Ms. Deen Kogan, who along with Lou Boxer has been a driving force behind NoirCon, has died at the age of 87. She and her husband Jay founded Philadelphia’s Society Hill Playhouse a few years before I was born, and the Playhouse remained in operation until 2016. From the Playhouse’s website:
Society Hill Playhouse is located in the heart of the Society Hill District (just 1/2 block off the “hot” South Street Corridor). This is theatre for people who don’t like theatre … or who think they don’t. Housed in the historic David Garrick Hall.
This century-old building with its Victorian pressed tin walls and ceilings presents good, entertaining shows. No highbrow, high-falutin, artsy stuff here. Although most of the productions are new comedies or East Coast premieres, these shows are not only accessible, but they also reach out and pull you right in, sometimes literally. Shows like the long-running “Lafferty’s Wake” involve the audience; others let you sit back and enjoy the laughs.
Deen Kogan and husband, Jay, launched Society Hill Playhouse in 1960 as Philadelphia’s “off-Broadway” theatre for contemporary American and European playwrights. Gradually, it developed a niche in populist comedies, and Nunsense, scheduled for six weeks, ran for ten years. The Red Room cabaret on the first floor seats 99 – and the main stage located on the second floor seats 223.
While I don’t know who wrote that particular blurb, I hear a bit of Ms. Kogan’s voice and ethos there as I read it.
You see, some years ago, Ms. Kogan, the abovementioned Mr. Boxer, and various other fans of Philadelphia-based noir author David Goodis decided to start a celebration of first Goodis, and then other writers in the genre, using the Playhouse as a home base. This is what became NoirCon, which I attended in 2016, and which I’ll be attending this fall (the conference takes place in even-numbered years.)
The first night of the 2016 conference included a Noir at the Bar event — my first public reading as something of a “real writer.” I read “Bowery Station, 3:15 A.M.”, my contribution to Lawrence Block’s Dark City Lights, and was rocked by how well the crowd received it. During a break in the reading, a well dressed older woman approached me.
She said, “Tell me about your book.” At that point, Broken Glass Waltzes was between publishers and out of print, so I thought she was talking about the anthology from which I had just read, so I started to talk about that and she cut me off cold.
“I know about that,” she said briskly. “You just read from that. Tell me about your book.” Having lived in the South for most of my life, and the Deep South for a decade or so, I wasn’t used to that sort of directness, but as my mother’s son, I did know something about formidable older ladies, and I knew I was dealing with a prime specimen thereof. We spoke a few more times over the course of the con, and I recognized her passion for this stuff we read and write, and the energy that she put into this celebration of the genre. I liked her — I was more than a little intimidated by her, but I liked her.
I was looking forward to seeing her again in Philadelphia this fall, but that won’t happen now, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to miss her. But if there’s anything we learn from reading and writing this stuff, it’s that there are no unalloyed happy endings, and that all stories end the hard way eventually. But I’m glad to have met her, and like many others, I’m grateful for her efforts on behalf of something she cared for.
Goodbye, Deen — and thanks.