Sad Young Men of LA

The Why Not, Victor Banis, A Greenleaf Classic, 1966

Best Line: “The Why Not represented everything he disliked about gay bars–screaming faggots, drag queens, rough trade. It was cheap and tawdry and, probably because of those qualities, successful.”

The above describes the book as well as the bar. I’ve been doing a little research on gay male pulp, in preparation for the upcoming pulp panel, and from what I’ve read The Why Not was the Women’s Barracks of the genre, a ground-breaking novel that led the way for books like Midtown Queen and Hot Pants Homo. 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

DIY Cheesecake

How I Photograph Myself, by Bunny Yeager, 1964

I pulled this gem from the SFPL’s 3rd floor page desk, which turned out to be quite a production. Apparently the book could only be looked at in a certain spot, a particular table next to the Art and Music reference desk, under the eagle eye of the reference librarian. I speculated it might be because Bunny Yeager’s photographs 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

Fountain Pens

I write with a fountain pen. An Esterbrook plunger model. Not just because it’s eco, or because Patricia Highsmith favored Esterbrooks, or because I’m a luddite contrarian, although all these things are true. I use it because it feels good in my hand and the ink goes from dark to peacock blue as it dries and because every time I have to refill it– 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.