Remembering Erving Goffman
The Whole Idea of Image and How You Are Perceived
by Other People Was Important for the Averbachs
This conversation with Marly Zaslov was recorded over the phone on January 4, 2009. After Dmitri Shalin transcribed the interview, Marly Zaslov edited the transcript and approved posting the present version in the Goffman Archives. Supplementary information and additional materials inserted during the editing process appear in square brackets. Undecipherable words and unclear passages are identified in the text as [?].
Shalin: Greetings, this is Dmitri Shalin from Las Vegas. Is this Marly?
Zaslov: This is Marly, Dmitri. How are you?
Shalin: I am fine. I just spoke to your mother.
Zaslov: Yes, I understand that you spoke to her earlier today. Was she a willing interviewee?
Shalin: She certainly was! So much energy; we should be so lucky to be as active and agile and precise as she is at her age.
Zaslov: [Laughing] Maybe that comes with an older age, Dmitri.
Shalin: Well, I’ve seen people of that age unable to recollect.
Shalin: Let me ask you if it would be all right for me to record our conversation and then send you the transcript for your revisions, redacting, and so forth?
Zaslov: Yes, of course. As a matter of fact, you emailed me at 7:30 and the message just came through.
Shalin: Oh, I see.
Zaslov: So there we go.
Shalin: I’ve just posted on the web my interview with Renee Foxes. You must have seen a version . . .
Zaslov: Yes, I did. As a matter of fact, I printed it when I was in the office. I go to the office where I used to work at on Friday afternoons, and I use their printer and their computer, so I was able to download most of the interviews. I think I indicated to you in one of the emails that I sent to Esther [Besbris] some, and I will take some more when I go there in three weeks time. By the way, before I forget, the party [for Frances Goffman Bay’s 90th birthday] has changed to Saturday.
Shalin: And that’s January . . .
Zaslov: That’s January the 24th between twoish and sevenish. It’s changed three times.
Shalin: Well, it may change again.
Zaslov: It may change again, so it is either going to be Saturday or Sunday. Right now it is Saturday.
Shalin: I’ll get more particulars on how to get there closer to the time.
Zaslov: It’s actually quite easy and quite direct.
Shalin: It’s close to where we are staying at my wife’s sister.
Zaslov: Right, you are in Calabasas, on the Ventura Free Way.
Shalin: I understand that you will be there for at least two days.
Zaslov: I am coming on Friday. As a matter of fact, I was just trying to book my flight on Alaskan [airline]. It’s incredible price. I do have points that I was going to use, but for $250 I want to save the points and maybe just book the flight. I know that I am a member of Alaska, but I don’t recall my number nor my ID or anything like that.
Shalin: I got a note today from Anrea [Marly Zaslov’s daughter], and she said she had difficulty with her passport. It might not be ready on time.
Zaslov: When I spoke to her a couple of days ago, she said that her passport had expired. And I have no idea how long it takes. It probably takes a little longer than what it should, but nonetheless, if she thought she was going to go there, I doubt that she would get the passport back in time.
Shalin: I wrote to her that there are agencies which, for a price, mange to get it faster.
Zaslov: Really, what agencies?
Shalin: I don’t think I used any myself, but I’ve heard such agencies handling visas and passports exist. There is also an expedited processing available for extra fee when you request a visa. . . . But you say she might not be able to come.
Zaslov: Exactly, she may not be able to.
Shalin: She is such an enthusiastic person. She managed to do wonders organizing friends of Frances Bay.
Zaslov: She did a phenomenal job in organizing and putting that whole thing together [a drive to induct Frances Bay into Canada’s Walk of Fame]. She really did. Did she tell you how it started at all?
Shalin: Yes, she mentioned it. Without her nothing might have happened.
Zaslov: It wouldn’t have. It was her husband’s idea. They went out for pizza one evening in August and he wrote on a back of a napkin, “Hollywood Grandma” and said, “Why don’t we see if we could get for Fran a star in the Canada’s Walk of Fame?”
Shalin: Right. It’s funny, my daughter got me a “Happy Gilmore” DVD with some additional footage, the takes that didn’t make the final cut – grandma in the nursing home and more stuff. I am eagerly anticipating the time when I can watch it.
Zaslov: I think it’s a terrible movie. I’ve never seen it; I wouldn’t waste the time. Isn’t it a terrible thing to say?
Shalin: Normally, I wouldn’t see such a movie, but my interest hasn’t been driven by aesthetics, as you can imagine.
Zaslov: Exactly! [laughing].
Shalin: In fact, I recommended the movie to a bunch of Goffman scholars as a way to introduce undergraduates to Erving Goffman’s ideas. I don’t think the director set out to illustrate what it feels like to be in a “total institution” where you risk losing your identity as happened to the grandmother in a nursing home, or how social class conventions are undermined on a pro golf circuit by upstarts like happy Gilmore, but it is a neat way to showcase Erving’s ideas. And as a bonus you can see his sister acting in the movie.
Zaslov: Did anybody consider that approach to this movie?
Shalin: Not that I know of. The first time I heard of this movie was from Anrea and then from my daughter. Then a message came through the Goffman Forum with somebody asking for a movie explaining Goffmans ideas to undergraduates, and I said, “Here is your teaching tool.”
Zaslov: It’s incredible.
Shalin: It’s a sitcom with a standard ploy where conventions are violated right and left.
Zaslov: Perhaps they didn’t realize what they were doing.
Shalin: They didn’t. It was uncanny to watch Fran acting in a movie where her brother’s ideas come into play. Erving published this famous account of life in total institutions like prison or mental hospital, and here is this movie with his sister as a grandma languishing in a nursing home. Now, Marly, you probably know what I am up to.
Shalin: You’ve seen some of these interviews, right?
Zaslov: Yes, I have.
Shalin: You know that certain issues are bound to arise here, ethical and otherwise. There is plenty of talent in my field but true genius is rare, and Erving comes as close to being a sociological genius as we’ve ever had. What I find instructive is how his life and work interface. It seems like he rarely takes off his researcher’s cap, he keeps experimenting with social conventions, observing the rules and breaking them to see how far they stretch. I’ve come to believe that much of Erving’ s writing is autobiographical, starting with his early work on class differences, then on to his study of managing impressions, and so on. For instance, Erving’s interest in mental illness seemed to have been influenced by the fact that his wife was seeing a psychiatrist. His views on the subject evolved over time, especially after his wife committed suicide. I can send you an article he wrote in the aftermath of her tragic death. When I saw the symptoms Erving lists in his article and compared them to what we know about his family, it was hard to miss the connection. I can go on and on, but you probably see where I am heading.
Shalin: My hunch is that unlike most scholars who stay with a ready-made theory, Erving used his own very personal experience to fire up his sociological imagination. See what I am saying?
Zaslov: I see what you are saying. Now, you have to understand something, Dmitri – I never met the man.
Shalin: I understand, I understand.
Zaslov: And I never read his works. I mean, this is a terrible thing to admit.
Shalin: Not at all! Why? There are so many things to do in life besides reading Erving Goffman.
Shalin: But you know what, the project I am doing continues to evolve. One thing I discovered along the way was how remarkable our memory is, how the same event is refracted differently in separate accounts. Whether you are Erving’s friend, colleague or student, you can contribute if the name “Erving Goffman” means something to you. Even when stories are second-hand or third-hand, they add to the picture. We can learn how images are stored in our collective memory, how we emplot everyday situations and narrate interactions, what gets reported, what is overlooked, what is deliberately swept under the rug. The same occasion, say, a dissertation defense, is reported by different participants in such a way that you begin to wonder if they were present at the same event. You must have absorbed some family lore, and all these tales are valuable. Even if you never met Erving, you may know something about his family, Jews in Canada, anti-Semitism that you or your parents encountered there, and so on. Any tangent related to Erving and his family is of interst.
Now, did you meet Anne [Averbach Goffman]?
Zaslov: Oh, yes. I knew her quite well.
Shalin: And you obviously know Frances [Goffman Bay].
Zaslov: Yes. And I knew her father, Uncle Max
Shalin: Great. I know you are not an ethnographer, but with your keen eye you might be able to spot interesting things. Tell me about Anne and Max, anything that comes to mind.
Zaslov: I think Anne certainly was a strong woman in the household. Max was quiet, ran his business, played cards with his friends, and smoked his cigar. I think she moved everything along. To the family she was always the queen, if you will. She was almost like the Duchess of Windsor. She looked like her a little bit. What was interesting, she was the youngest child of the family. She was very much north-Americanized, whereas my grandmother who was her older sister (although not by very much), was very much Old World. The way Anne dressed was North American, the way she addressed her thoughts. I can remember that in 1952 when my father passed away, because my mother was very close to Anne, my mother, myself, and my brother went down to LA and stayed with them for six weeks during the summer. On one occasion, when I was 15, I was going to visit one of the cousin’s cousin, and I didn’t have a bathing suit. We were going to one of the swimming pools in the park close by. She took me by the hand and marched me down to whatever street it was on Wilshire and went shopping for a bathing suit for me. Now, it wasn’t my own mother; it was Auntie Annie who did that sort of thing. She was always the one who planned, and I am sure my mother told you who planned and orchestrated her wedding.
Shalin: She mentioned how Anne bought her dresses.
Zaslov: That’s right, but Auntie Annie organized the wedding in Winnipeg. Notwithstanding the fact that she was living in Dauphin, she came in and more or less made sure that my mother had the right dress, as well as those who were in the procession. She organized everything.
Shalin: Your mother didn’t mind that.
Zaslov: No, my mother probably preferred that. She [Anne] had a great eye and great taste. I still have my mother’s wedding dress, by the way.
Shalin: [Laughing] Who knows, maybe it will come in fashion again.
Zaslov: Actually, it did. I have a fashion story to tell. I had attended a fashion show organized here in Vancouver by a fashion historian. And because I am a shoe freak, and had several great pairs of boots from the late 60’s and 70’s which I wasn’t wearing anymore, but refused to throw out, I asked if he would come over and take them.
Shalin: [Laughing] I can relate to that.
Zaslov: When he did come over and I gave him the boots, I had also found my mother’s wedding dress which was beginning to deteriorate. He gladly took it as well, his collection not having many samples from the 1930’s. So it didn’t go to waste and I was glad to find home for it.
Shalin: How many siblings Anne had?
Shalin: Four sisters and four brothers.
Zaslov: There could have been a ninth one who didn’t get out of Russia. Let me see if I can find . . . Anne was the last one along with their mother who came over. I might relate to you the short story about my grandmother, Rissi. She was engaged to a man, they were living in Winnipeg at the time, and she would not marry him until he arranged for Anne and her mother to come over. And when they did come over, which was probably in 1912, she married him. I thought that was just a beautiful little story.
Shalin: Yes, it is.
Zaslov: It’s all in the book [The Averback Family Reunion Album reproduced in part in the Goffman Archives].
Shalin: I will certainly look forward to getting it. I made arrangements.
Zaslov: You’ve spoken to Karen, I think.
Shalin: Yes, she said she would put it in the mail and I’d send her a check. Do you know if Max and Anne spoke Yiddish?
Zaslov: I don’t think they did. I think they spoke English in the house.
Shalin: That was the main language in the house.
Zaslov: I think so, yes. This is why I say, Dmitri, that they were much more Americanized, north-Americanized. Certainly, my grandmother would speak Yiddish, my grandmother kept kosher.
Shalin: Anne didn’t keep kosher.
Zaslov: I don’t think so. I don’t think one [could keep kosher] in Dauphin.
Shalin: There was no kosher butcher.
Zaslov: That’s right, there was not a kosher butcher there. And I suppose one could have brought food stuff in by train if it was kept cold enough, but I am sure they didn’t.
Shalin: One of my respondents told me that Erving used Yiddish expressions in Chicago. I was wondering where he picked that up; probably just from the culture around him.
Zaslov: I would think so, yes. He might have used it for effect . . .
Shalin: It was popular enough at the time.
Zaslov: Yes, in those days it wasn’t so much the language . . . many Yiddish words were used in every day English. . .
Shalin: I see what you mean. So Max and Anne weren’t really religious.
Zaslov: I wouldn’t think so. There wasn’t a synagogue in Dauphin.
Shalin: Somebody told me there might have been one at some point.
Zaslov: There was at one point. Let me see, it would have been either just before the war ended or after, Dmitri. I recall when I was about 8 or 10 years old or so, there was a synagogue, or an old church which was rented occasionally. It probably was only operational during the high holidays and only for a couple of years, because I recall on Yom Kippur one year I was going there with my father, and my mother gave me a brown bag and said, “Here is your lunch. You can’t fast, you have to eat.” And, of course, many of the other young people brought their lunch as well.
Shalin: Apparently, Erving had a Bar Mitzvah, which must have been somewhere in a synagogue I imagine.
Zaslov: I have no idea.
Shalin: Maybe it was in Winnipeg. Esther recalls that Erving once gave a beautiful speech that he called “Ode to Anne,” ode to his mother. Unfortunately, his tribute did not survive. Maybe it was not in Dauphin.
Zaslov: Maybe they went to Winnipeg.
Shalin: Holidays like Passover were marked, however.
Zaslov: It would have been recognized. Certainly when I was a child, we lived with my father’s mother for several years. She was born in Canada, and I don’t remember her ever speaking any Yiddish. I don’t recall in her house that we ever celebrated any of the holidays.
Shalin: My mother was born in Ukraine, in the city of Artemovsk. She has been living with me, by the way, since 1991 . . .
Shalin: Yes, she is the same age as Fran. She is going to be 90 in March.
Zaslov: How wonderful!
Shalin: She used to – not to speak Yiddish but to throw in Yiddishisms. It must have been sufficiently common and not as dangerous in my days in Soviet Russia. So it was a secularized household with cultural Judaism more than anything else.
Zaslov: . . . When I was growing up during the war, there certainly were more Jewish families in the town.
Shalin: How many do you think were there?
Zaslov: Twenty maybe?
Shalin: It could have varied from year to year.
Zaslov: Well, not all that much really. There were the Bays of course and the Goffmans and the Buckwolds. Then there was a family called the Breslaws and the Cohens and there were the Katz’s.
Shalin: Your mother mentioned that there are practically no Jewish families there today.
Zaslov: I don’t think there are any. There are none because my uncles, Alf and Harvey, my father’s two brothers, both married non-Jewish women – and only Alf’s oldest son, Bill, has retained his Jewish background.
Shalin: They didn’t stay within the fold.
Zaslov: They really didn’t. No.
Shalin: So Anne was a matriarch of the family and everybody looked up to her.
Zaslov: I think so, certainly the nieces, all the nieces and all the nephews. It was always Auntie Annie that they would go to, even the younger generation. Esther has a daughter Ava who absolutely idolized the woman and named her adopted Russian daughter after Anne, as a matter of fact.
Shalin: I didn’t know that. I understand also that she had some artistic sensibilities, that she liked music and dancing, something that probably Fran inherited.
Zaslov: Could have been, could have been, but all of the siblings were artistic. One of the sisters, Manya, who was the oldest sister, had four daughters, two from two different husbands. The oldest daughter, Larise, sang and danced, and she always said that she taught Frances everything that Frances knew in acting. So it just seems that all the children of the original eight had something artistic about them. They were writers and actors and dancers, perhaps not all professional.
Shalin: Erving’s writing has a literary flare. He had a way with words, and his writing is often a pleasure to read. He is an unusual sociologist who did not care much for the tradition; he was sui generis, his own person. This annoyed many of his colleagues but that is what might have endeared him to students and the younger generation who felt that he spoke their language and had a particularly good ear for the phony side of society.
Esther mentioned that Anne could be stern, that she could discipline kids, maybe even spank Erving on occasion.
Zaslov: Possibly. Maybe I have heard something or spoken to Esther or whatever, but I think Fran might have been favored. Maybe this impacted on Erving somehow.
Shalin: Even though he was the younger one.
Zaslov: Yes, exactly.
Shalin: Mother might have doted on Fran more than on Erving.
Zaslov: It could have been. It’s like it might have had an effect on him, he would walk a jagged line rather than be the doting and the regular type of a son. Perhaps he wasn’t getting an equal amount of attention and had to be outrageous.
Shalin: That’s interesting. I understand that he was quite active, today he would probably be called hyperactive. As Esther and Fran describe him, he had hard time keeping still, with all that getting on rooftops, dropping records in the basement, touching things he was told to leave alone.
Zaslov: Aha. It could very well have been like that, and who knew about those conditions back then, really.
Shalin: We know more today about sibling rivalry.
Zaslov: That has an effect.
Shalin: But Mac was more relaxed, and he didn’t mind his wife taking the lead.
Zaslov: I would think so. I never really spent that much time in their company, but I knew he was always there. I think he was a very stable and adoring father. I don’t know, Dmitri, but it seems to me that I don’t know anything about his family. He could have come over without any family. He may have had no family here at all. If that were the case, I would think he would absorb Anne’s family as his own.
Shalin: You sensed that Max was able to communicate love and affection.
Zaslov: I think so.
Shalin: And he was a successful businessman.
Zaslov: Aha, aha.
Shalin: The family was well to do.
Zaslov: I would say that obviously they were comfortable. They must have had some property, real estate in Winnipeg. I don’t think you go from a woman’s wear store in Dauphin to Winnipeg and then move down to Los Angeles. It seems to me that they had some property in Winnipeg.
Shalin: Do you know when they moved to Los Angeles and what were the circumstances behind that move?
Zaslov: I don’t know. They were certainly down here in ‘52.
Shalin: I believe they came in ‘52 and in ‘54 Max died. I have seen his obituary; he died when he was 64.
Zaslov: Oh, oh! That is really early to have sold one’s business and moved out of the country, to pull up roots and move down there.
Shalin: It would be interesting to know what precipitated the move. I think Esther and her husband came to Los Angeles first, maybe around 1943.
Zaslov: No, I don’t think so, Dmitri. They had lived in New York, across the ferry in the Staten Island. They had lived in Akron, they had lived in Sacramento, whether it was before or after.
Shalin: All that before they moved to Los Angeles?
Zaslov: They had lived in Sacramento because David was with the military.
Shalin: I understood that Esther was already here and kind of smoothed the transition for Max and Anne.
Zaslov: Interesting that they were there already. They were married in ‘46 or ‘47. Fran and Chuck were married in 1947, I believe, and Esther and David were married within months, either before or afterwards.
Shalin: I am also not clear on when exactly Erving came to the United States.
Zaslov: I don’t know.
Shalin: I know he was studying at the University of Chicago but I thought that was more like ‘49 or ‘48, but now I am beginning to think he might have been there in 1946 or earlier.
Zaslov: I don’t know.
Shalin: I am looking for someone in Canada who might have known Erving when he studied at the Manitoba Technical School or whatever it was called.
Zaslov: The University of Manitoba.
Shalin: He must have had buddies there.
Zaslov: Do you really think he had some friends? I am not sure.
Shalin: Why do you say so?
Zaslov: Well, it seems like he was really not a friendly type. He was very much his own person. Some people walk to the tune of their own drummer. He was different, Dmitri. As I said, I never met him; all I’d done was read your interviews, and when I googled him the first time there were what – some 575 different hits or something.
Shalin: There is a lot more than that.
Zaslov: Maybe it was 575,000. He was very unique and different.
Shalin: I wonder to what extent my interviews may have influenced you and what family lore precedes your familiarity with this project. Any sense about Erving you have gotten on your end? In 1976 Erving came to the University of Manitoba to give a commencement speech and receive an honorary degree.
Zaslov: I’ve read the newspaper that you have posted. I printed a copy and sent it to Esther, as a matter of fact. Every other keynote speaker giving a presentation to the graduating class is positive, telling them that they can do whatever they want to, that they should dream and go for it. I have never read such a downer in my life!
Shalin: [Laughing] You’ve noticed that.
Zaslov: Oh, my god!
Shalin: He said we are governed by idiots, so be prepared.
Zaslov: Yes, yes.
Shalin: It’s unusual, all right.
Zaslov: It’s unusual, and it is almost as though he wanted to provoke.
Shalin: He probably did.
Zaslov: Maybe the way to get people thinking differently is to provoke them, I don’t know. Reading your interviews, and let me say that this obviously is coloring my perception, he didn’t seem to be social from a friendship point of view.
Shalin: There was a point when he started changing, maybe after he became famous. Esther noted and your mother noted that when he came to receive an honorary degree and gave a convocation speech at the University of Manitoba, he didn’t want to meet the family. That was in ‘76, a few years before he died. He came right before and left right after the event, and there were obviously hurt feelings. And yet Esther tells me he was different in early years. She recalls how Erving gave her a necklace, a touching gesture, really. Something happened along the way, though.
Zaslov: What I think might be interesting as well is that it was his mother and Esther who would take time to embrace or talk to the other cousins. I don’t think there was much contact at all with the cousins from other brothers and sisters. I don’t know. But again, all we are hearing is what Esther or my mother is saying.
Shalin: This is what historians have to work with. Different accounts are often all we have, and what you do is cross-reference them and see how they hang together. They are all true in their own fashion. We provoke different reactions in different people who bring different selves in ourselves.
Zaslov: However, I have two things that I have written here.
Zaslov: There is a member of the Bay family, Chuck’s family, who lives in Toronto. Eli Bay [Harry’s son] probably coined the term stress management. I was talking to him today because I wanted him to send Fran a card for her birthday. There is an individual who studied with Eli at Berkley. His name was Richard Apostle. I asked Eli if he knew where he was, and he said he had absolutely no idea. But Eli evidently went to school and studied with this Richard Apostle who had studied with Erving at Berkeley. I didn’t have a chance to google Richard Apostle and have no idea of what he has done. . . .
Shalin: How do you spell Eli?
Zaslov: E-l-i. He’s the only son of Chuck’s middle brother, Harry. It is interesting that Eli’s father had a disability, what you used to call a club foot, and Eli was the brightest, I think, of all the children. He really does not have a good relationship with his cousins, but he always had a good relationship with Fran and Chuck. He didn’t know Erving either. He hypnotizes people; he put out DVDs with his voice, and the voice would take you through different exercises, stress relieving exercises.
Shalin: This is some talent.
Zaslov: Yes, it is. What is interesting is that it has become ‘faddish’, but he was in it before others. From the economic point of view it hasn’t been all that remunerative. In any case, do you want to contact Eli yourself?
Shalin: I’d like to hear him out but maybe somebody could give him heads-up about me. I’d like to learn about his work.
Zaslov: He obviously studied sociology and knew Erving’s work. . . . He is trained in this sort of things.
Shalin: Where is he?
Zaslov: He is in Toronto.
Shalin: Do you think it would be OK for me to contact him?
Zaslov: Yes, you can either email him or you can phone him.
Shalin: Perhaps you can send me his email address and mention to him that I would like to get in touch with him. He sounds like an interesting person.
Zaslov: Yes, I think he is tremendously perceptive. The other thing he said was that five years ago The Toronto Star did an interview with Freud’s granddaughter. Evidently, she thought that Erving was the greatest psychologist of his time.
Shalin: Aha! What is her name?
Zaslov: I have no idea.
Shalin: He had a famous daughter Anna Freud.
Zaslov: Did you know that Fran played that role once?
Shalin: She was very prominent in the psychoanalytic movement. Maybe it was her daughter who made this remark about Erving.
Zaslov: I don’t know. But there was a short film written and Fran played Anna Freud in it.
Shalin: When was it?
Zaslov: I don’t know if that was before or after her accident. The woman who wrote it, if I am not mistaken, is going to be at that party. Anna Scott is her name.
Shalin: Wonder if that movie is available.
Zaslov: It’s not a full length movie. It’s a short indie, almost a documentary that was entered into some film festival competition.
Shalin: Anna Scott may know how to get a hold of it. I’d love to see Frances Bay playing Anna Freud. It all harks back to Erving. As I told you, when I saw Fran playing an elderly lady confined to a nursing home, I immediately realized this was a scene straight from Erving’s text. . . .
Zaslov: No, I don’t think so at all. How ironic that this silly movie portrays certain situations as written and analyzed by Erving.
Shalin: You shouldn’t judge it . . . by the way my daughter loved the movie. It’s generational, I imagine. My daughter, who is a senior at USC, says it is very popular. It’s a sitcom with a famous Jewish actor – what’s his name – Adam Sandler? Situation comedy is not my idea of a great movie, but as an illustration of what Erving was studying it works well. And then Fran playing Anna Freud – now, here is an irony! Goffman’s famous book Presentation of Self in Everyday Life was probably a take on even more famous Psychopathology of Everyday Life written by Sigmund Freud.
Zaslov: It is almost a full circle.
Shalin: Freud told us about self-delusions and rationalizations we are susceptible to, while Erving wrote about masks and games we play to conceal ourselves.
Zaslov: Yes, we play different roles.
Shalin: Our notion of who we really are is problematic.
Zaslov: How does this reflect back on his sister who is a real actor?
Shalin: What do you think? There seems to be a connection of some kind between a sister being a professional actress and her brother taking the world-as-theater metaphor and turning it into a sociological guidepost.
Zaslov: Now, she did say that at a young age she was very shy. Obviously, for shy persons acting may be a façade so they really don’t have to be themselves. She was shy, so she says; she didn’t think of herself as being attractive physically; she didn’t really think she was a pretty woman at all. So perhaps acting just gave her that front.
Shalin: How interesting! I wonder if Fran’s acting was a kind of self-therapy.
Zaslov: Aha, maybe!
Shalin: She was shy, didn’t fit easily in the glamorous world, and acting on stage was her way if ridding herself of a neurosis. Shy people sometimes do well on stage.
Zaslov: Yes, yes. Interesting, isn’t it?
Shalin: God and fate, they work in mysterious ways. Esther told me that in the Goffman family it was important to observe ceremony, to follow rules the occasion required, and Erving, as the kids often do, violated those conventions just to see what would happen.
Zaslov: It was all image with the Averbachs. I don’t think that Esther actually wanted to say that, but I think she felt that this was leaving the family vulnerable.
Shalin: You are onto something interesting. It was all image – how do you mean it? How does it fit with your own experience?
Zaslov: I can’t say this about them specifically but what Esther sort of told me and what my mother has sort of told me, their feeling was that the eight siblings, certainly the men and the boys, except for one (I think everybody loved him, he was my favorite, although I didn’t know him all that well), he was a card shark . . .
Shalin: He was what?
Zaslov: He was a card shark, almost a con man.
Shalin: He was the youngest boy in the family?
Zaslov: He was the youngest. I think Anne was the youngest and Mickey (which was his name) was the second youngest.
Shalin: What earned him this reputation?
Zaslov: He played cards, he ran a card game. He was the youngest son born in 1897, he married a woman whose father operated a popcorn stand in Winnipeg at what was a Coney Island kind of place. He married Elsie and they went on the circuit, or I call it a circuit, a fair circuit. He ran card games. I am reading here, “He had considerable charm and was very personable.” He was almost like an Erving, and as a matter of fact, that’s what Erving looks like. Mickey was quite small, he wasn’t a big man, he wasn’t a tall man at all. In any case, the point I was trying to make was that some of the other male siblings had a higher profile in the community, they lived in better areas. My mother always felt that there was a division, that she was the poor side of the family.
Shalin: And the Goffmans and Averbacks were a more prosperous branch of the family.
Zaslov: No, the Goffmans had nothing to do with this. The older couple of brothers were successful, one had a business and the other (who sounds rather wonderful) was a school trustee. But they married women who perhaps had a bit of an attitude, as one could call it now. My mother always felt slighted.
Shalin: By the women?
Zaslov: I think it was by her uncles and aunts. The uncles were fine but the women that they married . . .
Shalin: They could be high and mighty.
Zaslov: That’s right, and they lived in a certain part of the North End, and then they moved to the South End where the more affluent people lived. There are children who are cousins of my mother, and perhaps my mother saw them as having a bit of an attitude. Perhaps it was my mother who had an attitude; it might have been a problem that wasn’t there.
Shalin: [Laughing] Maybe she was self-conscious as a poor relative.
Zaslov: Exactly, that’s what it was.
Shalin: Fascinating. You may be opening a window on the origins of Erving’s dramaturgical sociology and his take on social class and self-presentation.
Shalin: Go ahead.
Zaslov: I just think there was always this idea of image, to how conduct yourself. It could have been in Anne’s home, I don’t know. I was young and I certainly didn’t feel that sort of thing.
Shalin: You didn’t see Anne acting superior.
Zaslov: No, she was not, she was the good one, and she was an Averbach, whereas other women . . . Somehow I feel this whole idea of image and how you are perceived by other people was important, certainly to my mother. If I could give you an example . . .
Zaslov: I wasn’t there, but evidently on Christmas day in Winnipeg, my mother and my step father and Anrea and her husband, Qam – were all at my brother Jack’s for dinner, along with his wife, June, and son, Jarad. After dinner they were all sitting around and Charlie was falling asleep. Charlie, my mother’s husband, was not well with prostate cancer, and she kept nudging him, “Don’t fall asleep. You can’t fall asleep here.” Esther and I were talking about this – what difference does that make? The man is tired, he is with the family, he can do whatever he wants. If you need to fall asleep, you fall asleep! But my mother was conscious of the image.
Shalin: The decorum shouldn’t be breached.
Zaslov: Yes. My mother is very straight, let’s put it that way. Not that I challenged that, but I would consciously NOT be as traditional and image conscious as her – my mother thought a female's role was to be a stay-at-home mom, have dinner on the table, etc. etc. I always worked, and when my first child was 1 month old, I took her on a job interview with me. I suppose one could say I was seemed to be always a good one – ending up being good for the community after all.
Shalin: That is part of any community, not just Jewish community, right?
Shalin: Certain notions of propriety, of keeping up with the Jones’s, doing what the situation calls for, and feeling embarrassed for those falling short of the expectations. The family’s image may suffer if you fall asleep where you should be fully awake. And when some family members do better than others, move to better parts of town leaving less fortunate behind, that causes the consternation. Those left on the North End may project their feelings on those who moved to the South End.
Zaslov: Right. In other words, my grandmother married the second time, (and a third . . . all the Averbach women, except for Anne, had multiple husbands, which is sort of interesting) and the blended family all lived on top of a hardware store, whereas some of the other Averbachs lived in nice homes. My mother and grandmother and Esther and the rest of the family lived upstairs on Selkirk Avenue. The other sister, Manya, the other Averback sister who had four daughters, one of whom said she taught Fran everything she knew, ran a little delicatessen a few blocks away. They lived behind the store. So the women always worked hard. The men worked hard too, but they married women who didn’t work, who didn’t have to work.
Shalin: Married women who stayed home and played more traditional roles.
Shalin: Did you hear any family lore about Schuyler, Erving’s first wife?
Zaslov: No, nothing at all. I know about her from reading your interviews.
Shalin: I understand. One important tangent here is that she came from a prominent family, and it was Erving who would be moving upward and learning to play the part with his new wife. I don’t know how either family reacted to this marriage.
Zaslov: Where did they meet?
Shalin: It is a bit hazy but I understand that she was a fellow student at the University of Chicago where Erving studied.
Shalin: They took classes together. Erving finished his Ph.D. and she didn’t. Schuyler was very interested in Erving’s work, I hear. I would like to know more but no one seems to remember their marriage.
Zaslov: Now, he was someone shorter, he might have been charming and obviously extremely bright, but how does he fit in – did he try to fit in with her family? I don’t know, but this is interesting.
Shalin: Several people theorized about Erving’s height, how it might have made him self-conscious and affected his self-presentation.
Zaslov: I know nothing about that part at all other than what I read.
Shalin: You probably know more about Erving from reading those memories than most people in the family, even those who knew him personally.
Shalin: But what you have to say about the Averbachs is very interesting. Anything else you know about Mickey?
Zaslov: They probably felt he was charming and delightful, maybe he was their favorite uncle. He lived in Edmonton, by the way. It could have been Esther who wrote the note. He was, as she put it, “our glamour uncle. The occasional visits he made to Winnipeg always staying with his younger sister Anne.” They were very close.
Shalin: Perhaps Fran would know him, and also Esther.
Zaslov: Esther would probably know him. Esther truly, I think, remembers and knows.
Shalin: Wonder if he had some brushes with the law. Mickey ran the card games, but this doesn’t necessarily mean he was a swindler, right?
Zaslov: No, no, he wasn’t a swindler at all. He organized a bookie operation, organized the game. Maybe he skimmed from the top, which was perfectly acceptable.
Shalin: But that was sort of a gambling?
Zaslov: With friends, yes. It says here that he ran his bookie operation.
Shalin: That could be sports,
Shalin: You wouldn’t know which kind of operation it was?
Zaslov: No, I don’t.
Shalin: One of Erving’s papers was on “cooling the mark out,” on how a con operator would try to calm down someone who just lost money or something. What you tell me about Mickey hints at yet another biographical connection.
Shalin: And his name was . . .
Zaslov: He was Michael, but they called him Mickey.
Shalin: Did you see Anne in the ‘60s and ‘70s after Erving moved to the East coast?
Zaslov: I probably saw her in 1960 when I got married. She and Fran, I don’t know if Chuck came, but the others all came to my wedding in 1960. I don’t remember the next time that I saw her, probably after she had a stroke.
Shalin: That was around 1986?
Zaslov: Could have been.
Shalin: A year or two before she died.
Zaslov: My husband and I went to New York during the 60’s. We didn’t go to California. I saw her once when she lived in her apartment and that was . . . Dmitri, I don’t even remember.
Shalin: That’s OK. The last contact you recall was at your wedding. After that your contact was indirect
Zaslov: Yes, more indirect, because my mother would go there periodically almost yearly. Although I did see Auntie Annie once when she was in her apartment and then after her stroke when she was living at Fran’s. I started going to LA on a much more regular basis during the late ‘80’s and early ’90’s.
Shalin: Did you see Anne and Fran on those trips?
Zaslov: When did you say that Ann passed away?
Shalin: I think she died in ‘89.
Zaslov: Interestingly, there is a typo here. It says she was born on October 31, 1999, and it should be 1898.
Shalin: Where is that typo?
Zaslov: In the family album that you are going to be receiving. . . .
Shalin: What about Fran? You knew her since . . .
Zaslov: Well, she, too, was at my wedding in 1960. . . . Murray and I visited Fran and Chuck when they were living in New York and a few years later in Boston . . . and of course, they both visited Winnipeg on occasion. We moved to Vancouver in 1994; Fran was shooting several TV series over the next several years – “X Files,” “The Marshal,” “The Commish” and “Happy Gilmore”! Chuck would fly up when she was here for more than a week and spend a bit of time; we would go for dinner with her, have her over for dinner and spend whatever time she had free.
Shalin: Was Chuck a movie director, or you are talking about Fran?
Zaslov: She was an actress.
Shalin: Oh, you are talking about Fran. I thought you mentioned Chuck.
Zaslov: No, at this time he had retired. He was here on a couple of occasions with her, where she was here for two weeks or more.
Shalin: Anything else you can say about Fran? She has a certain presence, she can take charge, and yet you sense that she might not be entirely secure.
Zaslov: I guess I am not really thought of her as someone who takes control. Dmitri, could you hold on for a moment?
Zaslov: I won’t lose you.
Zaslov: Dmitri, my grandson went to a hockey game and it is over. I dropped him off and I have to pick him up.
Shalin: Sure, I can call you any time when it is good for you, maybe later on today or some other day. You tell me.
Zaslov: Why don’t we do it when I am back? I should be back in three-quarters of an hour.
Shalin: What if I call you at 10:15?
Zaslov: Or I can call you when I get back.
Shalin: Either way works fine. Do you have my phone number?
Zaslov: Give it to me.
Shalin: < . . . >. Great
Zaslov: What was that area code?
Shalin: < . . . >. Great. I look forward to your call.
Shalin: I’ll think about Fran. Take care.
Zaslov: Anyway, should we continue?
Shalin: Yes, if you don’t mind, if it is good time for you.
Zaslov: It’s still fine for the next half an hour or so.
Shalin: OK, we’ll wind it down soon. I was thinking it would be interesting to hear you about Frances as an actress, as a person. She is wonderful, of course, we can start with that.
Zaslov: In listening to what her friends said, to the comments that people posted for the petition
[to induct Fran] into the Canada’s Walk of Fame, from the directors who worked with her, she is magnificent. She is one of the true finest professional actresses there is. I never knew that. I thought there are actresses and actors, but she evidently is very very good at her craft. I think once she married and had Josh, she really put her career and her desires for a career behind her. I don’t know why, but there had to have been a certain amount of, not resentment necessarily but longing, her wanting to continue and get better at what she did. Then, I guess when they finally came to Los Angeles area, she started to get back into it. My feeling is that Chuck always looked after the finances, the writing of the checks. She really didn’t pay much attention to the running of the home other than the kitchen or shopping and entertaining.
Shalin: Did her aspirations cause any problems with Chuck?
Zaslov: I always had this feeling that she was the bangle on his wrist. In other words, he could say, “This is my wonderful wife, who is such a wonderful actress.” Not that he took credit for it but sometime I think this was for him a . . .
Shalin: A trophy wife?
Zaslov: Yes, yes. I don’t know why I feel that way. I couldn’t be specific or give you examples, except that he was a relatively successful merchandiser, a Harvard grad. However, in some of his entrepreneurial endeavors he wasn’t all that successful himself. I think as they grew older together they probably had a better relationship. In later years Chuck did mellow. I used to feel uncomfortable with him because he seemed to be somewhat aloof, possibly arrogant, not much patience with small talk. But when they started coming to Vancouver in the ‘90s, he spent some time over at our place. In the late 1990s, I guess, Anrea and I stayed with Fran and Chuck. Anrea was involved in a course on tourism and management and she had some ideas and Chuck was willing to listen to some of the ideas that she was bouncing off him and took an obvious interest. This was not the same old Chuck whom I have always found to be rather aloof and standoffish.
Shalin: You said he wasn’t always successful, then he mellowed late in life, but there was nothing precipitous in their circumstances.
Zaslov: No, no. If one thing didn’t work out, he would turn around and find something else. Then he became very active in an organization for retired executives called SCORE. Say, if there was a company that needed direction or some helping input, the organization would assign the relevant executive who would then do a lot of mentoring. Chuck was quite involved with SCORE and quite enjoyed doing that after he more or less retired. He also tried to get into the acting business himself, and was a member of the cast in the Canadian TV production of “Rossini’s Ghost” which was shot overseas and in which Fran played a major role. He was very proud of Fran, of the success she was having later on. Probably at the beginning he expected her to be at home and have dinner on the table when he came home, to be a more traditional housewife in other words, even though she might have wanted to continue to develop her career
Shalin: Was there a big hiatus in her career?
Zaslov: Don’t know. Although she evidently did little theater work, it wasn’t anything major. There is some comment that when she got to the West coast and got involved with a couple of groups (maybe it was in the ‘70s or the ‘80s, I might check it out), she evidently played some phenomenal roles.
Shalin: In theater?
Zaslov: Yes. And this was truly her first love. Theater truly was her first love.
Shalin: She started early.
Zaslov: She studied with – what’s this famous teacher in LA? And she also studied in New York.
Shalin: She was quite serious about it.
Zaslov: She was very serious about it. She was very serious. She went away to school to study and perhaps Erving didn’t quite go as far away as she did at the same age.
Shalin: You mean geographically or socially?
Zaslov: Well, perhaps even geographically. She went to California and New York to study, she went to his place, but she did have a wonderful teacher, wonderful direction when she was young, in the middle 20s, I would say. There was something called the Dominion Drama Festival, which was a Canadian little theater competition. They weren’t really professional, they were community theaters, “little theater” as they called them. She won the award as the top actress. She did some fine work in the early part of her career. . . . During World War II she was “a girlfriend of the armed forces.” She had a radio talk show, and as a matter of fact, we kept letters from two oversees soldiers, one American and one Canadian. We have copies, it was in 1946 and 1947. When you get the DVDs that I sent you, some of that information might be there.
Shalin: I was trolling the Internet for the info on Fran and found plenty of photo materials but not much on her acting career.
Zaslov: You were cut out for a moment, Dmitri.
Shalin: Yes, I think somebody was trying to get through to me on my phone but I ignored it.
Zaslov: It’s OK you can answer.
Shalin: It’s all right. I think it is my daughter. She knows I may be busy today. I don’t want to risk it, for if I put you on hold, I may not be able to come back. Your DVDs should be here soon, and then I’ll mail them back to you, should I bring them to LA?
Zaslov: Why don’t you bring them. It would be easier.
Shalin: Somebody said, I think it was Fran, that Erving and Chuck were quite close.
Zaslov: I have no idea.
Shalin: When it became clear that Erving was dying of cancer, it was Chuck who came to visit him.
Zaslov: I don’t know that part of it at all. But it is interesting.
Shalin: Erving must have known him since teenage years.
Zaslov: Well, remember they lived in the same small town. They were almost neighbors, I suppose, and there were three years of difference between them. When you are a young kid skipping around the school grounds, I am sure there was some knowledge and some relationship there.
Shalin: In conclusion, I would like to hear your philosophical take on the Averbachs. Their roots can be traced back to, what, mid-19th century?
Zaslov: In 1970 Miriam would have been . . . it was probably a little before that. [I was probably referring to Milyeh, the mother. I can’t find her date of birth, which was around 1864, and her first child, Myer was born in 1884].
Shalin: Perhaps one generation before Fran’s parents’ time. And not much of anything is known about the Goffmans.
Zaslov: I have no information, nor have I seen any information on the Goffmans.
Shalin: As you look back for some 130 years, the Averbachs have been a strong, determined, and pretty successful bunch.
Zaslov: My feelings about the Averbachs after having been involved in the family reunion and finding out the background for some of them, that I wish I had known them better as a child, and as an adult too, because I virtually didn’t know, certainly the Averbach men. My grandmother and Anne I knew, one of the other sisters, Manya, I knew, but I didn’t know anything about the brothers. One of them, Meyer, was a short man (there were several little men in the entire family), and Golda Meir cradled one of his sons in her lap. She came to Winnipeg and they would always go to Meyer’s house and have tea and talk politics, philosophy – everything. So some of the members of the family, I think, were outstanding individuals. For whatever reason, I didn’t get to know them.
Shalin: What can you say, there are many interesting people to know, and sometimes it is only belatedly that you realize . . .
Zaslov: That’s right. I lived in Dauphin [laughing]. It was a far stretch, really.
Shalin: I understand there are plans for a reunion in Russia.
Zaslov: They are talking about it for 2013. The chairman of this group, Jordan Kerner, who might be at that party on Saturday (I think that’s why they are changing from Sunday to Saturday because he couldn’t make it on Sunday for sure); I think this was the year his mother was born. He very much wants to go to Russia in 2013, go back to the area where it had all started. I don’t know how many he is going to convince to go with him. I think it could be a very expensive proposition. He can probably put it together for himself but I don’t know if anybody else would be in a position to go with him. Some of them may find it interesting enough and have the funds to go, but I don’t think this is something I will necessarily join in on.
Shalin: Do you know anyone in Russia who is related to Averbacks?
Zaslov: I don’t. I am not sure whether Jordan has had any communications there. I am not sure what he wants to find or to do. I just don’t know if there would be anything in that particular town.
Shalin: Well, Marly it was wonderful. I am so glad you found time to share with me your knowledge and your theories. I find them fascinating. I have this feeling that you may find more affinities with your kinfolks when you look back into the past than when you deal with contemporaries. Certain bodies we have, the ideas we entertain – these can be passed on through some channels and replicate themselves for generations. I never met my biological father who disappeared from my mother’s life before I was born, but when I was a student at the Leningrad University, my mother showed something he had written. He was an artist, an actor starting some club for which he penned an announcement, and I was struck by the fact that I wrote something very similar for a “Philosophy Club” at the Leningrad University that I had pioneered for high schoolers interested in philosophy and debating. My language, ideas, cadences were unmistakably my father’s, even though I never met him, never saw his art work, and what not. It must have been transmitted somehow, right?
Zaslov: Of course, I never asked questions about you. Maybe the next time we talk.
Shalin: There is a wider-ranging project I am involved with, something called The International Biography Initiative, which collects interview with international scholars, mostly Russian at this point, and the materials gathered there have some biographical stuff about me. I prefer mutual interviewing, mutual explorations. The bio materials collected for the Goffman Archives have some of that too. People I talk to want to know what I am up to, what my background is, and I try to square off with these questions as best I can. We shall have a chance to talk about this.
Shalin: Thank you so much, Marly.
Zaslov: All right, what I am going to do is to email you Eli’s email address, his phone number, the name of Richard Apostle and “Toronto Star.” And then I will email him to expect a call or email from you. . . . One further question before you go, what did you decide on how to approach Tom [Goffman]?
Shalin: Several people along with you – Fran and Esther and Renee Fox – told me that I should write him and explain what I am doing, what my concerns are and let him decide whether he wants to see any of the materials about his father or get involved with this project. So far as I am concerned, I would be happy just to shake hands with him and pay homage to his father. That would be quite enough. I have two or three more interviews with very close friends of Erving to transcribe, one finished, one half-way finished, and one more waiting to be transcribed, and then I will write him, explain what I am doing, and tell him I will be in New York City later this month.
Zaslov: The first email that I have from you, with some of the interviews you sent me, I have sent it to him and to Alice.
Shalin: To Alice also?
Zaslov: I sent it to Alice. I just said, more or less, that here is something you might have an interest in and left it at that. She didn’t write me back, perhaps because she is not accessing her Princeton email. And then I sent it to Gillian.
Shalin: I imagine she might be ambivalent about this undertaking. I have read that some scholars approached her about her late husband and that she politely declined to entertain their questions.
Zaslov: I would think that Tom himself might be very interesting to study.
Shalin: He would be a fascinating person to talk to. Do you know anything about him, if you don’t mind me asking?
Zaslov: Nothing. I know absolutely nothing. I had never spoken to him. When Fran had her accident, I believe he had come a couple of times. We never crossed paths, but he once sent an email (it could have been to Jordan or someone else), saying, “Now that all the fuss is over, now that all the noise is over, what she really needs is to have people to continue to call her and perhaps drop by.”
Shalin: That’s a wise thing to say.
Zaslov: Yes, and he thought that could be put into an email and sent to all the Averbachs. I think at that point Jordan might have answered him and said, “Why don’t you form a letter and then it would be sent to everyone on the database.” Tom said that he would do that. Maybe I was taken off the database, but I never saw the letter that he sent to everybody saying, “Now is the time when Frances really needs your love and attention.” Wonder if that was ever done.
Shalin: Tom knows his father like no one else, he observed his quirky genius for years. Talking to him would be a dream-come-true for someone like me, but I realize how painful those memories might be, how difficult it could be for him even to read some of these interviews. He might not want to be bothered in any way. But as people tell me, this is not my decision to make.
Zaslov: No, it isn’t.
Shalin: I think I will let him know what is going on, and he will decide what he might want to do.
Zaslov: Aha, aha.
Shalin: It is possible he has problems of his own.
Zaslov: I think it is possible. It is hard to follow in the tracks [of his father].
Shalin: And so far as Alice, I would feel awkward even approaching her. If someone brought it to her attention, that would be fine. For me to do so, it just doesn’t feel right. As for Gillian, when I was starting, I sent her a note to let her know about this undertaking. I don’t think she responded.
Zaslov: I never spoke to her or met her.
Shalin: I may send her heads-up on what has been done to date and leave it at that.
Zaslov: I think that is all you can do. . . . There is a possibility that Tom will be at the party
Zaslov: I think so. He should come, he should come.
Shalin: Why not, given his advice to everybody.
Zaslov: That’s right.
Shalin: Somebody mentioned Alice might come as well.
Zaslov: I don’t know. Last I heard, she may face a long road to recovery.
Shalin: Esther mentioned that.
Zaslov: She might want to come but I don’t know how close she is to recovery.
Shalin: Poor soul. Well, that’s it. I feel I need to let Tom know what’s what, and then it is up to him.
Zaslov: You will persevere.
Shalin: No, I will just send Tom a note explaining my interest in his father, our shared Russian-Jewish roots, and that’s it.
Zaslov: OK, my dear, I look forward to meeting you personally.
Shalin: That would be marvelous, Marly.
Zaslov: And take care, have a good night.
Shalin: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
[End of the recording]
* The Erving Goffman Archives (EGA) is the web-based, open-source project that serves as a clearing house for those interested in the dramaturgical tradition in sociology and biographical methods of research. The EGA is located in the Intercyberlibrary of the UNLV Center of Democratic Culture, http://www.unlv.edu/centers/cdclv/archives/interactionism/index.html. Postings on the website are divided into several overlapping sections: “Documents and Papers,” “Goffman's Publications,” “Goffman in the News,” “Biographical Materials,” “Critical Assessments,” and “Comments and Dialogues.” For inquiries regarding the EGA projects, please contact Dr. Dmitri Shalin, email@example.com. When you cite the materials collected for the EGA, please use the following reference: Bios Sociologicus: The Erving Goffman Archives, ed. by Dmitri N. Shalin (UNLV: CDC Publications, 2009).