By Larry Withers
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.
Elaine Astor, David Goodis (center), and unidentified friend., Los Angeles, about 1943 (Photo courtesy of Larry Withers).
"I have this belief that most women from the forties on back could be attractive but not standouts. Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth are about the only two exceptions that spring immediately to mind. I don't know if it's what passed for beauty back then, or the hairstyles, or the fashions, but I found it decidedly difficult to get a hormonal rise out of the alleged desirables of that era. The gal with Goodis in that one photo is a veritable babe though, and I found myself getting jealous of him."---Brian K. Mitchell
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.
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."
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.
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 marriage failed.
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.
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.
(Courtesy of Barbara L. Ginsburg)
Astor-Goodis Wedding Ketubah
A Ketubah is a marriage contract that explains the basic material, conjugal and moral responsibilities of the husband to his wife. It is signed by the groom (David L. Goodis), as well as two witnesses, and given to the bride during the wedding ceremony.
the ---th day of the week, the 18th day of the month
year 5704 corresponding to the 17th day of October 1943,
the holy Covenant of Marriage was entered into, in
Los Angeles, California between
David Loeb Goodis and his
The said Bridegroom made the following Declaration to his Bride: "Be thou my wife according to the law of Moses and of Israel. I faithfully promise that I will be a true husband unto thee. I will honor and cherish thee; I will work for thee. I will protect and support thee, and will provide all that is necessary for thy due sustenance, even as it becomes a Jewish husband to do. I also take upon myself all such further obligations for thy maintenance as are prescribed by our religious statute."
And the said Bride has plighted her troth unto him, in affection and sincerity, and has thus taken upon herself the fulfillment of all the Duties incumbent upon a Jewish wife.
This Covenant of Marriage was duly executed and witnessed this day according to the usage of Israel.
Witnesses: Leon Wayne Lore and Abraham L. Halpern
Rabbi: Jacob Samuels Robins, PhD
(Photo courtesy of Lenny Kleinfeld)
The Harry L. Rubinfeld Friendly Family Neighborhood Shul
(photo courtesy of Lenny Kleinfeld)
The Harry L. Rubinfeld Friendly Family Neighborhood
Yeshivas Ohev Shalom
525 S. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, California
(Photos and text courtesy of Louis Boxer).