|Just some of the nearly 80 articles contained within this book.|
NOTE: This article concludes my coverage of Ed Wood's When the Topic is Sex (BearManor Media, 2021).
There has never been a better time to be an Ed Wood fan than right now. For one thing, more of Eddie's movies are available on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming than ever before. When I was first getting into Ed Wood back in the early 1990s, I had trouble even finding the biggies—Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957)—on VHS or airing on television. Now I'm fairly drowning in Ed's movies, spanning from his earliest days in Hollywood (1948's Range Revenge) to the very end of his life (1978's Hot Ice). And, I assure you, more of them are coming.
|One of Ed Wood's many magazine articles.|
Wood scholarship has also exploded in the new millennium. Thirty years ago, Rudolph Grey's groundbreaking Nightmare of Ecstasy was the only full-length book about Ed Wood's life and career. In the years since, however, we've had Ed Wood, Mad Genius (2009) by Rob Craig, The Cinematic Misadventures of Ed Wood (2015) by Andrew J. Rausch and Charles Pratt, Jr., Scripts from the Crypt: Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster (2019) by Gary D. Rhodes and Tom Weaver, Ed Wood and the Lost Lugosi Scripts (2019) by Rhodes and Weaver, and The Unknown War of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (2017) by James Pontolillo.
Arguably, though, the most essential Ed Wood books to emerge in recent years have been the collections of Wood's own short stories, Blood Splatters Quickly (2014) and Angora Fever (2019), both curated by superfan Bob Blackburn. In the 1960s and '70s, Eddie wrote dozens of short stories for adult publisher Bernie Bloom, who used them as filler in his X-rated magazines like Body & Soul, Swap, Garter Girls, Two Plus Two, Young Beavers and many more. With Eddie's full-length novels and sex manuals largely out of print and out of the price range of most people, these compilations are the best way for fans to experience what Eddie was like as an author.
But Ed Wood's magazine work was not confined to those wonderfully delirious short stories. Not by the tail feathers of a cockatoo. With his nimble typing fingers and ability to generate reams of text in a small amount of time, Eddie was Bernie Bloom's go-to writer for any number of assignments, including editorials and photo captions. Above all, from roughly the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Eddie wrote innumerable nonfiction articles on topics ranging from the sexual revolution to witchcraft to politics. On rare occasions, he used his own name for these stories, but he was more likely to write under a pseudonym like "Dick Trent" or "Ann Gora" or go uncredited altogether.
At last, Bob Blackburn has assembled a massive compilation—the biggest yet—of Ed Wood's nonfiction magazine work from this era. When the Topic is Sex contains nearly 80 articles, nearly all of them taken from Bernie Bloom's magazines. Make no mistake, this is a tome: 544 pages of Wood's whiskey-soaked ramblings from the Richard Nixon years. It is not the kind of thing you read in one sitting, unless you are incredibly dedicated to your Wood-ian studies. You may want to bring it with you when you travel. Or, better yet, keep a copy in the privy. I can think of few books more appropriate for that particular room of the house.
Indeed, some readers may see When the Topic is Sex as an imposing, impenetrable block of text. I'd recommend they start with the more manageable Blood Splatters Quickly—a mere 33 stories, including what I'd call Eddie's best and most accessible work as a writer. For the real sickos, the ones who watch Plan 9 with a remote control in hand so they can freeze the frame at any given second, When the Topic is Sex is a godsend. Bob Blackburn assembled this book by buying these magazines himself, one by one, on the secondary market. Trust me, you don't have the time, money, or patience necessary to do this. Bob's done the tough part; all you have to do is buy a copy and read the darned thing.
Realizing that this much Ed Wood could be overwhelming, Bob has mercifully organized this material into 11 themed chapters. There are sections about cross dressing, lesbianism, social issues, etc. Probably due to Bob's long career in radio, each of these chapters is named after a popular song. The lesbian section of the book, for instance, is called "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," while the section about cross-dressing is "Dude Looks Like a Lady." Other sections include "Society's Child," "What the World Needs Now," and "Hot for Teacher."
I referred to the contents of When the Topic is Sex as nonfiction, but that's an ambiguous term when discussing the work of Ed Wood. There are at least three distinct levels of reality in this book. It really depends on how much research Ed did for a particular piece.
- In some articles ("More Oddities in the News," "Yes or No—The Candidates on Busing"), Ed relies almost solely on quotes gleaned from actual newspapers, magazines, tabloids, and books. When Ed Wood was in his research-heavy mode, he occasionally found himself writing articles about other people's articles. "A Tax on Sex?" is a good example of that.
- At the complete opposite end of the scale are Ed's many fake "interviews" ("College Interview," "Interview with the Man on the Street About Censorship") in which he pretends to talk to nonexistent people about some controversial or taboo subject.
- Somewhere in the middle—in the vast gulf between "totally researched-based" and "totally made up"—are articles like "The Changing Woman" in which Eddie quotes some legitimate sources but supplements that information with his own opinions and memories.
For as long as I've been doing this series, I've tried to find common ground with Eddie, i.e. ways he and I are similar. But that's been tough. I don't drink. I don't cross dress. I don't make movies. I wasn't in the Marines. I have (almost) all my own teeth. I don't have an angora fetish. I've never lived in Hollywood or pursued a career in show business. The Great Depression and World War II were before my time. Ed Wood and I have simply not shared many experiences. Our lives only overlapped for three years.
But I do know what it's like to churn out a lot of articles in a short amount of time, many of them simply piggybacking off other people's work. From 2014 to 2017, I wrote for a fairly large pop culture website that covers films, TV, music, video games, etc. Most of my articles could be classified as filler material or clickbait: brief writeups about movie trailers and viral videos. The turnaround time was extremely brief. Once I took an assignment, I had only about an hour to write it, proofread it, select an appropriate header image, and submit it to an editor. Ed Wood's articles for Bernie Bloom could likewise be considered filler, and I'm sure Eddie churned them out quickly, one after another.
Furthermore, just like Ed Wood, a surprising number of my articles were about other people's articles. Basically, I'd summarize a recent noteworthy article that had been published somewhere online, tell people why they should read it, and provide a link to it. My pay for doing this was $15 per story. That was the going rate for all the clickbait articles I did back then, regardless of what they were about. The only way to make a go of it financially was to write 5-7 stories per day, every day. Like Eddie, I prioritized quantity over quality. It was the most fun job I ever had, and I was heartbroken to lose it. I'll never know what it was like to be Edward D. Wood, Jr., but I have some inkling of what his relationship with Bernie Bloom was like.
When the Topic is Sex sheds a light on an aspect of Ed Wood's life that had previously been hidden in darkness. People who only know Plan 9 or Glenda may not even be aware that Ed wrote anything besides screenplays. Others may have heard of his novels or short stories, thanks to Nightmare of Ecstasy or some of the Wood documentaries. But how many fans have plunged into his nonfiction work? Those who do will find that all of Ed's usual quirks and obsessions are on display here but in a form you may not have expected. You wanna know Ed—what fascinated him, what haunted him, what worried him, what motivated him? Get a copy of this book and spend some time with the man.