Just Plain Pulp

Kate, by Chet Kinsey, Beacon, 1959

Cover Line: “A novel that tells the truth about those homes for unwed mothers…”

Add this book to the category, “I’ve slogged through it so you don’t have to.” This is a perfect example of the mediocre stuff that was churned out solely to keep those drugstore bookracks filled. Did even Barbara Grier read this? I doubt it. Some friend said, Continue reading

The Man Who Would Be Lesbian

69 Barrow Street, by Lawrence Block writing as Sheldon Lord, Tower, 1959

Cover Line: “Their Love was Right! But Their Sex Was Wrong!”

We’ve all known them: the men who long to be lesbians. in the days before they found an outlet for their frustrated desires by dominating the discussions in women studies classes with passionate paeans to Monique Wittig, they wrote lesbian pulp.

Does Lawrence Block belong to this esoteric tribe? One thing is for sure: before becoming Continue reading

Journey to Ann Bannon

Journey to a Woman, by Ann Bannon, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1960

Classic Line: “All the dormant fires of her younger days had sprung to life and they burned in her still, tempting her, torturing her until she knew she would have to find release somewhere or die of it.”

It took me many years to appreciate Ann Bannon’s contribution to lesbian literature. Bannon wrote five pulps between 1957 and 1962, linked novels that tell the intertwined, melodramatic adventures of Laura, Beth, and Beebo. The books made her Continue reading

Designing Lesbians

The Odd Ones, Edwina Mark, Berkley Books, 1959

“Jean discovered her true sexual nature through the expert teachings of sleek Sherri Lancaster.”

The Plot: Orphaned outcast Jean Grant is so desperate to get out of her hick town and discover her “true nature” she elopes with sensitive Tim, the unhappy son of the lecherous druggist (who is also Jean’s employer). After gritting her teeth through their wedding night, Jean steals Tim’s $1000 nest egg and hightails it to New York. There she checks into a cheap hotel and sets out to explore the city, alternately racked by guilt and overflowing with delirious joy at her newfound freedom. Continue reading

Sisters United

I went to the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. Mostly just to check it out–I’ve been curious about it forever, or at least since I saw Cheryl Dunye’s Watermelon Woman which used it as a setting.

However, I had a project or two to focus my visit: mid-sixties period research with a lesbian slant; and finding out what I could about an obscure periodical, Sisters United, Continue reading

Desperate Housewives

One Touch of Ecstasy, by Gwynne Wimberly, Frederick Fell, Inc. 1959.

Best line: “There’s a reason we teach you correct posture. If your pelvis isn’t tilted forward, the organs in the area are affected unfavorably.”

The Plot: Poor Louise, married and with an eighteen-year-old daughter has never had an orgasm. Ever since that date-rape in college she’s been all twisted up inside, and marriage hasn’t helped–she’s mired in suburban misery. “The hollandaise had been spectacular” but that can’t disguise the fact that her life is one “cruelly civilized evening of superficiality and loneliness” Continue reading

Lesbian Pre-Teens

The tasteful cover is a harbinger of the tedium to be found within

The House in the Mulberry Tree, by Zena Garrett, 1959, Random House

Book Jacket Copy: “Then Elizabeth’s burgeoning, formless emotions, blown hither and yon by the strife around her, crystallized into a youthful and innocent passion for Nonie, nourished by Nonie’s kindness and Elizabeth’s idealization of the relationship that Carter and Nonie seemed to enjoy.”

A dull southern gothic, penned by first-time author and Carson McCullers-wannabe, Zena Garret. The “About the author” blurb gives the reader fair warning: “Her writing career was postponed, however, because Continue reading

Dead Lesbians

Isn't it keen how the reflection of my cell phone mimicks the shadow of the murderer?

I was looking forward to Helen Nielsen’s The Fifth Caller (Morrow, 1959) from the Grier-McBride collection–the library catalog lists “Lesbian physicians–Fiction” as the second subject. Alas, only a completionist collector like Barbara Grier would put this rather dull mystery with its few elliptical references to sapphic tendencies in her lesbian library.

The Plot: Dr. Lillian Whitehall has been found dead in her office and all evidence points to her nurse. Nursie can’t defend herself, because she was found unconscious on the beach with her wrists slashed and has no memory of what happened that day. Tall, square-jawed D.A. Investigator (I’m sorry–I’ve already forgotten his name) thinks Nurse Anna is awfully pretty though, Continue reading

Unionizing Lesbians!

Lose the caption and the coke logo and we have the cover of a lesbian pulp!

Ah the joys of research. Mystery author Sara Gran was once asked at a reading “how much research should a writer do?” Her answer: you can never do enough, basically research until you run out of steam or time. This is the opposite of the usual pragmatic advice that writers should do the bare minimum of research necessary to make their fiction convincing. I was delighted to hear someone else validate what has always been my preferred approach.

For me, writing lesbian pulp parodies is really an excuse to read old Teen magazines, Girl Scout Handbooks, Sears Catalogs, and of course The Ladder, the newsletter of the Daughters of Bilitis, everyone’s favorite lesbian activist group from the 1950s. I know that not everyone is as enthralled with fashion copy as I am (“the skirt billows with quintuple cluster pleats…the total look: nonchalant”–sheer poetry!) but The Ladder is really mandatory reading for anyone interested in what actual lesbians were doing and thinking while their fictional counterparts lived out their pulpy lives.

Here’s a sample: in January, 1964, The Ladder reported that previous to September 20, 1963, the Coca Cola plant in Sacramento required job applicants to submit to “a depth interview and polygraph evaluation.” In other words, a lie detector test. Anyone with a burning desire to bottle the “official drink of 47 state fairs” would be hooked up to a polygraph machine and quizzed on topics “relating to applicants’ sex life and sympathy towards unions.”

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of topics? I would have failed on both counts, alas. No assembly line for me! The polygraph testing came to a stop only when a state law prohibiting their use went into effect on the above mentioned date.