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06 May 2023

Donald A Wollheim/Darrell G Raynor (1914-1990) science fiction writer and editor, trans memoirist - Part 1

(writing as Darrell Raynor, Wollheim invariably used male pronouns for other transvestites, and this will be taken as his choice of pronoun)

(All page references to A Year Among the Girls (AYAG) are to the 1968 Lancer Book edition)

A life-long New Yorker, Donald Wollheim discovered science fiction at the age of 13 in 1927 with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing. In 1934 his first story was published in Gernsback’s Wonder Stories, and as per Gernsback’s usual practice he was not paid. He found other unpaid authors and they sued.

In 1936 he organized what was later deemed to be the first science fiction convention when a New York group met with a Philadelphia group in the latter city. In 1937 he founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association; in 1938 he was a co-founder of the Futurians, a Marxist-influenced SF fan group that included many who would later become well-known SF writers. Over the next couple of decades Wollheim became a moderately successful SF author (sometimes using pseudonyms: Allen Zweig, David Grinnell, Millard Verne Gordon, Martin Pearson), but more significantly as an editor and publisher. In 1943, after a long courtship, he married fellow Futurian Elsie Balter.

From 1947 he was an editor at the pioneering paperback publisher Avon Books. In 1951 the Wollheims had a daughter, Elizabeth or Betsy. A year later Donald joined the new publisher Ace Books as an editor. Among the writers who debuted at Ace were Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delany, Leigh Brackett, Ursula K. Le Guin and John Brunner. He published William S. Burroughs’ Junkie, and reprinted Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tales of Tarzan and of Mars, and brought out the paperback version of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

By the end of the 1950s he was at the top of his trade, was flying back and forth across the US, and his father had a stroke and became his son’s responsibility.

“… deep down, I hated him. This was a concealed hatred, as such things usually are, but it was a deep, thoroughly entrenched part of my whole social attitude. [AYAG: 16-17]

He continued:

“I have a theory that most tranvestites are father haters; that most homosexuals are mother haters. I do not equate transvestism with homosexuality for this reason.” [AYAG:17]

By December 1961 Wollheim was building to a nervous break-down:

“Underneath, in the springs of my subconscious, new forces were thrusting through. I felt the sap of my masculinity rising to higher pitches than ever before. I became intensely aware of women, more so than ever was normal to me before. My sexual fantasies began to shape themselves into sharper forms, more violent. More vivid.

I thought about transvestism. I became actively curious about it. Were there really such people? What were they like? Did they see things as I did?

There is a literature of transvestism, but it is limited, rare, and not very satisfactory. There are nasty little stores on Main Street in Los Angeles and 42nd Street in New York that sometimes have little booklets that touch on the subject. …

I think that the nervous breakdown became extreme in December. It grew more manifest in January. In that month, two things occurred. I saw a copy of a real transvestite magazine in a store in New York, and a curious Canadian newspaper found its way into my hands.”

[AYAG: 17-18]

He tells us that:

“The fantasy generally took the form of imagining myself being forced to such clothing as punishment for some imaginary misdemeanor. That was how my mind got around the shame of desire. … transvestism was a buried stream throughout the greater part of my life. A few hasty experiments now and then when opportunity coincided with lust.” [AYAG:15]

He had also discovered, in certain bookstores on 42nd St, a few illustrated booklets featuring petticoat punishment created by a writer generally referred to as Nan Gilbert. In 1960 Gilbert had had his mail stopped and was fined $500. Wollheim nevertheless contacted Gilbert, and they corresponded for some time.

In March 1962 Wollheim, in Los Angeles on business, having previously corresponded, met first Virginia Prince in his hotel room, and then was invited to dinner with Virginia and wife Doreen. He was chauffeured to the Prince’s home by Robert Stevens/Barbara Ellen, previously the manager of a radio station back east, who was also a business associate of Prince (AYAG: chp 1-4). After an interesting evening, it was suggested that in New York Darrell should contact Gail and Susanna who were listed in Transvestia. He also bought the complete back file of Transvestia.

Back home, the first task was to tell Mrs Wollheim. This was done in stages and accomplished after 10 days, and a few days after that they went shopping together on 5th Avenue for feminine nightwear. 

Darrell also wrote letters to Gail and to Susanna. The former had to go via Prince/Transvestia in Los Angeles, and therefore took longer to get a response. Susanna had published contact details in Transvestia, and could be contacted directly. A letter from Susanna arrived quickly, but an actual meeting – for one reason or another – took several months. It was early April, two weeks later, before a letter arrived from Gail, but it gave a phone number, and Wollheim was able to visit the next evening, had a heart-to-heart chat and was given gossip about New York transvestites.

Nan Gilbert – who had been active among transvestites at an earlier date, and had also been a business man – gave advice not to contact persons such as Gail and Susanna, in that they were frustrated persons who would be disappointing. On the other hand, Wollheim and Gail met a few times for lunch. In May Gail’s move to an apartment in Greenwich Village was complete and Wollheim attended a small party where Gail was the only person in female clothing. Gilbert was mentioned, and known by those who were present. Later when Wollheim sent regards to Gilbert from ‘Alice from Canada’, a reference to one in attendance, Gilbert became curt, and the correspondence was soon discontinued.

Wollheim had business in the Pacific northwest, and wrote to Annette, in Idaho, who had been the cover girl on Transvestia #5, and was duly welcomed. Annette, an engineer and mechanic, lived outside the city, oscillated openly with a wife, two children and a mother, and openly transvested with friends and neighbors and even members of the city council.

The social functions at Gail’s were on most evenings. Wollheim met more of Gail’s acquaintances, and heard tell of Siobhan, who was doing a science PhD, was editor of a science journal and was one of the most successful transvestites in the city.

On the 4th July, Mrs Wollheim also attended the soiree at Gail’s. This was the first time that they met ‘Fiona from New Zealand’ (actually Katherine Cummings from Australia). A few weeks later the Wollheims visited ‘Fiona’ in Toronto where she was taking a librarian studies degree.

In September, after having been stood up twice by Susanna, and not until then met her, Wollheim phoned to ascertain that she was at home and went straight round. They talked and got on, and Wollheim agreed to attend the Halloween weekend meeting at the Chevalier D’Eon cottage that Susanna and wife owned in upstate New York, the second year that Virginia Prince was to attend – coming all the way from Los Angeles.

Come Halloween, the Wollheims drove up on the Saturday morning. For the first time Wollheim appeared in female dress – for the after-dinner party. Most of the persons that he had met at Gail’s were there as was Virginia Prince, and ‘Fiona’ from Toronto and her flat mate. And psychologists Hugo Beigel and Wardell Pomeroy – who did not cross-dress. Harry Benjamin had also been invited but did not arrive. The Wollheims invited Annette and Virginia and their wives to visit in New York the next day.

In December Wollheim and wife attended a party at Susanna’s New York apartment.

In the early months of 1963, Wollheim, being a professional writer and editor, began to consider putting his feelings and experiences of the past year onto paper, especially as the near mental-breakdown of the year before had passed as he had accepted what he really was, and something like normality had been recovered. As preparation for the writing, he intended to attend a meeting of Virginia’s Hose and Heels Club while in Los Angeles. He had heard that Barbara Ellen, Prince’s business partner was on the out, as was Evelyn, another close associate. Wollheim wrote to Prince asking to attend the Club meeting, but it took three weeks before an answer came, and the answer took umbrage with a piece of doggerel that Wollheim had innocently sent when requesting that any photographs of him not be published. Wollheim had also been corresponding with Barbara-Jean, vice president of the Hose and Heels Club. Prince forbad attendance at the meeting, but did agree to meet with him, but only on the condition that he not contact Barbara Ellen, Evelyn or Barbara Jean.

The first night in Los Angeles, Wollheim went to dinner with Prince and wife, and afterwards back to Prince’s home where he heard Prince’s side of the dispute, which he initially accepted. However two days later he was having second thoughts and phoned Barbara Jean, which led to dinner and an invitation to a party on Friday night where he met all three of the ex-communicants. Evelyn invited Wollheim to breakfast on Sunday morning before his flight home. Prince had also proposed Sunday morning breakfast, but then cancelled it after hearing that Wollheim had attended the party.

Continued in Part II.


“copy of a real transvestite magazine in a store in New York, and a curious Canadian newspaper found its way into my hands”. December 1961. The magazine was of course Transvestia, and the Canadian newspaper Justice Weekly. Peter Farrer published an excellent book on the latter in 2011: Cross Dressing since the War: Selections from Justice Weekly 1955-1972.

1 comment:

  1. This was, well, fascinating. I was a big science-fiction fan as a teenager and I'm pretty sure I read a couple of Donald A. Wollheim's juveniles back the. I certainly read a bunch of books he edited and published.
    And then again, A Year Among The Girls was pretty much the first book on trans issues I ever found or got to read, so it was pretty important to me. How surprising to find that both the author of the book and the publisher of some my favorite s-f books were the same person is pretty...awesome
    Incidentally, someone uploaded the documentary movie Casa Susanna to YouTube a couple weeks ago. Two of the people interviewed were Donald Wollheim's daughter and Susanna Valenti's step-grandson.
    I mention the later as a bit of an update. Susanna 's article on this website says that she dropped out of the community and her final date is unknown. In the documentary, the step-grandson says that Susanna and her wife Maria remained a loving couple although they lived apart after Susanna's trransition. Susanna finally died of a brain tumor within a couple of months of Maria.


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