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Eugene Walter

Updated on August 13, 2013
Eugene Walter
Eugene Walter | Source

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.

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

Church Street Graveyard, Mobile, AL
Church Street Graveyard, Mobile, AL | Source

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.

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    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 4 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      Flossie- I am as well!

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      flossiehope 4 years ago

      All this discussion is getting me semi- fired up to start a hub. However, as with many native Mobilians, I am by nature somewhat lazy! Nice to meet you, RevChief.

    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 4 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      Oh my! I am honored, Chief Slacabamorinico! Would love to see what you might come up with on Hubpages! Demi

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      Rev Chief 4 years ago

      DemiMonide and fossiehope. I had the pleasure of knowing both of this "characters." And I am honored to be the 4th personification of Joe Cain's Slabamorinico for the Joe Cain Day pr0cession. Demi FYI song writer Milton Brown is working on a film doumentary of Julian Lee Rayford. Not sure where he is on it but I did some takes for inclusion some time back as the Chief. As to burials, that area around Cain, Rayford and Walter is becoming somewhat of a Carnival and artist corner. Since Eugene was interred big bandleader Bob Schultz has been laid to rest there. As Slacabamorinico I had the honor of patrticipating in his memorial service in the Cathedral and dancing out of the church with his family to the tune of When the Saints Go Marching In played by his band who was on the platform. And, in one of my other roles, as a pastor I had the greater honor of interring his ashes in the Old Church Street Graveyard as his band played and the Infant Mystics cats and other characters danced. Good luck with your search for your neighorhood fossiehope.

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      flossiehope 5 years ago

      thanks, Demi.

    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 5 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      Definitely do both if you can. If you google the Mobile Historic Development Commission, you will find their website. Devereaux Bemis- he is the Exec. Director. Anyone there will be glad to help you.

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      flossiehope 5 years ago

      Demi: is there anyone in particular at the MHDC that I should contact? Or should I just do hub pages?

    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 5 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      Flossiehope,

      This is so very interesting to me. Would love to read your hub on this. We need these stories before they are forgotten. The Mobile Historic Development Commission actually wants these stories but they haven't had much interest. Now the Press Register is trying to sell that brand new building. Although something good has come out of the Press Register building- they have very little walk through traffic now.

      I love DeTonti Square. I have several friends that live there and we renovated a derelict home on Jackson Street around 7 years ago. We wanted it to be a family home for resell; but, of course, some lawyers bought it for their office.

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      flossiehope 5 years ago

      I've given some thought to doing a piece on Julian; however, I never seem to have (or take) the time. I know the Joe Cain Day ritual must be a hoot to watch or take part in. I haven't been in Mobile for Mardi Gras in probably 50+ years. As a child, I watched the parades in front of the old Battle House on Royal St. I'd love to play one of the anonymous widows!!

      What I'd really like to write about is the old neighborhood. I love the restorations that have been done in what is now deTonti Square, but it was a shock the first time I saw that brick wall that divides "my block" from the rest of North Joachim St. My grandparents' home, where I spent a good part of my childhood, stood between Adams and Lipscomb Streets. The exact spot is now in the back parking lot of the Press-Register. I walked those streets a few years back with a dear next-door friend from my childhood and as we took each other's picture on the spot where our houses had nestled together on long thin lots so long ago, she said to me: "Hopie, you know we may be the only two people left on earth who care about the spot where we're standing." But we care, and it was a lovely and lively childhood.

    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 5 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      I would love to do something on Julian- who portrayed Joe Cain and got Joe Cain Day going again. What an amazing day that is. I was in it once- I remember people on Spring Hill Avenue being around 20 people deep at least. They had no hope of me reaching them with a throw, but the smiles on their faces! They were just happy to be at The People's Parade!

      But it sounds like you should do the article. ( : You would know so many things that I would be bound to get wrong.

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      flossiehope 5 years ago

      I know the story about Julian Rayford and Joe Cain. I was just wondering how Eugene Walter came to be buried basically in the same plot. Julian was my grandmother's first cousin, and we have pulled together a lot of background on him, much of which is in print. I saw the documentary last night, and that's what sent me to the Internet looking for answers, especially when there was no mention of Julian when Eugene's grave was shown. I would be shocked if Eugene and Julian didn't know each other, even though they were 13 years apart in age. Mobile was a small town in those days. Of course, both men lived away from Mobile for many years. Unlike Eugene, Julian had a very strong family, which included 4 brothers. Interestingly enough, his mother is buried in Magnolia Cemetery; and his father is buried in the Old Whistler Cemetery. At least a couple of the boys are near their mother in Magnolia. The family came to Mobile from Whistler, and Julian's dad worked for the M&O Railroad. I'd love to see you do a good article on Julian. I'd hate for him to be forgotten. And perhaps you could turn up some stories that have never been in print!

    • DemiMonde profile image
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      Demi 5 years ago from Mobile, Alabama

      I am not sure if they ever knew each other, but Church Street Graveyard is very old and small. Today, it only makes room for our famous and fun Mobilians. The connection between Julian Rayford and Joe Cain is that of the Joe Cain celebration of Mobile's Mardi Gras, which is the Sunday before Lundi Gras (Lundi means Monday) & Mardi Gras(Fat Tuesday). There was a great documentary on last night's Alabama Public Television about him.

    • flossiehope profile image

      flossiehope 5 years ago

      Do you know why Eugene Walter was buried alongside Julian Rayford and Joe Cain in the Church Street Graveyard? Was there an association between Walter and Rayford?