Unless you've spent some time in Mobile, Alabama, or were a member of the literati during his years in New York, Paris and Rome, chances are you've never heard of raconteur Eugene Walter. Author Katherine Clark (Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story) came under his spell during the summer of 1991. Over four months she interviewed him three hours each day. The result is Milking the Moon: A Southerner's Story of Life on This Planet, a fascinating oral biography about a life lived large and impulsively.
So as not to detract from Walter's "voice," Clark has done little of what she calls "editorial meddling." Consequently, the book is chatty and conversational. Walter jumps around in his thoughts, sometimes taking shortcuts with people and places, and the staccato style takes some getting used to. For clarification, Clark offers a "cast of characters" at book's end. (Example: "A little blonde actress whose name I can never remember" turns out to be Debbie Reynolds.) Walter, who died in 1998 at age 76, was an award-winning writer of poetry, novels and short stories with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The Mobile native lived in Greenwich Village during the 1940s, Paris in the 1950s and Italy in the 1960s, at the height of its sizzling cinema scene. It was amid creative, colorful company that he was most fulfilled, and Walter avidly attended and hosted parties where the guests included a "Who's Who" of such luminaries as Tallulah Bankhead, Anais Nin, Alice B. Toklas and a young Marlon Brando. After moving to Rome, where he appeared in more than 100 movies, including several directed by Federico Fellini, Walter's apartment became known as "the nearest thing to a salon," according to author Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).
Along with delightful ruminations about the South including the significance of the front porch Walter's memoir includes sage advice about life in general, such as his impassioned belief that it should be lived exuberantly and without a plan. As his intriguing book details, this unforgettable figure followed his own advice.
Biographer and TV producer Pat H. Broeske is a Los Angeles native with a Southern heritage.