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Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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Series XIII: Audio Visual
Series XIV: Printed Material
At a Glance
Arranged in 14 series
Arranged in 14 series.
The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, journals, interviews, manuscripts, transcripts, and printed material.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Audiovisual content must be digitized prior to use and can be consulted in the reading room only. Some unique audiovisual media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. Commercial materials are not routinely digitized. Email email@example.com for more information.
This collection is open for research and may be viewed in the RBML reading room, with the exception of Goldman's journals, which are restricted until 2025. No copies, scans, or photographs of any content, audiovisual or print, will be provided without the written permission of Jane Krupp and Jere Herzenberg. Please contact the repository for more details.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Albert Goldman Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers listed Jere Herzenberg 2000.
Papers processed by Patrick Lawlor and Jere Herzenberg, April 2019
2017-08-08 File created.
2019-01-22 Digitized audiocassette tapes noted. kws
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Albert Goldman, one of the foremost chroniclers of American popular culture, was born in America's heartland, at Dormont, Pennsylvania in 1927 and was reared in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, both suburbs of Pittsburgh. It was here that Mr. Goldman began to mentally record his impressions of middle American life during the height of the depression. His parents, a rather odd couple, were never really a proper fit in the rather protestant and corporate white-collar community in which they chose to live. His father, a muscular aryan looking blond, was more blue-collar than white -- a machinist-engineer -- who had been raised by a tough gun-toting Welsh grandmother to become a character right out of Twain. Only his last name was typically Jewish. In contrast, his mother, dark and semitic, had been brought up in a Jewish ghetto of Pittsburgh, the youngest, pampered daughter of a large middle class Jewish family. Ironically, it was she that would choose to isolate him in suburban protestant Mt. Lebanon, far from her own family and any sort of traditional urban Jewish experience. Visions of this life are carefully preserved in Goldman's collection of photographs both of himself and his family when he was a young child.
It was not until his father's premature and shocking death from nephritis in the early forties, that Albert Goldman began to free himself from the influence of his family by moving to Pittsburgh and enrolling at Carnegie Tech's Drama School. Here he studied acting and stage design for two years until his education was interrupted by the threat of the draftboard and World War II. He then joined the navy, returning to his studies after the war on the G.I. Bill at Robert Hutchin's University of Chicago, from which he was graduated with an M.A. in English Literature and election to Phi Beta Kappa.
Leaving Chicago, and vowing never to return to Pittsburgh, Goldman came to New York to study for his Ph.D. in English and comparative literature at Columbia University with Lionel Trilling and Jacques Barzun. While working towards his doctorate he married his college sweetheart, Florence Singer (now Ercolano), and moved to her home in the heart of Jewish Brooklyn, falling in with the Lenny Bruce gang, from which experience emerged his best-selling account of the counter-culture's greatest comic and social satirist, Ladies and Gentlemen -- Lenny Bruce !! It was here for the first time that he came face to face with Yiddish and hipster culture -- the worlds of comedy, jazz, Yiddish theater, and shingle salesmen -- largely through the influence of his wife's family and friends who for ten years would re-raise him as a hip Brooklyn Jew. They provided a stark yet beguiling contrast to his own upbringing and to the academic life in the Yiddish-British overly refined world of the effete Trilling seminars (a reel- to-reel tape of one of the Trilling seminars is preserved in Mr. Goldman's collection). Both New York experiences formed and intrigued him and would continue simultaneously to influence his career and personality for the rest of his life (His experiences from these years are carefully preserved in a collection of tapes made by his psycho-analyst, Herman Alpert).
During these first decades in New York, Albert Goldman continuously shifted between two worlds, performing comedy in his own living room and visiting various jazz clubs while receiving a Ph.D. and teaching at practically every college in New York, including Brooklyn College, Hunter, Bernard Baruch, City College, the School of Visual Arts, and Columbia University's General Studies, where he spent the last nine years of his teaching career, holding the rank of Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature. While teaching at the School of General Studies, Goldman's primary interests began to shift gradually (although never completely) from the Nineteenth Century and the Romantic Age to the Twentieth Century and American pop culture. However it was not until his last two years at Columbia that he finally made a committed plunge towards the latter and against traditional academic studies by teaching one of the first full-credit courses in popular culture to be offered by an Ivy League school.
The textbook for this course, Freakshow: The RockSoul BluesJazzSickJew BlackHumorSexPopPsychoGig and Other Scenes from the Counter-Culture was published by Atheneum in 1971. The reel-to-reel tapes of his classes still remain in his collection as do his auto-biographical manuscript and 16 reel to reel tapes describing these years, all entitled "Professor Goldman." It was upon these hilarious raps about his life at Columbia that Philip Roth, a close friend, would eventually base his thinly disguised profile of the young Goldman, aptly labeled"Professor Desire." In turn and with poetic justice, the conversations between Goldman and Roth are carefully perserved on reel to reel tapes in his own collection entitled simply ''The Roth Log.".
It was while teaching at Columbia that Goldman began his second career as a cultural journalist and music critic starting out with simple reviews of classical music in The New Leader and continuing throughout the rest of his life with more complex and vibrant articles in the hot style of the "New Journalism" on a wide variety of topics from the Rhine to Rock and Pop culture. They appeared in magazines and periodicals as diverse as Commentary, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, Commonweal, LIFE, New York Magazine, The Sunday Times, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Book World, Esquire, High Times, Atlantic Monthly, and Penthouse, Holiday and Travel and Leisure (many manuscripts and tearsheets are preserved in Mr. Goldman's collection).
Early on Goldman also began working simultaneously on more lengthly works at first starting with an anthology of essays by Richard Wagner, entitled Wagner on Music and Drama, a book so successsful and compelling as a teaching tool and introduction to Wagnerian theory that it still is print today. Goldman's rather incongruous follow-up to his first book vividly reflected the change of direction in his own career. Ladies and Gentlemen - Lenny Bruce!!! was published soon after his departure from Columbia and academic life (Random House, 1974). It was during the writing of this book, that he first sensed his own ability as a writer and became vaguely aware of his own personal destiny as a chronicler of pop culture. It is during this time that he began preserving his correspondence, classifying it into individual collections in addition to voluminous correspondence by year. He also began keeping personal journals (1973-1994 are part of his collection), the first of which detail his experiences with the researching, writing, and publication of his biography on Lenny Bruce. Similarly, the first major group of letters, the rather lengthly recollections of a Lenny Bruce source, Chic Eder, are saved in their entirety, as well as the manuscript for the Bruce biography, Goldman's taped interviews of Bruce sources, and rare reel to reel tapes of Lenny Bruce's nightclub performances. It was with this biography that Goldman felt he had successfully launched himself into his new career.
However, all was not what it first appeared to be. The middle to late seventies were an extremely prolific time for Goldman yet a period of drastic transition. Freed from academic life but encumbered by a lack of financial security, Goldman found himself straining to produce to sustain himself economically. Still unsure of his role as a biographer rather than as a chronicler of popular culture and music, he chose the latter, investigating worlds as diverse as Rio Carnival, discothques and jazz in New York, and the underground world of drugs both here and in South America. From these journeys came a wide of variety of articles on a vast range of topics, his music column in Esquire, and three books, Carnival in Rio, Disco, and Grass Roots. His correspondence from the period precisely chronicles both the exhilaration and sense of adventure about his new life as well as his fear and financial despair. It was during these years that he made several attempts to leave New York, setting up house-keeping at first in Jamaica, then in Charleston, South Carolina, with frequent trips in and out of Brazil and Colombia. It was not until his lucrative contract for the biography of Elvis Presley (1978) that Goldman once again became relatively financially solvent, setting up a more permanent home in New York at 240 Central Park South, and achieving a true professional sense of self once again through the world of popular biography.
The Presley years (1978-1981) provided a rather sedate contrast to the earlier seventies. While trips were taken to Japan (as guest of jazz drummer Elvin Jones), and to the West Coast and the South researching Presley's life, most were spent at home setting up housekeeping, and researching and writing the Presley biography in addition to working through his second autobiographical manuscript, Hau/in' Grass, an unpublished book detailing his life in the drug world of the mid-seventies. Correspondence from these years reveal his self-reflection and total immersion in these projects as he struggled to redefine himself once again as a biographer and chronicler of American life. As with the Bruce biography all taped interviews, print research, contracts, drafts, and manuscripts from these years are carefully preserved in his collection.
Capitalizing on the fame and fortune of the Presley biography, Goldman almost immediately contracted to write the biography of John Lennon after Elvis was completed. After a short hiatus and plunge into the life and world of Bruce Lee, whose life he profiled for Penthouse, he returned to the United States from Hong Kong to begin research on John Lennon and the world of British rock. He would emerge from Lennon's world only briefly to write a short article on Michael Jackson for People magazine. From 1982 through 1988 he struggled daily against what he felt were overwhelming odds to complete the book. Stone-walled by both the Beatles and Yoko Ono, his collection of tapes and print research on this project are voluminous, reflecting the enormous scope of the task and the work he put into completing the project. In the end, The Lives of John Lennon made him famous or infamous beyond his wildest dreams. However, the extraordinarily negative reception to his rather frank assessment of Lennon's life and work, in the end would carry too great a cost. After fleeing to Europe in the summer of '88, Goldman returned to New York only in the early winter of '89 to correct proofs for the paperback edition and to try and resume his life in the city.
Almost immediately he began searching for a new project to work on. While considering biographical subjects as wildy diverse as Casanova, Sid Caesar, and General Von Manstein, he began to prepare his past work for republication. In the early nineties he would take time out to reissue Ladies and Gentlemen Lenny Bruce!!! and put together a new anthology entitled Soundbites!!! After writing a brief expose on Presley's death, entitled, Elvis, the Last Twenty-Four Hours, he once more settled in to research and write the biography of Jim Morrison. Plagued by ill-health from the summer of '92 to the winter of '94, he decided to spend time in Coconut Grove Florida in order to recuperate and do more research on Jim Morrison. Two months later, in March of 1994, while traveling from Miami to London for a BBC program on biography, he died of a heart attack on the plane. He was sixty-six years old.