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The Last Madam: A Life In The New Orleans Underworld Paperback – January, 2001
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Actually, they called themselves "landladies" in New Orleans, though that didn't change the nature of their business: running houses of prostitution in the city's wide-open French Quarter. Beginning in 1920, when she was still in her teens, Norma Wallace managed a high-class bordello for an affluent and influential clientele, evading the police and asserting her sexual freedom "like a man" despite the nominal confines of several rickety marriages. Obsessive love for a man 39 years her junior and her first-ever jail term finally put Wallace out of the business in the mid-1960s, but her memories were still vivid and raunchy when she tape-recorded material for an autobiography in the two years before her suicide in 1974. Novelist Christine Wiltz makes good use of those recordings in an earthy narrative filled with great anecdotes, from how the name of Wallace's dog became local slang for an out-of-town customer to the time an undertaker's premises served as her temporary place of business. Wiltz also interviewed many of Wallace's lovers and associates; she draws on popular journalism and scholarly monographs with equal acuity to flesh out Norma's story. Her perceptive biography of a colorful and complex woman is equally satisfying as a social history of 20th-century New Orleans. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Mystery and nonfiction writer Wiltz (Glass House, etc.) offers an affecting portrayal of the woman who for 40 years ran the last successful high-class brothel in New Orleans, and of her vanished demimonde. Born into poverty in 1901, Norma Wallace became a streetwalker in her teens, but by the early 1920s had decided that a more comfortable, profitable living lay in being a "landlady"--running a discreet, lavish, politically protected house of prostitution. Shrewd and ambitious--and a strict madam--she quickly became an underworld force within the wide-open New Orleans of the 1920s-1940s, enjoying numerous romances along the way with a Capone-linked gangster, then-blind champion bantamweight Pete Herman and entertainer Phil Harris, among others. Norma's first serious arrest came only in 1962, and it sped her retirement a few years later. Wiltz, who makes excellent use of Norma's tape-recorded, unpublished memoirs (Norma died in 1974), understands that this tale is necessarily one of corruption and acquiescence in mid-century urban America: Norma could not have prospered without the ritualized, baroque corruption of local law enforcement as well as the town's leading economic lights and political figures, who often checked their pious selves at Norma's door. Wiltz thus elevates a sometimes impeccably assembled historical narrative above its elementary bawdy elements into something more elegant and fragile: the resurrection of a secret world, like those uncovered by Luc Sante and James Ellroy. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Still, it's an easy book to read as who doesn't appreciate the savvy madam with the heart of gold? She crops up again and again in literature and history--Belle Watling from "Gone with the Wind" and later, Xaviera Hollander and Heidi Fleiss. They all have colorful lives. This account depicts the color, somehow, as if you were watching it on an old black-and-white TV set.
This book is very well written and its obvious that Ms. Wiltz did a lot of research, the characters seemed to come back to life on the page. I especially liked the information about Jim Garrison after watching the movie "JFK" I wasn't aware of some of the aspects of his life. This book had me captivated and I'm ready to read more about the old New Orleans!
i thought that this would be salacious. it was mundane. maybe it is the author's depiction of her. half way through gave to my 19 yr old nephew who was reading over my shoulder. he read for 30 minutes and left on my coffee table for my mother in law i guess....
The descriptions of the French Quarter during the 1st half of the 20th century are great reading for lovers of New Orleans. I'll be sure to walk down Conti St. on my next visit and see if I can find some of the places described in this book.