Len Cobrin

It’s wonderful that forty years after his death, there are people here to recognize David and his contribution to the arts. To have known him intimately, to have felt his warmth and enjoyed his humor was a joy. Unquestionably, he was the funniest person I have ever met or seen perform professionally. Woody Allen comes close. David’s serious side was hard to grasp. He always covered it up in the form of humor and getting laughs.

I am happy that I have been able to be involved in the planning of this event.

Leonard A. Cobrin

The above essay appeared in the GoodisCON program book.

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Interview with Len Cobrin

Len Cobrin described David as “one of the funniest people who ever lived.” “He was a man of mystery,” Cobrin said. “He only took you so far. He was very private.”

“We always kidded him about the money he made. He made a lot of money. He never talked about his personal life or his wife from long ago.”

Cobrin met Goodis in 1939. “My crowd and his crowd crashed dances at center city hotels,” Cobrin said. “The big bands were just starting. I had a group of friends from Wynnefield. David’s friends were from Logan and Oak Lane.”

“Over a period of time we were crashing the same dances--at the Bellevue, the Ben Franklin. We showed up at these dances, though we were not supposed to be there. We would get thrown out. We met up and hit it off,” Cobrin said.

Cobrin saw David regularly until his death. “We were in a great circle of friends. A very interesting group. We had fun together,” Cobrin said.

Cobrin said that David got interested in pool as a result of the movie “The Hustler.” Over two or three years, he, Herbie Gross and David attended matches. Among the pool halls they visited were Mosconi’s (Superior Billiards) and Allengers at 13th and Market.

“Herbie Gross was from 40th and Girard. That was a good neighborhood for shooting pool,” Cobrin said.

“Herbie Gross and I decided to buy David a pool stick--it came in sections. David never used it. David never said why he did not use it. We thought David was afraid that the pool stick would upset his brother, Herb,” Cobrin said.

David was into boxing. One of the criminals in Black Friday was a washed up boxer. In several of his books, Goodis gives detailed, punch by punch accounts of fights between the characters in bar rooms and inside their homes.

“We used to go to Jimmy Toppi’s on Broad Street in South Philadelphia and the Met on Broad Street. I also went with him to the Blue Horizon and a boxing place in Frankford or Kensington,” Cobrin remembered.

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Blue Horizon. Philadelphia Weekly, November 12, 2003.

“David and I went to an outdoor fight in the summertime and saw Chicken Thompson--a light weight--get killed. It soured me on fights,” Cobrin said.

“David wrote for radio--HOp Harrigan. If there was a fight on TV he would watch it,” Cobrin said.

“David was funny. He would do boxing poses,” Cobrin said.

Cobrin recalled David’s eccentricities.

”David never wore new clothing,” Cobrin said. “His mother would go to the thrift shops. David would get first pick of what she bought. David hated new clothing. He would get fancy labels and sew them in his old clothes.”

Cobrin recalled a trip to visit David in Hollywood.

“In February 1947, Marvin Gould, Gene Beechman and I drove to California to see David. We wanted to see the studios. At this point, David was earning $1100 a week. After several requests, David finally broke down and showed us the studios.”

“David, Marvin, Gene and I set out to crash a dance of the waiters and waitresses union. It was a chilly night. David drove a 1936 Chrysler phaeton. It had four doors and a cloth top. The eisenglass windows were missing. David was heavy into Army surplus. To keep our heads warm, he gave us gas masks. We drove around Hollywood wearing gas masks!”

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Goodis’ novels were full of smoking. Cobrin said that David smoked a lot and drank, but he was not an alcoholic. “He would drink maybe two scotches over a whole evening. David never used profanity, ever.”

“David was a night person,” Cobrin said. “You knew better than to call him during the day, when he was probably sleeping. He never said not to call him during the day--but you knew better than to ask. He said he did his writing at night. Instead of sleeping with eyeshades, David tied a neck tie around his eyes.”

“David wasn’t cheap. He just didn’t spend money,” Cobrin said. “We would have a poker game--maybe five friends--some from Logan. During an all night poker game we would tesase him, since David said he didn’t have money. On night after the poker game, he came into the kitchen. David said, ‘I’m going to level with you once and for all--I have $9,000.’”

“David and I went to the Locust Theater, now a restaurant on Locust between Broad and 15th Streets, where we saw Death of a Salesman. The show blew us away. After the show, we went to Lou Tendler’s restaurant. Lee Cobb, who was in that play, was there and we said hello him,” Cobrin recalled. "I don’t think I ever went to the movies with David.”

“David loved jazz,” Cobrin said. “He could take a pocket comb, put a dollar bill around it, and make a kazoo. He would go on the bandstand and play it. David was a good dancer.” Jazz music appears in many of his novels.

Cobrin remembered the Linton’s restaurant at Broad and Callowhill Streets where David “got hit with a tire iron. He had an indentation on is forehead for life. David never told how it happened.” Part of the action in Black Friday happens near Broad and Callowhill.

“He liked to go to crummy neighborhoods as if he was seeking trouble,” Cobrin said.

“There were so many things you knew and so many things you didn’t know,” Cobrin said. “You could never sit down and talk with him. He would parry it off with a joke. After a while you would give up and leave it where it was.”

“David was a master of superficiality. There was no need to get deeper, more involved with him. He was so enjoyable the way he was,” Cobrin said.

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“I liked the title of his first book, Retreat from Oblivion. His is retreating from place to place with no place to go,” Cobrin said.

Goodis’ books are full of heavy, bossy, big breasted, sexualized women. David is reputed to have cruised bars in black neighborhoods and get involved with heavy, abusive women. Cobrin could neither confirm nor deny such stories.

“David was handsome. There were tall good looking women who were interested in him. He would take them out but never had anything going on with them. He was very private, so you would not know what was going on,” Cobrin said.

Several days after David’s mother, Mollie, died, Len Cobrin visted him at the house in East Oak Lane. “He hadn’t eated all day,” Cobrin said. “He was never much of an eater. I offered to take him out. He said he would make an egg.”

“Here he was, alone in the house. You can think of his life as tragic. He never got into marriage. New York. Hollywood. He never talked about it--but you assumed it was because of his brother. I think his brother’s condition had an influence on him.”

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Len Cobrin thought that David’s life was shaped by his concern for his mentally disabled brother, Herb. David returned from Hollywood to his parents’ home in Oak Lane. “We think he did so to take care of Herb,” Cobrin said.

Shortly before his death, David checked himself into a mental hospital. It is now called the Belmont Hospital but was then known as the Philadelphia Psychiatric Hospital.

”David never told me he was depressed. When friends went to see him at the hospital, he made a big joke of it,” Cobrin said.

“I asked him why he went to the hospital,” Cobrin said. “David replied, ‘I like the dances.’ There were dances for the patients. Not long after that he died.”

“David was such a kind, benign individual. He never said a bad thing about anyone. He had such an imagination. Forty years after his death people are still interested in him,” Cobrin said.

“David was such a good person. There was no malice in him,” Cobrin said

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Germantown Town Hall, 1947. Black Friday was set on Morton Street in the Germantown secton of Philadelphiat about half a mile from this scene.

Who was the real David Goodis? A member of a warm, close extended family? A devoted brother? The funny, caring, private and guarded friend? David Goodis wrote about the underside of working class and lower middle class life in Philadelphia. Writers who never met him picture Goodis as a depressed risk-taker, who cruised the underside of Philadelphia by night.

As a full time writer, David would have had to time to live such a double life. Did he? Is that why he wrote as he did? The mystery of David Goodis endures, four decades after his exit.
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