Addendum: A Titled Man


In my shamelessly self-indulgent David Murray review, I was pleased to open with a quote from  Joe Goldberg, referencing a lunch he had with Donald Westlake in Beverly Hills, in the 90’s.

I’ve referenced Goldberg several times here, because that friendship is of interest to me, and I’d like to know more about it.  Westlake dedicated Somebody Owes Me Money to Goldberg (congratulating him on his recent book by referring to him as ‘a titled man’).  He loved to repeat the story about how he was lamenting that Parker had been played by actors as diverse as Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Jim Brown, and Anna Karina. Goldberg (who had been working as a script reader for various studios) quipped “The character lacks definition.”  

I just got a copy of his landmark collection of essays, Jazz Masters of the 50’s, and am reading it now.  He had to give up music criticism for a time, because all the clubs closed down, and he made the exodus to the left coast.

Did you ever wonder how Donald Westlake became friends with Joe Goldberg? They were both born in Brooklyn, but Westlake moved upstate when he was very young.  You probably assumed they met at a club in Greenwich Village, or possibly a record store. Maybe just I assumed that. Whoever assumed it was wrong.  As I just found out.

Turns out there’s a blog for everybody–

It didn’t last very long. Not a lot of articles, and most of it seems to be recorded interviews of a very old Joe Goldberg done for an oral history project.  Which are mainly about his work in Hollywood, and I couldn’t find any references to Westlake, but I skimmed.  Because they got a bit depressing.  (I’ve done oral history myself, and you know, probably these things should not be done just before somebody dies, though I guess better late than never.)

Even though this blog only lasted about two months, there’s gold in them thar hills.  My eyes bugged out a little when I spied this entry–do I need to tell you who ‘Hal’ is?  He is, one might say, a man who wrote dirty books.  Then gave up that respectable living to write for Hollywood.  The cad.

Hal writes:

In 1958, I was churning out paperback pornography along with other writer wannabes like Larry Block and Don Westlake.

One of us found a magazine called SWANK or STANK or SLANK that had an article about pulp porn that praised Don Holliday (my pen name) and Sheldon Lord (Larry’s pen name) and Edwin West (Don’s pen name) as being the only pornographers who could write their names in the dirt with a stick.

The article was written by Joe Goldberg which we assumed was a pseudonym. In fact, I thought that Larry had written the piece and Larry figured that Don had and Don was certain that it was my work. But ten or twelve drinks later, one of us had the bleary idea to see if a Joe Goldberg existed in the Manhattan phone book. And sure enough, one did and he became a life-long pal to all three of us.

If we neglected to thank him for the puff piece, well, we do now. Mucho gracias, buddy.

(There actually was–and still is–a dirty magazine named SWANK, but for all I know the other two exist as well, along with SANK, SKANK, and SPANK. Presumably not SHRANK.)

There’s an earlier contribution from Mr. Dresner, but it’s less germane to our interests here.

So.  Let me see if I have this straight.

To pay the bills, in the late 1950’s, three men who were someday going to be successful writers were turning out what was then considered pornography, under false names.

And to pay his bills, a guy who was someday going to be a very influential music critic was reviewing their dirty books for a dirty magazine. Under his own name. (I guess that was considered more respectable?)

And this is how they became friends.

Well, I said it was an addendum.

Joe Goldberg passed in 2009.  Here’s a very informative obit with a link to him ably dissecting the Ken Burns Jazz history docu in 2001.  Nobody thought to do an oral history of him then?  Oh well.

Far as IMdB knows, Hal Dresner is still alive.  He’d be in his early 80’s.

What are the odds, you think, that he would be able to tell me which sleaze novels credited to which pseudonyms of which Westlake poker buddies contain uncredited Parker cameos written by Westlake, as attested to by D. Kingsley Hahn?

I’ve thought about asking Lawrence Block, but how the hell do you open up a conversation like that?  Trying to come up with a segue…….”Mr. Block, you’re probably the only member of your clique who expressed nostalgia over writing those things…..”  Well.  I’ll work on it.



Filed under Donald Westlake, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Addendum: A Titled Man

  1. Well. I’ll work on it

    Better work fast.

    Just kidding. Sort of. I wish Lawrence Block long and continued life almost as much as I wish it for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    • He might outlive us both. Seriously, some people just have that knack for sticking around. Though to be sure, recollection of the past can be hit or miss at the best of times, let alone when you’ve just turned 80.

      (Friend of mine has a mother who just turned 100. She’s in her 60’s, and is the primary caregiver. I never joke with her about how her mom might survive her. It’s not funny.)

      Block’s still writing well. And blogging regularly. But yeah, better hustle.

      • He outhustled me. Responded less than 20 minutes after I sent the email this morning.

        And he said he didn’t know anything about it, and thought it was most unlikely.

        I thanked him for his quick response, and said I’d keep looking. Hahn may have misunderstood something Westlake told him, but he’s no liar. No fool either.

        And I’ve learned not to take what writers say about their work–and that of their colleagues–too literally.

        • (Mr. Block confirms Dresner’s story of how they met Joe Goldberg. But insists it was not Swank, but Nugget. There was a porn mag called Nugget? What does that title even refer to? I’ve led such a sheltered life…..)

  2. I’m duly impressed by his responsiveness!

    • I’d say it might be time to try our luck with Ethan Iverson regarding Westlake’s script for Red Harvest, but his web site indicates that he departed on an extensive European tour last week. He might not be as responsive.

      • I’ve never had the pleasure of corresponding with Mr. Iverson. He’s got a whole lot of very different irons in the fire. And you know, he might have some ethical strictures that prevent him from sharing it with just anyone.

        Still, no harm asking. After he gets back.

    • Me too, but I’m not convinced. “Unlikely”? And the story about how they met Joe Goldberg via a porn review in a porn magazine is so probable. 🙄

      Not to mention all the novels they wrote about their experiences in the wonderful world of sleaze (Mr. Block’s visceral dislike of that term oddly reminds me of Duke Ellington not wanting to use the word ‘Jazz’ to describe his music, but not having anything better to replace it with).

      Basically everything we know about that genre is unlikely, Scott Meredith seems positively mythical, and yet it all happened. And so much more we’ll never know about. Which might be just as well.

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