Cover image for The last madam : a life in the New Orleans underworld
The last madam : a life in the New Orleans underworld
Wiltz, Chris.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Faber and Faber, 2000.
Physical Description:
244 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ146.N6 W55 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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"Sexy, shrewd Norma Wallace ran the last of the legendary houses of prostitution in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Two years before her death in 1974, she began to tape-record her memories - the salacious stories of a smart, glamorous, powerful woman whose scandalous life made front-page headlines, and whose husbands and lovers ran the gamut from movie stars to gangsters to the boy next door, thirty-nine years her junior, who became her fifth and final husband." "Christine Wiltz's The Last Madam is a chronicle of Norma's rise from a life of poverty to that of a wealthy grande dame - a New Orleans legend with powerful political connections who was given the keys to the city. She answered to no one, and surrendered only to an irrational, obsessive love, which ultimately led to her surprising and violent death. This is also the story of New Orleans over five decades, a story thick with the vice and corruption that flourished in the city's steamy Old World atmosphere."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Norma Wallace was the queen of the French Quarter madams, presiding over hugely lucrative, high-class bordellos favored by the New Orleans elite and visiting celebrities from 1920 through 1964. Wiltz, a New Orleans mystery writer and aficionado of the city's seamier side, based her vivid chronicle on Wallace's tape-recorded reminiscences, but she places the saga of Wallace's rise from abject poverty to wealth and power within an alluringly atmospheric history of the city's underworld. Shrewd and adaptable, Wallace always stayed ahead of the game, protected by her customers--gangsters, politicians, judges, and cops--and her loyal employees. Glamorous in her tailored suits and signature dark glasses, she married and divorced often, kept young men as lovers, and relished her celebrity status into her seventies, when she confronted old age with the same chutzpah with which she always faced adversity, and put an end to her now legendary life. Wiltz's anecdote-rich portrait of the invincible Wallace fulfills her compelling subject's dream of being remembered as sexy, tough, daring, and successful. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved