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Other titles in the Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography series:
The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir (Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography)by Randy Fertel
Synopses & Reviews
The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth's Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise-buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo-he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!
These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected-lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street-and how it intersected with the denizens of "Back a' Town," just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.
The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city-before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.
"Rodney Fertel and Ruth Udstad married in 1947. Their fiery 11-year marriage would be characterized by plenty of spending, gambling, and epic battles, and would produce two sons and years of recriminations. The child of shady New Orleans pawnbrokers, Rodney inherited a fortune and his father's notion that 'stealing a Ã¢Â€Â˜duty,'' though Rodney would later become famous for his attempt to give back: when he ran for mayor in 1969, his only promise was to acquire a gorilla for the local zoo (he lost, but bought two gorillas anyway). Rodney and Ruth used their inheritance to live the good life, but after their divorce, Ruth was left with little. So she did what anyone would do: mortgaged her home and bought a steak house she'd discovered in the classifieds, initially offering an Ã la carte menu of just three steaks, four salads, and a few sides. Raised in the Delta in a tradition of great meat and good cooking, Ruth turned out to have business acumen as well, resulting in Ruth's Chris Steak House becoming the biggest fine-dining group in the world. While the book proposes to be a biography of his colorful parents and the famous restaurant, Fertel — who once sued the company and thus, his own mother — seems to use the space to air his grievances against his runaway father and emotionally distant matriarch. Still, like the sultry New Orleans streets in which the bulk of the story unfolds, this book is thick with drama and rich characters. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this psychologically gripping memoir, Blake Allmendinger returns to his childhood home after a forty-year absence. His homecoming to the struggling farming community of Rocky Ford, Colorado, formerly known as the Melon Capital of the World, forces the author to confront his own sad and disturbing history, one that parallels his hometownand#8217;s decline.
Allmendingerand#8217;s family was dominated by his emotionally and mentally unstable mother, who became depressed while living in Rocky Ford as a young woman. For the rest of her life she abused the members of her family, creating tensions that remained unresolved until the end of the authorand#8217;s visit, when his mother died suddenly, a family member committed suicide, and a secret diary was discovered.
The Melon Capital of the World is a remarkable blend of personal narrative, memoir, and Allmendingerand#8217;s interviews with people who knew his mother and her family. His story is a gritty but compassionate, and at times humorous, portrait of a family trying to survive in the rapidly disappearing rural American West.
The Big Easy family saga of an eccentric father, a workaholic mother, and the birth of the Ruth's Chris Steak House empire
About the Author
Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.
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