|Two of Ed Wood's salacious novels: Purple Thighs and Forced Entry.|
In November 2021, I reported to you that I was drowning in a sea of Ed Wood. What I meant by that was, I decided to read a bunch of Ed's novels and nonfiction books back to back over the course of just a few months. Why? Well, Eddie wrote a ton of books in his heyday, and if I'm ever going to understand this strange and complicated man, I have to make it through at least some portion of his vast literary canon. Why not just dive in headfirst and see what happens?
Now, I don't own any of the rare and pricey paperbacks from the '60s and '70s, but a reader of this blog was kind enough to share with me some of the reprints from the extremely short-lived "Woodpile Press" series from 2009. Mainlining these volumes over the course of a few months was a real education (or Ed-ucation, I suppose), but the books tended to blend together in my mind. So recently, I decided to revisit some of these books and see if they made a stronger impression on me the second time around.
|The edition of Wood on Acid that I consulted.|
For whatever reason, I settled on a "Woodpile Press" volume entitled Wood on Acid, which contains the text of two full novels: Purple Thighs aka Lost Souls Delivered (1968) and Forced Entry (1974). I vaguely remembered both of these from the first time around, but a lot of the details had faded from my memory. They seemed like perfect candidates for revisiting. What did I think of them this time? Well...
Purple Thighs, Eddie's take on hippies and LSD, is definitely the more interesting and fun of the two novels. I think it helps that Eddie wrote it six years before Forced Entry. He was on the downward spiral by '68, for sure, but things weren't as dire as they were in '74. Ed Wood may not have been at the peak of freshness when he wrote Purple Thighs, but he hadn't completely curdled yet. Speaking of curdling, though, it's remarkable how much America soured between 1967 and 1968. We went from the Summer of Love to the Entire Year of Hate in a very short time. In its own cockeyed way, Ed's novel reflects this sad societal change.
The plot of Purple Thighs revolves around Adam, an honest, hard-working law student who just wants to get an education, darn it. He can't concentrate on his studies, though, because of all these darned dirty hippies loudly protesting against the war. (Seriously, in this book, Ed never passes up an opportunity to remark how filthy and foul-smelling the hippies are.) What's Adam to do? The only logical thing: drop out of school, ditch his nice girlfriend, and go "undercover" among the acid-dropping hippies. It's sort of like Ed Wood's variation on John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me (1961). Call it Hippie Like Me. Oh, by the way, there's a rather gratuitous framing device wherein Adam tells his adventures to a psychiatrist named Dr. Thyme Hammer, who's paying him for his time.
So, anyway, Adam goes to some hippie neighborhood -- I think it's supposed to be Haight-Ashbury, but Ed never really specifies -- and starts to blend in among the locals. Almost immediately, he meets and moves in with a groovy chick named Eve, who introduces him to the wonderful world of LSD-enhanced sex. Right from its bewildering first chapter, Ed's parody of the Book of Genesis, Purple Thighs is full of references to the biblical Adam and Eve. This makes sense because Kathy Wood said that her husband frequently took inspiration from the Good Book. The snake, the garden, the apple, they're all here in this novel, serving some vague allegorical purpose.
Even on acid, Adam is kind of a dullard, the sort of square-jawed, macho hero Eddie seemed to love to put in his stories. Fortunately, Purple Thighs has an outstanding supporting cast of characters, many of whom have truly asinine names straight out of an AIP biker flick. My favorite has to be Rigor Mortis, a local creep who dresses like The Phantom of the Opera and is toted around in a cheap coffin by his henchmen, Crisp, Crap, and Head. (Or was that Snap, Crackle, and Pop?) Rigor likes to be buried alive in a different spot every night, and his thugs begrudgingly comply... until it all inevitably goes wrong. And we mustn't forget Glory Girl, the friendly neighborhood drug pusher who turns out to have an incredible secret. I don't want to spoil the plot too much, but if Purple Thighs had been made into a movie (and it should have been), Ed Wood might've played this part himself.
Anyway, Adam and Eve's neighborhood is being ruined by a bunch of phonies who have moved in just to party, take drugs, have sex, and mooch off others. I couldn't help but think of the song "Who Needs the Peace Corps?" by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention: "Every town must have a place where phony hippies meet. Psychedelic dungeons popping up on every street." I also thought about R. Crumb's comic, "I Remember the Sixties," in which he talks about the decline and fall of "the Haight." Eventually, Adam, Eve, and some of the more responsible hippies move away to some kind of quasi-utopian commune. I guess it's a happy ending. Ed Wood's contempt for the counterculture seeps through nearly every page of this novel, so it's nice that he shows at least a little leniency towards them in the book's final pages.
By the way, the book's original title, Lost Souls Delivered, is Ed Wood's punning variation on "LSD." He used the same title for an article in 1972. As for the new title, Purple Thighs, I think it's a reference to body painting, a practice that was popular among hippies in the late '60s. There's a brief body painting sequence in the novel in which a young woman's body is bedecked with garish colors.