I'm going to freeze your face.
The Mysterious Elaine

By Larry Withers
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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.

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Elaine Astor, David Goodis (center), and unidentified friend. (Photo courtesy of Larry Withers).


Elaine Astor

Was there a conspiracy to erase Elaine Astor?

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.

Dutch said that he 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 Herb had been confined to Norristown State Hospital since November 1963.

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At the Temple Archives, 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?

Confirmation of the marriage, comes from the death certificate for David Goodis, which I found in the Temple Archives. It shows that Samuel Goodis is listed as reporting the death. The death certificate was dated January 9, 1967. A check appears near the box for "divorced."


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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 25 years ago.

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Provided by Laurence Withers to Louis Boxer
http://www.thewriterinthegutter.com/2009/10/indignities-to-person.html

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.


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Why was Elaine never mentioned in the obituary or the law suit?

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.

UPDATE
Pasted Graphic
http://www.thewriterinthegutter.com/2009/10/indignities-to-person.html

Research by Larry Withers and Louis Boxer produced a marriage license for David Goodis and Elaine Astor. They were married on October 7, 1943 by Rabbi Jacob Samuel Robins, Ph.D., at Ohev Shalom Congregation, 525 South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles.

Read Larry Withers' latest article on his mother, Elaine Astor, and the life of David Goodis on the NoirCON Blog.