It is now official: the hardcover (with snazzy dust jacket) version of my first book launched on May 24. It will be published by the print-on-demand service BookBaby, albeit under my new imprint: InterrogatingMemory Press, or IM Press. It is already available for presale on Amazon and other similar online retailers, however. The price is $43.99.

Meanwhile, the eBook version – priced at $9.99 – is now available for download at Amazon and other similar online retailers. The only thing distinguishing the two versions is the eBook contains all of the color photographs I needed to convert to black-and-white for the hardcover version. Well, and I cannot sign this version for you, should the opportunity present itself.

You may also purchase a hardback copy directly through this website – while supplies last – for $25; this includes shipping and handling within the United States. Once you have paid for the book through PayPal, simply send me a mailing address via Contact. Please allow up to two weeks for your copy to arrive.

Finally, in lieu of an audiobook, I am considering reading the entire book aloud as a series of podcasts available for purchase on this website.

Here is the introductory “teaser trailer.”

Once recorded, you may buy each of 11 parts for $2 each – and a document containing more than 70 illustrations and tables for $3 – or the entire series for just $20.

For those unfamiliar with my book – nearly five years in the making – here are the Table of Contents (with subheadings) and an excerpt from the Introduction:




Notes on Notes


Part I: The West Philadelphia Story

Introduction: From the Pale of Settlement to West Philadelphia

I. The Pale of Settlement

II. Philadelphia

Jewish Philadelphia

West Philadelphia

Row houses

Chapter 1: From Tragedy to Triumph…and the Tailor’s Daughter

I. The Bergers

Berger Storage

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

Nancy Spungen

II. The Gurmankins

The Shores

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

I. Freemasonry

LaFayette Lodge No. 71

Jews, Freemasonry and Social Networking

II. Herman Martin Modell

The Ettlesons

Corina Modell Kidnapping


Assistant City Solicitor

Private law practice

White Manor Country Club

Metropolitan Hospital

Later life

Private adoptions

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

The upshot

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

Transition states

Finding my place in high schools

Death of David Louis Berger

Suburban moths drawn to the urban flams

Cinematic freedom

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




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 IThe 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 IIFilm 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.


Thank you to everyone who patiently supported me through four-plus 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 cost. And, of course, please let other people know about it, so they can enjoy it for themselves.

Until next time…please wear a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you have not already done so, get vaccinated against COVID-19! And if you like what you read on this website, please consider making a donation. Thank you.


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