Southern Scribe
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Biography Review     

 

Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on This Planet
Eugene Walter as told to Katherine Clark
Crown Publishers, 2001
ISBN: 0-609-60594-1

 

 
 

 

If you never met Eugene Walter, welcome to the planet Earth where he made his unique life and filled every ounce of his space with joyous imaginative creations.

If you knew Eugene, you’ll rejoice at this fulfillment of his wildest dreams. 

Ms. Katherine Clark, the author who spent hours with him and listened to him and took down his over pouring of words, has done a masterful job of bringing this clown of happy sadness back to life. 

I’ll never forget the first time I met him. He clapped his fat hands together and crowed, “Oh, you dear, dear boy, come here to me!” I walked toward him and he grinned widely. “Oh, my goodness, you look as good as you write!” 

Afterward, we sat down to lunch, had a salad “without all that gooey dressing,” but the salad came after the main course, and then we sipped hot tea and discussed the topic of the day. 

In the beginning of this book, he says it as he always said it: “You may think you don’t know me, but you have probably seen me on late night television playing either an outlaw or a hanging judge. During those twenty-three years i lived in Rome, I must have been in over a hundred of those crazy Italian films. I’ve been a crooked cardinal, a lecherous priest, a female impersonator, just to name a few. I was Velvet Fingers in Lina Wertmuller’s Ballad of Belle Starr. If you’ve seen Fellini’s 8 1/2, I’m the tacky American journalist who keeps pestering Marcello Mastroianni with obnoxious questions. And if you haven’t seen 8 1/2, you need to: it’s one of the great films of this century.” 

Then he begins at the beginning, backtracking as he always did, telling about being born in Mobile, south of the salt line, seeing first of all one of his grandmother’s 23 cats, talking about the effect of being born a triple Sagittarius.       

His was a different world, and he wrote about that world in such books as “The Untidy Pilgrim,” which won the Lippincott Prize in 1954. During the days before his writing the novel he worked in a great old book store, The Haunted Book Store, on Government Street in downtown Mobile. It was a place where you could spend hours in the stacks, looking for something but not knowing exactly what, and that’s what he did.       

He went to New York in the 1940s and lived in Greenwich Village, backtracking, not knowing time, or forgetting time, or not caring. It was what he did.       

And he traveled to Paris and lived in the Latin Quarter, “old, elegant, run-down,” where Gertrude Stein and her friend Alice lived, where he wrote that he was not English or American. “I come from a country called the South,” he wrote. In Paris he met George Plimpton and a gang of writers, and they founded the Paris Review, which became one of the most interesting literary magazines ever. In “Milking the Moon” he details those days with great wonder before he once again wandered.       

His days and years in Rome were filled with charming people, delightful afternoons, days with novelist Muriel Spark, poet T.S. Elliot, composer Hans Werner Henze, and so many others it would take pages to list them all. He wrote his second novel, “Love You Good; See You Later,” his French novel, in Italy, and then came his movie career, and then back to Mobile, again, wanting “to tap dance into the next century.” He didn’t make it, but he tried. Ms. Clark describes his death at age 76 in the introduction of this wonderful meandering tale. When asked by a fireman who broke into his cottage after he dialed 911, having a stroke, what medications he was on, he replied, “Honey, peanut butter, British orange marmalade, and Jim Beam.” When asked if he could see Eugene’s driver’s license, Walter answered, “I don’t have a license. I don’t drive a car, I don’t wear blue jeans, and I don’t go to football games.”

       

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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