with David Goodis
If I had two hours to live, I would spend most of it
watching Dark Passage. The 1946 film features Humphrey
Bogart who as Vincent Parry was wrongfully convicted of
killing his wife. Parry escapes from San Quentin Prison and
is met on a road near the prison by a wealthy artist, Irene
Jansen, played by Lauren Bacall. Unknown to Parry, Jansen
had followed his trial and believed in his innocence.
Jansen's father had been wrongfully convicted of killing
his second wife. He had died in prison. After getting a
face-change from a disbarred plastic surgeon, Parry tracks
down the real killer of his wife, Madge Rapf, who falls out
a window in the course of their confrontation. Parry
escapes San Francisco on a bus. Jansen meets him in Peru.
Greenbriar Pictures Shows blog on Dark
Clydefro Blog on Dark
Goodis at Warner Brothers (Photo courtesy of Larry
The screenwriter of this movie was David Goodis, a native
of Philadelphia. A 1938 journalism graduate from Temple
University, Goodis began his career in advertising in New
York. His biographer, Philippe Garnier, in Goodis La Vie en
Noir et Blanc (Editions de Seul, Paris 1984), reported that
Goodis was classified 4F (medically unfit to serve) by his
draft board and did not serve in World War II. During World
War II, he spent some time in California. He wrote cheap
fiction, getting his break with the novel Dark Passage. He
was hired by Warner Brothers as a screenwriter, adapting
Dark Passage to film.
After a short career as a writer for movies and radio in
Hollywood, he crashed. Goodis moved back to Philadelphia
and lived with his parents and his mentally disabled
brother, Herb. Goodis churned out more than a dozen cheap
paperback mysteries and even more short stories for pulp
magazines. He wrote about the seemy side of life in working
class Philadelphia. His books ooze with cynicism and gloom.
He writes about men who are losers and the cheap women they
Goodis wrote for an audience of working class white males.
However, interest in his work was greater in Europe than in
America, particularly in the 1950's and 1960's. In Europe,
David Goodis was read by the intellectuals. Goods reflected
the negative view of the United States held by Europeans,
rather than the bright view of the United States shared by
Americans. This negative view of America explains why David
Goodis has been a nonperson here, particularly since his
death on January 7, 1967 at the age of 49.
Professor David Schmid explains that Goodis parallels crime
fiction writers such as Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett and
Chester Himes who enjoyed greater reputations in Europe
than in the United States. They were regarded as serious
literary artists rather than as pulpsters by European
audiences and critics (especially the French). Dr. Schmid
notes that In Himes' case, of course, he didn't start
publishing crime fiction until after he had become an
expatriate living in France.
Literary critics and internet writers portray Goodis as
reclusive and shadowy. I wonder if they ever met him.
Hooked on Dark Passage, and impressed by two of his
reissued novels, The Blonde on the Street Corner and the
Moon in the Gutter, I wanted to meet someone who knew David
Goodis. I asked several people of his generation, hoping
that they had grown up with him. None did. In December
2005, I was discussing Dark Passage at work, when my
co-worker Harold "Dutch" Silver started talking about the
movie. Harold said he taught David Goodis how to shoot
pool. Voila! I had looked all over Philadelphia but the
answer to my quest was at my workplace.
After speaking with Dutch, I began researching David
Goodis. Dutch and I visited the sites of the pool room, his
grave, and his house. I went to City Hall where I examined
documents at the Register of Wills, the Clerk of Orphans
Court, the Prothonotary's Office, and the ancient records
archive in attic at Room 975. I reviewed the David Goodis
archives at the Special Collections department of Temple
University's Paley Library.
Representative Logan housing when David
Goodis grew up.
These houses at 4505 and 4507 North 8th Street, were about
blocks from the home where David Goodis grew up. His house
been demolished. This photograph was taken on February 3,
Goodis grew up on the 4700 block of North 10th Street, in
the Logan section. The house he grew up in has been
demolished. Logan was a tree-lined neighborhood of mostly
row homes built around the time of World War I. The area
was middle class and heavily Jewish. He attended the
General David Bell Birney Elementary School and Jay Cooke
Junior High School. He excelled at Simon Gratz High School,
where he was editor of the student newspaper and president
of the student government. He graduated in January 1935.
After studying at Indiana University, he transferred to
Temple University, where he received his bachelor's degree
in journalism in 1938. His photograph and biography do not
appear in the seniors section of the 1938 Templar yearbook.
He is one of five students listed as members of the Board
of Editorial Assistants of the Temple University News, the
three times a week student newspaper. He appears in a
photograph of 22 members of the staff.
The David Bell Birney elementary school,
during expansion. Photograph
was taken May 28, 1927, when David Goodis studied
In his last years, Goodis lived with his parents and
brother in a gracious single house on the 6300 block of
North 11th Street in East Oak Lane, an upscale
suburban-style neighborhood within the city limits. His
hang-out was Superior Billiards (also called Mosconi's), in
the basement of 1338 West Rockland Street in Logan.
Superior Billiards was a 10 or 15 minute drive from his
It is not surprising that Goodis was fascinated by pool,
since many of his characters would have hung out at similar
Among the regulars at Superior Billiards, was Dutch Silver,
about 12 years younger than Goodis. Dutch lived a few
blocks away in Logan on the 4700 block of North Ninth
Street. He frequented Superior Billiards from 1948 until
his marriage in 1969.
"He was a nice fellow," said Dutch. "He was quiet, polite,
a good person." Dutch related how he met Goodis:
"I was shooting pool. Every night I always played with
somebody. I shot one-handed and I was one of the best
one-handed shooters in the country. David was watching. He
came up to me and said he was amazed that I could shoot
better one-handed than most people shot two-handed," Dutch
Goodis asked Dutch for lessons.
"He asked me to teach him how to hold the stick and how to
shoot the balls and how to play positions. He said that he
could not do any of that, because he did not know how to
hold the cue [stick]. For five years, after supper time,
David and Herbie would come to Superior Billiards, two or
three evenings a week. Dave and Herbie would play
together," Dutch said.
"If I did not have a game, I would go over to him. He would
ask me questions and I would try to help him. He asked me
how to hold the bridge [a stick with grooves in it on which
you would place the cue, to help you reach a ball at the
far end of the table]. Sometimes he would miscue. When he
was first learning, he would miscue, so I would tell him
that he had to put chalk on the tip of the cue. I know it
helps prevent miscuing, " Dutch said.
"David was a real novice, but he wanted to learn," Dutch
said. "He was fascinated by pool rooms. David was thrilled,
happy when I showed him how to play pool. So was Herbie."
According to Dutch, Goodis never talked about his private
life. He was very soft spoken. He talked about what
happened in the pool hall. He did not smoke in Dutch's
presence. "I do not remember him telling any jokes," Dutch
said. Once on New Year's eve, with a half a dozen pool
players, Dutch, Label (Irving Fagelson) and "The Breeze"
went to Goodis' house for a visit. Goodis served a clear
liquor. He also had sodas. Dutch does not remember if there
was any food but says Goodis probably served munchies.
Goodis only drank cola at the party. "I never saw him take
a drink other than a soda," Dutch said. "His demeanor was
not as a heavy drinker's would be."
"David always came to the pool hall with Herbie. I never
saw him by himself," Dutch said. Goodis always wore
sweaters or sport jackets, but never suits. He had dark
hair. He was about 5'6" or 5'7" tall and thin. Herbie was
over six feet tall and thin. Goodis did not drink at the
pool hall. Goodis did not gamble at the pool hall. He never
talked about music.
"David did not talk about a job," Dutch said. However,
income tax returns in the Temple Archives, show that Goodis
supported himself through his writings and royalties. "He
spoke about Robert Rossen, the director of the 1961 movie
The Hustler, which was set in a pool room," Dutch said. "He
talked to me about seeing Robert Rossen so I could get a
job in the movies. At the time of The Hustler, pool became
more popular, and people began to wait in line so people
could get numbers to play just like a bakery," Dutch said.
When Dutch knew him, Goodis was living with his mother and
brother. Dutch did not know if the father was alive.
Goodis' mother died in September 1966. Dutch sent a basket
of fruit to the family. Goodis sent a thank you note, which
Dutch still has.
"Nobody told me that Goodis had died," Dutch said. Several
weeks after he died, Dutch learned about it from a friend.
"I assume his family took care of it. I do not know if it
was in the paper. I heard that Herbie had run away from
some kind of home and died," Dutch said..
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