I grow weary and gray-bearded promoting my book Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History…and My Own while waiting for “official” publication – though I continue to pursue that option.
Therefore, you may now purchase a PDF version of the book in The Just Bear With Me Store for $15.99. This is around half what I anticipate a retailer will charge. I regret the endnote superscripts and lack of physical form, but I also hope making this volume available prods an insightful press to publish this book traditionally. Once you submit the $15.99 through PayPal, I will receive a notice. If you included an e-mail address, I will send the PDF to that address ASAP, with my gratitude. If you did not include an e-mail address, use Contact to send it to me.
And I want to get Interrogating Memory into the hands of those who have kindly expressed interest in it.
For those unfamiliar with my book – four years in the making – here are the Table of Contents (with subheadings) and an excerpt from the Introduction:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Notes on Notes
Part I: The West Philadelphia Story
Introduction: From the Pale of Settlement to West Philadelphia
I. The Pale of Settlement
Chapter 1: From Tragedy to Triumph…and the Tailor’s Daughter
I. The Bergers
The mysterious death of David Louis Berger
John Rhoads Company
The short, unhappy marriage of Anna Berger and Ernest Halbert
II. The Caesars
III. Morris Berger and Rae Caesar
Death of Ida Rugowitz Berger
Chapter 2: The Dancing Rabbi, the Philly Cop and the Baker’s Daughter
I. The Cohens
The Shpoler Zeide
The Kozlenkos and emigration
II. The Gurmankins
III. Samuel Kohn and Irene Goldman
Philadelphia Police Department
Earning a living
Chapter 3: Golden Boy Marries Golden Girl: What Could Go Wrong?
I. David Louis Berger
Congregation Beth El
Following the Philadelphia Phillies
II. Elaine Kohn
III. Wedding of David Louis Berger and Elaine Kohn
IV. Reproductive tragedies
Chapter 4: My Father Was a Freemason. So Was Herman Modell
LaFayette Lodge No. 71
Jews, Freemasonry and Social Networking
II. Herman Martin Modell
Corina Modell Kidnapping
Assistant City Solicitor
Private law practice
White Manor Country Club
Chapter 5: Parallel Lines of Investigation Reveal My Genetic Parents
An unplanned pregnancy spurs a decision
I. Obtaining my adoption records
II. Discovering my genetic families
My genetic mother
My genetic father
Intermission: Film Noir
Chapter 6: So…What Is Film Noir, Again?
Film Noir Research Database
Great, but what is film noir?
An alternate origin story: B movies show the way
For the final time…what is film noir?
Part II: Film Noir…A Personal Journey
Introduction: Seeds in the Suburbs
The Main Line
Harriton High School
Chapter 7: Reading is Fundamental
Sue Ellen Drive
A Jewish upbringing begins
A precocious child
Mindy finds a permanent home
A childhood fire
Discovering detective fiction
Chapter 8: Fathers and Sons Are Only Black and White in the Movies
John Rhoads burns and relocates
Atlantic City summers
A year of transition in black and white
Discovering Charlie Chan
Collapsing finances lead to marital separation
Chapter 9: The Dark City Beckons…On Television
Adolescents do not think critically
First suicide attempt
Lou Berger struggles to regain his footing
Death…and Dr. Touchy
Adolescents have no control over their lives
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs…and the beckoning city
The dark city on television…and in reality
Leaving Manayunk Road
Chapter 10: Night Driving
Finding my place in high schools
Death of David Louis Berger
Suburban moths drawn to the urban flams
Second suicide attempt
Learning to drive
Seeds of critical thinking
Chapter 11: A Film Noir Fan Is Born
Brett Kavanaugh and the misperception of Yale
So many movies to watch
A rough post-graduation year
Finding my footing in Boston
Death of Elaine Kohn Berger Saretsky
My “personal journey” continues
Appendix I: Films Cited in Text
Appendix II: Annotated Film Noir Bibliography
Appendix III: Films Designated “Universal” in Film Noir Database
FROM THE INTRODUCTION:
How this book is organized
Returning to our Brookline kitchen in early July 2017, when an exasperated Nell interjected “Why don’t you write a book?” into a conversation about ways I could earn income, what she meant was that I should write a mystery novel or some other equally-lucrative work of fiction. The implicit compliment was not lost on me.
But “Film Noir: A Personal Journey” had already popped into my head, and I immediately saw a way to convert a 3,000-word essay into a full-length book, one revolving around four central “steps”:
- Love of detective fiction, from learning to read at a very young age through my introduction to the key early writers of film noir (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane) while an undergraduate at Yale, and beyond that to my discovery of writers like Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis.
- Obsession with Charlie Chan films, which began the summer before I turned 10, and my prior discovery of early 1930s Universal horror films, which instilled in me an appreciation for older black-and-white crime and detective films.
- Growing fascination with “night and the city,” as the 1950 film noir puts it.
- Exposure to a wide range of films through Yale’s six film societies, conditioned by films I had watched on HBO in high school, including Times Square, Hardcore, Body Heat and the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.
But once I started to write, my “everything-is-connected” mode of storytelling kicked in, and I realized I needed to contextualize these steps. For example, I watched my first Charlie Chan film on a Saturday evening in July 1976 because I was in our house in Havertown, seeking something to do. My mother, father and I had spent the previous two summers living in Atlantic City, NJ. Why not the summer of 1976? Because something was going haywire in our family’s finances and, as it turned out, my parents’ marriage. What was wrong with the family finances? Since my father’s mother had died four years earlier, my father’s gambling had steadily worsened, and his business was failing as a result. This was the same thriving West Philadelphia storage, furniture and carpet cleaning business his own father—born into a Yiddish-speaking family in modern-day Poland—and uncle had shrewdly acquired in the mid-1920s and made even more successful. My father had assumed control of the John Rhoads Company when he was barely out of college, following the recent deaths of his father and uncle. Soon after his mother died, the John Rhoads Company suffered a fire about which I had heard unsettling things. The business reopened in Upper Darby, just west of the Philadelphia city line—albeit smaller, with lower-quality merchandise. By the summer of 1976, it was essentially bankrupt…and we could no longer afford to spend an entire summer living in a motel on the Boardwalk.
Two distinct halves emerged. Part I—The West Philadelphia Story—begins with histories of the Pale of Settlement (“Pale”) and Philadelphia, particularly the Jewish “city within a city” of West Philadelphia. Chapters 1 through 3 trace the early history, immigration and lives in Philadelphia of four key families—Berger, Zisser/Caesar, Cohen/Kohn, Gurmankin/Goldman—through the marriage and subsequent move across the city line of David Louis “Lou” Berger and Elaine Kohn.
Chapters 4 begins with the history of the Freemasons, focusing on Philadelphia’s La Fayette Lodge No. 71, which links my father, his uncle Jules Berger and Herman Modell, the attorney who arranged my adoption; I then tell the story of Modell—state representative, Assistant City Solicitor, Metropolitan Hospital lead counsel—himself. The complex and often frustrating story of how I learned the names of my genetic parents is related in Chapter 5.
Part I ends with my birth in September 1966. Chapter 6 bridges the two halves. Analyses of the film noir database I began to construct in March 2015 reveal an entirely new—and better—way to think about what films are “noir” and introduce a discussion of the idea of film noir as well as two versions of how it originated: inevitable artistic movement and reaction to economic necessity. The latter introduces the Charlie Chan films, which I argue provided a template for early film noir.
Part II—Film Noir: A Personal Journey—opens with the history of the western Philadelphia suburbs now called “The Main Line,” as well as that of Harriton High School. Chapter 7 and 8 begin to detail my film noir journey steps, tracing my life from birth through my parents’ separation in March 1977. Key events include my Jewish upbringing, finding a permanent home for my severely intellectually impaired older sister Mindy, learning to read at a very young age, a dangerous house fire, the start of my lifelong love of detective fiction, my father’s gambling addiction, the John Rhoads Company fire, summers in Atlantic City and my “transition year” of 1976: black-and-white Universal horror films, radio dramas and a key double feature. The year ends with the dissolution of my parents’ marriage.
Chapter 9 through 11 conclude the journey, tracing my roller-coaster post-separation life. My undiagnosed depression is presented through a lack of critical thinking skills, erratic behavior, alcohol consumption and suicide attempts. This is lightened by examination of my checkered romantic history and some unusual nation-building. Lou Berger’s tumultuous final years are catalogued, as are his ex-wife’s successes. Bar Mitzvahs, est, new friendships and television programming lure me into the dark city—vastly different from my suburban enclaves. As high school begins, I watch a wide range of often-inappropriate movies—a love that increases exponentially after I enroll in Yale. Learning to drive provides freedom and helps to spur critical thinking. A chance visit to a Somerville, MA bookstore completes the circle.
Writing the final three chapters was surprisingly difficult. The process of selecting and organizing the stories I tell in them kicked up “unresolved issues” related to alienation, loss and grief. Not that my childhood was especially dark; I actually had a wonderful childhood. Still, as [Director David] Lynch deftly revealed in Blue Velvet and in all three seasons of “Twin Peaks,” underneath placid surfaces often lay nightmares—as good a definition of film noir as any.
In sum, then, sprinkled throughout this confessional social history are stories, both comic and tragic, I learned while researching this book, the joyous byproduct of interrogating memory. These stories inform a larger narrative about how the well-educated adopted son of two Philadelphia-raised children of Jewish immigrants growing up in the suburbs immersed in detective fiction, old movies, diners, drives and the dark night city wound up a film noir devotee. Like film noir itself, it is a peculiarly American narrative resulting from a wide variety of external influences.
It is a narrative I am now pleased to share with you.
As added incentive, I plan to send free signed copies of the traditionally-published book, once it is available, to the first 50 people to purchase the PDF version. Anyone else who purchases the PDF version will only pay half the difference between $15.99 and the retail price. I cannot guarantee this, but it is certainly my intention.
Under United States copyright law, I copyrighted Interrogating Memory when I completed this version of the PDF on August 16, 2021. I am also registering it with the U.S. Copyright office – or, I will, once their registration website is back online. The process takes an average of three months.
I am still mastering the intricacies of linking payment to product, so if your payment fails to yield the PDF please send me your e-mail address through my Contact page, and I will e-mail you a copy. I appreciate your forebearance.
Thank you to everyone who patiently supported me through the previous four years of researching, writing and publication-seeking – or are just now discovering my work. I truly believe the book you are about to read is worth the wait. And, of course, please let other people know about it, so they can enjoy it for themselves.
Until next time…please be safe and healthy – and get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not already done so!