Monday, August 31, 2009

Elaine Astor by Aaron Finestone

Elaine Astor 


Was there a conspiracy to erase Elaine Astor? 

David Goodis was generally believed to have never married.  
Dutch (Harold "Dutch" Silver) 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 toNorristown State Hospital since November 1963.


At the Temple Archives, I found an article from the Philadephia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, dated September 23, 2001, entitled "The Mysterious Elaine."  

The author, Laurence Withers, claims 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 fromRussia.  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 maried in 1942 and separated in 1943. Garnier could locate neither marriage nor divorce records. 

Was there truth to this story? 

Confirmation, 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. Ginsberg about 25 years ago. 

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? 

My guess is the family wrote 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 for 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. 

When dineros are at issue, anything can happen.  So as to protect Herb, mention of the divorce was omitted. 

Where there were no children, a 21 year old divorce decree and being never married are a distinction without a difference.

THE MYSTERIOUS ELAINE by Larry Withers




VIDEO INCORPORATED




(L to R): Elaine Astor Goodis, David Goodis and Unidentified Friend
The Mysterious Elaine
 By Laurence Withers
My mother had once led a life that included marriage to a successful novelist - and she kept it all a secret. But how much truth was in the books and others' recollections?
 I never knew my mother.
 Don't misunderstand. She raised me all right - me and my three brothers and three sisters. She saw to it that we had enough to eat, though with seven kids, dinners had to be carefully rationed. She made sure we took fluoride pills, before the township saw fit to put it in the drinking water. We were always clothed, if not stylish; every year in August, just before school, she would order a new, but spare, wardrobe for each of us from the Sears catalog.
 But there was another woman, another Elaine Withers, whom I didn't know.
 My mother passed away in 1986. She died from a stroke during a heart procedure at Presbyterian Hospital. That was the end of her life, and the beginning of our mystery.
 After the funeral, we went through her papers and discovered a couple of interesting things. First, my mother was about eight years older than my father; she didn't look it, and never admitted it. Her driver's license was incorrect, and even the date on her gravestone didn't betray her.
 An even greater surprise: My mother had been married previously to another man.
 We were a bit shocked, and confused. This happened in the mid-20th century, and though divorce wasn't something to be proud of, at least it was ordinary enough that to hide it - so completely - made the discovery all the odder, and all the more intriguing.
 At first her sister, my Aunt Eva, said he was some sort of motion-picture producer. She wouldn't tell us any more, and it wasn't until after Aunt Eva died that we learned the truth. My mother had been married to David Goodis, a novelist and screenwriter.
 They were married in Los Angeles in October 1943, and divorced in January 1946. Among my aunt's papers were the marriage certificate and divorce decree (along with several appraisals of furs and jewelry that Goodis had given my mother during their marriage).
 Not many people in this country read or know of David Goodis now, but he was a Philadelphian who had a measure of success and today has a significant following inFrance. Posthumously, he is even having a bit of a renaissance in America. He's probably best known for his novel Dark Passage, made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and for Down There, on which Francois Truffaut based Shoot the Piano Player. Goodis and his contemporaries - Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, and others - are considered the first real generation of pulp-fiction authors, the original paperback writers.
 I thought, OK, so my mother was married to a famous novelist. What of it? Napoleon and Josephine - that was a marriage. The two and a half year marriage of Elaine and David Goodis - that was just a footnote.
Then one of my sisters discovered a book by James Sallis, Difficult Lives, which included an essay on Goodis. Sallis referred to my mother as "this mysterious woman, Elaine."
 One of Sallis' sources in the essay, a cousin of Goodis', recalled Elaine as not the model type, neither tall nor leggy. He did say she had large breasts and a "glorious posterior," and always wore tight-fitting clothes. I'd never heard my mother referred to in this way, as some sexual entity. But looking at family photographs from that time, I can understand the attraction.


Another longtime Goodis friend from Philadelphia, Jane Fried, is quoted in a biography by Philip Garnier, Goodis: A Life in Black and White: "David said that she wasn't at all the kind of woman he'd expect to marry him. He described her as a 'Jewish Princess,' very conventional, hard to please, very chic. I don't know that she was, but she did have that style."
 Of course, all this is hearsay and secondhand reports. The question remained, who was this mysterious Elaine? Who really knew my mother?
 Elaine Astor was born in Philadelphia in 1917, in the same year and city as David Goodis, and, like him, to a solidly middle-class Jewish family. The families lived not far from each other, off Roosevelt Boulevard. My mother was a second-generation American whose parents had come fromRussia. Whether the two families knew each other, we didn't know.
 Goodis, a graduate of Simon Gratz High School andTemple University, began his career - in the midst of the Depression - as an advertising copywriter in Philadelphia, while writing short stories and completing his first novel, Retreat From Oblivion. He eventually moved to New Yorkto pursue his writing.
 My mother's family suffered in the Depression. My grandfather failed to pay taxes on real estate the family owned along Spring Garden Street and in the StrawberryMansion area, and the family lost the properties.
 From a friend of my mother's, I learned that, with the family almost destitute, my mother convinced her parents that she had the talent and looks to be a movie star inHollywood; so the entire family moved to the West Coast. Why would a family make such a move, based on the desires of a woman in her early 20s? Maybe, as immigrants, they really believed in the myth of the American dream.
 In the meantime, Goodis' career in New York was moving right along. He saw numerous short stories published, and wrote radio scripts for popular radio programs such as Hap Harrigan. His big break came in 1942, with the serialization of his second novel, Dark Passage, in the Saturday Evening Post. The serialization and the book itself were extremely successful, and Warner Bros. bought the film rights as a vehicle for Bogart and Bacall. Goodis later moved toHollywood to work as a screenwriter for Warner under a generous six-year contract. In recognition and money, the Hollywood period was the high point of his career.
David Goodis' private life is every bit as strange and mysterious as the characters and plots of his novels, with their dark lives better left in the shadows. In the anonymity of New York, a writer's life can be cloaked. But in the high-beam world of Hollywood, where it's advantageous to "be seen," it was hard for Goodis to hide.
 While he certainly could afford it, Goodis didn't have his own home in Hollywood. Rather, he paid $4 a month to sleep on a friend's couch. He often dressed shabbily, wearing the same suits until they were almost threadbare. Then he would dye the suits dark blue and continue wearing them. On occasion, he even sewed the label from a better suit into his own.
 Other peculiar, sophomoric behavior included going out in public in a borrowed bathrobe, putting on airs as a supposedly long-lost Russian prince, and stuffing the red cellophane from cigarette packs up his nose to feign nosebleeds in restaurants.
 At night he is said to have frequented black bars and jazz venues, seeking out large women who would give him verbal abuse. And, if his novels are as autobiographical as many critics believe, he may have solicited physical abuse as well. These evening excursions were a ritual throughout his life.
 As far as I know, my mother's acting aspirations didn't lead anywhere - no one has ever mentioned even a bit part in a minor film - but my grandparents settled in as Californians. That part of my family had made its break withPhiladelphia.
 How did Goodis and my mother meet? Was it inCalifornia, or had they known each other, as I theorized, growing up in Philadelphia? There was a photograph among my aunt's papers, taken at a Hollywood restaurant in the early '40s. To the left is my mother, her arm propped on the table, showing off what is perhaps her wedding ring. With perfectly symmetrical features, her look is at the same time haughty and alluring, like smoldering ice.

 Goodis, on the other hand, is a pleasant, sincere-looking man, with a square face and a thick mass of black hair. They seem totally mismatched. In the Sallis and Garnier books, Goodis' friends described him as congenial, unpretentious, quiet, and very down-to-earth. My mother was a strong personality, dramatic and certainly judgmental. As attractive as she was, she was also, I think, very prudish. To my knowledge, she never drank alcohol, and she used to utter, "Lips that touch cigarettes shall never touch mine."
 The marriage was a bust. The chronology is vague, but at some point after being married in California they moved back to Philadelphia and lived with Goodis' family for about six months. Then they moved to New York, where my mother eventually left Goodis.
 For anybody, trying to make sense of a decades-old failed romance - a well-hidden one - is no easy task. But I had this advantage: Because Goodis was a prominent author, in a steamy genre no less, people wrote about him. Which means they also wrote, a little, about my mother.
 Goodis' friend Jane Fried told Garnier this about the marriage: "It was a complete fiasco. She threw him over pretty quickly; I'm sure she found him too odd, not mature or suave enough for her. He'd go to [New York] from time to time to attempt reconciliation. She worked in a fashionable clothing shop and was mortified when he showed up like that to badger her, dressed the way he always was. . . . And David would do it purposely, make himself even more shabby and wretched-looking, and he'd plant himself by the shop."
 Sallis, in his essay, summed up the relationship: "David's friends believed him deeply, perhaps fatally, scarred by the relationship. Certainly the demanding, devouring females of his novels fed and grew, if they did not originate - for how can we say after all, if Goodis was attracted to her as a type, or in fact learned his predilections from her? - from memories of Elaine."
 But the most disturbing recollection comes from Marvin Yolin, one of Goodis' Los Angeles friends; it is an incident that also shows up in Goodis' Behold This Woman. "Apparently, he was completely overcome by her, and had a terrible time of it," Yolin is quoted by Sallis. "She was redheaded and had large breasts which David adored. When they lived in New York she would wake him in the middle of the night and say: 'You want to see them, you want to see my breasts?' And he would say yes. Then she'd send him off to find her ice cream, in the middle of the night, this is, and of course he'd be gone a long time before getting back. He'd come in with the ice cream and then she'd call him names, cursing him for waking her up. He told me that she had rendered him physically and mentally deranged, and even though he was finally able to talk about it, and with humor, I'm persuaded that all this had marked him for life."
 If you're expecting me to say I was crushed, disillusioned or embarrassed to read this about my mother, I wasn't. I didn't recognize this person, this woman on the page.
 My mother wasn't June Cleaver, but I didn't know her as a man-eater, either.
 And there's a problem with Sallis' suggestion about Goodis' learning "predilections" from Elaine. Yes, one of the female characters in Dark Passage (Madge, played by a young Agnes Moorehead in the film) is the sort of praying mantis who appears in most of Goodis' novels - but the book was largely written four years before Goodis and my mother were married.
 Then there's the letter from my mother's dearest cousin, Rose Janofsky. I knew Rose. She never married, lived most of her life in Philadelphia, and, when my mother was living in New York or California, corresponded with her frequently. She obviously knew the Goodis family and perhaps was on speaking terms with Goodis himself. My mother had kept Rose's letters, one of which says this about Goodis: "Have you seen Davie. He sent us pictures of his family and he. His pictures made me sick. He looked very bad and drawn. Please see him and give me a first hand greece. You could tell him that I worry about him." It suddenly became clear; Goodis was an old friend of the family, and my mother certainly wasn't some Hollywood siren.
 I haven't been able to learn much more about David and Elaine's relationship. They were granted a divorce in Pennsylvania on Jan. 18, 1946, and they returned, separately, to California. In 1948, two years after her divorce, my mother married my father, whom she met while attending college to become an elementary school teacher.
 The mysterious Elaine had vanished, and in her place was, well, my mother.
 The Elaine Withers I knew bears little resemblance to the temptress of Goodis' novels. When I was growing up, my mother was always fairly heavy, always on a diet; and I was more accustomed to seeing her in a muumuu, apron and sandals than in tight-fitting clothes and high heels. When the occasion arose, at neighborhood dinner parties, she could be stunning and quite charming with friends and acquaintances, and as she grew older she began to resemble Elizabeth Taylor, which I think she tried to play up.
 She was an excellent cook, hated housekeeping, and designed and maintained a beautiful English garden.
 She was not a religious person, but spoke Yiddish with her sister and father, especially when she didn't want us to know what she was talking about.
 My mother was something of an Anglophile. She loved everything English. She loved English literature, and identified more with Disraeli than with Moshe Dayan. She even named me Laurence, spelled with a U, after Laurence Olivier - she wanted me to be an actor.
 I believe she had writing talent. She once read me one of her stories, a dark tale written in true noir fashion with a gothic-mystery edge to it. And she was a dreamer, always in conflict with reality.
 Under his contract with Warner Bros., Goodis could write short stories and novels half the year and work on movie scripts the other half. He wrote several original screenplays, some never used, and produced a screen treatment for Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake.
 His last book during his Hollywood period was Cassidy's Girl, probably his most popular novel. In it, Goodis creates a permanent set of characters, and a love triangle, that will appear frequently in his later novels. The story revolves around Jack Cassidy, ex-gridiron hero, ex-war hero, and ex-airplane pilot, whose life was stalled when his plane crashed, killing 78 passengers. He's the only crew member to survive and testify to his innocence. Cassidy takes a job driving a bus, which he convinces himself is a reasonable substitute: It's big, it has wheels, and he's the pilot.
 Two women appear, to create the conflict. First there's Mildred, the carnivorous, insatiable, robust temptress - walking trouble in high heels. (I have to wonder: Is she partly my mother?) Then there's the waif, Doris, the quiet, insecure woman, totally undemanding, totally defenseless, totally selfless - a doormat, bringing out the domestic side of Jack.
 The contrasts couldn't be greater, like a chocolate truffle versus a breath mint. Sometimes in a Goodis novel the story ends and our hero eats truffles, knowing he'll hate himself in the morning for giving in to his animal nature. Sometimes he takes the breath mint; it's sweet, but he knows his interest will soon dissolve and he will become bored. For the main character, neither choice is wholly satisfying or appealing; it's a choice between hell and purgatory, and either way he's going down.
 Except for Dark Passage, which is set in San Francisco, all of Goodis' books take place in Philadelphia and are peppered with local references - Wissahickon Drive, Broad Street, the Kresges five-and-dime, the Bulletin. His characters are shipping clerks, day laborers and dockworkers, doing jobs that Goodis himself had done at various times.
 In good noir style, Goodis' heroes are only marginally more appealing and admirable than the roughnecks, cons and ne'er-do-wells they associate with, and their rough, expressionless exteriors are only masks for the machinations of troubled souls. They are heroes by default.
 Goodis' novels aren't big on plot. The characters are simple people, with simple motivations, plagued by large moral and ethical issues they don't seem to be totally aware of. They try to do the right thing (and more often don't) with no pretense or self-righteousness, while caught in a world of poverty, futility and despair. In words rather evocative of the real lives of David and Elaine, author and critic David L. Ulin describes the virtue of Goodis novels in terms of "the acuity with which Goodis traces the trajectory of broken dreams."
 David Goodis never presumed to be a great writer. In true Goodis self-effacing manner, he once declared, "I'm no Dashiell Hammett." In France, though, his books are revered. He didn't understand the French affinity for his writing and didn't appreciate the nihilistic or existential qualities that the French so greatly admire in his work. There are at least half a dozen French films based on his novels. At times the French were the only ones to keep Goodis' books in print, America having all but forgotten the writer.
 By 1950, Goodis had had enough of Hollywood and moved back to Philadelphia, where he lived the last 17 years of his life with his parents and a brother. He became a recluse, writing his books at home during the day and generally venturing out only at night, in his ancient Chrysler, going to his regular destinations. This was also Goodis' most productive period, with 11 more novels completed.
 A rare exception to his routine occurred in 1956, when he teamed with director Paul Wendkos to adapt his novel The Burglar for the screen. The movie was shot in Philadelphia, one of the first motion pictures to be set against the actual backdrop of the city.
 David Goodis spent the last two years of his life involved in a lawsuit against United Artists-TV and the ABC network. The lawsuit was over the popular TV show The Fugitive, which Goodis contended was based on Dark Passage. He became obsessed with the case, to the point that he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. He died at Albert Einstein Medical Center in 1967, at the age of 49. It makes you think of the first sentence of his first novel: "After a while it gets so bad that you want to stop the whole business." He won his case posthumously.
 In 1964, 14 years after Goodis had moved back to Philadelphia, my family moved from California and bought a house in Cherry Hill and lived a life typical of that time. My siblings and I never knew how close we were to the mysteries of two decades before.
 The only evidence I have in which my mother acknowledges Goodis is a mid-'60s letter to her sister Eva, accompanied by a newspaper article about Goodis' lawsuit. "I'm enclosing a clipping I cut from the Inquirer which you may find interesting. And here I thought he was on the skids. Rose Skaler tells me he frequents her brother's jazz dive which is patronized by beatniks and low-lifes."
 These are the facts, but the truth of their relationship lies somewhere in the margins. It doesn't account for cups of coffee in the morning, literary discussions, and visits with family and friends. In other words, it doesn't account for the humanity of it.
 My parents eventually separated, and my mother lived for 19 years after that. Her last house was on Fairfield Avenue in Philadelphia, just off Roosevelt Boulevard. For Elaine, as for David Goodis, life had come full circle.

(L to R: Robert Polito, Larry Withers and Sharyn Withers)


The Mysterious Elaine

(As it appeared in the 2007 GoodisCon Program)

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.



RAIDERS COME BACK ALONE! November 1942


Fighting Aces, originally uploaded by popepius.
How many pseudonyms did David Goodis write under?  We may never know!

David Goodis (FIGHTING ACES, 1942)
                       RAIDERS COME BACK ALONE!  1942
David Crewe (FIGHTING ACES, 1942)                         
                                            CONGO FLIGHT  1942
                      SUICIDE SQUADRON  1942
Lance Kermit (FIGHTING ACES, 1942):
                      ACES CAN’T GO HOME  1942
                      THE KID FROM NO MAN’S LAND  1942
                      THE BOMBERS ARE COMING  1942
                      DOOM TO THE BLACK CROSS  1942
                      WINGS OVER THE UKRAINE  1942







THE SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Mike White



THE SERIOUS MOONLIGHT



By Mike White


Living in a David Goodis world isn’t easy.  Everyone is a sad victim of circumstance.  A David Goodis world consists of losers, drop-outs, and has-beens.  They are victims of urban angst, paranoia, and alienation.  Often without a friend in the world, the only semi-stable family relationships are found amongst criminals where there’s always the danger of an oedipal explosion or incestuous liaison. 
     His Sisyphean protagonists either start off poor or they took a hard fall from grace.  Regardless, they always end up on the wrong side of the tracks, face down in the gutter.  Those who fell may have it worse than those who live perpetually in poverty.  They had a taste of the good life before it was wrenched away.  More often than not, these sad souls find themselves in Philadelphia. 
     The life of David Goodis (1917-1967) followed the same trajectory as his main characters in Down There and Street of No Return.  In these novels a pianist and singer have a meteoric rise to fame and spectacular swan dive into obscurity.  After a rocky start with the widely panned Retreat From Oblivion, Goodis stuck to the pulps for a while churning out countless stories for magazines such as Flying Aces, Man Hunt, Dime Sports, and Sinister Stories.  He caught his big break in 1946 with the publishing of Dark Passage as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post.  This garnered him an invitation to Hollywood where he penned several treatments, helped with an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s play The Letter, and adapted Dark Passage for the silver screen.
      David Goodis wasn’t made for the glamorous Hollywood life.  After working on several more screenplays that never saw the light of day (and seem to have disappeared from the face of the Earth), Warner Brothers ended their relationship with Goodis.  He packed his bags and returned to Philadelphia and to the pulps, churning out novels for publishers like Appleton-Century, Lion, Gold Medal, et cetera.  Between 1947 and 1957 Goodis had an incredible fifteen books published. 
     A biography of David Goodis guarantees more questions than answers.  There are major milestones but the grout between is rife with allegations, assumptions, and ribald rumors.  He was a mystery to all those around him.  Did he run away from Hollywood to escape the clutches of his overbearing first wife or did he feel obligated to his brother (said to be retarded in some accounts and schizophrenic in others), Herbert?  Did he prowl the ghetto bars and nightclubs in Los Angeles and Philadelphia looking for large African-American women to abuse him verbally and physically?  Did the bizarre family relationships of his characters reflect the dynamic of his home life?
     When families weren’t criminals (Down There), criminals often resembled families (The Burglar, Black Friday, Somebody’s Done For, Street of No Return) with an older criminal mastermind (“father”), a blowzy, brassy gal whose shoes overflow with the fat from her calves and whose bosom threatens to burst out of her low-cut blouse (“mother”), and a ham-fisted lummox (“brother”).  The most intriguing “family” member was the mousy gal who invariably captures our protagonist’s heart (if not, at least, his attention).  She should be considered the “sister.”  And, from there, our hero acts out a quasi-Oedipal scenario.  He often sleeps with the mother figure while really wanting the sister.  To get her affection it may be necessary to eliminate the father. 
     Was the time spent living back with his parents just too much?  Was it this closeness that caused Goodis to crack up and pass away a mere six months after his mother passed away?  Again, we have many more questions here.
     During the last decade of his life, the spark seemed to disappear from Goodis.  There was a dearth of books being published with only Night Squad in 1961 and Somebody’s Done For published posthumously after Goodis’s demise on January 7, 1967.  The opening of this book (also known as Raving Beauty) finds the main character lost at sea and in danger of drowning.  This is one of Goodis’s common themes with protagonists drowning or nearly doing so in The Burglar and The Wounded and The Slain.  Meanwhile, many of his characters could be seen as drowning themselves in alcohol (Street of No Return, Fire in the Flesh, The Wounded and The Slain) and all of them are adrift and hoping for purchase.
RETREAT INTO OBSCURITY
While Goodis toiled in his little room at 6304 N. 11th Street in Philadelphia, filmmakers continued to mine from his ever-increasing wealth of material.  OF MISSING PERSONS was made in Argentina and NIGHTFALL in Hollywood.  Warner Brothers’ television division used one of his stories for an episode of their “Bourbon Street Beat” series and Goodis helped adapt a Henry Kane story for “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”  The closest Goodis came to reigniting his Hollywood flame came in 1957 with the film adaptation of THE BURGLAR.  Shot in the streets of Philadelphia by his friend Paul Wendkos, Goodis helped write the screenplay based on his own work for this inventive film noir.  Delayed after completion and overlooked upon release, THE BURGLAR didn’t fulfill the promise of a Wendkos/Goodis creative partnership. 
     While Goodis labored in the penumbra of obscurity in the United States, his existential and essentially bleak portrayal of the empty American dream caught the attention of European intellectuals in general and the French Nouvelle Vague in particular.  In 1960 Cahiers du Cinema writer-turned-director Francois Truffaut brought Goodis’s Down There to the cinema in SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER.  This highly lauded film was the first entry in the European appreciation of Goodis but it was definitely not the last.  Even as Goodis’s novels quickly went out of print in his native country they would remain available in French and British editions throughout the years. 
     Of Goodis’s nineteen novels, ten of them have thus far been adapted for the silver screen – one of them, The Burglar, has been twice.  His story “The Professional Man” was adapted for television not once, but twice, for both HBO (“The Edge”) and Showtime (“Fallen Angels”).  Also, the ABC series “The Fugitive” was based on one of the author’s early novels, Dark Passage.
     Too often the films based on Goodis’s work fail because they’re too concerned with crime.  Even in a book like The Burglar, crime is secondary.  Sometimes there are some larcenous activities but no crimes to be found in a Goodis book.  Likewise, without the constant paranoid narrative voice that slides from third person to second to first and back again, it’s difficult to identify with the tortured Goodis protagonist.  Utilizing voiceover narration, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER and STREET OF NO RETURN come closest to capturing the Goodis voice.  By not showing Vincent Parry’s face for the first act of DARK PASSAGE, and reading aloud the writing of Alan Kolber in DESCENT INTO HELL, the audience is given insight through other means.
GOODIS ON FILM
DARK PASSAGE (Delmer Daves, USA, 1947)
Dark Passage (1946)
     Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, when Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escapes from San Quentin he acquires a new face and new hope for the future.  The use of a semi-subjective camera in the opening act was utilized far more effectively here than it had been months earlier in Robert Montgomery’s LADY IN THE LAKE.  In DARK PASSAGE the first-person Parry point-of-view is inter-cut with shots of the protagonist in shadows, keeping his face a secret until his bandages come off.
     Unfortunately, in a David Goodis world, there is little-to-no redemption.  Even with help from the lovely Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), Parry remains plagued by the pesky Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead).  Moreover, Parry is set upon by new foes, all the while living in paranoia.
     The most faithful on both plot and tone, Delmer Daves’s adaptation of Goodis’s second novel is a classic in the film noir pantheon.  Not as popular as other Bogart/Bacall vehicles such as KEY LARGO, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, or THE BIG SLEEP, DARK PASSAGE is a terrific star vehicle for the classic Hollywood couple. 
OF MISSING PERSONS / SECTION DES DISPARUS / SECCION DESPARECIDOS (Pierre Chenal, France/Argenina, 1956)
Of Missing Persons (1950)
Despite being a rather cornball Argentine flick, SECCION DESPARECIDOS is still close to my heart after the struggle I went through to locate it.  I sought long and hard to find a print of the film and paid through the nose to a South American dealer to have it transferred from 16mm film.  It took a few years after that until I found someone to translate the fast-paced Spanish dialogue into English so I could fully appreciate this tiny, tawdry tale of deceit.
      Originally an unproduced screenplay, Goodis turned his work into one of his oddest novels.  Of Missing Persons takes place primarily in the Los Angeles Missing Persons Bureau led by Captain Paul Ballard.  Taking his job far too seriously, Ballard fights to save his department and his reputation after becoming the target of smear journalists who question all of the unsolved missing persons cases, especially that of Myra Nichols.  Convinced that her husband—reported dead by Ballard—is alive and well, Myra goes to the media to complain, setting off a series of events that include vicious office politics and the framing of Jean Landis, Myra’s one-time nurse and the object of John Nichols’s affection.  
     The majority of this book takes place in Ballard’s office which would make for a fairly dull film.  Luckily, screenwriters Agustín Cuzzani, Domingo Di Núbila, and Pierre Chenal (who also directed) took the action out of the office and concentrated on the Nichols case.             
     SECCION DESPARECIDOS opens with Juan Milford in the arms of Diane “Dante” Lander. The only problem is that Juan is married to Mendy Milford, a controlling shrew who holds proof of Juan’s past misdeeds.  In order to escape, Juan seizes the opportune death of a drunk to fake his demise. Unfortunately for him, Diane isn’t quite so keen to have her lover back.  She’s horrified to find that Juan plans to murder his wife and Diane is determined to stop it.  Here Chenal’s film intersects with Goodis’s book.  Mrs. Milford is murdered and Lander is set up to take a fall.  To the rescue comes the shrewd Commissioner Uribe to set the record straight.
     Juan Milford proves to be a troublesome character.  While he neither murders his wife nor the drunk for whom he’s mistaken, it wouldn’t be out of character.  Yet, he’s somehow redeemed at the end, getting his name cleared and resting in a hospital bed while Diane Lander dotes on him (much like the end of DESCENT AUX ENFERS).  Improbable finale aside, Chenal’s little movie is a tight, albeit trite, thriller.
NIGHTFALL (Jacques Tourneur, USA, 1957)
Nightfall (Messner, 1947)
Aldo Ray displays his infamously narrow acting range as James Vanning, a commercial artist on the run from the police for a crime he didn’t commit and from the guys who actually did the crime.  They think that Vanning has the three hundred grand that they liberated from a financial institution.  Also on Vanning’s case is insurance investigator Ben Fraser (James Gregory).  He’s made something of a career of following Vanning’s every move and watching him from the apartment across the way.  At the end of his days he goes home to try and make sense of Vanning’s “innocent act” with his wife (Jocelyn Brando).  Little does anyone know that Vanning isn’t kidding around when he says he dropped the money and can’t remember where it is. 
     In Goodis’s book, Vanning’s relationship with Marie Gardner (Anne Bancroft) is more fleshed out and slightly more nebulous as Vanning is lead to believe on two occasions that Marie is actually an agent of the nefarious John (Brian Keith) rather than a truly virtuous girl who falls for Vanning almost at first sight.  John and his partner Red (Rudy Bond) just happen upon Vanning on the first night that he and Marie meet before taking him away and working him over.  In Tourneur’s film, they take Vanning to some incongruous oil fields and threaten to tear his head off with one of the giant pumps.  This is just one of the odd locations of the film.  Known more for his other noir work, OUT OF THE PAST, this Jacques Tourneur film stands as one of the most sun-drenched and airy noir around with its great swaths of Western winter snowfields. 
     Adapted by Stirling Silliphant, NIGHTFALL suffers from the miscasting of Ray and Keith (they would have been better off switching roles), the addition of Vanning’s hunting buddy Doc (Frank Albertson), and the expansion of Marie’s background to include her life as a fashion model.  Too often this take on David Goodis’s second book feels like a lukewarm television drama rather than a taut film noir.  If anything, NIGHTFALL is most notable for being one of the few Goodis books to have a happy ending.
THE BURGLAR (Paul Wendkos, USA, 1957)
The Burglar (Lion, 1953)
This ninth Goodis novel is similar to Black Friday if only to show the stress of close quarters on career criminals.  Most of The Burglar takes place in the Philadelphia hideout of Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea), the leader of a quartet of criminals.  Two of these characters, Baylock (Peter Capell) and Dohmer (Mickey Shaughnessy), are direct progenitors of Mattone and Rizzio of Black Friday.  Meanwhile, Nat acts as the younger version of Charley, schooled in the art of burglary by Gerald Gladden.  The final member of the group is Gladden (Jayne Mansfield), the daughter of Gerald.  Nat is torn between this love of and protectiveness for Gladden.  On the one hand, he wants her to leave the life of crime from whence they came, on the other, he feels wrong loving this girl who he sees as something of a sister and daughter. 
     Adapted by the author himself, Paul Wendkos’s THE BURGLAR was shot in Philadelphia in 1955 but went unreleased until 1957.  The film may not have ever seen the light of day if not for the newfound popularity of starlet Jayne Mansfield (THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT, WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?).  Still unofficially released on home video, THE BURGLAR can be counted among the highly stylized later entries in the film noir canon such as HOUSE OF BAMBOO, TOUCH OF EVIL, or BLAST OF SILENCE.  Opening with newsreel footage, it isn’t until the third news story that the audience is made aware that they were seeing the footage through Nat’s eyes.  His interest is piqued by local hero Sister Sarah (Phoebe Mackay) and her immense estate, just ripe for the picking.
     As expected, THE BURGLAR is highly faithful to the original.  Nat suffers from an almost maniacal pledge to his lost father figure while his compatriots stew in their hideout, waiting for the heat to cool off.  Hot and bothered, Nat sends Gladden to Atlantic City so he can think straight.  He doesn’t have much time to get his thoughts together before he’s got Della (Martha Vickers) picking him up in a bar.  Meanwhile, Gladden is getting some attention of her own from a bloke named Charlie (Stewart Bradley).  When Nat happens upon Della chatting with Charlie, he recognizes Gladden’s new boyfriend as a cop who saw him the night of Sister Sarah’s robbery.  The fix is in and now it’s a race against the clock to save Gladden and, if possible, keep the jewels out of the hands of the corrupt cop and his treacherous moll.
     The action climaxes in Atlantic City with an ending akin to LADY FROM SHANGHAI and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.  Though less nihilistic than the book, THE BURGLAR stays true to Goodis’s work throughout.  This is in stark contrast to Vahé Katcha and Henri Verneuil’s version of the same story in LE CASSE.
SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER / TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE (Francois Truffaut, France, 1960)
Down There (Gold Medal, 1956) 
One of the most popular and well-respected films based on Goodis’s work, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER is wedged nicely between Nouvelle Vague director Francois Truffaut’s most noted works, THE 400 BLOWS and JULES AND JIM.  Demonstrating an immense love for Goodis’s prose, Truffaut and co-writer Marcel Moussy perfectly capture the tone and plot of Down There, the sixteenth Goodis novel.  There’s even a bit of dialogue cleverly lifted from Nightfall.
     Charles Aznavour stars as Charlie Kohler, a slight man with sardonic smile who ekes out his meek living banging the ivories at a beer hall.  His low-brow routine is disturbed with the unexpected appearance of Chico (Albert Rémy), his brother.  Charlie used to be known as Edouard Saroyan when he lived another life.  Back then he tinkled the keys in concert halls as a famous pianist.  Chico and Charlie’s other sibling Richard (Jean-Jacques Aslanian) are bad seeds.  As wild as Eduoard was refined, the reappearance of Chico brings with it bad memories as well as two thugs, Ernest (Daniel Boulanger) and Momo (Claude Mansard). 
      Cut from the same cloth that would later be used to fashion Jules and Vincent from PULP FICTION, Ernest and Momo bicker like a married couple when not discussing the finer points of women’s undergarments.  They add a wonderful absurdist touch to the otherwise nihilistic proceedings.  Charlie enters into a relationship with a waitress, Lena (Marie Dubois).  Like the women from Nightfall and Dark Passage, Lena turns out to be a fan of Charlie’s and even has an old Eduoard Saroyan advertisement in her apartment.  She knew him before his fall from grace and loves him even as the man he is now.
     We don’t learn of Charlie’s life as Edouard until a half hour into the film when the audience is given a fifteen-minute flashback of his life with his wife Therese (Nicole Berger) and his rise to fame.  Rather than betraying Edouard, Therese ultimately betrays herself by sleeping with his manager in order to get her husband the access to concert halls he desperately deserves.  After her defenestration, Edouard gave up his fame and became a shell of a man as Charlie.  Just when it seems that Lena may be able to give him back his humanity, he accidentally murders a fellow employee and takes to the hills; back to his family’s farm in the wilds of New Jersey.
     Typical of French New Wave films, Truffaut employs a variety of filmic techniques meant to call attention to themselves such as irising out of scenes, superimposed images, and even a bit of karaoke subtitling during a performance of “Framboise” by Boby Lapointe.  The only bit that rings false in the film is the addition of another Saroyan, a younger sibling (apparently) named Fido (Richard Kanayan).  This superfluous character adds nothing of value to the storyline and merely gets in the way.  Luckily, his small amount of screen time doesn’t detract from the overall effectiveness of Truffaut’s film.
THE BURGLARS / LE CASSE (Henri Verneuil, France, 1971)
The Burglar (Lion, 1953)
Directed by Henri Verneuil, this heist film pales in comparison to his previous film, THE SICILIAN CLAN.  Starting off promisingly with a long opening robbery that’s nearly free of dialogue, the movie quickly turns into a cat-and-mouse game between protagonist Azad (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and dirty cop Abel (Omar Sharif).  The Azad’s crew is barely a blip on this film’s radar as is Azad’s femme fatale, Lena (Dyan Cannon).  The rest of the film consists of a few spectacular set pieces (including a car chase that makes those in BULLITT and RONIN look rather tame) and countless set-ups by Abel to get millions of dollars worth of emeralds away from Azad. 
     The scenes between Belmondo and Sharif work terrifically well—especially when they have a showdown over Greek food—but they’re too few and far between to redeem the movie as a whole.  Even when set to a score by Ennio Morricone, THE BURGLARS doesn’t succeed as either an effective Goodis adaptation or heist film.
AND HOPE TO DIE / LA COURSE DU LIEVRE A TRAVERS LES CHAMPS (Rene Clement, France, 1972)
Black Friday (Lion, 1954)
A loose adaptation, AND HOPE TO DIE merely follows a few touch points of Goodis’s twelfth book, Black Friday.  The original French title of Rene Clement’s LA COURSE DU LIÈVRE À TRAVERS LES CHAMPS roughly translates as “Chasing a rabbit through the fields,” recalling the pursuit of the White Rabbit by Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.  Clement begins the film with a quote from Carroll, “We are but older children dear, who fret to find our bedtime near,” and often draws parallels between the film’s gangsters and children. 
     Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as Tony (referred to by the group as “Froggy” due to his French background).  Tony runs from one band of thieves to another.  He lies to the second group, telling them that he was running from the cops after shooting a police officer.  After seeing one of the group killed and helping to off another one of them, he still manages to ingratiate himself enough to earn the trust of their leader (and obvious father figure), Charley Ellis (Robert Ryan).  Accompanied by the faithful Rizzio (Jean Gaven) and Mattone (Aldo Ray in his second Goodis film), the group executes an elaborate kidnapping caper whose only flaw is the apparent suicide of its planned victim, the oddly-named Toboggan.
     In Black Friday, the caper is a botched robbery.  Most of the book takes place at the gang’s hideout and explores the relationships between the gangsters.  Despite killing her brother, there’s chemistry to be found between our main character (here named Hart) and the Pepper (Tisa Farrow) character.  There’s also a strange and strained triangle between Charley, Hart, and Sugar (Lea Massari).  Here Sugar is more than a handful – both in size and in sexual appetite.  Charley is unable to provide what Sugar needs and has always encouraged her to seek satisfaction outside of their relationship.  It isn’t until she meets Hart that she finally does. 
     Sugar is the only person who figures Hart for what he really is.  He’s not a murderer.  He’s on the lam because he killed his brother.  Not for money, like the police think, but because his brother was suffering from multiple sclerosis.  This exemplifies the complexity of the characters in Black Friday.  Again, rather than flesh out these characters, screenwriter Sébastien Japrisot treats them as children.  Meanwhile, Rene Clement directs them like a low-grade Sergio Leone (complete with pan flute on the soundtrack).  This results in an unremarkable heist film.
MOON IN THE GUTTER / LUNE DANS LE CANIVEAU, LA (Jean-Jacques Beineix, France, 1983)
The Moon in the Gutter (Gold Medal, 1953)
Every night, Gerard Delmas (Gerard Depardieu) stands transfixed at the mouth of an alleyway.  There, illuminated only by the moonlight, he can make out the accusing bloodstains left by his sister Catherine (Katya Berger), who took her own life with a rusty razor after being violated.  Catherine was too good for the world into which she was born; a slum where the only means of escape seem to be via booze or death. 
     Gerard obsesses about his sister while keeping an eye on his drunken brother Frank (Dominique Pinon) and fending off the advances of insanely jealous Bella (Victoria Abril).  A billboard outside his hovel declares “TRY ANOTHER WORLD.”  The other world to which Gerard aspires is the elusive “uptown.”  His keys to the kingdom come in the form of Loretta Channing (Nastassia Kinski).  Driving down to the slums in her MG, Loretta acts are guardian to her drunken brother, Newton (Vittorio Mezzogiorno). 
     Is Loretta just slumming or does she love Gerard?  Will Gerard ever fit in uptown?  Is Newton responsible for Catherine’s death or is it her brother Frank?  MOON IN THE GUTTER is filled with these questions and brims with overwrought music and sensual images.  Beineix and screenwriter Olivier Mergault succeed in capturing the tone of Goodis’s tenth novel.  However, The Moon in the Gutter doesn’t have much plot.  Rather than being a murder mystery about Catherine’s rape, the film and book are more of a moody piece wherein the slum in which Delmas lives is only second to Delmas himself. 
   This was the second time Beineix worked on a Goodis-based project.  A decade before directing MOON IN THE GUTTER, he served as assistant director on Rene Clement’s adaptation of Black Friday. 
SAVAGE STREET / RUE BARBARE (Gilles Béhat, France, 1984)
Street of the Lost (Gold Medal, 1952)
Both The Moon in the Gutter and Street of the Lost revolve around streets with a vise-like grip on their slum-bound inhabitants.  While Gerard of MOON IN THE GUTTER may attempt, albeit briefly, to escape the gutter and the memories of his sister’s suicide, the main character of SAVAGE STREET, Chet (Bernard Giraudeau), simply wants to be left alone.  “I stick my neck out for nobody,” is his Rick Blaine-like philosophy.  He works hard to be noncommittal, promising to never get involved in the problems of others until one night he finally heeds to cries of an innocent girl who has just been raped.
     In this crime-riddled world, Chet makes himself a target of Hagen (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), the slimy underworld boss that victimized the girl.  It was also Hagen and his gang of lowlifes that used to sexually abuse Edie (Corinne Dacla), Chet’s wife.  To say that Edie is unbalanced is an understatement.  She fits right in with his off-kilter family with his sister-in-law who appears to be bedding both her husband, Rocky (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), and Rocky’s father (Michel Auclair).  Rather than love, Chet feels obligated to Edie, playing the role of her protector.  The real object of his affection, though he won’t admit it, Manu (Christine Boisson), works at the factory club that doubles as Hagen’s base of operations.
      Chet hopes to keep the peace.  “I got no intention to butt into anyone's business,” he says.  When he doesn’t react to Hagen’s gruesome description of how he raped the young girl Chet helped, Hagen beats him to a pulp.  Chet takes the beating, begging Hagen for mercy.  Yes, it takes quite a lot to get Chet’s goat.  It isn’t until Hagen sends his knife-wielding lackey to knock him off that Chet finally gets mad enough to take Hagen down.
      Despite the glossy neon-lit sets, Chet’s blow-dried hair, terrible synthesizer score, and cheesy kickboxing finale, SAVAGE STREET is actually a fairly faithful Eighties rendition of Goodis’s eighth novel.  Adapted by director Gilles Béhat and Jean Herman, the film was released to DVD in France in 2006.  It’s also available as a muddily English-dubbed (and Spanish subtitled) bootleg from Video Search of Miami under the name “CRUEL AVENUE.” 
DESCENT INTO HELL / DESCENT AUX ENFERS (Francis Girod, France, 1986)
The Wounded & The Slain (Gold Medal, 1955)
One of the more faithful adaptations of Goodis’ work, in spirit if not in exactness, this French film has estranged couple Alan and Lola Colbert (Claude Brasseur and Sophie Marceau) on vacation in Haiti, hoping to escape their domestic strife.  Stunningly beautiful but completely untouchable, Lola is has been rendered frigid by the past that haunts her.  Needless to say, this has put a considerable strain on their marriage and on Alan, who tries to drink his troubles away. 
     Distraught at seeing his bride flirting with another man (Hippolyte Giradot), Alan goes on a bender outside of the safety of his resort walls.  Heading to the rougher area of Port-au-Prince, he finds nothing but trouble.  When he’s attacked for his thick wallet, Alan accidentally kills a man in self-defense.  Just when it looks like he’ll get away with it, he and Lola are approached by two blackmailers who have evidence of the event in their possession.
    From here, things get even more complicated with innocent patsies, corrupt police officials, and double-crosses.  Eventually, our couple (the wounded) is redeemed via the murder (the slain). 
    The tenth adaptation of Goodis’s fourteenth novel, DESCENT INTO HELL does well to make the main character a writer as he often provides narration through his writing.  Screenwriter Jean-Loup Dabadie also did well to move Lola’s sexually scarring incident from her childhood to her teens/twenties and to create a second blackmailer character.  We see much more of Lola’s character in the film, nearly making her equal to Alan.  We also certainly see a lot of Sophie Marceau playing Lola, as the actress spends the majority of her screen time in the nude. 
STREET OF NO RETURN (Samuel Fuller, France, 1989)
Street of No Return (Gold Medal, 1954)
The pairing of two American outsiders, Samuel Fuller and David Goodis, who found their appreciation in Europe, had its roots prior to Fuller’s swan song.  Fuller had met Goodis years before and they discussed the race riots in New York that Fuller had covered during his days as a journalist.  A similar set of riots becomes the backdrop against which Goodis’s thirteenth novel is played.  An effective precursor to Down There, Street of No Return begins with three drunks arguing about getting another bottle of booze on Philadelphia’s skid row.  When one of them, the quiet Whitey, goes off on his own, his pals assume he’s off to get them some grog.  Rather, Whitey embarks on a wild night where he’s accused of murdering a cop, sees his lost love, and unravels a plot involving guns, Puerto Ricans, and a criminal mastermind named Sharkey.  At the end of the night, Whitey comes back to Skid Row to rejoin the ranks and fade back into obscurity.
     Adapted by Fuller and Jacques Bral, STREET OF NO RETURN shares the same “neon-drenched aesthetic” of SAVAGE STREET and MOON IN THE GUTTER.  Here Keith Carradine stars as Michael (the Whitey character) in a dingy fright wig that makes him look like a more disheveled version of Fuller.  Michael/Whitey is one of Goodis’s “fall from grace” characters.  He gained his fame via his golden voice.  When he fell hard for Celia (Valentina Vargas), he was asked politely to leave her alone by her possessive beau, Eddie/Sharkey (Marc de Jonge).  When Michael didn’t back off, he was asked more persuasively by Eddie’s pals Bertha (Rebecca Potok) and Meathead (Antonio Rosario).  They cut his vocal cords, ending his career.  He became a shell of a man; a burnt out, desolate man.  We get several flashbacks of Michael playing guitar and singing cheesy rock ballads which contrast his current state with his strained, almost comical, voice. 
     The Puerto Ricans of Street of No Return have been changed to African-Americans and Eddie’s plot seems much more tenuous here as the city politics on which he plays don’t seem as heated.  While Bill Duke gives a terrific performance as the frazzled Lieutenant Borel, the competition between and possible corruption of his underlings isn’t at the fore as it is in Goodis’s book.  The other damaging change to the Goodis work is the tacked-on happy ending. 
GOODIS ON TV
Studio One “Nightfall” (1951)
Far more faithful in tone and plot to the Goodis book than the film version, this hour-long drama perfectly portrays the summer heat and paranoia of Nightfall.  Sponsored by escalator manufacturer Westinghouse, this “Summer Theater” presentation was penned by Max Erlich and directed by John Peyser.  Here, our hero, Vanning, is played by John McQuade.  His moody performance comes across as appropriate for a guy on the lam.  His gal, Martha (Margaret Hayes), isn’t an unquestioning dope but, rather, proves to be a spitfire.  These two characters really take center stage, though Herbert Rudley holds his own as Lieutenant Fraser. 
     The flashback of Vanning in Colorado is forgone in order to keep the story in the present-day New York.  This also eliminates the rather bizarre way in which Vanning committed his accidental murder and downplays the subsequent loss of the bank loot which the menacing John (Norman Keats) hopes to regain.  While the pace may be brusque, this three-act drama elegantly captures the essence of Goodis’s original tale.
Bourbon Street Beat “False Identity” (1960)
New Orleans shamus Cal Calhoun (Andrew Duggan) is hired by Alice Nichols (Irene Harvey) to investigate the disappearance of her husband, John (Tol Avery), a local shipping magnate.  When Calhoun puts in a call to his policeman pal Sgt. Paul Ballard (Robert Colbert), he learns that the body of John Nichols was discovered just that morning.  Or was it? 
     Adapted by W. Hermanos, this episode of the Warner Brothers-produced private eye show, “False Identity,” strongly recalls Of Missing Persons right down to the character names.  As with Goodis’s book, John Nichols has faked his own death.  He returns from the dead to scare his wife into a heart attack and sell his portion of his business to his partner with the hopes of running away with his attractive secretary, Jane Landis (Lisa Gaye).  She rejects the thickly bespectacled murderer but he doesn’t take no for an answer.  When he tries to abduct her, Calhoun’s partner, Rex Randolph (Richard Long), comes to the rescue.
    
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour “An Out for Oscar” (1963)
Based on a story by Henry Kane, Goodis penned the teleplay for this “Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”  Starring Larry Storch as the titular Oscar Blenny, our protagonist is a hapless banker who meets a beautiful dame, Eva Ashley (Linda Christian), at a resort casino.  Oscar thinks he’s her knight in shining armor when he’s actually a dope that becomes this treacherous dame’s next mark.  After helping Eva beat a murder rap through his earnest naivety, Oscar thinks he’s hit the jackpot when Eva requites his affection. 
     While Oscar makes his way up in the bank, Eva spends her days drinking.  On the eve of his greatest triumph (a promotion to credit manager!), Eva’s old flame and grifting partner, Bill Grant (Henry Silva), comes to call.  Rather than be cuckolded, Oscar demands a divorce.  Eva will grant his request in exchange for fifty grand.  Here begins a series of double crosses, a bank heist, and the eternal fall guy coming out on top.
     With its shrewish female lead and eventual crime narrative, “An Out for Oscar” is closer to typical pulp noir than anything else in Goodis’s oeuvre.  This undoubtedly stems from the script’s roots in Kane’s tawdry tale.  This episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” is neck- deep in familiar television faces with everyone from Larry Tate of “Bewitched” (David White) to Alfred Moneypenny from “Batman” (Alan Napier) appearing beside F-Troop’s bumbling Cpl. Randolph Agarn (Storch).
The Edge “The Professional Man” (1989)
Adapted and directed by Nicholas Kazan, this episode of the HBO series, “The Professional Man” stars Christian Slater, a hitman-for-hire known only as “Kid.”  Bridget Fonda plays his strip joint waitress squeeze.  When the big cheese, Paul (Dann Florek), tells him to lay off, he does—no questions asked.  Slater’s character knows that he doesn’t deserve the love of anyone.  He denies himself love and, when his gal rejects Paul, Kid’s given the choice of either turning her heart or killing her.  Kid chooses a third option. 
     Kid kills his victims intimately; he chokes them.  “The strongest part of the body human body is the thumb,” he says.  He can crush a windpipe with his thumbs in less then eight seconds.  Rather than rob the world of his lovely girl, he turns his powerful thumbs on himself.  While many Goodis characters toy with the idea of suicide or simply choose to live in a hell they helped make, Kid redeems himself through his own death.
     Slater plays his role with a quiet restraint unfamiliar to his other roles at the time (he’d be Jack Nichosoning it up in HEATHERS and PUMP UP THE VOLUME shortly) while Florek gives one of the most balls-out performances of his career.  The most awkward part of “The Edge” is Barry Sattels as “The Watcher,” a kind of overdramatic “Crypt Keeper” for the episodes of this short-lived series.
Fallen Angels “The Professional Man” (1993)
Elevator operator by day, assassin by night.  Brendan Fraser plays Johnny, the titular “professional man” who never misses.  Adapted by Howard A. Rodman for the “Fallen Angels” Showtime series and directed by Steven Soderbergh, “The Professional Man” is a taut half-hour drama that beautifully builds its story through well-paced revelations.  The story sticks close to Goodis’s original short piece with the interesting exception that the love interest, Pearl, has been changed to Paul (Bruce Ramsay). 
     This clever twist of exploring the lavender underworld turns a fine episode into a remarkable one.  The original Goodis storyline of Johnny’s boss falling for his squeeze and, when his love isn’t returned, ordering Johnny to kill his former flame takes on an entirely new level of complexity in the moon-drenched Los Angeles of the ‘50s. 
     Unbeknownst to each other, two major cable networks boasted adaptations of the same Goodis short story within four years.  Years later, Nicholas Kazan and Howard A. Rodman would learn that they had both adapted the same work for HBO and Showtime.  A comparison of the two half-hour episodes provides a fascinating study of the creative process and how the same material can be adapted into such widely varying end results.  The differences far outweigh the similarities but the few intersections (white gloves, walks in the park, “CSI: Special Victims Unit” cast members) are fascinating.