‘Doc Goldblum’ from August Wilson’s plays was real-life Hill District physician
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Theater history'Doc Goldblum' is mentioned seven times in four plays

‘Doc Goldblum’ from August Wilson’s plays was real-life Hill District physician

“I think my father would be humbled and honored that August memorialized him in this way. That was the kind of person he was.” — Orin Goldblum

Albert Goldblum (second from left)  training at the University of Michigan, circa 1960-1962 (Photo courtesy of Orin Goldblum)
Albert Goldblum (second from left) training at the University of Michigan, circa 1960-1962 (Photo courtesy of Orin Goldblum)

This story was updated on June 13 to remove a statement from Professor Larry Glasco that described incorrect circumstances regarding Edwin Kittel’s encounter with Doc Goldblum.
Kittel has since contacted the Chronicle and said that while he did see Doc Goldblum, it was not under the circumstances described by Glasco. Instead, Kittel said that he swallowed a chicken bone and was taken by his mother to the house of Julie Burley, who lived next to the Goldblum home. Burley’s mother ran her fingers down his throat and extracted the bone. Kittel was then taken to see Doc Goldblum, who gave him a piece of bread to eat and charged his mother $5 for the visit.

“Dr. Goldblum don’t charge but two dollars. You can get some real medicine.”
~Louise, “Seven Guitars”

Most Pittsburghers know August Wilson — and those Pittsburghers who have seen more than one Wilson play are likely familiar with the character of “Doc Goldblum,” who is mentioned seven times in four plays (“Jitney,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “Fences” and “Seven Guitars”).

But who was Doc Goldblum? Was he a constructed character, representative of the many voices and personas that echoed through the Hill and dwelled in Wilson’s memory? Or was he actually based on a real person?

Suffice it to say that when Doc Goldblum’s son, Orin, reached out to me in 2021, the answer was made resoundingly clear. The character of “Doc Goldblum” is definitely based on a real person, one Albert Goldblum, who was born on May 3, 1907, in Pittsburgh, lived until Sept. 26, 1968, and was buried in Beth Shalom Cemetery in Ross Township.

According to Orin Goldblum, Albert’s father, Philip Goldblum, was born in 1885 in Minsk, Russia, (today Belarus) and died in 1959, in Pittsburgh at 73. Albert’s mother, Anna Chinich (“Shivitz” as noted on Albert’s birth certificate), was also born in Russia (in 1887) and emigrated to the United States somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Philip and Anna Goldblum lived most of their lives at 1710 Bedford Ave. in the Hill District.

Albert Goldblum (left), Albert’s father Philip (center), and Anna (right), in Squirrel Hill, August 1958. Orin’ Goldblum’s family lived in Squirrel Hill at the time and his grandparents would come to visit from the Hill District. (Photo courtesy of Orin Goldblum)
“Philip was a tailor,” Orin Goldblum said, “but I’ve been told that he owned a uniform store in the Hill.” Their son, Albert “Doc” Goldblum, was born in the U.S. in 1907, so Orin Goldblum estimates that his grandparents came to the States sometime between 1885 and 1907.

“I suspect my grandfather [Philip] was young, probably in his teens. Could have been a bit older,” Orin Goldblum said, “but not much.” Albert Goldblum eventually married Aureen Litt (born in 1927), who was from New York City but moved to Pittsburgh with her parents, whose ancestors were also from western Russia. The couple had two children: Lee Jay and Orin, both born in Pittsburgh — Lee in 1954 and Orin a year later.

1710 Bedford Avenue, where the Goldblums lived. To the right of the main door was Albert’s one-room office. (Photo courtesy of Orin Goldblum)
Albert Goldblum graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School in 1930, did a one-year internship, and then became a general practitioner at 1710 Bedford Ave. where he practiced for about 20 years (1932-1952) before moving the family to Squirrel Hill and eventually returning to post-graduate training to complete a dermatology residency.

August Wilson was born in 1945 and grew up at 1727 Bedford, with his mother, Daisy Wilson and his siblings Freda Ellis, Linda Jean Denoya, Donna Conley, Frederick August Kittel, Barbara Jean Wilson, Edwin Kittel and Richard Kittel.

Albert Goldblum was the oldest of seven children.

“It was right after the Depression,” Orin Goldblum said. “He lived through that tough time and there wasn’t a lot of money. He went to medical school so that he could pay tuition for his younger brothers to go to med school.” In addition to Albert Goldblum, the siblings were: Bess, Jacob, Emma, Abraham, Raymond and Ruth. None are alive today.

After Albert Goldblum moved the family to Squirrel Hill in the early 1950s, he went back to school to specialize in dermatology and did a residency at the University of Michigan. After that, he came back to Pittsburgh, lived in Squirrel Hill, and practiced in Oakland until his death in 1968.

Home in Squirrel Hill. Orin in the middle and brother Lee Jay on the right. Albert on left, circa 1956 (Photo courtesy of Orin Goldblum)

“Initially, Dad wanted to enter the field of dermatology,” Orin Goldblum said, “but because of family finances — him being the oldest of seven children and virtually their only support — he was forced to enter general practice. He managed to put his three younger brothers through medical school, internship and residency training and also supported his sister, Ruth, through pre-med school.”

Orin Goldblum also became a dermatologist. His son, Alex Goldblum, is named after his father. At the time of this writing, Orin Goldblum is semi-retired.

According to an article in The University Hospital Star, May 1963, “Dr. Albert Goldblum, who decided to specialize in dermatology after being a general practitioner for 29 years, will finish three years of residency in July at the age of 56.” At the time the article was written, the average age of a resident was 29, so that put “Doc” in a unique position. “It’s tough going back after being your own boss,” Albert Goldblum said. “I’ve found I’ve had to work like the devil to keep up.”

Dr. E. Richard Harrell, Jr., professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical Center, said, “We never had a resident who works as hard and does as well as Goldblum. It’s living proof that a determined man can do excellent work in medicine at any age.” Albert Goldblum’s advice to medical students: “Go right on from medical school into specialization — things change too fast when you wait.”

The plays
The real-life biographical descriptions of Albert Goldblum — generous, amicable and a fixture in the community — match the way he is treated by Wilson in the four plays in which he is mentioned. Albert Goldblum once said, “I couldn’t save a nickel for 10 years even though I had a busy practice,” which speaks to his selflessness and dedication to the people around him (“U. Hospital’s Oldest Student Fulfills Dream”).

“Jitney”
In “Jitney,” the single mention of “Doc Goldblum” serves to simply connect him to other people on the Hill. Youngblood reports that Cigar Annie is standing on Robert Street “cussing out everybody.” This includes the mayor, Doc Goldblum, Mr. Eli, her landlord, the light man, the gas man, the telephone man, and “anybody else she can think of.”

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”

The three references to Albert Goldblum in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” depict him as a dependable employer in the neighborhood. The first reference occurs when Bertha says that Martha is staying in an apartment “sewing and cleaning” for Doc Goldblum. The second reference is when Mattie says, “I got to go on up to Doc Goldblum’s and finish this ironing.” The third reference is Mattie emphasizing again that she’s got to go because Doc Goldblum’s “gonna be waiting.”

“Fences”
Albert Goldblum is mentioned once in “Fences” and is depicted as a reputable physician who offers his services at a reasonable price. The dramatic situation involves a character named Magee who, according to Troy, attempts to pull his own tooth with a pair of “rusty pliers.” When Bono suggests that “colored folks” back then did not have access to dentists, Troy says that you either “get clean pliers” or “walk over to Doc Goldblum’s.”

“Seven Guitars”
The two mentions in “Seven Guitars” come during the same conversation when Louise tells Hedley to go across the street and see Doc Goldblum who only charges $2. “You can get some real medicine,” she says. Canewell later indicates that his own medicinal practice is on par with Albert Goldblum’s when he tells Louise that his plant-based medicine is real. “Where do you think Doc Goldblum get his medicine from?” he asks.

Direct contact

“I believe my father knew August, but am not sure,” Orin Goldblum said. “I have been told that my father and his family knew the Wilson-Kittel family, but that is secondhand knowledge. He also may have treated one or more of the Wilson-Kittel family members. I wish I would have had the chance to talk to August before he died to ask him what the relationship was between him and my father, but I never got the chance.”

August Wilson and his family left the Hill District for Hazelwood when August was about 13.

Orin Goldblum says he is uncertain whether August himself visited Albert Goldblum in person or whether “Doc Goldblum” was known to other members of the Kittel family and was then drawn upon by August in his writings.

Orin Goldblum initially reached out to me with the hope of providing detailed information related to the legacy of both August Wilson and Albert Goldblum.

“I searched the internet and found a number of places where my father’s name is mentioned alongside August’s,” he said. “There are a few articles, such as a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette piece that mentions my father as a local doctor, but not much more than that.”

It is difficult to draw a direct connection between August Wilson and Albert Goldblum — if indeed one existed — due to medical privacy.

When I asked Orin Goldblum what kind of man his father was, he said, “I loved my father. He was a great guy. A very nice person. Never yelled at us. My brother and I were only 14 months apart. We both highly admired my father and were really devastated when he died. It’s a void that we will never fill.”

“My mother was able to raise both of us,” he continued. “We were both good students and wanted to become doctors. We had purpose in our lives. To this day, I miss him.

“I think my father would be humbled and honored that August memorialized him in this way. That was the kind of person he was.” PJC

Michael Downing is a professor of English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and the editorial advisor for the August Wilson Journal.

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