January 5, 6 and 7, 2007:
On the weekend of the 40th anniversary
of his death, fans, academics, writers
and publishers gathered in Philadelphia,
Goodis’ home town and setting of his
most brilliant writing, to examine his
works and reconstruct his life.
From Duane Swierczynski's Secret Dead Blog of January 7, 2007
David Goodis (1917-1967)
Forty years ago today, at 11:30 p.m., David Goodis died. This past weekend, a group of his fans and relatives gathered to pay tribute to his life.
GoodisCon was hatched at Julie's Bar in Port Richmond, just about a year ago. I idly mentioned that on January 7, 2007, Goodis will have been dead 40 years. Lou Boxer, who'd never read a Goodis novel before, loved the idea of a literary conference in his honor. Quickly, Lou became a real expert on the man and his work, spending the better part of last year contacting scholars, relatives and fans, and meticulously planning every last second of this tribute weekend.
Corey Field, current attorney for the Estate of David Goodis, with Duane Swierczynski
Which was a huge success, and that's entirely thanks to Lou, as well as co-organizers Deen Kogan and Greg Gillespie. Everyone seemed to be having a blast, which says a lot, considering we were there to honor a guy who, it's been said, wrote novel-length "suicide notes." Some personal highlights:
* Meeting Robert Polito, the author of Savage Art, the award-winning Jim Thompson biography, which I re-read at least once every year. But I was a fan even before that book, because when I was 19 years, I picked up a copy of Fireworks: The Lost Writing of Jim Thompson, which Polito co-edited. I still have that book; Polito was kind enough to sign it for me yesterday. Next up for Polito: a book called Detours, which will examine the lives of several pulp fiction writers, including Goodis.
* Moderating a panel that included Seymour Shubin (author of the brilliant Witness to Myself), Charles Ardai (of Hard Case fame), Jason Starr (Lights Out), Richard Sand (Watchman with a Hundred Eyes) and Jeremiah Healy (the John Francis Cuddy series). Best softball moment: When Charles said that a few Goodis novels weren't up to his usual level, I was able to crack: "You mean the not-so-Goodis?"
* Listening to Herbert Gross, a cousin of David Goodis, talk about him as a unrelenting jokester. For instance, Herbert said, he used to enjoy walking along Girard Avenue, then pretend he had his toe caught in the trolley tracks, screaming for help.
Harold Silver. Photo by Louis Boxer.
* Listening to Harold "Dutch" Silver, an old pool hall buddy of Goodis's. Sometimes, you can just hear a person speak, and their words act like a time machine. For a few brief minutes, I felt like I was back in that pool hall, looking across a sea of green felt and hazy smoke, and seeing Goodis, cracking a smile. Dutch also brought along a true Goodis relic: a thank you card he'd sent to Dutch. A few of us lined up to touch it. (Yes, I'm serious.)
Photo by Louis Boxer.
* Buying two bottles of Goodis wine, which were adorned with the covers of his novels. I picked up The Burglar and Down There, the latter of which is the perfect name for a bottle of wine. Especially if you're going to brown bag it and sneak off to a cold alley somewhere.
* Enjoying Jay A. Gertzman's slide show history of Goodis's Philadelphia, which taught me a lot about this town in the 1940s and 1950s. One photo in particular is burned in my memory: a skid row street on a hot summer day, with rain pummeling the streets. Most old photos of Philly seemed to be taken on a crisp winter day. This one really felt like Philly in the summer: hazy, wet and tough.
Robert Polito (left), Larry and Sharon Withers.
* Meeting Larry Withers, the son of Elaine Astor, who was briefly married to Goodis. Larry is a filmmaker, and happily, he's preparing a Goodis documentary, which will include material from GoodisCON.
* Finding a copy of the only Goodis novel I'm missing: Street of the Lost (pictured above). Now while it's true that I don't own a copy of The Wounded and the Slain, Hard Case will be reprinting it in May, so my collection is almost as good as complete. Unless the world ends before May. Which would suck. (For more on the looming apocalypse, visit Victor Gischler's new blog.)
Discussing the boxing scene and David Goodis were John Gallagher and John DiSanto of the Veterans Boxers Association
* Learning an intriguing tidbit about Goodis's death: it wasn't the booze or his heart that killed him, according to his death certificate. Instead, the immediate cause was listed as a "cerebral vascular accident," and according to Lou Boxer, there are stories that Goodis was mugged and beaten a few days before he died. Which would mean that Goodis, poet of the mean streets of Philadelphia, was a murder victim. I've got to write a true crime piece about this.
* Watching the 1957 Paul Wendkos adaptation of The Burglar, filmed from Goodis's own screenplay. And shot here in Philly and Atlantic City! (There's even a scene with the famous diving horse at Steel Pier.) Read Steve-O's Noir of the Week review of The Burglar.
Promotional photo of Jayne Mansfield in The Burglar. Courtesy of John Huber, right hand man of Lou Kellman.
* Hanging out with Ed "Hardcore Book Nerd" Pettit, who looks so much like a college professor, I look smart just by standing next to him.
* Meeting a surprising number of people who heard about GoodisCon right here at Secret Dead Blog. You guys rule, and it was awesome to meet you.
Howard Rodman, professor at the University of Southern California, showed his TV adaptation of "The Professional," a short story by David Goodis. Photo by Louis Boxer.
* Realizing that, in the end, David Goodis was (and will probably remain) a true enigma. No one picture of the man emerged; just a lot of tantalizing pieces. Which is probably the way he would have wanted it.
Duane Swierczynski is a crime novelist and editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Return from Oblivion. Philadelphia City Paper covers GoodisCON
Philadelphia Inquirer covers GoodisCON
Mark Athitakis reviews three Goodis novels for Washington City Paper