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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ed Wood the paperback novelist -- Death of a Transvestite


Death of a Transvestite, by Ed Wood Jr., 172 pages, Four Walls Eight Windows Press, 1999. Originally published by Pad Library in 1967 under the title Let Me Die in Drag.

Besides making some of the most ridiculous ... and unique films ever produced, the infamous Ed Wood produced a lot of writing. He may have written more than 100 novels, and perhaps 1000 short stories. Friends recall that the prolific Wood could wake up, sit down in front of a typewriter and finish an entire screenplay by the evening. Wood's second career writing novels and stories, however, took off in tandem with his alcoholism. He wrote exploitation novels for the cheap paperback market, receiving only a few hundred dollars a book and no royalties. Many of his books have pseudonyms, and by the end of his life, he was writing mainly pornography.

In Nightmare of Ecstasy, Rudolph Grey's excellent oral biography of Wood, the author points to Killer in Drag and Death of a Transvestite as Wood's strongest literary efforts. He's probably right. Death of a Transvestite, a sequel to Killer in Drag, was written before Wood had more or less entirely gravitated to porno. It's a sleazy but entertaining tale of Glenn, a hit man for the Mafia who is also a transvestite, albeit a heterosexual one. The story begins with Glenn in prison, facing execution, relating the story of his life to the warden. In return, the warden will allow Glenn to be executed in drag.

It's actually better than it sounds. Wood was too lazy a researcher to produce a great book, but he captures the underbelly of the characters and settings. Cliches, sleazy prose, sex scenes, violent deaths and hyperbole abound in Death of a Transvestite, but the novel has heart. You root for Glenn. Try to imagine Elmore Leonard producing a first draft of a novel written in a couple of days without spell checks and, presto, you have Death of a Transvestite.

Most of Wood's books are out of print of course, and they command a very high price (in the hundreds of dollars) when an original can be found. However, Four Walls Eight Windows Press, a publisher with offices in New York and London, has reintroduced a few of Wood's novels. (Some were introduced in England in the late 80s) Death of a Transvestite and Killer in Drag can be found at most bookstores, and another Wood re-release, an earlier previously unpublished novel called Hollywood Rat Race, can be purchased via Amazon. I wrote this review several years ago; since then, Ed Wood books are getting harder to locate, but they are worth the search for their unique style and syntax.

-- Doug Gibson

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