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 →
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 →
The tasteful cover is a harbinger of the tedium to be found on this book’s pages
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 →
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 →
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.
I’m not a fan of the internet. I’m an old-fashioned gal who prefers knitting while listening to Alan Farley talk about his Noel Coward obsession on the radio to web surfing. I was violently against ebooks until a royalty statement made me change my tune (turns out I’m making money from them!). Continue reading →
Twisted Loves, by Mark Ryan “an original Bedside Book”
“A story of strange passions and forbidden lusts that changed a young girl into a twisted sinner!”
This is the template for the exploitation pulp. Lots of big breasted, horny women, sex, sex, and more sex, and then a heterosexual rescue on the final pages. From the cover to the content, this is what most people think of when they think of lesbian pulp.
The Golden Cage, Tereska Torrès (1959, Avon, published by arrangement with the Dial Press)
“Miss Torres is a very naughty Aphrodite presiding over a multitude of libidinous extravaganzas.” (Parade of Books)
Some pulps are meant to be skimmed, and the works of Tereska Torrès belong to that category. She favors the Grand Hotel approach to fiction: a group of disparate people are brought together by unusual circumstances and Tereska tells us a series of colorful, unrelated stories about them. She used this technique in Women’s Barracks (1950), the ground-breaking pulp that started the craze for paperback lesbians, and she uses it in The Golden Cage, one result being that you have to search for the lesbian content in the midst of the mostly heterosexual shenanigans. The set-up in Women’s Barracks is that a group of women are brought together when they join the Free French troops during WWII. In the Golden Cage it’s Continue reading →
“A shockingly candid tale of misbegotten sexuality…” (New York Herald Tribune) “the probable successor to Lolita…you might say Marjorie Lee has dramatized the Kinsey Report” (Hartford Times).
Would that were so! Here’s the shocking truth about this lesbian pulp: no lesbian sex. None. Not even some groping. It’s all come on (look at that cover!) and no delivery. I should have suspected something was amiss, when even Lucy Freeman (author of Fight Against Fears) told me in the forward that I was in for something Continue reading →
From 1942 to 1944, Barbara Deming worked for the Library of Congress as a film analyst. Her job was to go to the movies and take detailed notes about what she watched. By her own account, she saw a quarter of Continue reading →