The novel CONTESSA is the fictional, as-told-to autobiography of a famous film and theater mega star who recounts for the first time her years leading up to international stardom.
This popular film star confesses how she started out in life as a man who knew from a very early age that “he” was really a “she” locked in the body of a male. His major problem was his father, an Arkansas bootlegger and local godfather, whose idea of a cure for his son’s affliction would be a lobotomy. The son escapes and his road to womanhood and subsequent fame is a tale of strength, courage, intrigue and adventure. CONTESSA examines the life trials of a young man who realizes that the keys to freedom for him must be fought for one by one.
The Lambda Book Report says, “Imagine if one of your favorite female movie stars was revealed to have begun life as a man. That is the premise of Jack Fitzgerald’s novel. And an impressive read it is. Fast paced, his story is filled with some of the most colorful, memorable and unforgettable characters I’ve come across in a long time. CONTESSA is not only a fascinating page-turner but would make a very significant film.”
My mother’s name was Mildred Hankins. She had two older sisters named Doris and Viola, commonly known as the Hankins sisters to the rowdies at the garment factory where they worked. My mother and her sisters lived on a farm in Rosedale, Arkansas. Their father, Clyde Hankins, was a farmer who came from good Scottish stock. (A far cry from those Lithuanian and Carpethian allegations!)
Mildred was the mousy type, meaning by nature quiet and gentle. Doris and Viola were just her opposites. They were loud, coarse, and vulgar.
My mother, seemingly, had only one boy friend in her life and that was my father, J. W. Dillard, a roustabout who loaded chairs into boxcars at the furniture factory in Rosedale. In his youth, they say he was rather fetching but I never caught that side of him. He always looked to me like he was ready to explode both emotionally and physically. I believe the kindest thing I can say about him is that he was an over-sexed, pear shaped, frightful man.
J. W. (short for James Whitfield—Southerners of his era were prone to be called by their initials) met Doris first and immediately defrocked her of any flowers still lingering in her garden of Venus. Then he went on to Viola. She was a real vixen so rumor had it. During one of her sexual climaxes with Daddy, she bit him so hard she left a scar which was visible for the rest of his life. I’m sure Daddy liked everything about Viola except those buck teeth of hers—so he went on to Mildred to see what she was all about.
He got himself invited to Clyde’s for dinner one evening where he took stock of the house, the farm and Mildred and made up his mind to have a go at all three of them. He decided he might just have found a way to keep from loading chairs onto boxcars for the rest of his life. At dinner that night he played up to Mildred and called her “Miss Mildred”. She blushed a lot and probably didn’t know whether she was coming or going. For certain she was a virgin. She was nice enough looking—that was a given—but above all, she was shy, timid, and never asked a question. J. W. ate that up with a spoon—his type of woman—and especially if it meant he might get part of that farm.
“I sure have taken to Rosedale,” he told my grandfather.
Clyde looked at him dryly and replied, “But has Rosedale taken to you?”