The Untidy Pilgrim
Eugene Walter arguably became Mobile, Alabama's favorite son by virtue of his bohemian and glamorous lifestyle, not his writing. Many literary scholars believe he is much under-appreciated and is on the verge of being rediscovered. The best way to learn about him is through the book, "Milking the Moon", where he entertains in this engaging memoir by Katherine Clark that was dictated before he died. He was best known for telling interesting stories, some of which may have happened and some that didn't. To me, although he is gone and laid to rest in the Church Street cemetary, he lives on in the interesting and funny people of Mobile.
The Two Books You Need
Cat and Monkey Spirit
Eugene was known as a Renaissance man due to his talent in many different areas of art, not just literature. Some awards that he won over the years were the Rockefeller-Sewanee Fellowship, an O. Henry citation, the Lippincott award for fiction, and the Prix Guilloux. He liked to say that people had cat or monkey spirits; if he didn't get along with you, you didn't have it. As a child, he knew Truman Capote. Shortly after World War II, he made his name in Greenwich Village. In the 1950s, he helped launch the Paris Review, along with George Plimpton and others. This was a heady time for ex-patriates in Paris.
He enjoyed having a party. He was quite adept at making a small amount go far, since he was usually out of money. One of his quotes was "When all else fails, throw a party!" During the 1960s, he lived in Rome, where he helped the director Federico Fellini with translations, as well as playing many bit parts as a character actor. He served as the editor for a literary magazine funded by the Princess de Bassiano in Italy. When they had a falling out, he returned to Mobile in 1979. Despite hosting such personalities for dinner like Judy Garland, Gore Vidal, and Anais Nin, he was the type to make lemonade from lemons. He seemed to enjoy his last years in Mobile as well as in the other locales.
When All Else Fails, Throw a Party!
Gravestone of Eugene Walter
Return to Mobile
He had celebrity status when he returned to Mobile, his hometown. Some of my favorite parts of his memoir were about his early memories of Mobile. He reminisces about porch sitting etiquette. Basically, it follows that if a resident is sitting on their porch facing the street, they are available for visits. If seemingly occupied with reading, they wish to be alone. Many problems would be solved if neighbors would follow these simple rules!
He has many incredible and unbelievable stories about Alabamian Tallulah Bankhead, the film actress. For instance, he had in his possession three pubic hairs from Tallulah. She had given them to him as an unusual gift. Somehow, over the years, he had traded all but one.
Besides his midtown home, he was often the guest at Termite Hall, a late 1800's mansion, set back off Dauphin Street under shady, large live oaks. Various writers, poets, and other creative types gathered at a salon of sorts presided over by the Trigg sisters and Eugene Walter. The Trigg's owned the Haunted Bookshop downtown. This group was somewhat of an incubator for great writing talent.
Sadly, he died in 1998 at the age of 77 years old. His home was on Grand Avenue in midtown Mobile. He never married and had no children. I have been told that he was a huge drinker. Please make sure you watch the short video if only to hear the melodic Southern accent particular to Mobile that is dying out. He liked to say that Mobile was "sweet lunacy's county seat", which it truly is.