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My American Dream - A Book Review

My American Dream And How It Ended by Robert Goodman

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Reviewed by Judy Frankel

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that Robert Goodman's excellent autobiography is as compellingly readable as it is. While the writer was growing up in Beverly Hills in the fifties, his father, who he tells us "had the gift of the gab", was already successfully pursuing a publicist's career within the movie industry, using his gift of words to promote Warner Brothers offerings and later publicising low-budget Westerns with stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

"My American Dream – And How It Ended" is an absorbing and refreshingly candid account of Robert Goodman's colorful life growing up – and quite often struggling - in a competitive and generally tough world. What a fascinating and varied story he tells, as he scrupulously charts the failures as well as the successes, pulling no punches.

Thirty-five years were to be spent in his native USA before coming to Israel for (so far) the next forty-three. His was a career which saw him, amongst many other preoccupations, aspiring to be a baseball player, campaigning for Bobby Kennedy, acquiring a PhD from UCLA, teaching Political Science at the University of Southern California, selling machinery in Israel, twice happily married and knowing the joys of fatherhood with an eventual assortment of grandchildren ranging in age from 27 to 4 years. Yet along the way, there was considerable turmoil and sadness including the loss of his first wife from cancer.

We discover how, in his early years, with his Jewish identity of great importance to him, Goodman lived in a street of upwardly mobile Jewish families, amidst a large but thoroughly assimilated Californian community. He had no bar mitzvah and no Shabbat candles were ever lit. He would be an adult before he attended his first Passover Seder.

His beautiful mother maintained regular contact with her extended family back in Cleveland, Ohio. He was protectively devoted to her in every way but with her unsatisfied craving for elegance and with no aspiration to follow any career except that of a housewife, he rightly sensed that she was destined to remain depressed and unhappy for much of her life. His father, on the other hand, whilst working and in control of things, exuded energy and confidence, interacting with famed gossip columnists such as Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.

This autobiography vividly conveys the sights, the sounds and the intensity of his Hollywood years. He brings back to life the childhood excitement of his annual two-and-a-half day train adventure, travelling back to Cleveland with his mother all to himself, recalling the thrilling luxury and comforts of the journey. Crucially important to him at this stage were his mother's two brothers, Uncle Hal, a mesmerizing jazz pianist, and Uncle Joe, a doctor, the only college-educated member of the family, but his contact with them was soon to be cut short.

The milieu in which he mixed at Beverly Hills High School was one where wealth was of less importance than popularity and good looks. He was not particularly successful in attracting or keeping girlfriends, generally felt smaller and weaker than most of his peers and was frequently overcome by feelings of loneliness and being different from the others.

As his passion for sport took hold, however, we discover his growing fantasies and aspirations around baseball, football and tennis. But in vain: "It would be years before I came to terms with my limitations and gave up my dream."

Although he was an outstanding student in English studies, the remainder of his academic output was more of a mixed bag and, as time went on, he needed to summon up massive application to achieve ultimate success, a PhD and a university career.

He arrived with his family in Israel, after agonising indecision and discussions with his wife whether to come or not, in August 1973, at the height of the Watergate affair and two months before the Yom Kippur War. But they stayed nevertheless.

A brief postscript brings the reader up to date with the latest developments in his life whilst living in Israel where he now, with his second wife and a growing second family, is a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Haifa University. Earlier in his book, he had recalled that his mother and her brother Joe "had a calm, rational way of expressing themselves and an admirable ability to identify the essentials". This is exactly what Robert Goodman himself is doing in this greatly enjoyable autobiography. 

 

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