Here is Pilot Goodis, noble loser, bailing out, East of Chunking, amid Zeros--in a bad dream. There was no pulp genre more dedicated to making readers proud of their country than the air war yarns in which Goodis excelled. He was a sort of king of the genre (rather as H Ron Hubbard was king of sci-fi yarns): Army-Navy Flying Stories, Fighting Aces, RAF Aces, Flying Aces, Wings, Battle Birds, Dare Devil Aces, Captain Combat, The Lone Eagle. Collector and author Walker Martin estimates that he may have written 100 of these. Since he developed a reputation among publishers of the genre, when one or more stories under the house names Byron P Short, Roy C Raney, David Crewe, Logan C. Claybourne, Roy Shotwell, and/or Lance Kermit
“Kid Brother”, RAF Aces (Canadian), Dec 1944 The “kid” is a conscientious objector. He is thought, of course, to be a coward. After an altercation with a soldier at an airfield, which leads to the latter being killed in the Nazi raid, the kid is told that if he is sorry, he should go fight for his country. So he does, out of remorse at his part in the soldier’s death. “A mad mixture of anguish and horror and self-hatred made a torturing flame within him.” Goodis builds up suspense as Allan refuses to shoot but escapes the Nazi planes through skill. But when he sees his brother in trouble, he does. “It’s taken a rather rough sky party [Brit dry wit] to prove to me you can’t fight Nazi bullets with peace pamphlets.” While Goodis' conscientious objector story line is daring in an air war yarn, it pales in comparison with Steve Fisher’s “For My Country” (Fighting Aces, November 1940), set during World War I. Flier Marvin Miller must watch while his brother is executed for cowardice. He refused to engage a German pilot and flew away. The reason was, the condemned man confides to his brother, that a third brother, John, was flying the German bi-plane. He had been in Germany in 1914 and was impressed into the air force. Later, Marvsights his brother, and begs off, explaining that his guns jammed. But the next day, as John waves at him from his cockpit, Marvin dispatches his brother’s plane.
“ The Cloud Wizard,” Sky Raiders, February 1943: Bersbee was a leader of his RAF squadron, with 27 kills. He gave the other flyers confidence they had to have. A reclusive soul who never executed playboy-type spins and sharp dives, he was a detached, severe individual, but as he had saved many fellow flyers with Messerschmidts on their tails, his aloofness simply made him more God-like. One flyer, Meader, wants to speak with him. The result is a fist fight with a member of the squadron that does not want Bersbee annoyed. Later, Meader learns of the pressure Bersbee was under as he tried to figure out the math formulae that would make him and the group successful. Bersbee breaks down weeping when Meader forces the explanation out of him—a binge of desk-pounding, paper-crumpling howls “like a child who purposely tries to cry so hard he cannot catch his breath.” Meader, appalled, blames his own lone wolf stubbornness at finding out the proper explanation for whatever comes into his line of vision. Perhaps he too was a little too tough. The next day Bersbee dies in his Spitfire, refusing, as Meader knew he would, to bail out. And Meader takes Bersbee’s place as the anxious lone wolf, existing with the slide rule and mathematical calculations that he uses to perfect the flying skills that save many men, as he dives from the clouds to surprise the Nazis. He is the new larger-than-life super hero with the same secret life that eventually martyred his predecessor.
The highest flyers suffer and sacrifice the most, in many kinds of pulp.
One of Goodis’ lesser known novels, Of Missing Persons has not been reprinted since the Pocket Books paperback in 1951. Morrow published the first edition in 1950, and made arrangements with the Detective Book Club later that year. Goodis’ biographer, Philippe Garnier, scrutinized Hollywood records and found that the author wrote 11 treatments for it in 1948. The next year, a Warners story editor tried to get it produced as a strong vehicle for Bogart or Cagney. Goodis’ research on how a Missing Persons department worked (he dedicated the novel to the head of the LAPD unit) was a strong point, as were the “human values” reflected in the pressures of the job, and the motives for the murder. There is no sign of the amorality, sadism, vengeance, and interoffice jealousy in “City Hall’s” copland that play a role in Night Squad, Down There, or The Burglar. The back flap of the Morrow dust jacket calls the Missing Persons bureau chief Paul Ballard “a man of great personal integrity.” The similarity of Ballard to later Goodis police chiefs is that Ballard's frustration at the obstacles that confront him are like those that almost floor the captain of Philly's "Hellhole" precinct in Street of No Return.
Goodis was hanging around with good mystery writers. Carleton won a MWA award in 1945 for Cry Wolf, later a movie. Vickers wrote over 60 crime novels, some adopted for films and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Ellington published in Mike Shane Mystery Magazineand Manhunt, as did Goodis.
The image (press on the previous word and scroll just above and to the left) of Ballard in the Pocket Books edition is a good characterization of a strong-willed, beefy, intense man, used to dealing with distraught and desperate people. The rest of the cover drawing is typically prurient, a panicked, coltish blonde with her blouse revealing a bit of her slip.
Goodis was given permission to publish the book, with Warners reserving all movie rights in case they wanted to dramatize it in the future. The best essay on this novel is by Cullen Gallagher in his Pulp Serenadewebsite. I had thought Of Missing Persons a hollow whodunit until he showed me how it had a place in the “long line” of Goodis protagonists thanklessly “dedicated to a craft.”
THE PLOT: Ballard has to talk Myra Nichols, a distraught woman, out of jumping from the widow ledge of his office. She has just accused him of foolishly closing the case on her husband, whom he thought to be dead. A local tabloid is attacking him for incompetence and bullying tactics. His staff disputes this, but Ballard, whom his wife wants to quit a pressurized job that has him gobbling pills, sleepless, and constantly pissed off at City Hall, resigns. He relished the decision: “it would be a showdown and it would be thick, black pudding [revenge]. It would taste wonderful. All the guff he had taken, … thrown back in their faces.” He is tired of being a “walking Gibraltar” while dealing with insurance companies, newspapers, lawyers, and social service workers—let alone frightened loved ones of people gone missing.Then, Myra turns up dead, and a woman named Mrs Jean Landis tells Ballard that Mr Nichols, still alive, is enamored of her. Ballard is rough on her—for a reason. He suspects Nichols has raped her, but (in 1952), no woman would admit that to anyone unless she feared that if she did not, she would be tried for murder (in this case, of Myra Nichols) so Jean and Mr Nichols could marry. Jean uses the phrase "he attacked me." It’s an example of how language itself imprisons a person by preventing a “decent woman” from uttering (in 1950) such an "indecent" word as “rape.” Too bad that Goodis, as Gallagher stress, did not develop other characters except the hero, Ballard. What did Jean think of being bound by an obligation to be “decent” even if it could have put her in the electric chair?
AS Cullen G. also points out, the book had a “Hollywood ending.” It needed to “appeal to wide audiences”- those who wanted something more conventional than a noir finish. The moral: “a cop has a hard life.” It works for one of the entries in the “Morrow Mysteries” line (see image above), or for a movie starring, maybe, Cagney in a hero role to counter that of a mommie-loving psycho (White Heat).
Goodis was perfectly frank about rape in Street of the Lost, The Moon in the Gutter [the image below is from the 1982 French adaptation], Of Tender Sin, and Night Squad. Those paperbacks were meant to be frank about sex and violence, which was why they flew off newsstand racks and why, as well, they were examples of how moral crusades about “indecent” books made paperback publishers and authors fighters for freedom of expression.
Gallagher’s most resonant point about Ballard is that his struggle is “Sisyphean.” His wife’s desire for a less angry husband, his bad health, his obligation to his profession, his resentment at the public’s negativity toward police dedication to justice—all are obstacles he is seemingly burdened with forever. Late in the novel he blows up at his wife and just about invites her to make a break with him. Gallagher incisively says, “His self-hate [is] projected outward onto others,” even to loved ones and trusted colleagues. The momentary rejection of his wife is very similar to Eddie’s in Down There. Sisyphean burdens are shouldered by the protagonists in Black Friday, The Wounded and the Slain, The Burglar, Nightfall,The Blonde on the Street Corner, and most fiercely in Goodis’ final novel, Somebody’s Done For.
In Somebody’s Done For, Goodis’ final, posthumously published, novel, Calvin Jander struggles with dangerous criminals, with the Delaware Bay’s dangerous waters, and with his beloved and her gun-toting, cold blooded family. The latter kind of criminal family is one of Goodis’ major recurring themes. Vera cannot leave her father, and Jander loses her. So he goes home to his own mother and sister, who have long ceased to love him, yet depend on his salary. At the beginning, he is alone in remote waters and expects to drown. At the end, he faces a death-in-life, even more alone than is Hart in at the conclusion of Black Friday, who had no place to go, and didn’t care. Jander has promised his mother he will be home soon. What possesses him?
Jump to: Eddie (Down There)--directly below Cassidy (Cassidy's Girl) The Noble Loser's failure
Eddie, the piano player Down There at the sawdust bar in Pt Richmond, Harriet’s Hut, ends up losing the waitress, Lena, just as he lost his loving wife. She had confessed she slept with his agent—to advance his career. Humiliated, he turned his back, just for a moment, and she jumped from a window. Later, Lena is killed by a stray bullet, at the house of his criminal brothers. Wanting to face danger alone, he had tried to prevent her from making the trip. He returns to the Hut and continues to play the piano, although almost catatonic with grief and guilt. His fingers, stretching out in a gesture of need, play for the patrons, who, unlike Jander’s family, do appreciate him; at least he has found a substitute family. Still, the perseverance seems to be an absolute in itself. What possesses him?
But to what end is the endurance? One could ask that of Goodis’ most stoic, and forlorn, protagonists: Whitey, Hart, Bevan, Nat, and Cassidy. Whitey (Street of No Return) saved Skid Row from an evil racketeer, but remains a flophouse alcoholic. Nat (The Burglar) , until he is passed the point of no return, suppresses his love for Gladden because of an enduring, mistaken, obligation he felt to her dead father.
Cassidy (Cassidy’s Girl) goes back to driving a bus after a terrible crash as an airplane pilot, and to Mildred, although they continually almost kill each other in drunken, sado-masochistic sex bouts. It was this kind of self-limiting obligation that made radical writers, contemporary with Goodis, create characters who escape their previous entanglements and try to remake themselves: Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Michael Perkins, Samuel Delany, Henry Miller. Crime novels published (some not originally) in paper for mass distribution, like Jim Thompson’s Savage Night,Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Charles Willeford’s TheBurnt Orange Heresy andWoman Chaser, Cain’s Double Indemnity, Lawrence Block’s Mona, McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and They Kill Horses, Don’t They? all feature protagonists who break chains with which the laws of their culture define obligation and trusting behavior. These characters at, at best, only pertly sympathetic. Of the novels I just mentioned, only Highsmith’s Ripley and Willeford’s Richard Hudson are even alive.
Vincent Gallo, in an unproduced film of a Goodis novel.
My point: Goodis’ Noble Loser’s decency, humility, refusal to compromise with coercive threats, and sense of responsibility—all traits insisted upon in our culture as prerogatives for self-respect and admiration— fail him in significant ways. Whatever self-respect he gains is not very evident; he usually has a long way to go to find resolution . In my book, I discuss Arthur Miller’s concept of the 20th century “tragedy of the common man.” The Noble Loser's ideal are admirable, but perhaps--just perhaps--they also threaten self-defeat. Kafka seems to be suggesting this in Metamorphosis (Gregor), The Castle (K), and maybe in The Trial (another K).
It was this kind of self-limiting obligation that made radical writers, contemporary with Goodis, create characters who escape their previous entanglements and try to remake themselves: Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Michael Perkins, Samuel Delany, Henry Miller. Crime novels published in paper for mass distribution, like Jim Thompson’s Savage Night, Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Charles Willeford’s TheBurnt Orange Heresy and Woman Chaser, Cain’s Double Indemnity, Lawrence Block’s Mona, McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and They Kill Horses, Don’t They? all feature protagonists who break chains with which the laws of their culture define obligation and trusting behavior. These characters are, at best, only partly sympathetic. Of the novels I just mentioned, only Highsmith’s Ripley and Willeford’s Richard Hudson are even alive at the end. Current noir writers who feature characters who cannot stomach the culture that bred them, and believe their society tries to "suicide" them (Artaud's phrase) are Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart), Harry Crews (A Feast of Snakes), and Vicki Hendrix (Iguana Love).
Self-limiting obligation reminds me of two of Orwell’s statements while discussing 1984: that the “modern state creates well-trained citizens” and that the “neurotic’s internal thought police” make such a person Big Brother’s ultimate victim. Al in Of Tender Sin, Jander in Somebody’s Done For, and Nat in The Burglar might be examples. At least part of the tragedy is that the Noble Loser has braved so many obstacles, developed so many traits that define a principled individual, and yet ends up with an existential awareness that the world “has played a trick on him,” as Nat put it in The Burglar. Or, as Kafka put it, “A cage went in search of a bird.” A noble loser was quite a catch.
(The Ebook can’t be pre-ordered until 90 days before
In this issue: for Goodis' daring incest novel, Of Tender Sin, scroll directly below the image of the novel's cover. For the writer's treatment of a femme fatale of biblical proportions, scroll down or press on Lilith(naked lady).
The image above shows a beautiful young teenager on either cover. But, when the book is fully opened, she is transformed into a child-monster. It is the work of the brilliant London-based designer [Jamie] Keenan. http://www.keenandesign.com/keenan%20usf.html Of Tender Sin (paperback original, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1952) is Goodis' most experimental novel, although he returned to the theme of incest several times.
The tender sin refers to the brother-sister incest. Al Darby and his sister were each other's "favorite person." She was trying tenderly to calm him when he saw her with her boyfriend, and Al got inflamed with lust. (He was 12; she was 15). Repressed, the event had been festering until one night, after a screaming argument with his nonplussed wife Vivian, Al has a "shattered dream," in which he sawan indistinct face of a woman with platinum blonde hair. French pbk with alternate title
That matched his sister's hair color, and also that of Geraldine, a attractive, dominating individual who enraptured him until he met and married Vivian. He returns to the dark, narrow house in working-class Kensington where he last saw her. She had been waiting for him, uncannily dressed in the same settled as when he left her six years earlier. Of course she is a platinum blonde. "This time you won't get away." Their mutual lust is more luridly described than that of the incestuous episode: “It was like crawling through a furnace, in the depths of the orange glow, down and down to where the fire was hottest. Then there was her wailing laugh that climbed and climbed until it broke ." Geraldine is a symbol, or symptom, of Al's guilt. As a horror motif, readers would be familiar with the uncanny. There is lots of horror in pulp crime: Thompson, Woodrich, McCoy, Robert Edmund Alter, and Elliott Chaze. See https://crimereads.com/horror-and-crime-are-kissing-cousins/ Goodis' evocative prose, as in the sample quoted above, is fine for it. Geraldine carves her initials in his chest, sends him out into a blizzard for a can of her favorite coffee, appears out of shadows in the same clothes as six years earlier, and finally orders him to join her in pushing cocaine to school children.
Lilithwas Adam's first mate, but due to her demand for equal status, she was banished to the pagan hinterlands, where she became the consort of Samael (Satan). Perhaps that's Samael in the painting above. She enticed and destroyed men, similar to the Sirens in Homer. Her special talent was preventing women from having normal childbirth experiences. Goodis alludes to this when Geraldine wants him to sell cocaine to school children, which would almost certainly shorten their life span. Often she and Samael kidnapped babies, replacing them with evil-souled creatures--see Keenan's illustration for the novel above. Blood is a kind of food and drink to her, especially Al’s, as her first and most insistent sexual turn-on is the carving of her “G” in his chest. Only when her sadism is most irresistible to Al does she call him “darling.” I discuss other allusions that show Goodis' knowledge of the myth in my book. Geraldine is Al Darby's self-imposed torture for that forcing of his sister (after which he never saw her again). His nobility is in that very need to atone, which drew him in nightmare canniness to snowed-in, ice-bound Kensington and her old dark house, a kind of time warp. He was there 6 years before, and perhaps, if one's fate is set in ancient stone, as seems true with Goodis' ensnared protagonists, prisoners of sex, he was always there. Does he escape?