I had never heard of Eugene Walter, but Becky recommended that I read his memoir, Milking the Moon, and I added it to my list and now here we are. It turns out that Eugene Walter was an absolutely fascinating person, and his memoir, "as told to" Katherine Clark, reads as if you are having a conversation with one of the most fabulous and entertaining people ever.
Who was Eugene Walter? As far as the arts are concerned, he seemed to have done a little of everything: he wrote poetry and fiction, did theater set design, was an actor, and designer, literary journal editor, a fantastic cook and supreme party-thrower. He was born in Mobile, Alabama in the 1920s, and his descriptions of that city make me want to get on a plane and visit, immediately. He refers to the gulf coast south as "North Haiti." After a stint as a code breaker during WW II (he was stationed in Alaska) he got a job in a bookstore in Manhattan, developed quite a knack for meeting the right people, and his literary career inched forward from there. (He also may have invented performance art after an elaborate tableau he and his friends put on in the cafe at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which enraged the staff but was talked about for decades.)
Walter never really warmed to New York and impulsively moved to Paris in the early fifties, around the time he turned thirty. Once again, he seems to have fallen bass-ackwards into friendships with rising stars of the literary and arts world. He helped found The Paris Review and after several years in Paris, moved to Rome to edit Bottegh Oscure, a literary magazine run by Princess di Bassiano Caetani--and it is just like Eugene Walter to work for a princess. It was in Rome where his film career began. He acted in two of Fellini's films, and many other films besides, and wrote the song "What is a Youth" for Franco Zeffrelli's Romeo and Juliet. I was stunned to learn that because it's one of my favorite songs from a film. (If you have never seen Zeffrelli's Romeo and Juliet, you must call in sick to work and watch it right now.)
Eugene Walter is hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun to have been his friend or attend his parties, which seem to have been legendary. Milking the Moon reads like a conversation and Walter is really good at depicting scenes and images. I particularly liked the chapters set in Rome, especially when he described his first apartment there, in Trastevere (of course he lived in Trastevere). This apartment was located at the top of an endless staircase--the same staircase located around the corner from our apartment in Rome which we climed the day we went looking for views from the top of Janiculum. It was kind of thrilling to relive Rome through Eugene Walter's eyes. Milking the Moon is truly amusing from start to finish.