Pimp, hustler, mobster and all-around nice guy (to hear him tell it) Frenchy Brouillet jumpstarts the imagination for a glorious joy-ride through a New Orleans that once was, in Mr. New Orleans: The Life of a Big Easy Underworld Legend. Frenchy is aided in this endeavor by Matthew Randazzo V who felt no compunction to edit Mr. Brouillette’s colorful commentary. Although Mr. New Orleans serves up one crime after another, the book makes us nostalgic for a French Quarter we never experienced. While skanks abound, somehow Frenchy convinces us he wasn’t as skanky as the rest of them. He is, however, clearly impressed with his own looks and physique, circa 1953 through 1975. His overwhelming ego is tempered by his acknowledged intellectual, emotional, and social deficits.
Readers can expect a full course of vivid profanity accompanying this aromatic gumbo detailing one man’s life with the New Orleans mob. The story is peppered with tales of political corruption that are well known and can be easily verified. Two of the most interesting characters are Huey Long and Frenchy’s first cousin, Edwin Edwards. Since the antics of both these characters are known nationally, reports of their exploits lend credence to Mr. New Orleans.
Although he was raised in Marksville, Louisiana, by what he describes as a loving, Christian family, don’t expect genteel southern manners; Brouillette addresses the reader as “baby,” labels us “nosy,” and treats us to an expletive-filled narrative which he tells us we’re lucky to read. He starts with his childhood and works his way through his first encounters in the French Quarter in 1953 all the way up to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. On the way we visit the Kennedy’s, Liberace, Dean Martin, Carlos Marcella, Jim Garrison, and a coterie of memorable mobsters and corrupt politicians. Throughout this implausible tale, we are kept entertained by the easy narrative of a man who went from guilt-ridden, shy, Catholic boy to career criminal extraordinaire.
The only thing better would be to hear Frenchy tell these stories himself; however with his admitted thick Cajun accent, it would be incomprehensible. The loss is the reader’s, for most will miss the music in the names of Louisianan people and places (they cannot be pronounced phonetically) and the enchantment of Cajun storytelling.
Since corruption in the New Orleans police department and government are well documented elsewhere, one might only suspect Frenchy of occasional exaggeration. But when he tells his version of the who’s and what’s of JFK’s assassination, one is dumbstruck. His slant on this controversy would be considered incredible if we weren’t aware of so many other secret (and screwy) operations of which our government is capable, and the importance of both respect and agreements in mob circles.
In addition to Frenchy Brouillette’s reminiscences, Matthew Randazzo V interviewed a number of those who knew Frenchy’s Quarter for back-up and corroborating material. The authors admit that some of the memories may be embellished or tainted; it’s up to the reader to discern the truth. Be daring, pretend it’s all true and roll with it. Clearly there are some pretty big gaps in the story, but maybe Frenchy will give us those juicy details some other day. Be warned, few women are discussed with any degree of respect, and racial epithets are repeated here; both fit with the historical context and sense of place.
I moved to Baton Rouge from New Jersey 10 years ago. One of my first surprises was that, unlike New Jersey, the locals were not embarrassed by the firmly entrenched political corruption. Many Louisianans are proud of, or at least amused by, a history of politics in a state where it’s not the nomination but the indictment that gets one elected. Being amused was no longer possible after the New Orleans levees broke in 2005, which is what caused the flooding — not Katrina, as is popularly believed. Everyone knew the levees were eventually going to give (money that was supposed to go into their maintenance somehow ended up in casino coffers). It was just a question of when. Katrina merely dealt the death blow to the levees. If you doubt this, compare the type of damage that the Gulf Coast of Mississippi suffered from Katrina’s direct hit to the type of damage New Orleans suffered. Following the hurricane, every day in Louisiana was more humiliating, as stories emerged of cops stealing showroom cars, people turned away from safe havens before the storm hit, the pure hell that the city became, and the circus that the influx of federal dollars brought. Throughout it all were those threads of political corruption. When Mr. New Orleans describes the corruption that was rife when he roamed those historic streets, I can’t doubt him.
Many things have changed in the French Quarter between 1953 when Frenchy first arrived and 2005 when I last visited, but the flavor (and smell) remained true. Mr. New Orleans recreates it all for us in a way that makes us want to believe. And, like the “Vidalia’s” in this story, you’ll want to experience it yourself.
Bottom Line: Would I buy it? Hell, yeah! It may not be the most poetic or even respectably proof-written book, but it sure is fun, baby.