He walked slowly along Wharf, came onto Vernon Street, then walked west on Vernon toward home. The slimy water in the gutter was lit with pink fire from the evening sun, and he looked up and saw it big and very red up there, the flares shooting out from the blazing sphere, merging with the orange clouds, so that the sky was like a huge opal, the glowing colors floating and blending, and it was really something to look at. He thought, It's tremendous. And he wondered if anyone else was looking up at it right now and thinking the same thing.
But as his gaze returned to the street he saw the dirty-faced kids playing in the gutter, he saw a drunk sprawled on a doorstep, and three middle-aged men sitting on the curb and drinking wine from a bottle wrapped in old newspaper.
— The Moon in the Gutter (1953)
WHEN DAVID GOODIS DIED in January 1967, he was forty-nine years old and a decade past his best work. He hadn't published a book since 1961. Goodis was a popular novelist, and without new titles to keep his name on readers’ minds, he was doomed to return to obscurity. His final novel, Somebody’s Done For, was published months after his death, but he didn’t leave a substantial backlog of work to sustain his reputation. His estate won an appeal in a lawsuit against the producers of The Fugitive television series in 1972, claiming the premise was stolen from Goodis’s novel Dark Passage (1946), but by that time he was practically a relic. Perhaps Goodis’s legacy suffered most for lack of a single, truly iconic character one could identify with his work. His protagonists are nearer Simenon's Monsieur Hire than Hammett's Sam Spade.
Yet there was a time — roughly from 1947 to 1957 — when Goodis enjoyed a wide following among readers of American noir fiction and, whether they realized it or not, American moviegoers. Dark Passage, his second novel, was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1945 and appeared as a film two years later, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Another novel, Cassidy’s Girl, sold a million copies in its original paperback release. He published fourteen novels in that span of ten years, a steady output but nothing unheard of in the annals of pulp writers.
Goodis did a stint in Hollywood, signing a contract with Warner Brothers for one year, with five renewal options, on the heels of a $25,000 payday for the rights to Dark Passage. He cashed in again by working on the script adaptation of the book. He also wrote the screenplay based on Somerset Maugham’s story “The Unfaithful,” and was rewarded handsomely for his studio work on the whole. His starting salary was $750 per week, a tidy sum for 1946, and it climbed steadily. His contract with Warner Brothers was eminently fair: it stipulated six months of film work and six months during which he could return to Philadelphia and write fiction. Despite these generous terms, Goodis never settled into the Hollywood lifestyle. He opted to sleep on friends’ sofas and in LA flophouses like the Crown Hill Hotel. There was a period when he took an apartment in the fashionable Hollywood Tower Apartments, but this was an aberration. His friends from Philadelphia remember his studied avoidance of the film industry's glamor. He refused to attend parties and preferred to dine in hole-in-t...read more