Alabama-born Eugene Walter was a true child of the South, with a love of mint juleps, porch swings, parties and the like, says Tommy Wier, UAB instructor in TV production. “But, he wasn’t like most Southern men who grew up hunting or fishing.”
Instead, Walter had a fancy for puppetry, painting and performing. The larger-than-life eccentric left the South and traveled across Europe drinking liberally from life’s cup—partying with the likes of William Faulkner and Truman Capote, acting in films, penning books, whipping out raved-about Southern dishes. He also had a couple of alter egos—Dr. S. Willoughby and Professor James B. Willoughby—and relished being a little nuts, saying that “folks who live below Alabama’s salt line are a little crazy.”
The tale of the little-known Renaissance man will be told on Alabama Public Television Sunday at 7 p.m. and again on Monday at 9 p.m. Wier co-produced “Eugene Walter: Last of the Bohemians” with New York-based director/producer Robert Clem.
The film looks at Walter’s life through the eyes of his former friends and patrons, along with Walter himself through archival interview footage. Wier says viewers will learn from Walter to “enjoy life and follow your dreams.”
Walter, a Mobile native, helped found the Paris Review with George Plimpton, acted in Italian films, wrote award-winning novels, became an authority on Southern cuisine and published popular cookbooks. He returned to his hometown in the late 1970s without a dime to his name, however, and was met by people who were skeptical about his escapades abroad. Eventually, though, Walter made his mark in Lower Alabama, building a huge following among his hometown folk before dying of liver cancer in 1998.
Wier's film has already received some acclaim. In 2009, it won the Clyde “Sappo” Black Sweet Home Alabama Award at the George Lindsey Film Festival.
Walter would be proud, Wier says.
He’d probably say, “That’s great. Now let’s go have a couple of martinis.”
About the blogger: Marie Sutton, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a media specialist in the UAB Office of Media Relations. Her beat includes humanities, social sciences, the School of Education and student life.