Friday Noir: Retreat To Goodisville

I haven’t been a David Goodis fan for very long, but I’m quickly making up for lost time.

If you’re a fan of noir, you’ve heard of Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Raymond Chandler (Farewell, My Lovely, The Lady In The Lake), and James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce).

You may not know of of Goodis, but you’ve probably seen his work – Dark Passage, most notably. The novel went on to be made into a classic noir film staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

But if you’ve ever read Goodis – Cassidy’s Girl, Black Pudding, Down There – you remember it. He writes with a beat that isn’t San Francisco or L.A. – he’s East Coast all the way. Often set in and around Philadelphia, his novels hang with winos, pimps, losers, con men, grifters, burlesque dancers and opium users.

This ain’t no City of Brotherly Love that he writes about. You can sense the grime in the streets, smell the smoke hanging in the air and taste whiskey on the breath. Every click of his typewriter was tragic. He was a pulp writer through and through, so much so that life seemed to imitate his art after a time.

Goodis himself lived a hard, short life. After the success of both the novel and film versions of Dark Passage, Goodis left Hollywood and returned to his parent’s home on East Oak Lane in Northeast Philly. There he spent his last few years, churning out more pulp, shooting stick at Willie Mosconi’s pool hall, eating at the Oak Lane Diner on Broad Street.

Theories differ about how he died, on January 7, 1967, at the age of 49. Might have been from a heart issue while shoveling a recent snowfall. Might have been from a beating he took while being robbed earlier in the day.

Either way, Goodis, who’s been called The American Dream In Reverse, has gone largely unnoticed since.

Until two men, Lou Boxer and Duane Swierczynski, started GoodisCon in 2007. Every year since, a small group has gathered to celebrate Goodis’ life and works.

It’s a pilgrimage of sorts – this year, a small bus carried about 20 people to Goodis’ grave site; to the house where he was born – now just an empty lot; to his parent’s house; past the hospital where he died; and past some of the locations noted in his books. The tour also made a stop at an old joint in downtown Philly, and ended at another bar in Northeast Philly. (I don’t normally imbibe when shooting a story – personal or not – but I had to here and can highly recommend the Branch No. 9.

I had heard about this gathering a few years ago from reading Duane’s blog. However, I’m usually traveling at this time of year and have missed it.

When I knew I’d be around this year, I contacted Lou and Duane and asked to tag along. I told them I wanted to cover the event, shoot it in black & white, and do a photo story much like LIFE magazine may have once done.

Here’s the story:

As you can see, I worked to go retro with this – between converting the images to B&W, to the fonts I used, to the music that goes along with this (Miles Davis, Round About Midnight, 1957) I think it all works.

Of course, the event was right up my noir background alley. And it was great for me to learn more about such a talent as David Goodis, his life and his work.

He’ll be getting more due this spring as Robert Polito hosts an event at the Philadelphia Free Library – David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of 1940s and ’50s. You can pre-order the book here, a book Polito put together. If you’re into noir fiction, at $20 this book is a grand-theft heist.

In between telling the Retreat story by capturing those images, I also tried to do some portraits of some of the participants.

Elizabeth Amber-Love Delaney is the gal with the black-seamed thigh-high stockings. A self-proclaimed noir nerd, she’s been on the tour a few times.

Erik and Hannah Carlson came the furthest distance, all the way from Rhode Island. A very cool couple, the brick wall I had them in front of provided a nice background. For some really cool tunes, check out Erik’s podcast on Bibliodiscoteque.

All that’s missing from this portrait of Ed Pettit, also known as Philly Poe Guy, is a raven on his shoulder. Could have used the one from The Trestle Inn (which isn’t far from the site of E.A. Poe’s Philadelphia house).

Late in the day, as the sun was giving that beautiful late afternoon warm glow, I shot the uber-talented illustrator Jeff Wong outside The Lost Atlantis bar in Kennsington. Really nice guy, wish I had more time to chat with him.

Actually, I wish I had more time to chat with everyone at the event. Lou and Duane put on a great tribute.

Hope to get to it again. In the meantime, I need to continue catching up on David Goodis goodies.

I suggest you do so too…if ya know what’s good for ya.

© Mark V. Krajnak 2012 | JerseyStyle Photography | All rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Friday Noir: Retreat To Goodisville

  1. You have single-handly captured the Retreat To Goodisville 2012 and the life of David Goodis in a way that pays hommage to the world of the disenfranchised, the lost, the marginalized and the just-down-and-outs. Long live your beautiful photographs. May these pictures always bring a voice to the underserved and credibility to their lives!

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  3. Mark,
    I’m behind the 8 ball responding to this post but I’m really glad you made it. I’d not heard of Goodis before, but am a fan now. I just finished Night Squad and am starting on Cassidy’s Girl, and am on the lookout for more of them.


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