Robert Hayne Tarrant was originally born in South Carolina and came to New Orleans as a young man where he became a well-known impresario, bringing artists such as Anna Pavlova, Geraldine Farrar, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Isadora Duncan Dancers to the stage.
Tarrant was considered handsome and described as having a dramatic persona. He was also a stylish man, once being named the “Best Dressed Man In New Orleans” in a New Orleans Item contest.
He was a subject of fascination for Orleanians, with the local conversation surrounding him being divided between his colorful dress, the artists and performers that he brought to town, and the various lawsuits he was involved in.
The most famous of these lawsuits pertained to the handling of the proceeds for The French Trades Ball. The ball was a fundraising event conceived by Tarrant and seven prominent New Orleans socialites over lunch at Antoine’s for the rebuilding of the French Opera House previously lost to a suspicious fire in 1919. The successful and well-publicized event went sour when the socialites did not receive the monies raised from Tarrant.
The local newspapers covered the case frequently, often as front-page news. The reports often included courtroom high jinks surrounding Tarrant’s outfits (his cravats where of particular interest). The case of the “Seven Suing Socialites” v. Tarrant stretched on for years (with Tarrant counter-suing) and went all the way to the Louisiana State Supreme Court were Tarrant eventually lost the case.
Click HERE to read a full-page article with photos detailing a surprise raid by the New Orleans Police that befell Tarrant’s home on April Fool’s Day, 1923. The tone of the writing is sensationalistic, with the police chief citing Tarrant’s “dramatic temperament” as an indicator of the possibility of a hidden wall-safe!
A local interest in Tarrant continued until after his death at the age of 83 in 1965, including the contents of his will being written about in the local paper. He was a life-long bachelor and has no gravesite, having requested his remains be scattered on his sisters grave in Houston, Texas. He was a fascinating character in the history of the City of New Orleans and this collection gives researchers a glimpse into not only Tarrant’s work and life but also into a particular aspect of New Orleans’ entertainment landscape and social-life from 1912 to 1930.
To view the Robert Hayne Tarrant Papers and other special collections, please visit the Special Collections & Archives Monday-Friday from 9:00-4:30.
And for an extra little something, click HERE to hear the great soprano Rosa Ponselle sing Pace, pace mio Dio!