David Goodis at Warner Brothers. Photo: Courtesy of Larry Withers.
He wrote of winos and bar-room piano players and small-time thieves in a vein of tortured lyricism all his own, whose very excesses seemed uniquely appropriate to the subject matter. As his titles announce--Street of the Lost, Street of No Return, The Wounded and the Slain, Down There (the original title of Shoot the piano player)--he was a poet of the losers, transforming swift cut-rate melodramas into traumatic visions of failed lives.---Geoffrey O'Brien, critic
After a while it gets so bad that you want to stop the whole business. You figure that there's no use in trying to fight back. Things are set dead against you and the sooner you give up the better. It's like a mile run. Your'e back there in seventh place and there isn't a chance in the world. The feet are burning, the lungs are bursting, and all you want to do is fall down and take a rest.
---First paragraph of David Goodis' first novel Retreat from Oblivion (1939).
So began the writing career of David Goodis. Typical Goodis. A statement of frustration, introducing a tale of gloom, depression and despair. Noir at its best.
David Goodis was Philadelphia's noir prince. After graduating from Temple University in 1938, Goodis moved to New York where he wrote advertising copy, radio scripts and thousands of words for pulp magazines. In the mid-1940's he was in Hollywood as a sceeenwriter. He crashed and returned to his parents' home in Philadelphia, where he churned out novels and short stories, depicting the bleakness of lives in free fall.
Who was David Goodis and why did he write as he did?
Elaine Astor, David Goodis (center), and unidentified friend., Los Angeles, about 1943 (Photo courtesy of Larry Withers).
By Larry Withers
She could be Cassidy's Girl. I've heard tell she's the Blonde on the Street Corner. Behold, Clara Ervin is another possible incarnation. She's the mysterious Elaine, Mrs. David Goodis, my mother. There's speculation whether she was an inspiration for Goodis' more domineering female characters, or did he seek her out to fulfill his vision of womanhood? I recognize this woman, but what the truth is, we'll never know. Still, even at her worst, David treats this archetype with a certain reverence and humanity, as with all his characters.
The above essay appeared in the GoodisCON program book.
"I have this belief that most women from the forties on back could be attractive but not standouts. Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth are about the only two exceptions that spring immediately to mind. I don't know if it's what passed for beauty back then, or the hairstyles, or the fashions, but I found it decidedly difficult to get a hormonal rise out of the alleged desirables of that era. The gal with Goodis in that one photo is a veritable babe though, and I found myself getting jealous of him."---Brian K. Mitchell
David Goodis' most brilliant works are the Philadelphia novels, written after his return from Hollywood. They are marked by buxom, sexy and abusive wives and girlfriends. They mirror Elaine Astor with whom David Goodis' shared a brief and legendary marrriage. Goodis biographer Lou Boxer describes "Behold this Woman" as "revenge."
.The David Goodis of the 1950's and 1960's was a man of mystery. He was holed up in his parents' home, churning out bleak, brilliant novels, entertaining friends and family with outrageous humor, and caring for his mentally ill brother. Behind it all, was buried another secret---his marriage.
Goodis pool room pal, Harold "Dutch" Silver said that Goodis had never mentioned a wife. No wife was mentioned in his obituary. Correspondence by attorneys from the Goodis law firm to the New York lawyers consistently state that David had never married and that David's brother Herb had been confined to Norristown State Hospital since November 1963.
At the Temple University library, I found an article by Laurence Withers (Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, dated September 21, 2001) entitled "The Mysterious Elaine." Withers wrote that his mother, Elaine Astor, had been married to David Goodis. The article contains a photograph of Elaine and David. According to Withers, Elaine like David was descended from Jews from Russia. She grew up in a similar neighborhood. She married Goodis in California in 1943 and they divorced in 1946. She died in 1986. Goodis' biographer, Philippe Garnier, in Goodis La Vie en Noir et Blanc (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1984), says that Goodis and Astor married in 1942 and separated in 1943. Garnier could locate neither marriage nor divorce records.
Did the lawyers lie?
David and Elaine were married on October 7, 1943 by Rabbi Jacob Samuel Robins, Ph.D., at what was then Ohev Shalom Congregation, 525 South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles. The building is now the location of the Harry L. Rubinfeld Family Neighborhood Shul Yeshiva.
(Photo: Lenny Kleinfeld).
Astor-Goodis Wedding Ketubah A Ketubah is a marriage contract that explains the basic material, conjugal and moral responsibilities of the husband to his wife. It is signed by the groom (David L. Goodis), as well as two witnesses, and given to the bride during the wedding ceremony.
Courtesy of Barbara L. Ginsburg
That on the ---th day of the week, the 18th day of the month Tishor in the year 5704 corresponding to the 17th day of October 1943, the holy Covenant of Marriage was entered into, in Los Angeles, California between the Bridegroom David Loeb Goodis and his Bride Elaine Astor The said Bridegroom made the following Declaration to his Bride: "Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel. I faithfully promise that I will be a true husband unto thee. I will honor and cherish thee; I will work for thee. I will protect and support thee, and will provide all that is necessary for thy due sustenance, even as it becomes a Jewish husband to do. I also take upon myself all such further obligations for thy maintenance as are prescribed by our religious statute." And the said Bride has plighted her troth unto him, in affection and sincerity, and has thus taken upon herself the fulfillment of all the Duties incumbent upon a Jewish wife. This Covenant of Marriage was duly executed and witnessed this day according to the usage of Israel. Witnesses: Leon Wayne Lore and Abraham L. Halpern Rabbi: Jacob Samuels Robins, PhD (Photo courtesy of Lenny Kleinfeld)
Photo: Courtesy of Larry Withers).
I found the divorce decree in the attic of City Hall. The case was captioned,Elaine Astor Goodis v. David Loeb Goodis, Court of Common Pleas No. 3, September Term 1945, No. 1077. David was living on the 6300 block of North 11th Street and Elaine Astor was living on the 900 block of South Street. The decree was dated January 18, 1946, granting the divorce to Elaine.
The docket entries show that David had been represented by none other than his cousin, William Goodis, Esquire, who later was co-executor of his estate. Elaine Astor was represented by S. Regen Ginsburg, Esquire. I did several research projects for Mr. Ginsburg about 35 years ago.
The speed of the Goodis divorce suggests that the matter was uncontested. The complaint was filed on September 26, 1945. On October 18, 1945, the master's fee of $100 was posted. The matter was referred to a master on October 19, 1945. The master filed his report on December 8, 1945. The Court approved the master's report on December 20, 1945. On January 18, 1946, the divorce was granted.
In the days before no fault divorce, it was customary in Philadelphia for uncontested divorces to be granted on grounds of "indignities." Property issues were first negotiated by the parties. Then, the complaint for divorce would be filed. The Court would appoint a master--a lawyer who would take evidence and make a report to the judge. Where the divorce was not contested, the plaintiff and counsel would present an affidavit to the master setting forth the details of the indignities. The defendant would not contest the evidence. Given the collusion in such cases, the affidavits might not be true.
Except for the docket entries and the decree, the Goodis divorce file has been destroyed. The parties and their lawyers are now dead. We may never know why the marriage failed.
Did the family write Elaine out of history so as to protect Herb? The bulk of David's estate was to go to a trust to provide for his mentally disabled brother Herb. The estate was worth some $200,000. Moreover, there was the open law suit claiming $500,000 over the Fugitive. Had the obituary and law suit papers reflected a divorce, an invitation would be raised for people to ask questions. The ex-wife could appear, claiming that the divorce was invalid. Under Pennsylvania law, a spouse can claim approximately a third of the estate, regardless of the terms of the will. She could claim that Dark Passage (published in 1946) was written during the marriage and therefore she had an equitable interest in the proceeds of the suit for copyright infringement. An alleged child of the marriage could come forward, challenging the will. Where there were no children, a 21 year old divorce decree and being never married are a distinction without a difference.
David Goodis Is Dead: Author, Screenwriter From Philadelphia Inquirer, undated, contributed by Louis Boxer
David Goodis, an author and screenwriter, whose most memorable creation was "Dark Passage," a novel which he turned into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, died Saturday in Einstein Medical Center, Northern Division. He was 49 and lived at 6305 N. 11th Street..
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Goodis attended Simon Gratz High School and then went to Temple University, where he received a degree in journalism in 1938.
That same year his first novel, "Retreat From Oblivion," was published. It received favorable reviews and Mr. Goodis quit his job at a local advertising agency and moved to New York, where he concentrated on magazine fiction.
Three years later, he went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter at Warner Brothers. Besides movies, he turned out a number of novels, including "Nightfall" and "Behold This Woman."
WROTE 'THE BURGLAR'
In 1956, Mr. Goodis wrote the script for "The Burglar," the first big movie to be filmed in Philadelphia in half a century. The movie starred Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield.
Mr. Goodis' last firm was "Please Don't Shoot the Piano Player," which was filmed in France in 1962.
He is survived by a brother, Herbert. Services will be at 1 P.M. Tuesday at Rosenberg's and Raphael Sacks, 4720 N. Broad st. Burial will be in Roosevelt Memorial Park.
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Peter Rozovski reads Black Pudding. YouTube by Duane Swierczynski
David Goodis died at 11:30 p.m. on January 7, 1967, at Albert Einstein Medical Center, Northern Division, about a mile from his house. The death certificate listed the cause of death as a "cerebral vascular accident" meaning a stroke. According to legend, David had been beaten while resisting a robbery. A few days later he died and his death has been attributed to his injuries.
David's cousin, Paul Halpern related how David's humor got him in trouble. David was of slight build. A small man approached David and demanded his wallet and money. David looked at the little guy and the little guy looked back. David said that there was no way that this little guy was going to rob him. David refused to give over his wallet. Out of the shadows, appeared a big man, who beat up David. Paul Halpern saw the bruises. His cousins told Paul Halpern about the details. Was this beating the cause of death?
Death certificate of David Goodis, obtained from Temple Archives by Louis Boxer. Photo courtesy Louis Boxer.
Another theory. David Goodis' friend Len Cobrin heard that David had keeled over while shoveling snow. Weather records from Philadelphia International Airport show that there had been 12.4 inches of snow on December 24, 1966, .3 inches of snow on December 25, 1966, and .3 inches on December 28, 1966. There was no additional snowfall through January 7, 1967, when David Goodis died.
The death by shoveling theory is supported by informed hearsay from writer and educator Bill Sherman. During 1966, Sherman had corresponded with Goodis, hoping to arrange for an interview. Sherman recalled a telephone conversation with his father, attorney and Pennsylvania State Representative Louis Sherman. "This in fact is what my father had told me when I spoke with him from [the University of] Buffalo (where I was doing my Ph.D.), so I reckon it is accurate since my father must have heard it from some member of the Goodis family who was also practicing law in Philadelphia at the time."
Which story is true? Philadelphia's Doctor Noir, Louis Boxer (his day job is physician) had this to say:
"Unlikely about shoveling causing his death. Shoveling would have caused a cardiovascular incident (heart attack). He had a stroke. I like to believe that it came from a beating after going to Linton’s and he did not want to give up his wallet. Maybe a police report was filed. Look at the death certificate, the only place I know of that indicates that he was divorced. Nothing in the income tax reports from the 40s.
"Shoveling can cause any number of insults to the heart, brain, muscles and electrolytes of an individual. But DG was 49 years old! Myocardial infarction or cerebral vascular insult could easily result. It was also very cold those days. So, yes, one could suffer a stroke shoveling snow. Remember his house did not have a drive way to shovel. Only a sidewalk and a walkway to the house. Although the idea is very romantic that he succumbed to shoveling, I don’t believe it. I like the assault scenario better."
Bill Sherman responded:
"I too prefer the not giving up the wallet theory since, as you might say to Lou Boxer, THAT is more 'romantic' than shoveling snow. I suppose both could be true: i.e. he was beaten and a few days later exacerbated it by the shoveling. I only ASSUMED my father heard the story from a legal aquaintence, I really don't know. He would have appreciated the reference though, I am sure. I used to eat at Linton's on North Broad, and even went there with my father late at night once or twice."
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Ed Petit goes "Down There"
Before there were celebrations of life, there were funerals. The funeral of David Goodis was conducted on January 10, 1967 at 1 p.m., at Rosenberg's and Raphael Sacks funeral home, 4720 North Broad Street, about two blocks from Superior Billiards.
Len Cobrin described the funeral as a “rather shabby affair.” It was “a routine Jewish funeral.” The arrangements were made by David’s cousins Samuel and William Goodis, who were the executors of his estate. “The casket was gray cloth over wood--the cheapest next to a pine box. It looked very morbid,” Cobrin said.
The funeral home was “sold out.” “All the friends were there,” Cobrin said. James Freed asked one of the executors where should the friends go for the shiva (the Jewish mourning ritual). The executor answered, “We didn’t know he had any friends.”
David Goodis was buried in Roosevelt Memorial Park, next to his parents. “Most of the friends did not go to the cemetery,” Cobrin said. “About five or 10 of us went to the Toddle House (a coffee shop near Broad and Belfield Streets in Logan, a couple of blocks south of the funeral home). Over lunch we eulogized David.”
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Andrew Kevorkian recalls funeral of David Goodis. YouTube by Duane Swierczynski
A noir rememberance of the funeral is offered by public relations executive Andrew Kevorkian. A year or two before David's death, Kevorkian joined Paul Garabedian on a visit to the Goodis home. Garabedian and Goodis had gone to Simon Gratz High School together. At this point, David's life was taking a dive. His literary output was drying up. He was ill with heart disease. His brother was institutionalized. In September 1966, his mother died. Shortly thereafter, he checked into a mental hospital. Kevorkian said Goodis appeared to be "fed up with the world, . . . . fed up with life, . . . . and burned out."
Garabedian and Kevorkian went to the Goodis funeral. Kevorkian remembered that there was "not much more than a minyan" at the funeral home. (In traditional Judaism a "minyan" or minimum of 10 males is required for a religious service). "The rabbi obviously did not know him," Kevorkian said. "The rabbi said that he understood that the departed was a writer. When nobody spoke up about David, the rabbi spoke about the contributions of writers and artists to society."
Kevorkian recalls going to the cemetery with Garabedian, so there would be a few people at graveside. He and Garabedian did not go to a gathering after the burial.
On January 29, 2006, Dutch and I visited the grave of David Goodis at Roosevelt Memorial Park, in Bucks County just over the Philadelphia border. The grave is located at Section B-3, Lot 324, Grave 3. A groundskeeper, named "Big Fred," and another groundskeeper who did not want us to use her name, helped us find the grave.
His grave is in the bronze memorial gardens. Instead of tombstones, there are bronze plaques in the ground. David is buried between his parents and his brother. His grave states "Beloved son and brother, David L. Goodis, 1917-1967." The marker shows in Hebrew/Yiddish letters, "David Leiv ben (son of ) Baruch Velvel." To the left is his brother's marker which says "Beloved son and brother, Herbert Goodis, 1923-1971." The marker shows in Hebrew/Yiddish letters, "Chayim ben (son of) Baruch Velvel.
To the left of David's grave is a joint plaque for his parents. It says "Goodis." The left side of the plaque says "William 1882-1963." In Hebrew/Yiddish letters it says "Baruch Velvel ben (son of) David Leiv." David was named after his paternal grandfather. The right side of the plaque says "Mollie 1895-1966." In Hebrew/Yiddish letters it says "Zelda Malka bat (daughter of) Moshe."
Missing from the Goodis plot at Roosevelt Memorial Park is Jerome Goodis, David's younger brother. Jerome died of encephalitis at the age of three in 1929.
Goodis biographer Louis Boxer located the the grave of Jerome Goodis at Har Nebo Cemetery, near the Oxford Circle on Roosevelt Boulevard. Today, Har Nebo Cemetery could be a backdrop for a film noir shot on the night of Halloween. Closely packed tombstones, many leaning over, uneven land.
William and Mollie Goodis were people of substance, if not wealth, as evidenced by their home on 11th Street in suburban-like Oak Lane. Roosevelt Cemetery has always been upscale. Not so with Har Nebo.
It can be assumed that William and Mollie purchased the plot at Roosevelt Cemetery while William was alive. It is likely four graves were purchased, one each for William and Mollie, one for Herb who with his problems was unlikely to be married, and one for David, who was coming off a disastrous marriage and was unlikely to want to be married.
Why no grave for Jerome?
David lived only a few months after Mollie died. He could have been too busy taking care of Herb to consider moving Jerome's grave. Maybe, William and Mollie did not want to relive the loss of their baby son. Maybe they did not want to trigger new trauma by opening Jerome's grave at Har Nebo and reburying him at Roosevelt?
Another Goodis mystery.
The marker for David's brother, Herb Goodis, Roosevelt Cemetery.