Julie Ellis Wrote Lesbian Pulps Her Way

One of the trademarks, the unwritten rules, of lesbian pulp fiction back in the ’50s and ’60s was that the stories often ended unhappily. This was just one of the rules, however, that Julie Ellis insisted on breaking when she began writing and publishing in the genre.

A single mother living in New York City, Ellis forged ahead and built a successful writing career that supported her family. Although a heterosexual woman, Ellis was dedicated to social causes and made the decision to write and publish lesbian fiction… perhaps because such characters were still under-represented in paperback fiction at the time. 

Midwood-Tower published Ellis’ fiction in the early 1960s, and this is when she met with a few struggles. The only way publishers of the day would risk publishing something as taboo as novels depicting a lesbian relationship was to insist the lovers meet dramatic and miserable endings. This wasn’t a rule Ellis allowed her stories to be bound by, however. After all, if novels with lesbian lovers were out there, full of sex but without hope for a happy ending, she thought, one would have to wonder for whom the stories were actually written. There were simply too many tales involving bored and lonely housewives seeking adventure but who then go back to their husbands in the end. It seems as though Ellis wanted lesbian novels to be for lesbians ‒ not for straight men.

girls-dormitory-ellis-96

Gay Girl, Forbidden Sex, and Gay Scene were three of Ellis’s first novels, all published with Midwood and written under the pseudonym of Joan Ellis. All three featured strong main characters ‒ women who, though sad in their own way, were able to survive independently and define their own lives.

Gay Girl tells the story of Phyllis, a successful doctor who is lonely, but who allows love into her life when Eve comes along. Forbidden Sex follows Jean as she meets and falls in love with Lee. Readers are exposed to the inner struggle of accepting one’s sexuality in a world that makes your feelings taboo. Finally, in Gay Scene readers see an even darker side of love. Affairs, and the complications of falling for a bisexual woman are what build a great deal of the plot in this story.

Julie Ellis was born in Georgia in 1933. She was interested in drama from the time she was young, and was not only active in her high school’s drama club, but also wrote plays and a novel during those years. She and her parents moved to New York City when she was 16, and here, she was able to connect on a much deeper level with the drama scene. Focusing on her writing, but taking acting jobs on the side, she married her producer when she was in her twenties. She soon found herself in an unhappy marriage, stepped away from the acting scene, and was determined to raise her two children with earnings from her writing career.

Julie2Ellis passed away in 2006, but many titles and two children survive her. She was in the midst of creating a website and seeking American publishers for some of her most recent work at the time of her passing (many of her later titles were published in the UK.) Her children edited and finished the website so fans of her work could find her titles online.

Julie Ellis, like so many of the powerful lesbian pulp writers of the time, pushed forward, broke the rules, and wrote stories for women who, at the time, had very little representation in the prevailing culture. The importance of social justice in her life can be seen throughout her work, through her independent and often fearless characters, and her happy endings. And because she often had to fight with her publishers to make that a reality, readers of lesbian pulp fiction will always consider Ellis a friend and ally.