Shooting pool with David Goodis
If I had two hours to live, I would spend most of it watching Dark Passage. The 1946 film features Humphrey Bogart who as Vincent Parry was wrongfully convicted of killing his wife. Parry escapes from San Quentin Prison and is met on a road near the prison by a wealthy artist, Irene Jansen, played by Lauren Bacall. Unknown to Parry, Jansen had followed his trial and believed in his innocence. Jansen's father had been wrongfully convicted of killing his second wife. He had died in prison. After getting a face-change from a disbarred plastic surgeon, Parry tracks down the real killer of his wife, Madge Rapf, who falls out a window in the course of their confrontation. Parry escapes San Francisco on a bus. Jansen meets him in Peru.
Greenbriar Pictures Shows blog on Dark Passage
Clydefro Blog on Dark Passage
David Goodis at Warner Brothers (Photo courtesy of Larry Withers).
The screenwriter of this movie was David Goodis, a native of Philadelphia. A 1938 journalism graduate from Temple University, Goodis began his career in advertising in New York. His biographer, Philippe Garnier, in Goodis La Vie en Noir et Blanc (Editions de Seul, Paris 1984), reported that Goodis was classified 4F (medically unfit to serve) by his draft board and did not serve in World War II. During World War II, he spent some time in California. He wrote cheap fiction, getting his break with the novel Dark Passage. He was hired by Warner Brothers as a screenwriter, adapting Dark Passage to film.
After a short career as a writer for movies and radio in Hollywood, he crashed. Goodis moved back to Philadelphia and lived with his parents and his mentally disabled brother, Herb. Goodis churned out more than a dozen cheap paperback mysteries and even more short stories for pulp magazines. He wrote about the seemy side of life in working class Philadelphia. His books ooze with cynicism and gloom. He writes about men who are losers and the cheap women they chase.
Goodis wrote for an audience of working class white males. However, interest in his work was greater in Europe than in America, particularly in the 1950's and 1960's. In Europe, David Goodis was read by the intellectuals. Goods reflected the negative view of the United States held by Europeans, rather than the bright view of the United States shared by Americans. This negative view of America explains why David Goodis has been a nonperson here, particularly since his death on January 7, 1967 at the age of 49.
Professor David Schmid explains that Goodis parallels crime fiction writers such as Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes who enjoyed greater reputations in Europe than in the United States. They were regarded as serious literary artists rather than as pulpsters by European audiences and critics (especially the French). Dr. Schmid notes that In Himes' case, of course, he didn't start publishing crime fiction until after he had become an expatriate living in France.
Literary critics and internet writers portray Goodis as reclusive and shadowy. I wonder if they ever met him. Hooked on Dark Passage, and impressed by two of his reissued novels, The Blonde on the Street Corner and the Moon in the Gutter, I wanted to meet someone who knew David Goodis. I asked several people of his generation, hoping that they had grown up with him. None did. In December 2005, I was discussing Dark Passage at work, when my co-worker Harold "Dutch" Silver started talking about the movie. Harold said he taught David Goodis how to shoot pool. Voila! I had looked all over Philadelphia but the answer to my quest was at my workplace.
After speaking with Dutch, I began researching David Goodis. Dutch and I visited the sites of the pool room, his grave, and his house. I went to City Hall where I examined documents at the Register of Wills, the Clerk of Orphans Court, the Prothonotary's Office, and the ancient records archive in attic at Room 975. I reviewed the David Goodis archives at the Special Collections department of Temple University's Paley Library.
Representative Logan housing when David Goodis grew up.
These houses at 4505 and 4507 North 8th Street, were about four
blocks from the home where David Goodis grew up. His house has
been demolished. This photograph was taken on February 3, 1950.
Goodis grew up on the 4700 block of North 10th Street, in the Logan section. The house he grew up in has been demolished. Logan was a tree-lined neighborhood of mostly row homes built around the time of World War I. The area was middle class and heavily Jewish. He attended the General David Bell Birney Elementary School and Jay Cooke Junior High School. He excelled at Simon Gratz High School, where he was editor of the student newspaper and president of the student government. He graduated in January 1935. After studying at Indiana University, he transferred to Temple University, where he received his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1938. His photograph and biography do not appear in the seniors section of the 1938 Templar yearbook. He is one of five students listed as members of the Board of Editorial Assistants of the Temple University News, the three times a week student newspaper. He appears in a photograph of 22 members of the staff.
The David Bell Birney elementary school, during expansion. Photograph was taken May 28, 1927, when David Goodis studied there.
In his last years, Goodis lived with his parents and brother in a gracious single house on the 6300 block of North 11th Street in East Oak Lane, an upscale suburban-style neighborhood within the city limits. His hang-out was Superior Billiards (also called Mosconi's), in the basement of 1338 West Rockland Street in Logan. Superior Billiards was a 10 or 15 minute drive from his home.
It is not surprising that Goodis was fascinated by pool, since many of his characters would have hung out at similar establishments.
Among the regulars at Superior Billiards, was Dutch Silver, about 12 years younger than Goodis. Dutch lived a few blocks away in Logan on the 4700 block of North Ninth Street. He frequented Superior Billiards from 1948 until his marriage in 1969.
"He was a nice fellow," said Dutch. "He was quiet, polite, a good person." Dutch related how he met Goodis:
"I was shooting pool. Every night I always played with somebody. I shot one-handed and I was one of the best one-handed shooters in the country. David was watching. He came up to me and said he was amazed that I could shoot better one-handed than most people shot two-handed," Dutch said.
Goodis asked Dutch for lessons.
"He asked me to teach him how to hold the stick and how to shoot the balls and how to play positions. He said that he could not do any of that, because he did not know how to hold the cue [stick]. For five years, after supper time, David and Herbie would come to Superior Billiards, two or three evenings a week. Dave and Herbie would play together," Dutch said.
"If I did not have a game, I would go over to him. He would ask me questions and I would try to help him. He asked me how to hold the bridge [a stick with grooves in it on which you would place the cue, to help you reach a ball at the far end of the table]. Sometimes he would miscue. When he was first learning, he would miscue, so I would tell him that he had to put chalk on the tip of the cue. I know it helps prevent miscuing, " Dutch said.
"David was a real novice, but he wanted to learn," Dutch said. "He was fascinated by pool rooms. David was thrilled, happy when I showed him how to play pool. So was Herbie."
According to Dutch, Goodis never talked about his private life. He was very soft spoken. He talked about what happened in the pool hall. He did not smoke in Dutch's presence. "I do not remember him telling any jokes," Dutch said. Once on New Year's eve, with a half a dozen pool players, Dutch, Label (Irving Fagelson) and "The Breeze" went to Goodis' house for a visit. Goodis served a clear liquor. He also had sodas. Dutch does not remember if there was any food but says Goodis probably served munchies. Goodis only drank cola at the party. "I never saw him take a drink other than a soda," Dutch said. "His demeanor was not as a heavy drinker's would be."
"David always came to the pool hall with Herbie. I never saw him by himself," Dutch said. Goodis always wore sweaters or sport jackets, but never suits. He had dark hair. He was about 5'6" or 5'7" tall and thin. Herbie was over six feet tall and thin. Goodis did not drink at the pool hall. Goodis did not gamble at the pool hall. He never talked about music.
"David did not talk about a job," Dutch said. However, income tax returns in the Temple Archives, show that Goodis supported himself through his writings and royalties. "He spoke about Robert Rossen, the director of the 1961 movie The Hustler, which was set in a pool room," Dutch said. "He talked to me about seeing Robert Rossen so I could get a job in the movies. At the time of The Hustler, pool became more popular, and people began to wait in line so people could get numbers to play just like a bakery," Dutch said.
When Dutch knew him, Goodis was living with his mother and brother. Dutch did not know if the father was alive. Goodis' mother died in September 1966. Dutch sent a basket of fruit to the family. Goodis sent a thank you note, which Dutch still has.
"Nobody told me that Goodis had died," Dutch said. Several weeks after he died, Dutch learned about it from a friend. "I assume his family took care of it. I do not know if it was in the paper. I heard that Herbie had run away from some kind of home and died," Dutch said.
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