Brian Greene interviews Larry Withers on "To A Pulp."
Brian Greene is a freelance writer from North Carolina. He writes regularly for Shindig! music magazine from
the UK, and he is working on a biography of the late British crime writer/cult figure, Ted Lewis.
DAVID GOODIS . . . TO A PULP
Goodis film probes 'dark tendencies' and hidden lives
For filmmaker Larry Withers David Goodis...To A Pulp, making the movie was a peak into the once-hidden life of his mother Elaine Astor who had previously been married to Goodis.
The project began three years ago, at the suggestion of Goodis biographer Louis Boxer. Withers, 55, interviewed friends and family of David Goodis, including Harold "Dutch" Silver who taught Goodis how to shoot pool, cousins April Feld-Sandor and Bernie Shapiro, and friends Len Cobrin, and Frank Ford (Ed Felbin), writer Bill Sherman, English professor David Schmid, film critic Mike White, and cultural historian Jay Gertzman.
Withers gathered photos from the Philadelphia City Archives thru www.phillyhistory.org, There Withers found a photo of the now demolished Toddle House, where Goodis' pals gathered after his funeral 43 years ago. Withers found archive film on the web, such as period color movies of Dock Street and Delaware Avenue, setting of Goodis' biggest seller, Cassidy's Girl.
Withers learned that his mother had been married to Goodis, only after her death in 1986, when he went through her papers. Her second husband was Robert Withers.
"On a personal level, the film resolves a lot of parental things. It helps me understand the relations between my parents," Withers said. "I probably know more about David Goodis than my own mother, since many of Goodis' friends and cousins are still around. None of my mother's family are alive."
"A lot of my mother, I do not know. There are many aspects of her past even my father isn't aware of." Withers said. WIthers explained that his parents divorced when he was in his 20's. However, they had separated two or three years earlier.
Elaine Astor, David Goodis, and unidentified friend. Photo courtesy of Larry Withers.
Withers said he got to know Goodis by reading his books and making the movie.
"I think David Goodis was basically a gentle, caring person, very family oriented. The interesting thing is that he kept secret other parts of his life. He used his writing to play out his desires and dark tendencies," Withers said.
"Goodis could never reconcile the different parts of his life. His writing is psychological therapy. It's like sitting on a therapist's couch. His way to resolve things was to write about them," Withers said.
"His stories and novels are about people coming to terms with their lives. They do not get out of their troubles, but they reconcile with them," Withers said.
Withers said that "Goodis played out his dark tendencies through his excursions." Withers referred to Goodis' legendary night time visits to ghetto clubs and dangerous sites in the netherworld of Philadelphia.
Goodis was a screenwriter for Warner Brothers in Hollywood in the late 1940's.
"I could see how my mother could have been a temptress, but I agree with my father that she was a gold digger. She saw herself as a movie star. She had aspirations and David Goodis was the quickest way to those aspirations," Withers said.
Larry Withers. Photo by Louis Boxer.
As for Goodis' attraction to Elaine, Withers said, "A lot of it was physical, but intellectually they might have had something in common. My mother took writing classes and could write herself. She was well read. She read a lot of classics. Intellectually, they were on equal footing."
Goodis was legendarily cheap. Withers said, that his mother and Goodis were a match in that respect. "My mother was incredibly stingy. She would salvage old envelops and reuse stamps which had missed the post mark. She never went to fancy stores. She made her own clothes and my brothers and sisters and I wore hand-me-downs."
Withers DVD reveals half the mystery of David Goodis
He was seeing the night-black hair of Mildred, the disordered shiny mass of heavy hair. He was seeing the brandy-colored eyes, long-lashed, very long-lashed. And the arrogant upward curve of her gorgeous nose. He was trying with all his power to hate the sight of her full fruit-like lips, and the maddening display of her immense breasts, the way they swept out, aimed at him like weapons. He stood looking at this woman to whom he had been married for almost four years, with whom he slept in the same bed every night, but what he saw was not a mate. He saw a harsh and biting and downright unbearable obsession.
Early draft of cover for Withers DVD
Why did David Goodis write as he did? Why do Goodis novels have abusive, lusty female protagonists?
Half the mystery of David Goodis is answered in Larry Withers' DVD David Goodis. . . To A Pulp. As a special feature, not part of the movie proper, is a video of Robert Withers. Robert Withers is the second husband of Elaine Astor, who was the first and only wife of David Goodis. Larry Withers is the son of Robert Withers and Elaine Astor.
I was amazed how open Robert was to his son about the intimate and frustrating details of his marriage. Robert Withers stuck with Elaine Astor for more than 20 years and through seven children, though he knew the marriage was done after six months. Only many years after the wedding, did Robert learn what it was to be loved.
Robert hinted that he understood David Goodis, because they had both been married to Elaine. Hearing Robert's account of the marriage, makes me guess how Goodis must have been tortured, twisted and choked by Elaine Astor.
Goodis never remarried. Could his pain over Elaine Astor have been released through his writing?
The second half of the mystery is answered by April Feld Sandor, who was 16 years old when her cousin and mentor David Goodis died. April says that David Goodis' life centered on his brother Herb. Herb was disabled by mental illness. David was his caretaker. Herb was a burden, though a beloved burden. Click for April's analysis of the Soul of David Goodis.
Bitter from a disastrous marriage and weighted by an incurable brother, could these be the secrets to Goodis' brilliance?