Gerda and Einer Wegener posing in front of one of Gerda’s paintings, 1925.
After moving to Paris from Copenhagen in the early 1900s, the work of then 26-year-old Gerda Wegener garnered the attention of the liberal and experimental art scene thriving in the adventurous city. Though she was already a successful artist in her former hometown well known for her lush illustrations for fashion magazines, a nearly unprecedented event involving her husband Einer would send the pair off to Paris with the hope that their unconventional partnership would be better accepted in the more permissive city.
If Wegener’s name is familiar to you, it is most likely because the extraordinary lives of the groundbreaking artist and her husband were the subjects of the 2015 film, The Danish Girl which was based on a fictional novel from 2000 of the same name by David Ebershoff. If you’ve not read the book or seen the film, the Wegeners’ story is an incredibly compelling tale of love, acceptance, bravery and of course sex. As I don’t want to provide every detail of their extraordinary tale as not to spoil it for anyone, I’ll share a few points of interest as they pertain to Gerda’s spellbinding erotica.
According to historians, Einer’s interest in exploring his true sexuality began after a model failed to show for a sitting with his wife. After she jovially mused that Einer should put on a pair of thigh-highs and heels so she could still paint, he agreed. Unbeknownst to fans of her work, the image of a mysterious dark-haired beauty who would be a reccurring subject in her paintings was actually Einer who had become the primary focus and muse for his wife.
In 1930 after living much of his life as “Lili,” at the age of 47 Einer would travel to Germany to forever transition to a woman and would be one of the first men to go through gender-reassignment surgery. Wegener’s erotic, lesbian-themed paintings caused quite a stir—including the occasional public riot due to their graphic nature. Her less controversial works would grace the pages of Vogue for years as well as other fashion publications.
I’ve included an array of images from Wegener’s vast catalog of erotic works below which, as you might have guessed, are beguilingly NSFW.
It was fifty years ago this week that the future began with the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, and his banana. The destruction and rebuilding of rock ‘n’ roll music as it then existed commenced. This was all taking place even though only a few people knew about it at the time. The right few, as always. I have to think that anyone reading this knows the history of the Velvet Underground so I’m not going to rehash it here.
In the thirty years since Warhol’s death, the human race has bought and sold more “Andy” than Andy himself could possibly have dreamed of and more. Much more. Too much even. Year after year there are more Warhol books, toys, giant banana pillows, clothing lines, shoes, Andy Warhol glasses, movies, action figures (or maybe inaction figures, this being Warhol), pencils, notebooks, skateboards—literally everything ever! There’s been more most post mortem Warhol merchandising than for practically anyone or anything you can name. Even more than for Elvis, Marilyn or James Dean who had head starts.
Warhol and his entourage were infamous speedfreaks—speedfreaks with cameras, tape recorders, and movie gear who talked a lot and didn’t sleep much—and his every utterance was recorded, long before museums, historical posterity and millions of dollars were the reasons.
With the advent of the Warhol Museum, Andy’s every movement, thought, and influence has been discussed, dissected, filed and defiled ad nauseum. Every single piece of art he ever did can be traced back to an original page in a newspaper, an ad in the back of a dirty magazine, a photograph, a Sunday comic, or an item from a supermarket shelf and they’ve ALL been identified and cataloged.
Except for one.
Probably the second most popular of Warhol’s images, standing in line right behind the Campbell’s soup can, is the banana image found on the cover of the first Velvet Underground album. Thee banana! But where did it come from? Everything else was appropriated from somewhere. What about this one?
I KNOW where it came from and I have known for around thirty years. Oddly enough it only just now occurred to me (when I looked up Warhol’s death date) that I found this thing, which I am about to describe, mere weeks before Andy’s untimely demise.
I grew up in the sixties and I’ve loved the Velvet Underground since even before the advent of punk. And I love Andy Warhol, too. Just look at my Facebook profile photo. I have shelves of books on Warhol and all things Velvets and have amassed quite a collection of Warhol and Velvets rarities. My favorite book of all time is Andy Warhol’s Index from 1966, a children’s pop-up book filled with drag queens, the Velvets, 3-D soup cans and even a Flexi disc record with Lou Reed’s face on it with a recording of the Velvet Underground listening to a test pressing of their first LP. The one with the BANANA.
The author’s Facebook profile pic. Duh.
Andy Warhol’s number one right-hand man in the sixties and the person who turned the Factory silver (among many many other things including being the primary photographer of the Factory’s “silver years”) was Billy Name (Linich). An online comment described him this way:
You can’t get more inside than Billy Name in Warhol’s Factory world. In fact he lived in the Factory - and to be more specific he lived in the bathroom at the Factory - and to be even more specific he stayed in the locked bathroom without coming out for months (years?).
And so to quote this definitive “insider” Billy Name on the history of the banana:
...bananas had been a Warhol theme earlier in the Mario Montez feature film Harlot mostly as a comedic phallic symbol. In the general hip culture, Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow” was going on [mellow yellow; roast banana peels in an oven, and then roll and smoke them]. The high was called “mello yellow.”
The specific banana image Andy chose came from I know not where; it’s not a Chiquita banana or Dole fruit company, because Andy’s banana has ‘overripe’ markings on it, and the fruit companies use whole yellow bananas on their stickers. Anyway, Andy first used this particular banana image for a series of silk-screen prints which he screened on white, opaque, flexible, Plexiglass (sort of like 2 feet x 5 feet). First an image of the inner banana “meat” was screened on the Plexi in pink, and then covered by the outer skin screened on and cut out of a glossy yellow sticky-back roll of heavy commercial paper (ordered from some supply warehouse). Thereby each banana could be peeled and the meat exposed and the skin could be replaced a number of times, ‘til the sticky stuff wore out. Naturally this was intentionally erotic Warhol-type art.
When thinking of a cover for the first Velvets album, it was easy for Andy to put one of his own works on the cover, knowing it was hip, outrageous, and original and would be “really great.” Andy always went the easy way, using what he had, rather than puzzling and mulling over some design elements and graphics for cover art that don’t really work. His art was already there, hip, erotic, and cool. The Plexi silk screen art definitely came first, in 1966. The album came out in ‘67. I do not recall any other design being thought of or even considered. The back of the album cover was a pastiche amalgam of photos from Andy’s films, Steven Shore, Paul Morrissey and myself and was messy and mulled over too much.
So here we are on the fiftieth anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico and its mysterious banana cover art, and I felt that I have held this secret for way too long. I always wanted to use this in a book or something but it never happened.
This thing was hanging on my kitchen wall for three decades, in New York and LA and is now in secured storage for reasons which are about to become obvious. This is how I found it: One day in the mid 80s I was cruising around the Lower East Side aimlessly—as I had done most of my life up to that point—running into friends, looking at stuff people were selling on the street, stopping into Manic Panic, Venus Records, St. Marks Books, and any junk shops that caught my eye. There was one on Broadway that I had never seen before right down the street from Forbidden Planet and the greatest place ever, the mighty Strand Book Store. I went in and there was a lot of great stuff for me. I found some old records, a huge stash of outrageous and disgusting tabloid newspapers from the sixties which I kept buying there for a couple months afterward, and some cool old knick-knacks. I knocked into something on a crowded table full of junk and heard a big CLANG on the cement floor. I bent down to pick it up. It was one of those cheap triangular tin ashtrays that usually advertised car tires or something mundane. I picked it up (it was face down) and when I turned it over I was surprised to see…THE BANANA!!
It was an ad for bananas printed on a cheap metal ashtray.
Don’t you like a banana? ENJOY BANANA. Presented by WING CORP. designed by LEO KONO production”
I thought wow, this is cool! But over time I realized that I had quite literally stumbled across a true missing link. I figured I’d use it for something big one day, but I never did. UNTIL NOW. Ladies and germs, Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground fans and scholars, without further ado I bring you THE MISSING LINK! A true Dangerous Minds mega exclusive! (As Jeb Bush would say “Please clap.”).
A primitive, pounding Moe Tucker drumroll please for the reveal of THEE BANANA…after the jump
Who knew puffy jackets were a turn-on? Illustration by artist Dominic Myatt from the 2016 book ‘(no kissing).’ Text reads: “I’ve got a real fetish for masc lads wearing puffs/padded jackets. If this is something your interested in too, hit me up and we can chat and hopefully meet. Send pic in first email along with stats for response.”
There are so many things to love about London-based artist Dominic Myatt‘s illustrated “m4m” (men for men) Craigslist personal ads. Such as the fact that he kept all the various typos from the original ads (genius), and his wildly inappropriate interpretations of the people who placed the ads themselves caught in the act of their requested liaisons. Thanks to Japanese publisher MNK Press, (no kissing) a book featuring 30 of Myatt’s m4m illustrated ads can be yours for about 34 bucks. According to other Internet sources, (no kissing) will soon be available from a UK publisher as well. I’ve included a few of Myatt’s incredibly specific illustrations from (no kissing) below. And, much like some of the characters you might, er, cum across on Craigslist, they are pretty NSFW. But funny.
And since I’ve grown fond of all of you DM deviants, I transcribed the text associated with Myatt’s illustrations so you can read them in all their horny, typo-riddled glory.
Text reads: older white man, generous, looking for a man to TORTURE. BIG nipples, can take a lot of pain. hope to find a man into it, slap me around too, need a ROUGH man.
Text reads: Looking for muscular alpha guys. I have beefy titties and like for a guy to squeeze bit/nibble, and tongue them. you can also titty fuck them. I am masc and discreet.
Jim Hopkins of the SF Disco Preservation Society curates a digital archive of mixes, sourced from old cassettes and reel-to-reels, from luminary ‘80s and ‘90s San Francisco dance club DJs.
Many of these mixes come from gay dance clubs which are no longer in operation.
“Somebody just came and dropped off this whole bag of cassettes,” Hopkins told SFist. “A lot of these guys are getting up in years, and this is stuff that shouldn’t be lost.”
Hopkins wants people who went to SF nightclubs like Pleasuredome, the I-Beam, and the EndUp back in the day to be able to hear some of these multi-hour mixes that they may only have the haziest memories of, and he wants to introduce a new generation of DJs and nightlife mavens to the talents of their forebears.
The online archive which is housed at hearthis.at contains a selection of ‘80s mixes. Dance mixes from the ‘90s can be found on a separate page here.
What’s really remarkable about these mixes are how deep many of the cuts go. There’s really so much worthwhile high-energy dance music which has been lost to the sands of time. Hopkins’ curation of these tapes will hopefully expose a lot of this music to new ears. This archive is your one-stop destination for programming your next workout or home dance party.
After the jump a selection of mixes from this amazing archive…
Last year Finland became the first country to produce its own set of national emojis; last week the country enxpanded its collection from 49 to 56, and one of the new additions represents legendary gay icon Tom of Finland.
Keeping in the spirit of emojis, Finland’s full collection of emojis is quite whimsical. There are icons dedicated to “Headbanger,” “Fashionista Finns,” and “Four seasons of BBQ,” for instance.
The images of Touko Laaksonen, published from the 1950s to the 1980s under the catchy pseudonym Tom of Finland, consisted largely of fantastically muscular sailors, bulging cops, and lascivious leather enthusiasts, and rapidly became a key part of the gay aesthetic of the 20th century and beyond.
[Laaksonen’s artworks] made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the way sexual minorities perceive themselves. Laaksonen is often considered Finland’s most famous artist internationally. His work has adorned postage stamps–the most popular stamp set in the history of the Finnish Postal Service–and now it has also become an emoji. The emoji recognises the impact and importance of Tom of Finland’s art, and appears just before same-sex marriage officially becomes legal in Finland (as of March 1, 2017).
Here’s what the emoji looks like:
It’s clear that whatever discrimination and abuse Laaksonen may have experienced in his lifetime, Finland has recently made a concerted effort to embrace its country’s most famous artist. As mentioned, three years ago the country released a line of Tom of Finland postage stamps, sparking international headlines. Now you can find an emoji of his likeness on the country’s main website.
It’s amazing when you consider what we might now view as quaint, familiar photographic imagery was once a serious no-no. We’ve all seen photos of Betty Page bound and gagged to the point where it’s no more shocking than a LIFE magazine cover image. When John Alexander Scott Coutts aka “John Willie,” publisher of the original Bizarre magazine and the author/ artist of the iconic art comic The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline started, excuse me, basically invented fetish photography as we now know it, it was a punishable crime.
Possibilities!, a massive 472 page coffee table book of John Willie’s photos, published by J.B. Rund’s Belier Press is the be-all, end-all last word from the world’s greatest expert on the subject.
Belier Press has been in existence since 1974 and the publisher’s own story is as interesting as the subject of the books he puts out. J.B. Rund was a young teen running around in the original rock ‘n’ roll era (1955/56) looking for second hand rock ‘n’ roll 45s to buy cheap from juke box distributors in Times Square. One of these stores also had “adult books” and this is where the author first saw a John Willie photo. The afterward of this book goes into great detail about this discovery period and the history of Belier Press. Belier Press has published all kinds of books, not just fetish photography, though I can say that the first time I ever saw a photo of Betty Page was on the cover of Belier’s Betty Page Private Peeks volume two. He also put out R. Crumb’s Carload o’ Comics, The Complete Fritz The Cat, all of the reprints of the Irving Klaw catalogs (Bizarre Katalogs), Eric Stanton and Gene “Eneg” Bilbrew and other fetish artists in Bizarre Komix (24 volumes!), The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline and the recent deluxe reprint. An amazing run.
Possibilities! has more than 1,360 photographs basically giving a visual history of John Willie’s fetish coming of age and, in fact, the birth of what we take for granted now as an art form, a style, a distinctive look and feel all which can be traced back in these photos to something that sparked excitement in one man’s mind (and loins) and the fact that he wasn’t afraid to act on that idea, even though for all he knew he may have been one of the only people on earth to feel this way.
John Alexander Scott Coutts (or JASC as the author refers to him) was born in 1902 in Singapore, the youngest of four children of William Scott and Edith Ann Spreckley Coutts. His father, wanting to go into business for himself moved the family to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, a northwest suburb of London in June 1903. As a very young child Coutts was drawn to a particular type of children’s fantasy literature called “Fairy Books,” where he developed an attraction for “damsels in distress” and the want to rescue these damsels. At around this time he also showed a talent for drawing.
To quote the author:
At about the age of puberty he became aware of another attraction—for women in high heeled shoes—which had a strong sexual connotation for him. In his fantasies John wanted these women in high-heels to be tied-up (in order to rescue them?).
In September of 1921 Coutts entered Sandhurst (the Royal Military Academy), graduating in 1923 with a commission as Second Lieutenant and joined the Royal Scots regiment. In 1925 he married Eveline Stella Frances Fisher, a nightclub hostess who he decided needed “rescuing.” They were married without the required permission of his regiment and against his the wishes of his father (who cut him off), so he moved to Australia in late 1925 or early 1926. The marriage disintegrated soon after. One day in 1934 Coutts stumbled upon McNaught’s, a shoe store on King Street that had a sideline catering to shoe fetishists. He also discovered in that establishment the existence of a weekly British magazine called London Life.
London Life was, as Rund puts it:
...a weekly British magazine that openly dealt with a range of fetishes, but in a conservative manner that would seem quaint by today’s (lack of) standards. Suddenly John Coutts realized that he was NOT alone!
At this point he was introduced to a locally based organization for shoe fetishists, possibly called “The High-Heel Club,” run by a retired ship’s captain who went by the name “Achilles.” He then met Holly Anna Faram around 1934, a woman that shared his his interests in bondage & high heels. She became his first model, and his second wife.
“Coutts was frustrated by the refusal of London Life to print any of his letters on the subject of bondage and arrived at the conclusion–in 1936 or ‘37–that he could produce a superior and more liberal publication, which in 1946 would come to called Bizarre.
In the decade in between coming up with the idea of Bizarre magazine and getting the finances to put that project together, he came up with the idea of selling high-heeled shoes, though he actually wanted to market his photographs of women wearing those shoes and not the actual shoes themselves. But it didn’t work out that way.
In 1937 Coutts got access to “The High-Heel Club” mailing list and started his career as a photographer. He also acquired the right to use the name “Achilles.” At first, using the list, he offered rather pedestrian photos of women wearing high-heels. He then added Holly Anna Faram who turned out to be an amazing model and started offering bondage poses, but in a veiled manner. Like many artists, writers and musicians Coutts was not a good businessman and not very good with money, a problem that would follow him throughout his life.
Early in 1938 he placed a series of ads in London Life magazine for his sexy shoes, charging what he felt would be too much for any potential customer (wanting to push his more reasonably priced photos instead) and naturally people started to order them. Now he had to do something, or return the money. So Coutts added shoe maker/designer to his list of accomplishments. He also put the money together to make his dream magazine but World War II broke out and that ended that dream, at least for a while.
In 1940, John Coutts volunteered for service in the Australian Army (listing his religion as “Pagan”). In 1945 he decided to move to America to once again attempt to bring his Bizarre dream to life. At the end of that year he travelled to Canada on a merchant ship to subsidize the trip. In Montreal he found a printer that not only had an allotment of paper (remember this was wartime), but was willing to take on the job. At that moment both “John Willie” and Bizarre were born.
As far as Coutts’ new name was concerned and what it meant—“Willie,” of course, being British slang for the male sex organ—but “John Willie” was also a Cockney rhyming slang term for a little boy, so ummmm… take your pick! At last he was on his way. Willie moved to New York City in 1946 or ‘47, trying to work on Bizarre with not a lot of luck. He postponed publishing after four issues and started again in 1951. He sold the magazine to a friend in 1956 after publishing 20 issues. He also did business with infamous fetish photographer and mail order dealer Irving Klaw, famous for his Tempest Storm and Betty Page photos, bondage photos, fetish cartoon serials and of course, the photos by John Willie. Klaw made two color full length films (Teaserama and Varietease) which survived and can be seen on one DVD from Something Weird Video.
To quote Rund again:
In April of 1961, after moving to Los Angeles, Coutts/Willie was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, followed in May by a confrontation with a Postal Inspector concerning his photographs. He then decided to put an end to his activities as “John Willie” and destroyed all of his negatives as well as his mailing list sending this announcement to his customers:
“On this occasion I will forgo the usual editorial “WE” (which is more businesslike) and instead, as this is the last letter you will ever receive from me I am reverting to “I”. I got sick (it happened very suddenly) and had to undergo a major operation (of course I’d have no insurance). As a result, there will be no more “Gwendoline,” and the whole business will be closed as of June 25th. (I have a few weeks grace—I hope.) I would like to inform you that on that date everything, but everything, including the mailing list will be destroyed… It’s been nice to have known you and I wish you the very best in your games of fun and nonsense.”
This was followed by a quotation from John’s favorite book (his “Bible”), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he had also quoted at the beginning of each issue of Bizarre: “Ah, with the grape of my fading Life provide, And wash my Body whence the Life has died, And in a Windingsheet of Vine-leaf wrapt, So bury me by some sweet Garden-side.”
John Alexander Scott Coutts passed away on August 5th 1962, at a doctor friend’s house in Scottsdale Arizona, on the same day that Marilyn Monroe died.
Little could Coutts have known the impact his art and life would have on the future of human sexuality. This impact is mostly due to Bizarre magazine and his The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, both of which have been documented. According to author and publisher J.B. Rund:
The former (Bizarre) in the disappointing reprint of the magazine. The Latter (Gwendoline), together with a substantial amount of previously unpublished and uncollected artwork, in The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, (Belier Press, 1974 and 1999). And to a lesser extent, as a photographer, which heretofore has been poorly and disrespectfully done. The present work will expand on this other talent, and provide an extensive—but not a complete—record of his prodigious output in that medium.
The photos in the book are culled almost completely from just two sources, the author/publisher’s personal collection and that of the Kinsey Institute. It’s separated into three huge sections, geographically (Australia, New York, Los Angeles) which match his life’s timeline and it’s just incredible to see it all in one massive artistic survey. The notes, introductions and afterward are riddled with the most minute details that seem to leave no stone unturned. If you have even the slightest interest in pop culture, photography, women in distress, art, bondage, or the history of alternative culture, then you owe it to yourself to own this book—the only one you’ll ever need on this subject. Trade edition available from Belier Press for $70. Deluxe limited edition of 150 numbered copies each in a custom made cloth slipcase containing an ORIGINAL print of a photograph taken by John Willie in Los Angeles circa 1958-61, a different photo in each book, plus reproductions of two previously privately circulated photographs taken by Willie in Sydney circa 1938 (not in the book). Plus John Willie Speaks–John Willie Sings!?!, an audio CD, just under forty-eight minutes, consisting of a monologue from Within A Story, his only known speaking part in a motion picture from 1954, and excerpts from the only known interview with Willie from 1961-62, excerpts from A Bawdy Recital–Poems, songs and stories performed by John Willie in 1962. Whew! A serious bargain if you ask me, as only Belier Press could whip up.
A fantastic, gender-bending cover of ‘Female Mimics” magazine, 1971.
Launched in 1963, Female Mimics magazine was the very first glossy covered cross-dressing publication of its kind. In the past magazines of this sort tended to be the size of “digests” so this was a rather significant advancement for a magazine catering to the crossdressing/transgender community.
The first issue featured Kim August a popular drag performer at the equally popular 82 Club located in the East Village of New York City. August was well-known for his spot-on impersonations of Bette Davis, drag icon Judy Garland and the then emerging star (and another drag favorite) Barbra Streisand. The cover of Female Mimics debut featured opposing photos of August as a man and all dolled as his female alter-ego with a blonde wig, red bustier and leather skirt. Over the course of its first few years of publication the magazine routinely homaged other stars of the professional female impersonator nightclub scene not just in the U.S. but all over the world such as the renowned Madame Arthur’s in Paris and Le Carrousel. When it came to the “writing” inside the pages of Female Mimics it was as over-the-top as the flamboyant entertainers it featured, though it’s important to note that much of the editorial information wasn’t necessarily based in fact and, as you will see in the images from the magazine in this post, Female Mimics tried very hard to assert a strong “heterosexual” vibe when it came to how their drag-loving subjects were presented.
Here’s more on how FM walked that “straight” line direct from the pages of the magazine discussing the case of “Joi Fulnesee,” who was allegedly an autoworker in Detroit who liked to dress like a woman after-hours:
Recently Joi Fulnesee’s wife gave him a Dior gown for a birthday gift. Joi spends his evenings gloriously gowned female attire. Can you imagine how surprised his co-workers at the auto plant would be?”
Any “writing” in FM was generally not credited although I did come across a name that was familiar to me, Carlson Wade. If you follow my ramblings here on Dangerous Minds you may also recall Wade’s name as it is attached to many salacious publications on the subject of cross dressing, transvestism, fetish and the “dangers” of homosexuality. Given Wade’s track record (he also published trashy literature under the name of “Ken Worthy”), it’s not surprising that the background information on the performers and drag enthusiasts in the magazine were perhaps spurious at best, if not just totally made up. FM would continue to publish its provocative content under different names for sixteen years until 1979.
I’ve included many images of the colorful covers of Female Mimics for you to peruse below. Some are slightly and delightfully NSFW.
The premiere issue of ‘Female Mimics’ magazine featuring entertainer Kim August, both as a man and in drag, 1963.
Vintage matchbook cover from the Jewel Box Lounge in Kansas City, Missouri.
A few of my DM colleagues as well as myself have posted about vintage matchbooks previously—think of them as folk art—so I was pretty delighted when I came across a large array of vintage drag and gay club matchbooks—some dating back to the 1950s.
Like some of you, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for matchbooks and have a large collection of them myself that I’ve collected over the years from places that no longer exist like the one of the greatest rock clubs in Boston, The Channel and other clubs and bars that closed their doors long ago. When it comes to the drag club matchbook covers I can’t lie—they are fantastic and as colorful as the female impersonators who graced the stages at venues like the Jewel Box Lounge in Kansas City (one of which is pictured at the top of this post), or the artistic interpretation of the leather boys that hung out at the Ambush in San Francisco back in the day.
Occasionally these kinds of matchbooks do pop up on auction sites such as eBay and depending on their condition can sell for as much as $50. I’m especially fond of the matchbook personalized by drag performer/piano player “extraordinaire” Sir Lawrence Lawson who notes that every time you light your “reefer” with one of his gay matches you’ll read his poetic message reminding you that he’s “thinking of you.” Awww.
A matchbook from the San Francisco gay club Ambush.
The Torch Club, Sacramento, California. The club first opened its doors in 1934.
The cover of the 1960 book ‘Transvestism Today: The Phenomenon of Men Who Dress Like Women.’
According to a note on the back cover of the 1960 book Transvestism Today: The Phenomenon of Men Who Dress Like Women, viewing the book was only for the eyes of those affiliated with the medical community, psychoanalysts or students currently pursuing degrees in “psychology or social studies.” Written by the rather prolific Dr. Edward Podolsky and noted “hack” Carlson Wade, the duo authored many books together on sexuality and psychology. Including The Modern Sex Manual in 1942 which divulged some rather stunning revelations such as the “abnormal” act of masturbation can “dull” the feeling of intercourse:
Masturbation, if it has been indulged in excessively before marriage maybe be a cause of lack of orgasm during coitus. In women, masturbation brings into play abnormal channels of nerve stimulation, and as these are not stimulated during the normal act, the woman fails to achieve and orgasm. In most cases if masturbation is dropped completely and normal sexual activity substituted for it, the normal channels of nerve stimulation will in time bring about a normal enjoyment of the act.
It seems all that is missing from the good doctor’s assessment is that you might also go blind while pleasuring yourself. Podolsky and Wade’s Transvestism Today book is chock full of photographs of famous drag queens such as the alluring Parisian “Coccinelle” (born Jacques Charles Dufresnoy). Coccinelle was notable for many reasons including being the roommate of Salvador Dali muse Amanda Lear and the first French-born man to undergo sexual reassignment surgery which was performed in Casablanca in 1958.
When it comes to Wade’s contributions to the literary world, in addition to to his many collaborations with Dr. Podolsky (including six manuals from 1963 referred to as their “Epic Sexual Behavior Series”) he is also responsible for a series of sleazy pulp paperbacks such as a book on Coccinelle published in 1963 titled She-Male: The Sex-Reversal True Life Story of COCCINELLE. There was also a claim made by Bob Blackburn, the executor of Ed Wood’s estate (on behalf of his second wife Kathy O’Hara) that Wood was actually Carlson Wade and had written the 1958 book by Wade Conquering Goddess. And just because I love to throw our DM readers a good old-fashioned curveball, Wade also penned loads of trash under the name of “Ken Worthy” among other pseudonyms. But as I often do, I digress. Why don’t we take a look at the table of contents from Worthy/Wade/not-Wood 1967 book The Queer Path, shall we?:
The Table of Contents from Wade Carlson’s book ‘The Queer Path,’ 1967.
Moving on, here’s more anti-gay rantings from Worthy/Wade as published in 1965’s The New Homosexual Revolution lest you have any doubt of the author’s feelings about the gay community of the 1960s:
As the ranks of the homosexual is constantly swelling by greater and greater acceptance of this condition as an ‘illness,’ the ranks of the male prostitute is also swelled.
I’ve included images of both pages from both authors’ books as well as other salacious imagery that I’m sure will make you wonder if Dr. Podolsky perhaps got his degree out of a box of Cracker Jacks.
A page from ‘Transvestism Today: The Phenomenon of Men Who Dress Like Women.’
An illustration accompanying Carlson Wade’s article on the ‘strange erotic impulse’ of ‘Vampirism.’
First my respects to the amazing and kooky Miss Debbie Reynolds, a great and truly iconic Hollywood star.
Although most obituaries chose to skip over this (in every sense of the word) incredible moment in Reynolds’ career, What’s the Matter with Helen? is definitely worth a look. The film was directed by the bizarre Curtis Harrington, who began and ended his career by making the same short film version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. The first when he was just sixteen years old in 1942, and the second at age 73 in 2000. Like Kenneth Anger, Harrington started making short experimental films in his teens in the 1940s. He befriended Anger and was featured in his 1954 film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome playing Cesare, the Somnambulist. Harrington would later shoot Anger’s Puce Moment.
The young Curtis Harrington was a charter member of the Hollywood underground which revolved around people like Anger, witchy artist Marjorie Cameron (the subject of Harrington’s short film “The Wormwood Star”), silent movie actor Samson De Brier and other druggy, gender-bending, rule-breaking free thinkers. Satanists, homosexuals, witches, freaks, drag queens, artists, murderers, millionaires and bums, the whole gamut of Hollywood Babylon as we know it today long before things of the sort became popular in the sixties. In the 1950s this was as far underground as Hell itself. The most amazing part of this is, of course, that so many of the biggest stars of the day were enamoured with these people, had to have them at their parties and had different levels of social (and sexual) involvement that will provide facts, info and weird stories to obsess on for decades to come. Unlike Kenneth Anger, Curtis Harrington headed for the hills (Hollywood, that is), and had a decent career making mostly odd horror films (and TV shows like Dynasty) while continuing to do his short experimental art films. What’s The Matter With Helen? is one of the best of his feature films.
By 1971 there was a already an established trend in Hollywood horror films, dubbed the “Grande Dame Guignol Cinema,” it’s something that has also been called the “hagsploitation” or “psycho-biddy” genre. I refer to films like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte and What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?. Although Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard could technically be said to be the first, the advent of the hag genre exploded of course with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring the aging Bette Davis and Joan Crawford letting their hair (and their faces) down. Way down. Which was the entire professional requirement other than being a former leading lady. Since Curtis Harrington knew so many big stars from the 1930s and 40s who were growing into their fifties and wondering what to do with their careers, he made a few hagsploitation movies himself.
Another thing Curtis Harrington had in his pocket by 1971 was his choice of the cream of the crop of old Hollywood’s wildest, weirdest and campiest actors, as well as some of new Hollywood’s most annoying child freaks, especially since the plot of What’s The Matter With Helen? included Reynolds playing a children’s tap dance teacher in 1930’s Hollywood. So many cheese-eating hamster hambones in this one.
To quote Shelley Winters:
It’s about two women during the thirties who run a school to turn out Shirley Temples, and in my next scene I have to stab Debbie Reynolds to death. Poor Debbie — they’d better not give me a real knife.”
Harrington’s cream of the crop, being the eccentric that he was, was just incredible. A who’s who of a pop culture obsessive’s dreams. On the top end of What’s The Matter With Helen?‘s credits we have, of course, Reynolds, Winters and future McCloud actor Dennis Weaver joined by the very old time super actor Michael Mac Liammóir (whose name had at least three different spellings), described in a IMDB bio as:
... a theatrical giant who dominated Irish theatre for over 50 years. Actor, designer, playwright and brilliant raconteur he was very much his own creation. He cut an imposing figure under the spotlight and in real life dressed flamboyantly wearing full make-up at all times and a jet black hairpiece. When he died in 1978 aged 79 The Irish Times wrote that ‘Nobody can assess the contribution that Micheal MacLiammoir made to Irish theatre’....Sir John Gielgud commented “Designer, wit, linguist and boon companion as well as actor, he was a uniquely talented and delightful creature.”
As What’s The Matter With Helen?‘s credits roll they further reveal a string of incredible characters: Agnes Moorehead (who had an unforgettable Hollywood career but is mostly remembered as Endora on Bewitched), wild fifties (very) bad girl Yvette Vickers (Attack of the Giant Leeches, Reform School Girl, Juvenile Jungle, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, and more), and Timothy Carey (possibly the single most out there Hollywood actor in the history of film, who saved his money from movies like The Wild One, East of Eden, The Killing, Naked Gun, Rumble on the Docks, Poor White Trash/Bayou, Beach Blanket Bingo, Head and so many more, to make his masterpiece, The World’s Greatest Sinner with soundtrack by a young Frank Zappa. [Carey spent his later years going on TV talk shows and shooting a movie with his son Romeo called The Devil’s Gas about the importance of farting. Yes that’s what I said]. But beyond them, it also features Pamelyn Ferdin, the most annoying fingernails-on-the- blackboard child actress of the sixties and seventies (who turns up in odd films like The Christine Jorgensen Story and was seemingly on every TV show ever made back then such as My Three Sons, The Monkees, The Paul Lynde Show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and too many more to mention.)
What’s The Matter With Helen? was written by Henry Farrell who wrote both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (most of these Hollywood hag films had titles that were full sentences or questions) the plot concerns a Leopold and Loeb-type thrill murder committed by the sons of two women who are drawn together by these horrible events. Destroyed by the trial, the shame and being attacked mentally and physically, they decide to run away to Hollywood, where they can change their names, reinvent themselves and start all over. There are quite a few amazing twists and turns in the story, gory murders (even a few bunny murders, the shame!), plus beautiful and weird cinematography that make it worth seeing more than once.
The insanity of some of the goings on behind the camera are legendary and hilarious. At first they couldn’t find a big name star to take the lead, but Debbie Reynolds eventually took the role of Adele. To quote her biography Unsinkable:
Eventually, Debbie Reynolds took the role of Adelle. She had a contract with NBC to be an uncredited producer of a film, so she chose this, taking no salary. “They put up $750,000 and hired Marty Ransohoff to be on the set, but I actually produced it.”
Incredibly—or not so incredibly considering who we’re talking about—Shelley Winters was in the middle of a nervous breakdown:
According to Reynolds, Winters’ psychiatrist advised her not to portray “a woman having a nervous breakdown because she was having a nervous breakdown! But nobody knew that, and so all through the film she drove all of us insane! She became the person in the film.” Reynolds witnessed Winters’s questionable mental status off of the set. The two had been friends many years before, and Reynolds offered to chauffeur Winters to and from the set. “I was driving one morning on Santa Monica Boulevard and ahead of me was a woman, wearing only a nightgown, trying to flag down a ride,” recalled Reynolds. It was Winters, who claimed, “I thought I was late.” According to a Los Angeles Times article published while the film was in production, Winters was so difficult on the set that the studio threatened to replace her with Geraldine Page.