Though [David] Goodis enjoyed early success, he spent the last decades of his life in relative seclusion, living at his parents’ house in East Oak Lane, helping to care for Herbert, his schizophrenic brother. Since his death in early 1967, the author’s name and work have grown increasingly obscure.
After his second novel, 1946’s Dark Passage, was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, Goodis was given a lucrative contract as a scriptwriter by Warner Bros., and installed in William Faulkner’s former office in Hollywood.
The 1947 film version, with Humphrey Bogart as a wanted fugitive hunting for his wife’s killer, was memorable, but Goodis floundered in the studio system.
Although he was making good money, he drove a beater, slept on a friend’s couch, and wore second-hand clothes. He returned to Philadelphia for good in 1950, far more withdrawn, a man tarnished by failure.
The ’50s were prolific years for Goodis as a novelist. At night, he would leave his parents’ house on North 11th Street for mysterious forays to the seedier sides of town: the Skid Row of Vine Street, the docks, Port Richmond and Southwark. Were these outings research or release?
“It’s been rumored that he preferred the company of large African American women,” says Boxer. “And he wasn’t a very big man, but he liked to go pick fights.”
Goodis is still celebrated – at least in legal circles – for a curious footnote to his career. In the ’60s, after his productivity as a writer had fallen off, he sued ABC, arguing that elements of the hit series The Fugitive were stolen from Dark Passage.
After a protracted battle, the suit was settled in Goodis’ favor, but not until after his death. But it became a hallmark in the field of intellectual property.
His reputation might have vanished had not the French embraced him as a fellow existential spirit. Filmmaker Francois Truffaut, for instance, adapted Goodis’ 1956 novel Down There, as Shoot the Piano Player.
In this country, his books have gone in and out of print over the years. But there’s a growing momentum to recognize his legacy, spearheaded by this modest conference in the city Goodis loved so mercilessly.