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MSS 302 - Don Lee Keith Collection of New Orleans Photographs

Historical/Biographical Note



            The Vieux Carré Courier began as a neighborhood newspaper for French Quarter residents in 1961 but soon gained a larger audience throughout the Greater New Orleans area with its investigative reporting.  The Courier served as a springboard for the journalistic careers of several writers, among them Bill Rushton whose stories on architecture and the environment generated local interest.  The Courier always experienced financial problems.  After one of its monetary crises, Philip Carter bought the newspaper in 1973, and during his tenure as publisher the Courier achieved its greatest journalistic successes.  It ceased publication in 1978.


            Don Lee Keith, a native of Wheeler, Miss., started work as a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1962, covering everything from politics to hurricanes to strippers.  "He once said that he found writing a whole lot easier than working.  It paid the bills," recalled Tony Franks, a friend since childhood.  "He said one time that a writer sees everything that everybody else sees, and more."


            Keith’s observations could sting.  In writing an interview with the former child star Margaret O'Brien, Mr. Keith said that getting her "to utter a good quote is like trying to extract the wisdom tooth of a water buffalo."  In a review of Kay Starr's performance at the Fairmont Hotel's Blue Room, Mr. Keith, in a reference to her best-known song, said, "Kay Starr's wheel of fortune has just about run out."


            His exploits became legendary.  To land a session with Capote, Keith wrote a long letter, Hardy said, but because he couldn't afford postage, he sent it as a telegram—collect.  "Truman Capote called back, pretending to be his secretary," Hardy said, "but Don Lee knew the whiny-cat voice and went along with it. They became good friends."


            Keith left the paper in 1974, the year in which he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.  He spent two years in the Washington, D.C., area, writing for such publications as The National Observer, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone before he returned to New Orleans in 1976 as associate editor of The Courier, an alternative weekly newspaper.  Before returning to freelance work several years later, he also was editor of New Orleans Magazine and a columnist for Figaro, another alternative weekly.


            A recipient of many journalism awards, Mr. Keith twice received the Alex Waller Memorial Award, which the Press Club gives to the outstanding print entry in each year's competition.  He also taught at the University of New Orleans and was adviser to The Driftwood, the student newspaper.  While serving in those capacities, on July 28, 2003, Keith was found dead in his home.  He was 62.


Source:  Quoted almost verbatim from John Pope, “Don Lee Keith, 62, Writer, Instructor,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 30, 2003.


            Processing note:  Headings used by Mr. Keith have been retained.  Photographs depicting persons and streets have been arranged alphabetically.  In other series, photographs are in the apparently random sequence in which they arrived.