By Larry Withers
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.
Elaine Astor, David Goodis (center), and unidentified
friend. (Photo courtesy of Larry Withers).
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
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.
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
found the divorce decree in the attic of City Hall. The
case was captioned,
Elaine Astor Goodis v. David Loeb Goodis,
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
Provided by Laurence Withers to Louis Boxer
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
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.
Research by Larry Withers and Louis
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.