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 the
planning of this event.
Leonard A. Cobrin
above essay appeared in the GoodisCON program
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 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 not supposed to be there. We would
get thrown out. We met up and hit it off,” Cobrin said.
Cobrin saw David regularly until his death. “We were in a
great circle of friends. A very interesting group. We had
fun together,” 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 characters in bar rooms and inside their homes.
“We used to go to Jimmy Toppi’s on Broad Street in South
Philadelphia and the Met on Broad Street. I also went with
him to the Blue Hoirzon and a boxing place in Frankford or
Kensington,” Cobrin remembered.
Blue Horizon. Philadelphia Weekly, November
“David and I went to an outdoor fight in the summertine and
saw Chicken Thompson--a light weight--get killed. It soured
me on fights,” Cobrin said.
“David wrote for radio--Tip Harrigan. If there was a fight
on TV he would watch it,” Cobrin said.
“David was funny. He would do boxing poses,” Cobrin said.
Cobrin recalled David’s excentricities.
”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 them in his old clothes.”
Cobrin recalled a trip to visit David in Hollywood.
“In February 1947, Marvin Gould, Gene Beechman and I drove
to California to see David. We wanted to see the studios.
At this point, David was earning $1100 a week. After
several requests, David finally broke down and showed us
“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 missing. David was
heavy into Army surplus. To keep our heads warm, he gave us
gas masks. We drove around Hollywood wearing gas masks!”
Goodis’ 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 a
neck tie around his eyes.”
“David wasn’t cheap. He just didn’t spend money,” Cobrin
said. “We would have a poker game--maybe five friends--some
from Logan. During an all night poker game we would tesase
him, since David said he didn’t have money. On 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 restaurant. Lee Cobb, who was in
that play, was there and we said hello him,” Cobrin
recalled. "I don’t think I ever went to the movies with
“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 music 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 is 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 enjohyable
the way he was,” Cobrin said.
“I liked the title of his first book, Retreat from
Oblivion. His is retreating from place to place with no
place to go,” Cobrin said.
Goodis’ books are full of heavy, bossy, big breasted,
sexualized women. David is reputed to have cruised bars in
black neighborhoods and get involved with heavy, abusive
women. Cobrin could neither confirm nor deny such stories.
“David was handsome. There were tall good looking women who
were interested in him. He would take them out but never
had anything going on with them. He was very private, so
you would not know what was going on,” Cobrin said.
Several days after David’s mother, Mollie, died, Len Cobrin
visted him at the house in East Oak Lane. “He hadn’t eatned
all day,” Cobrin said. “He was never much of an eater. I
offered to take him out. He said he would make an egg.”
“Here he was, alone in the house. You can think of his life
as tragic. He never got into marriage. New York. Hollywood.
He never talked about it--but you assumed it was because of
his brother. I think his brother’s condition had an
influence on him.”
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,” Cobrin said.
before his death, David checked himself into a mental
hospital. It is now called the Belmont 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
“I asked him why he went to the hospital,” Cobrin said.
“David replied, ‘I like 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,”
“David was such a good person. There was no malice in him,”
Germantown Town Hall, 1947. Black Friday was
set on Morton Street in the Germantown secton of
Philadelphiat about half a mile from this
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 have had to 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