Monkeys

Mobile has MoonPies but sadly, we have no monkeys. At least not indigenous ones. Nonetheless, the city is located along the Gulf Coast, also known as the Kingdom of Monkeys.

“Down in Mobile, they’re all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.”

– Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim (1953)

This was high praise coming from Eugene. Monkeys were his favorite animals. Well, except for cats.

This blog is in part a tribute to Eugene, who represents all that which makes Mobile the incredibly quirky, enchanting place it is. If you don’t know Eugene, you need to get to know him. If you love Mobile, you need to get to know him. If you don’t love Mobile but would like to, you need to get to know him.

The best way is to get to know Eugene is to read Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet by Katherine Clark, available from Bienville Books. Another good way is to read some of his writing (his best known work was the award-winning novel, The Untidy Pilgrim). But honestly, he was much more than just a writer, and his life was his greatest work of art. Eugene lived large. Or as his close friend Isak Dinesen put it, he ate of “the ripened heart of life.”

Eugene Walter was born, raised and died in Mobile, which he described as “a separate kingdom. We are not North America; we are North Haiti.” In the 1940s, he moved to New York City and happened on the Greenwich Village art scene. In the 50s, he moved to Paris, where he was an integral part of the expat cafe society. He was one of the contributing founders to the Paris Review. In the 60s, he moved to Rome where he became friends with Federico Fellini. He acted in numerous films including 8 1/2. Throughout it all, he traveled with a shoebox of Alabama red clay, until returning to Mobile in the 1970s.

In addition to author, editor, actor and raconteur, Eugene was also a poet, songwriter, translator, cryptographer, puppeteer, costume designer, gourmet chef, editor of a best-selling cookbook and much more. When he died in 1998, he was given a New Orleans-style funeral parade, complete with jazz band, through the streets of Mobile. The Mobile Parks Department made a special exception so he could be buried in the Church Street Graveyard, which has been closed since the 1890s.

To learn more about Eugene and why he kept one of Tallulah Bankhead’s pubic hairs in a Chinese porcelain box, read Milking the Moon. Then check out the following:

  • This recent article from Paste Magazine.
  • Moments with Eugene: A Collection of Memories, editted by Rebecca Barrett and Carolyn Haines
  • The documentary Eugene Walter: Last of the Bohemians, available from the Mobile library.

Bienville Books and the Mobile Library also have many of Eugene’s other works, everything from Jennie the Watercress Girl : a fable for Mobilians and a few choice others to Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall: rare and unusual recipes and, of course, Monkey Poems.

The small print: Monkey illustration by Eugene Walter. Used by permission of the estate of Eugene Walter.

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One Response

  1. Mr. Egan:

    I am happy to see you have discovered Eugene Walter. I am the legal holder of Mr. Walter’s copyrighted work and prefer to give permission to use his work before it is used rather than after. Since you have copyrighted your site you can appreciate an author’s need to protect his copyright.

    You can request permission to use the monkey sketch via email or you can write me at POB 33794, Washington, DC 20033. I have no objection to your using it freely unless there is a monetary profit from its use.

    I want Eugene to be remembered and his legacy continued. Sites such as yours help to do that.

    Regards,

    Don Goodman

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