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Royal Young: Ed Wood’s Sleaze Paperbacks

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Photo by Lee Brozgol.

For decades, the Lower East Side bled into Soho bohemia. The two neighborhoods shared seedy streets, and tin-ceilinged lofts where artists were able to live cheaply, pouring their passion onto canvasses and paper.  Though this deliciously dangerous atmosphere populated by prostitutes, junkies and creatives—sometimes playing interchangeable roles—is gone, Boo-Hooray gallery recently celebrated the seedy with an exhibition of Ed Wood’s sleaze paperbacks.

Born in upstate New York, Wood became the king of camp on the West Coast. In Los Angeles, Wood was a screenwriter, actor, director, producer, writer, editor and heterosexual cross dresser, who furiously pounded out pulp novels and low budget movies starring Bela Lugosi.  Though his legacy is often laughed at, Wood was a passionate Hollywood player, revealing deep human themes and exploring sexuality and gender through a pop culture medium.

Photo by Lee Brozgol.
Photo by Lee Brozgol.

In a surprisingly secret space high above the tourist bustle of Canal Street, Boo-Hooray expertly showcases Wood’s lurid book collection— ones he authored as well as collected—and intensely erotic photo blow-ups, which often illustrated his torrid tales.

With titles like Orgy of the Dead, Death of a Transvestite and Raped In The Grass, it is easy to see how Wood’s work could be discounted as “camp.”  Yet, the curation of his collection clearly demonstrates a delirious, hypnotic, and purist pop sensibility with deep roots in literature and poetry. The show illustrates the ways in which deviance from the norm can illuminate human nature.

I was invited to the private closing party at Boo-Hooray to celebrate Wood’s work and life.  Though my father, an early artist and pioneer below Houston Street took me to sometimes sexed out gallery exhibitions growing up, I was a bit shocked to see a five year-old girl among the audience gathered to hear Jack Womack, a science fiction author, read Ed’s short story “To Kill A Saturday Night,” perfectly deadpan in his Kentucky drawl.  The tale, revolving around two small town drunks who casually plan on murdering whores, evoked both American’s boredom and thirst for wanton violence.

Also speaking was Bob Blackburn, a sound engineer living in Los Angeles who ended up befriending Kathy Wood, Ed’s widow, towards the end of her life and became co-custodian of the Ed Wood Jr. Estate.  Blackburn told the unlikely story of their friendship. Kathy was living in his low rent apartment complex in L.A.  He happened to recognize her from a documentary, sparking a connection and helping her illuminate the legend her husband had become by working on Tim Burton’s feature film starring Johnny Depp.

Closing the evening was Ricky Luanda of Chain Gang, reading a William S. Burroughs-style Ed Wood cut-up and screening his short film “When Retards Fight Back!”

In a reflection and homage to neighborhood tradition, Boo-Hooray continues to present art which blurs the line between performance and collective.  They have published the Endless Boogie bootleg LP, 20 Minute Jam Getting Out of the City, with cover artwork by Spencer Sweeney. December 6th, for one night only, 100 copies of the silkscreened, hand customized LP will be on display accompanied by a mellow Endless Boogie Unplugged jam session.

TLD columnist Royal Young, born and raised on the Lower East Side, is a New York City author. He contributes literary coverage to Interview Magazine and the new web site Holy Diver. Young recently completed “Fame Shark,” his memoir.

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  1. Ed Wood Jr.’s paperback output far exceeded his film output. It is fascinating to see how many people are being introduced to the underground sleaze paperback genre through their love of Mr. Wood. I’ve found a site that is working on cataloging the sleaze genre called Vintage Paperback Archive. You should check it out.

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