages to work in a mention of undertakers in "Interview with a Slut." That's what happens when he interviews himself! His subjects give him the exact answers he wants to hear.

As for Marti herself, she seems to be down for just about anything except for anal sex (she's "built too small" for it) and sadomasochism. On the topic of S&M, she tells a harrowing story that reminded me of the Gimp scene from Pulp Fiction (1994):
You know, there was this one guy who worked on a girl I knew. And he got his kicks when he put the girl in a one piece rubber suit, zipped up the back, no opening for her face, no sleeves or legs . . . all one form fitting piece. Only he went too far. While he was playing with himself in the mirror the rope around her middle slipped and went up around her neck. By the time he finished and went back to her there was only one thing left to do. Call the undertaker . . . Only, he didn't. He just beat it and left the poor thing hanging there until somebody found her later. 
Who'd have thought Ed Wood beat Quentin Tarantino to the punch by 23 years?

Next: "College Interview" (1974)

Friday, February 18, 2022

Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex: "Sex by Mail" (1970)

"Playing post office" was never quite like this.

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

The article: "Sex by Mail." Originally published in Two Plus Two (Pendulum Publishing), vol. 1, no.1, January/February 1970. No author credited.

Excerpt: "The formerly timid housewife or single girl can now take the initiative in openly suggesting an avid interest in a sexual meeting with a man, or even another woman. She can now unabashedly express her most lewd and wanton animal desires for the entire spectrum of sexual acts. Bizarre and sometimes perverted sexual acts, which husband and wife once never mentioned, and in some marriages today still don't, are almost casually discussed, and eagerly participated in—and all of this with a total stranger!"

Some vintage lonely hearts club ads.
Reflections: Occasionally, I find the articles in When the Topic is Sex to be a bit too straight-laced, lacking the inspired lunacy we've come to expect from Edward D. Wood, Jr. at his best. It's as if Eddie wanted to offset the lewdness of the subject matter (fetishes, kinks, group sex, pornography, prostitution, etc.) by keeping his tone as neutral and encyclopedic as possible. The results can be a little impersonal.

I suppose I was spoiled by reviewing two volumes of Ed's eccentric, often tasteless short stories, which gave the author plenty of chances to let his warped imagination run wild. After you've read "To Kill a Saturday Night" or "Breast of the Chicken," something like "Sexual Freedom & Sexual Ignorance" is a bit of a comedown. Where's the fun in learning about proper condom use to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies? We're not in school, Ed!

Well, the 1970 article "Sex by Mail" is definitely on the fun side, especially if you're after that sleazy '70s Ed Wood brand of fun. This is an article about sexually-explicit personal ads and the kinds of people who would write them and respond to them. Eddie cites no sources and apparently did little to no research for this one, and those are points in its favor. In my opinion, Eddie's at his best when he improvises and is not hampered by such factors as accuracy or plausibility.

The article begins with a brief history of the "lonely hearts clubs" of the past. These were services that would connect single people looking for love with pen pals of the opposite sex. The problem with these clubs, according to Eddie, is that the clients had to keep their letters "cautious" and "guarded." Rather than talk about sex, which was what was really on their minds, the letter-writers had to confine themselves to such bland topics as gardening and the theater. The article says that these old-fashioned services are now passé and "material for pop tunes." This is about as close as Ed Wood comes to mentioning The Beatles.

Fortunately, Ed informs us, there are now adult magazines and underground newspapers in every major American city that allow people to place ads that get right to the point. I mean, if sex is the ultimate goal, why not just say so right in the ad? And the modern-day love-seekers don't have to be heterosexual or strictly monogamous either. Men can seek men, women can seek women, and singles can seek couples.

"Sex by Mail" really takes off when Eddie conducts a little experiment... or pretends to conduct a little experiment. He shows us an ad he says he placed on behalf of a young woman named Melissa, "one of our lovely and whimsical young secretaries." Based on Ed's track record, I highly doubt Melissa was real. I don't know if Pendulum Publishing even had secretaries! I think Bernie Bloom answered his own telephone. Anyway, in the supposed ad, Melissa (using the pseudonym "Candy" for some reason) describes herself as "beautiful" and "uninhibited" and says she is looking for "well-endowed men." Ed and Melissa also run an ad as a couple, promising "weekend nude-ins at our lovely, isolated canyon home."

The article concludes with four (fabricated) responses to the ad, chosen from an "avalanche of letters." Three of these responses are from a man named George who gets bolder and more explicit with each missive and who talks openly of having a sexual relationship with his own sister. Why were George's letters chosen? Because he mentions "a variant form of sex-by-mail: sex-by-telephone." (I guess the term "phone sex" hadn't been invented yet.) I don't know if the incest angle worked in his favor or against him.

The fourth and final response is attributed to a 31-year-old man named K. Pringle, who offers a terse, numbered list of the "paths one may take to have sexual happiness." (Said paths include masturbation and pornography.) Eddie says he included this blunt, businesslike letter due to its "precision and conciseness." Again, I believe K. Pringle is about as real as Kris Kringle. While "Sex by Mail" technically falls into the category of Ed Wood's nonfiction, it's as rooted in fantasy as Bride of the Monster (1955) or Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957).

Before I let you go, I have to share an anecdote about Mae West, the scandalous singer and actress who was a good friend of Criswell. The Beatles wanted to use her picture on the cover of their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but Ms. West was initially reluctant. "What would I be doing in a lonely hearts club?" she responded.

Next: "Interview with a Slut" (1971)