By Stuart Mitchner
Picture a poet who makes a living writing thrillers. He’s on the run in San Francisco, having been falsely convicted of murder, and his face is all over the papers. Escaped Killer On the Loose. A rich, beautiful, sympathetic woman who followed the trial and has good reason to believe he’s innocent gives him shelter in her deluxe apartment overlooking the bay.
That night he flags down a taxi driven by a friendly, worldly, wise-cracking cabbie who immediately recognizes him. The cabbie knows of a genius plastic surgeon who can give the poet a new face that very night for $200. “Not only that,” says the cabbie, “this guy is a bit of a dark poet himself, he can mend your mind while he’s fixing your face.”
The first thing the doctor asks the poet is “What sorta face do you want?” He has a gallery of possibilities. “I could give you middle period T.S. Eliot. Or I could do early Robert Frost.”
“Nah,” says the poet, “How about Humphrey Bogart? Can you do a good Bogie?”
“Sure, all the time. Everybody wants to be Bogart, but I thought you were a poet.”
“I make a living writing thrillers,” says the poet. “I thought the cabbie told you. Anyway, Bogart is a poet.”
“Funny, now that I think of it, you talk just like him,” says the doctor. “You’ve got his voice.”
“So do you, doc. Everyone should sound like Bogart at three in the morning. That’s what I want to hear as the drug kicks in. I want a film noir mood. Voices speaking soft and low. The sound of coffee and cigarettes, sheltering in place while the world goes mad.”
“Right, but when you’re going under, you want poetry. I usually say a few words. To see folks through. Something mildly hypnotic. Sounds like you don’t want clarity. You want to mask the meaning. Give it a touch of mystery. Just the thing to be hearing as you flow down into darkness. Wallace Stevens always works. Like ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ — by the fifth blackbird, you’re on your way. Now… just close your eyes.”
But the poet has a line in mind. It’s the line that began the whole adventure, it’s been obsessing him, like an itch he can’t scratch. “You know ‘Mending Wall’ — ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall —’”
“There’s a masked line if ever I heard one. What’s the something? And why the double talk? Is it does or doesn’t? It’s a strange poem.” The hypodermic needle flashes in the light. “That line, what is it, ‘Before I wear a mask I’d like to know what it was keeping in or keeping out.’ Well, here goes —.”
The poet’s plotting out a new thriller based on that line of Frost’s about the neighbor “with a stone in either hand … moving in darkness….” Too late, he’s submerged in the doctor’s black coffee Bogart voice, swirling down the dark spiral, “something there is that doesn’t love a mystery … a dark movie on a lockdown afternoon that sends the pandemic groundswell under it…” Yes. that’s it, that’s where it all began.
Locked down, self-quarantined, sheltering in place behind drawn shades, my wife and I have been watching films touched with the poetry of mystery, of crime, of femmes fatales and private eyes, shadows and light, dark corners and dark passages. New or old, made in the 1940s or 1950s or the 1990s and 2000s, these films and series add mystique to our daily lives in a time of masks and menace.
For the older movies, we look for a mixture of feedback and information in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. The contrast between the detached language of the various contributors and the mayhem and murder running through the subject can be downright comical, or when the language diverges from the spirit of the action, merely frustrating. The entry on a family favorite likeDark Passage (1947) reduces it to “an interesting film that carries its basic premise too far. The exclusive use of the first person point-of-view camera for the first half of the film is somewhat unsuccessful in invoking the physical existence of a protagonist.” Summing up, the writer declares that Dark Passage “ultimately lacks much of the internal structure of human weakness and fatalism central to the complete film noir.”
The “complete noir!” — as if that were some kind of standard when the nature of the thing is that’s it’s never complete, never really solved or clarified, always trailing clouds of uncertainty — like the time we’re living and dying through in the spring of 2020. Hoping for a response closer to the spirit of the film, I turn to Pauline Kael’s 5001 Nights at the Movies, and find her arrogant dismissal of a “Bogart-Bacall bummer … an almost total drag,” because “with his head bandaged, Bogart can’t do much except nod appreciatively while Bacall feeds him through a glass straw. In moments of stress, she dilates her nostrils; he’s so trussed up he can’t even do that.”
It was Kael’s “trussed up” travesty of Dark Passage that inspired this column’s opening fantasia on the film noir classic Delmer Daves made from the novel by David Goodis.
The studio heads at Warners were understandably peeved at the notion of investing a small fortune in the highest paid male star in Hollywood (Bogart averaged $450,000 a year), for a picture in which his face is not seen for the first hour; and even then all you can get for your money is 20 minutes of the white-masked victim of the plastic surgeon’s handiwork (“The artist in me wishes he could see what a nice job I’ve done,” says Dr. Coley, “but I never will.”). Again, I have to quote from the same entry in the Film Noir volume: “Audience identification is weakened” by the fact that the character’s “voice and narration is so easily recognizable as Bogart’s.” Therefore we know what he really looks like all along. “A less well-known actor or less identifiable voice might have been better suited to this visual premise.” But what matters is knowing it’s Bogart all along, that’s the whole point, the beauty of vicariously seeing through his eyes and speaking with his voice brings us closer to film noir oneness with the actor right up to the moment Dr. Coley’s white towel descends on his/our face seconds before the drug is injected; it’s the essence of intimate cinematic submersion
The Goodis Version
The plastic surgery sequence alone deserves a place in the Film Noir Hall of Fame, with almost every word of dialogue taken directly from the novel. What makes the scene so powerful, however, is the cinematography of Sid Hickok, the direction of Daves, and Houseley Stevenson’s portrayal of a doctor who had perfected his own “special technique” — before he was kicked out of the Medical Association. When Bogart’s character admits some apprehension about the operation, Dr. Coley tells him “We’re all cowards. There’s no such thing as courage. There’s only fear, the fear of getting hurt. And the fear of dying. That’s why human beings live so long.”
Goodis puts the apprehension into words, with the stress on face: “He kept his eyes closed. Then things were happening to his face. Some kind of oil was getting rubbed into his face, rubbed in thoroughly all over his face and then wiped off thoroughly. He smelled alcohol, felt the alcohol being dabbed onto his face. Then water running again. More clinking of steel, more cabinet drawers in action…. He decided it was impossible for Coley to change the face so that people wouldn’t recognize it …. He decided there wasn’t any sense to this, and the only thing he would get out of it was something horrible happening to his face and he would be a freak for the rest of his life. He wondered how many faces Coley had ruined…. He felt a needle going into his face. Then it went into his face again in another place. It kept jabbing deep into his face. His face began to feel odd. Metal was coming up against the flesh, pressing into the flesh, cutting into the flesh. There was no pain, there was no sensation except the metal going into his flesh…. With every minute that passed something new was happening to his face.”
Given the star-power-for-the-ages of the actual Bogart-Bacall off-screen romance, it’s worth noting a key change in the music the couple bonds to. In the novel, Bogart looks through her record collection, noticing “a lot of Basie. The best Basie. The same Basie he liked.” After looking approvingly through titles like “Swinging the Blues” and “Lester Leaps In,” Bogart puts “Texas Shuffle” on the turntable. The music “clicked with the fact that he had a cigarette in his mouth, watching the smoke go up, and the police didn’t know he was here.” The record was still playing when Bacall came back into the room. “She smiled at him. She said, “You like Basie?” “I collect him.” But that was before San Quentin.
In the film, their song is Jo Stafford singing “Too Marvelous,” a choice Goodis surely approved of, as have generations of filmgoers, whether in the movie houses or at home, “sheltering in place.”
Pulp According to David Goodis
By Jay Gertzman
The variety of dangerous women in Goodis is a sign of the weird fascination he and his readers have for perverse intimacy. It is inevitable for the protagonist of the novel to find the femme fatale irresistible, especially b/c he senses she may indeed paralyze his will. The novelist depicts a world where men are drawn into a web that they may or may not even want to escape from. It's Philadelphia Gothic.
MADGE in Dark Passage: The more this person likes a man, the more she pursues him until he wants only to get out alive. That’s the case with her former husband. She wants Vince, the protagonist, who was married to Gert when they first met. The attraction is mysterious. She likes his decency, courage, perseverance, intelligence. Contrarily, she is mad with possessiveness. One reason for Vince’s daring escape from prison, where he is serving life for killing Gert, is to prove Madge killed Gert, and later, Vince’s best friend, Fellsinger. This she did so the cops would think the fugitive, Vince, did it.
Madge befriends Irene to tell her Vince is a vindictive killer. She needs to destroy Irene's affection for Vince so she can have him under her own thumb.
Vince does track down Madge. She knows Vince cannot reverse the verdict of his killing his wife unless Madge testifies. Now Goodis reveals the uncanny power of this "orange enchantress." She jumps to her death, so that he’ll never be able to prove his innocence. (The movie had to make the fall unintentional, b/c the guardians of decency felt suicide was too shocking for a mass audience). Goodis describes her falling as “her gold inlays glittering” and the "billowing of her bright orange “hair, coat, and slacks.” See the image above of her knocking at the door of Vince's worst nightmare.
CLARA in Behold This Woman has the power to humiliate the men in the story and terrorize the women. Barry and Evelyn want to be together, but her ability to shame and unman make them unable to get together. Clara has the same uncanny controlling traits, and the “fallen angel” sinister character, as does Madge. . One of Clara’s earlier victims says: “The forces of evil are stronger than my own will.”
GERALDINE in Of Tender Sin is fascinating to Al Darby b/c she looks uncannily like his sister, Marjorie. Al and she were very close. At 12, he lost his mind and raped 15-year old Marjorie. Their parents sent the girl away, and Al tried to repress the episode.
Then he met platinum blonde Geraldine. Al and Geraldine’s mutual lust is more luridly described than that of the incestuous episode: “It was like crawling through a furnace, in the depths of the orange glow down and down to where the fire was hottest. Then there was her wailing laugh that climbed and climbed until it broke and her arms and legs were limp and her eyes were closed.” [there’s orange again, night quite a raging red, or glowing yellow]
Al leaves her, but 6 years after marriage, he has a harrowing dream, beckoning him to a “long, long road” that ends at Geraldine's house. She has not changed her appearance. Her cynical fatalism (“the world needs another flood”) has hardened, and she has “a new boyfriend, Charlie.” She means her cocaine habit (she’s also a pusher). She brands him, drawing her name in his chest with her zombie-like fingernails. “This time you won’t get away.” Talk about doomed romanticism.
Her description has biblical implications. Goodis seems to pattern her after Lilith, the first mate for Adam, who pleaded with God to be rid of her. Al has gotten mixed up with the first femme fatale. Lillith insisted on equality with Adam, as Satan wanted with God. Banished from paradise long before Adam, she married Samael, a fallen angel, and was devoted to preventing childbirth, i.e., ending the human race. Geraldine’s misanthropy is implied in her selling cocaine in schoolyards.
Equally weird is her “cackling,” which substitutes for laughter.
Another allusion may be to Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Nirdlinger (Dietrickson in the film) , a symptom of Walter Neff’s deep-seated resentments, and a death-spitting cobra whose bridegroom is Death.
Late in Of Tender Sin, Al expresses his desire to stay with the sadistic Geraldine, who “ruled without mercy. … And most of all he . . . the pale green eyes and the platinum blonde hair.” This implies that his beloved sister and Geraldine are doppelgangers: opposites, one loving and passive and the other all-consuming. They are symptoms of what bedevils Al, his shame and need to be punished. In other words, he is still trapped in his desire for his sister.
One of the Gothic elements in these three novels is the power of the femme fatale to feed upon the intertwined fears and desires of the protagonists. That they can do so gives them an unearthly aura, like Keats' Belle Dame Sans Merci, or Lilith, or even Norman Bates' mother, who is never seen b/ c she is inside the protagonists' head.
Pulp According to David Goodis
By Jay Gertzman
Celia, in Street of No Return, and Vera, in Somebody's Done For, are women that Whitey Lindell, and Calvin Jander, respectively, cannot live without. Without them, the men “have nothing in their lives.” That they do not come together is equally tragic for the females as it is to the males.
Eugene Lindell sees Celia dance, and refused to give her up. Sharkey pleads with him to leave town. He cannot; what she promises is unfathomably magnetic to both men. It would be intolerable spiritual deprivation to lose her. As we know, it is Whitey who loses, and loses his means for making beautiful song also. He loses his “backbone,” drinks rotgut, and hangs out on the steps of a skid row flophouse.
Describing Celia dancing at a stag party, Goodis tells us there was nothing sensual about what she did. Far from what would be expected from a former hooker, it “had no connection to matters of the flesh”; the men watching felt what they had never felt before, a spiritual challenge to recognize her soulfulness and approach it reverently. They have no context for what the dancer was expressing about refinements of prurient lust into something not roller-coaster exhilarating, but more precious: a mysterious peace and forgiveness. They were anxious for the next dancer, whose routine would be “very raw, smutty and ugly to get them back to earth again.” They idolize the women too much to want intercourse with them. Celia had made them “feel like worms crawling at the feet of something they didn’t dare to touch.”
Freud termed such a situation “degrading” as well as common. Sex can be desired only with sluts. Love is too much like prayer to have any earthly content. One writer characterized this split between the holy and the profane as producing a “poisoned embrace.” Another used the term “psychical impotence.” It’s as deep in the Judeo-Christian definition of good and evil as the need for a messiah. It reduces the female to a “symptom” of male desire, or idolization.
In Somebody's Done For, men addicted to driving hours to see Vera dance say, “I can’t stay away from this place.” But it is the “worst pain there is. It’s the pain of craving the unattainable.” These statements express desire and fear of Vera as a kind of goddess they do not know how to worship. To get close enough to be intimate would mean a complete take-over of their energies, “. . . the feeling that [they] had been captured, rendered helpless.” Al Darby, in Of Tender Sin, thinks that this infantile state is what he really wants for the rest of his life. He’s tough enough to rip off a thief’s scalp, but inside, he’s really still a mamma’s boy.
Calvin Jander is no jellyfish. He and Vera love each other completely, that is, sexually and emotionally. Vera says, “It’s real, all right. It’s just as real as that moon up there.” It was fated for sure, as is clear from words such as “ordained,” “mystical,” “absolutely,” and “moon,” which in several fictions means ultimate entrapment, not heavenly peace. Vera cannot be without the man she thinks is her father. Celia cannot be without Sharkey.
It may be wrong to describe Vera and Celia as femme fatale. They are passive figures, themselves controlled by false protectors themselves obsessively tied to the woman. For Vera, it is a childless criminal who kidnapped her when she was an infant. Celia is in the power of a killer mobster, the guy who says if she was not with him, he would wither away. It is the power of the women over the men that replicates the femme fatale concept. They are, as Slavok Zizkek says, “symptoms” of the perverseness of their worshippers, which includes emotional impotence.
If you remember Portnoy's Complaint, this is indeed the hero’s problem. He can enjoy sex (actually oral sex) with a non-Jewish girl, but when he visits Israel, with a beautiful Sabra he is impotent. Shame is built in—to the scrotum. Love, as we burden it with the “love is heavenly” conceit, becomes a fantasy harmful to happiness. That was why D H Lawrence’s definition of love was “sex in the head.”
By Ken Price
“Beyond the pain, beyond the spinning and all the gleaming red, and beyond the falling rocks that crashed and clanged, and beyond the black flood shot with more red, with some livid purple in there, beyond all that, there was a stillness and it was the stillness of memory, and he groped his way toward it.” - Nightfall (1947) by David Goodis
“But this place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further. I had thought to let it in some of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.” - Porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Some are chased by the hounds of hell. Some are magnetized to an evil centre and pulled along by some dark fate.
David Goodis characters seem alien to their own bodies. They look out and see the world closing in on them.
You could blindfold a Goodis character and they would barely notice. Because their lives are lived on the inside.
When a Goodis character stops to talk to someone, they speak superficially. Perhaps they mention what brand of cigarettes they are smoking. Or they say they have to keep moving. Or they admit they have no idea at all. They are barely there. Because on the inside, their true self has already started moving - spiralling down a sink drain to hell.
I’m at that stage in Goodis fandom where you watch the film Dark Passage immediately after reading the book.
What stands out is that the first third of the film is shot in the first person perspective. Sure, it might be for practical reasons. They had to work around Vincent Parry’s plastic surgery where the finished product is Humphrey Bogart’s world weary mug. So pre-plastic surgery, it was probably impractical or imprudent to have a different actor or expensive makeup.
But the first-person perspective wonderfully accentuates what it feels like to follow a Goodis character through their story. It’s in the ‘right here and now’ where Goodis characters operate. You join them behind their eyes, looking out, and scramble along with only terrible choices to choose from.
Wouldn’t a David Goodis video game look very much the same? It would have to resemble Grand Theft Auto, but in black and white, and with those gorgeous Pontiacs and Lincoln Continentals driving around.
It’s this existential flavour that makes Goodis captivating. It’s not really Jean Paul Sarte’s high minded brand of existentialism. It’s a bit more like Albert Camus’ existentialism in The Stranger, wherein Meursault is a kind of victim of his own life as he wanders detached, viewing the world from beyond a foggy veneer. However Goodis is just so much more gosh darned fun.
His existentialism is part Camus, but also part Quantum Leap - remember the NBC series that ran from 1989 to 1993? I hadn’t thought about Quantum Leap for a long time, until I started diving into Goodis. In each episode, the hero Dr. Sam Beckett (hey oh!) wakes up inside someone else’s body - in some place in time - in the middle of a dire predicament and he navigates them out of peril. Then at the end of each episode he’s transported to someone else’s body in the middle of another critical circumstance to set up the next episode.
He is occasionally joined by a heavy drinking, cigar smoking, womanizing colleague named Admiral Al Calavicci, who appears to him as a holographic projection transmitted into his brainwaves. Calavicci’s job is to try to bring him home but does his best to coach him along the way. But it’s the advice you’d get from a streetwise reprobate.
If we are Dr. Beckett, then David Goodis is kind of our Al Calavicci. When we find ourselves looking out from behind the eyes of someone on the run from the law, or sinking into the quicksand of doomed and violent people, we ask, “Where the hell am I? How did I end up here?”
And with a cigar in his mouth and a woman on his hip he responds, “I don’t know. I’m working on it.”
By Stuart Mitchner
Town Topics, November 26, 2014
A nondescript sign hanging above an uninviting door on a street in Philadelphia says ART, BOOKS. The door opens easily and what you see on the other side makes it feel like you’ve walked into a movie.
There are all kinds of interiors, some dull, some posh, and then there are vistas like the one extending into the far distance. Books and art are here, as promised. Piled on top of floor-to-ceiling shelves teeming with volumes from the era before ISBN numbers are paintings, jumbled, tumbled, balanced, constructively haphazard, as if arranged by a Hollywood set designer on a roll, canvases framed and unframed, original artworks, some of it shrill and chaotic, like hieroglyphics gone wild, graffiti that couldn’t find the right wall. As you venture farther back, past immense, picturesquely faded 19th-century French posters advertisinglivraisons partout gratis by Paul de Kock, you find boxes of old records, sheet music, postcards, vintage magazines and newspapers, auction catalogues, and, filling the last long stretch of the vista, antiques with enough charisma to suggest that a Maltese Falcon or Brasher Doubloon might be found on the premises.
So if this is a movie, what’s it about, where’s it coming from, and where’s it going? The genre that makes the most sense for such a murky, intriguingly disordered setting is film noir. Except that doesn’t fit with my idea of Philadelphia, even though literary historians say Poe invented the detective story here, writing “Murders in the Rue Morgue” a few years before George Lippard produced The Quaker City … A Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery, and Crime (1845), one of the wildest, weirdest Gothic mind-benders ever written. It’s also true that the City of Brotherly Love is where two bop piano geniuses suffered brain-damaging beatings in the 1940s, Bud Powell at the hands of the police, Dodo Marmarosa attacked by a gang of sailors who dumped him headfirst on the dockside railroad tracks. You could fashion a tragic noir around either man, both of whom never fully recovered.
The idea of a movie about an embattled pianist brings to mind François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which was based on a novel by what’s-his-name, the writer of the book behind one of my favorite noirs, Dark Passage. I’m thinking of the scene where Bogart goes out in the middle of the San Francisco night to find a plastic surgeon because he needs a new face. The doctor who does the job is philosophical, telling Bogart “There’s no such thing as courage, only the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying.” For some reason that line gives me the name I was looking for, David Goodis. Because Dark Passage was set in San Francisco, I always thought Goodis lived out there. In fact, he’s right here, right where he belongs, with these thoughts of beatings and piano players in this vast curiosity shop in the City of Brotherly Love.
Finding David Goodis
Looking him up online that night, I learn that David Goodis was born and grew up in Philadelphia, studied for a year at my alma mater Indiana University before transferring to Temple, where he graduated in 1938 with a journalism degree, moved to New York City, worked in advertising, wrote for pulps like Horror Stories, Terror Tales, and Dime Mystery, published Dark Passage in the Saturday Evening Post, sold it to Hollywood, knew the stars (there are photos of him with Bogart and Bacall). Then back to his hometown for good to become the poet laureate of Philadelphia noir, turning out Gold Medal paperbacks like The Moon in the Gutter, Nightfall, Cassidy’s Girl, Of Tender Sin, Street of the Lost, and Down There, the book that went to Paris and became Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste.
The only thing by Goodis I could find locally is a paperback of Shoot the Piano Player. Here’s the first paragraph:
There were no street lamps, no lights at all. It was a narrow street in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia. From the nearby Delaware a cold wind came lancing in, telling all alley cats they’d better find a heated cellar. The late November gusts rattled against midnight-darkened windows, and stabbed at the eyes of the fallen man in the street.
That’s an irresistible opening, word-music and articulated atmosphere as mood-making as Charles Asnavour’s beyond worldweary face glooming above the piano in Truffaut’s film, which brings the melody of feeling to life much as Goodis describes it: “a soft, easygoing rhythm, somewhat plaintive and dreamy, a stream of pleasant sound that seemed to be saying, Nothing matters.” As for the piano player, he’s “slightly bent over, aiming a dim and faraway smile at nothing in particular.”
Where fiction most impressively surpasses film and makes you understand why Henry Miller said the novel was “even better” than the movie is in the love story between the piano player and the waitress. In the film Lena is played by Marie Dubois, whose charming wholesome beauty and lovely smile make it a foregone conclusion that Aznavour’s Eddie would be instantly infatuated. Gaddis’s depiction of the awkward evolution of a deeply felt relationship is so tensely and determinedly understated that it takes on a force greater than all the violence in a violent book. Dubois’s youthful charm is no match for the presence and power of Gaddis’s waitress. This is why the end of Down There has an emotional impact beyond anything in the film. After seeing the woman he was afraid to fall in love with shot dead in the snow, the piano player goes back to the refuge he found after his fall from concert hall glory, a dockside dive called Harriet’s Hut, where Lena worked. One way he tries to resist loving her is to think of her not by name but as “the waitress” right up to the moment of her death — “down there” in South Jersey.
“Less is more” is the line Gaddis follows from the cold wind of the opening paragraph to the deliverance of the conclusion, with Goodis, like a pianist himself, at his own keyboard. People in the bar are urging him to play, they all but lift him onto the stool, but he’s “got nothing to give them,” until a whisper comes “from somewhere” telling him he can try. When, with eyes closed, he hears the sound, “warm and sweet,” coming from a piano, he thinks, “That’s a fine piano …. Who’s playing that?” And as the story ends: “He opened his eyes. He saw his fingers caressing the keyboard.”
Earlier, when he heard jazz coming over a car radio, the piano player said something similar to himself, “That’s very fine piano … I think that’s Bud Powell.” It’s said that during his year and a half confinement at Creedmore after the Philadelphia attack, Bud Powell drew a keyboard on the wall of his cell, so he could open his eyes and see it there and imagine his fingers moving on the keys.
The Writer as the Player
The cover of La vie en noir et blanc, the biography of David Goodis by Philippe Garnier (Editions de Seuil 1984), has a photograph of Goodis at the piano, a cigarette in his mouth. After reading his way through Goodis’s dark world, Garnier commented, “I find it very difficult to imagine springtime in Philadelphia.”
Julian Rackow, Goodis’s lawyer in the suit he brought against the hit TV series The Fugitive for allegedly stealing ideas from Dark Passage, found it no less difficult to put his impression of Goodis into words, at least until he sawShoot the Piano Player: “Upon leaving the theater, my wife said that I looked as pale as a ghost. I was shaken because it was as if I had seen David Goodis.” Besides observing that the Aznavour character had “many of the personality and physical traits of David Goodis,” Rackow felt that both men were versions of “the quintessential loner.” The piano player was the writer, “all wrapped up tightly within himself … far more comfortable within his own shell.”
Streets Given Meaning
On the same day that began at the emporium behind the ART/BOOKS sign, my son and I drove to a used record store called Sit & Spin on South Ninth in the Italian market, a part of the city I’m not very familiar with and at the time had no desire to know better. On our way, we covered a lot of ground, crossing innumerable four-way-stop intersections of streets that had no particular significance for me.
At home, after discovering a fantastically informative web site called “Shooting Pool with David Goodis,” I learned just how wide a swath of urban territory his novels encompass. Those insignificant street names I’d passed earlier that day were now charged with meaning, fiction and real-life merging in an area the web site calls Goodisville: “The majority of the novels were set in Skid Row, the Delaware River docks, Kensington, Southwark, and Port Richmond. Three of these areas are truly lost to contemporary Philadelphians. Working class Southwark is now Queens Village, most of which is increasingly upscale. Dock Street, overlooking the waterfront and once the center of a sprawling and cacophonous produce market, is now the location of independent film theaters, and of the Society Hill Towers apartments. Skid Row fell to redevelopment plans over 30 years ago; the derelicts, the fleabag hotels, and the Sunday Breakfast Association have long been unlamented.”
The circumstances of David Goodis’s death at 49 in March 1967 have a noirish aspect. While the official cause is given as a “cerebral vascular accident,” the consensus seems to be that it resulted from the beating Goodis suffered while resisting a hold-up attempt.
Down There can be found in the Library of America’s anthology American Noir of the 1950s. Gaddis has a volume all to himself in Five Noir Novels. The 2nd Street emporium is Jules Goldman Books and Antiques.