Images of the Month
July 1997

Part II - The Twentieth Century

Frances Parkinson Keyes (1885-1970) was a best-selling author in the 1940s and 1950s and is perhaps best remembered today for Dinner At Antoine's (1948) and The River Road (1945). During her lifetime, she reigned as queen of the New Orleans literary scene.

(Right) Royalty hosts royalty. This invitation gives us an idea of Mrs. Keyes' fame and position in New Orleans. It invites the bearer (in formal attire, please!) to a mint julep party for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who visited the city during Mardi Gras, 1950.

Among the true oddities of the Louisiana Division Special Collections are several dozen foreign language editions of Mrs. Keyes' novels (in languages from Portuguese to Japanese), donated to the library by the estate of Times-Picayune columnist Herman B. Deutsch. Shown here is Noodlot in New Orleans, the Dutch edition of Dinner at Antoine's (which, interestingly, makes Antoine's look a little like a riverfront dive). The volume was a Christmas gift from Mrs. Keyes to Mr. Deutsch; she included this little jingle in the inscription:
Perhaps I don't amount to much
I can't aspire to beat the Dutch--
and now it seems the Dutch don't care!
Or else perhaps they're not aware
That I am not their mental equal--
At all events, they want a sequel!

Frances Parkinson Keyes
Herman B. Deutsch
--Christmas, 1951

Lyle Saxon (1891-1946) was another lion of the post-1950 literary scene, known in his day as "Mr. New Orleans" and seen as the worthy successor to Gayarre and King. Saxon lived the life of the southern gentleman, championed the romance and tradition of old New Orleans and wrote history and biography as well as fiction. As director of the Louisiana Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration, Saxon contributed to and compiled Gumbo Ya-Ya, a collection of Louisiana folktales, and valuable and enduring guides to New Orleans and to the state. Other Saxon titles include Father Mississippi (1927), Fabulous New Orleans (1928), Old Louisiana (1929), Lafitte the Pirate (1930), and the novel Children of Strangers (1937). Shown at right is Saxon's inscription to Robert Tallant of Children of Strangers, based loosely upon the history of Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches Parish. Tallant collaborated with Saxon and other Federal Writers' Project researchers on Gumbo Ya-Ya

Robert Tallant (1909-1957) was a member of the circle that revolved around Lyle Saxon in the 1930s and 1940s and worked an editor in the Louisiana Federal Writers' Project. In the 1950s, he wrote a number of non-fiction works, notably Voodoo in New Orleans (1946) and The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans (1951), and eight novels, among them The Voodoo Queen (1956) and the comic "Mrs. Candy" series. Tallant did not achieve the national reputation enjoyed by Keyes, but locally he stood at the center of New Orleans' literary activity.

The Robert Tallant Collection is among the largest of the Louisiana Division's private manuscript collections and includes letters, photographs, typescripts of his novels, short stories, articles, and non-fiction works, scrapbooks of reviews and other material related to his works, radio scripts, plot outlines, research materials, sketches, prints, and clippings. Below are several items from the collection. At left is a photograph of (from left) Tallant, unidentified, Betty and Hodding Carter II, and Tess Crager, the proprietor of The Little Basement Bookstore, taken at a book signing for one of Tallant's publications. Similar photographs can be found in the Tallant scrapbooks. At right is a jacket design for Voodoo in New Orleans.

Two additional items from the Tallant Collection. (Left) A letter from Tallant to Margaret Ruckert, who was the first archivist of the New Orleans Public Library and later the first head of the Louisiana Division, thanking her for a glowing review of his novel Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night (1947). (Right) A page from a small notebook kept by Tallant containing character sketches and plot outlines for Mrs. Candy.

Gwen Bristow (1903-1980) was the author of a number of best-selling historical novels published from the 1930s-1950s, among them Jubilee Trail (1950), Deep Summer (1943), and Plantation Trilogy (1937). Born in South Carolina, she moved to New Orleans as young woman and worked as a reporter for the Times-Picayune. In the mid-1930s, she moved with her husband, a screenwriter, to Hollywood and began to write the novels that gained her national fame. She returned often to New Orleans, where she died in 1980. At far right is an inscribed copy of The Handsome Road (1938).

Lillian Hellman (1907-1984) is perhaps the best known of the writers shown in this gallery. A native New Orleanian, Hellman lived in the Crescent City until the age of six, when her family moved to New York City, but returned often for long visits during the next ten years. In the 1930s and 1940s, she wrote a number of successful and critically acclaimed plays, The Children's Hour (1934), Another Part of the Forest (1946), Watch On the Rhine (1941), and The Little Foxes (1939), which is set in Louisiana. In the 1970s, her career was revived with the publication of her memoirs, An Unfinished Woman (1970) and Pentimento (1973).

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