Photos courtesy Louis Boxer
Len Cobrin, David Goodis, Monroe Schwartz
Goodis on the beach. Photo: Courtesy of Louis Boxer.
Radio personality Frank Ford remembered the outrageous humor of David Goodis. Ford---known as El Felbin except in his broadcast life---grew up at 1008 Wyoming Avenue in Logan. Goodis lived around the corner at 4758 North 10th Street, between Loudon Street and Wyoming Avenue. Ford was a year ahead of Goodis at Simon Gratz High School, and did not know of David's high school achievements.
Ford remembered Goodis as having "a great sense of humor" and "a great imagination." "I did not think David was odd. I felt he was having fun. He liked being talked about. He liked meeting and impressing girls," Ford said. "David was not a mean guy or a tough guy."
As to imagination, Goodis had a talent for making up names. Ford remembers the name "Mortimer Gurmshire."
As to girls . . . . Ford remembers a summer when a group of guys rented a house in Ventor (a town adjacent to Atlantic City, New Jersey) on the back bay at Darby Avenue. "We called it Darby Hall. We slept on cots on the first floor, like a dorm. David was not one of the renters. However, he frequently came down the shore and somebody would put him up."
"When he stayed at Darby Hall, David would bring nothing. He would not bring pajamas. He tied a necktie around his eyes as an eyeshade so he could go to sleep," Ford said.
Ford remembered an incident at Darby Hall where Goodis made a kazoo from a comb and tissue paper. He also remembered David imitating a pro football player receive a pass in slow motion.
"One of the guys at Darby Hall was Sid Daroff [a member of the family which manufactured Botany 500 suits]. One night David was acused of filling a condom with water and dropping it on Sid while Sid was sleeping. Sid got all wet. A night or two later, Sid did the same to David. Later, we found that someone else--not David had done this. A few days later, we told David that he had been falsely accused. David declared, 'David Dreyfus, David Dreyfus. I told you I was innocent.'" [Goodis was referring to Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish French army officer who was wrongfully convicted of espionage and was sent to Devil's Island].
"Later that summer David took out a young girl. When he came back to Darby Hall we told him that she was underage and that her father was looking to kill him. David took the last bus back to Philadelphia," Ford said. "We made up the story about the girl being underage and the father."
Ford recalled a Goodis prank to attract and impress girls." "On Saturday afternoons, everybody---guys, girls---would gather at Broad and Chestnut Streets. When enough girls were on the scene. David would pretend that his foot was caught in the streetcar tracks. As a streetcar was approaching, the girls would get excited. Just as the street car was approaching and was about to hit the brakes, David would pull his foot from the tracks."
Asked about the legendary secret life of David Goodis, Ford replied "It is true that he would go to Black clubs on Columbia Avenue [now Cecil B. Moore] and that he liked Black women. I heard that he was briefly married to a Black woman. David liked to go to the Blue Note jazz club [at 15th Street and Ridge Avenue]," Ford said. Ford said that the Blue Note was not specifically racial.
Ford said that he last saw Goodis in the 1950's. "From the time he became a professional writer, I never saw him. I only heard stories about him," Ford said.
Herb Gross says that David Goodis "could have been a stand up comic."
"Philadelphia is a big small town. Everyone is connected to somebody in some manner," said Gross. Gross, about a dozen years younger than David, knew him for seven for eight years.
Originally from the vicinity of 46th Street and Girard Avenue, Gross moved to Wynnefield, across the street from Len Cobrin. Gross met David Goodis through Len Cobrin, when they crashed dances. It turned out that Gross's father was a "ninth cousin" to the Goodis family. Cobrin, Gross and Goodis hung out together.
"David could have been a stand up comic," Gross said. "David had many qualities. If you said frugal, it would not describe him. He was worse than frugal."
"With all the money he made from books, he never bought new clothes," Gross said. "His mother would buy him a suit -- at the Salvation Army. David would call me up. 'Gross, I have a new suit to show you.'"
"One memory is vivid. David wore pants four or five inches short. The suit sleeves were mid-arms's length. He would get ouf of the car and pose in the suit," Gross said.
"David would call me upon on the phone and say, "I want to come out and see you." I have a present for your daughter. He came out and gave her one stick of Wrigley's chewing gum. He would say, "Gross, is that creative?'" Gross said.
"In the mid 1950's, David had to go to California to write a script for Alfred Hitchock. He called me from there. I said, where are you? David said that he decided to stay with Alan Norkin, a lawyer," Gross said.
"David said, 'I don't want you to think I am cheap.' "This story did not happen, but David said it to satirize the Hollywood lifestyle," Gross said.
Gross said that David used to do poses of quarterbacks in small motion.
Gross said that David was a terrible pool player. Gross and David played at Dave's pool room at 40th Street and Girard Avenue. "David said he won all kinds of tournaments. When I played pool with him, I was worried that he was going to rip the cloth off the pool table -- he was so bad," Gross said. Gross patronized Mosconi's (Superor Billiards) but never with Goodis.
"Nobody penny pinched like him. He would never buy anything new. His car was so horrible, filthy dirty, that I would tell him to park across the street. I did not want anyone to know that he was a friend of mine," Gross said.
"It would be a blizzrd. He would call me up, 'Gross." He always called me Gross. 'Gross, if you were any kind of a mensch [Yiddish for man] you would pick me up and drive me to Scranton to get me out of the weather,' Goodis would say. We never went to Scranton," Gross said.
Gross remembered that David would walk on Girard Avenue and stop on the trolley tracks and say that his toe was stuck in the tracks.
Herb Gross spoke at the 2007 NoirCON conference.
Blue Horizon boxing arena, 1314 North Broad Steet circa 2015. Photo by Michael Bixler, Hidden City blog.
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 for planning of this event.
Leonard A. Cobrin.
The above essay appeared in the 2007 GoodisCON program book.
Inteview 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 all 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 no supposed to be there. We would get thrown out. We met up and hit it off," 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 charcters in bar rooms and inside theirhomes.
"We used to go to Jimmy Toppi's on Broad Street in South Philadelphia and the Met on Broad Street [in North Philadelphia]. I also went with him to the Blue Horizon and a boxing place in Frankford or Kensington," Cobrin remembered.
"David and I went to an outdoor fight in the sumertime and saw Chicken Thompson--a lightweight--get killed. It soured me on fights,' 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 thim in his old clothes."
Goodis liked the Blue Note jazz club at 15th Street and Ridge Avenue, according to Frank Ford. phillyjazz.us
Cobrin recalled a visit David in Hollywood.
"In February 1947, Marvin Gould, Gene Beechman and I drove to California to see David. 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 misssing. David was heavy into Army surplus. To keep our heads warm, he gave us gas masks!"
Goodis' s 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 neck tie around his eyes."
"David wasn't cheap. He just didn't spend money," Cobrin said. "We would have a poker game--may be five friends--some from Logan. During an all night poker game we would tease him, since David said he didn't have money. One 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 resaturant. Lee Cobb, who was in that play, was there and we said hello to 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 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 his 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.
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," Cobrinsaid.
Shortly beflore his death, David checked himself into a mental hospital. It is now called the Bellmont 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, 'Liked 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.
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 not have had 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.
My late husband, Eli Halpern and David were first cousins; Eli's father and David's mother (Molly Goodis) were siblings. This was Eli's favorite David story:
During the late summer of 1952, Eli was in New York City taking post-graduate courses. To earn money, he got a job on the Hudson River Day Line, and worked evenings as a bartender on ferries that drew their passengers from Harlem.
These were not genteel gatherings; brawls and stabbings were not uncommon. The young bartenders were instructed to stay (in relative safety) behind the bar.
One evening, a swarthy man, came out of the sea of Black faces, and ordered a whisky. The conversation went like this:
Eli (puzzled): David?
David (recognizing Eli): I'm gathering material. Don't tell Aunt Molly.
And he disappeared into the crowd. And Eli didn't tell David's mother.
This essay by Charlotte Halpern appeared in the 2007 GoodisCON program book.
David Goodis at Brian Kellman's bar mitzvah in 1958. Photo: courtesy of Louis Boxer.
My 13th year was not only a coming of age in the religious sense it was at that time that I felt acceptance and respected as a young adult by my father and this friend, David Goodis.
David, who attended my bar mitzvah in 1958, collaborated with my dad, producer Louis W. Kellman and director Paul Wendkos on the screen adaptation of his novel, The Burglar in 1955.
David and my dad were buddies as well as collaborators. It seemed that whenever I dropped by the office I would catch them laughing, gossiping and furiously pitching ideas to one another.
One special day shortly after my bar mitzvah they asked me if I wanted to join them for a working lunch at a nearby -- and now long gone -- Stouffer's restaurant in Center City Philadelphia. Their goal that afternoon was to flesh out an idea for a horror film whose working title was Terror of the Opera House -- perhaps an homage to a certain, earlier silent movie.
I was welcomed as an equal particpant as ideas flowed back and forth.
I still remember a few threads of the plot discussed that afternoon. A beautiful diva had been murdered during a performance. A hunchback -- the theater's janitor -- was suspected and disappeared that night. The old opera house which had been shuttered and had fallen to ruin was purchased decades later by a land speculator who wanted to demolish it. And of course, he became the target of the hunchback who for decades lived below the stage in some inaccessible, subterranean recess.
It all ends with a cleansing fire that I believe kills both hunchback and speculator.
Apparently, the original murder weapon -- a knife -- had been tossed against the backstage wall after the initial crime and had fallen through a space between the wall and a rearely used, antique electrical power box. In the end, I forgot who pulls the switch and causes the short circuit but that's the cause of the fire.
We all had great fun at that bull session! The film was never made. The afternoon was unforgettable.
This essay by Brian Kellman appeared in the 2007 GoodisCON program book.