(Interviewed in 1998)
Gary Moody, a Minnesota native, was 22 years old and in the Navy when he first arrived in New Orleans in 1963. The ship docked at the Louisa Street Wharf where the sailors were released on liberty. They had a few days to enjoy themselves and take in the sights. Gary walked Bourbon Street, but was not too impressed. “There were weeds growing up in the cracks of the street. It didn’t look as nice as it does now. I was kind of disappointed back then. It wasn’t jumping like it is now,” Gary recalls. Gary and a fellow sailor found a bar down by the wharf where they could relax and have a beer. “As we drank our beer, they brought a whole plate full of boiled shrimp and, for free, we could sit there and eat them while we were having our beer. And I thought, I’ve never seen this before.” The boiled shrimp was nothing, compared to the eccentric young lady he would meet very soon.
The next night, Gary ventured out into the French Quarter looking for a little excitement. “I was young and free-spirited. I went out for a few beers, and then I ran into Ruthie.” Gary met Ruthie Moulon, then 30 years old, at a bar in the Marigny. She was wearing a white lace dress. Her hair was piled high on her head. “She was kinda pretty back then. Lots of hair. And she was kinda cute, kinda fun to be with. What I remember is giving her a kiss. I put my arm around her, and she didn’t slap my face or anything. And we went and had a beer together, and walked around a little bit, arm in arm. I walked her home that night. That was about it.” He did not know at the time that Ruthie was the famous Duck Girl of the Vieux Carre. Ruthie did not have her duck with her during their time together. After conversation with the French Quarter bartenders, Gary did sense that she was well-known and protected by them all.
Before leaving New Orleans, Gary exchanged addresses with Ruthie. Gary did not receive much mail in the Navy, and was glad to receive Ruthie’s letters. Although Ruthie could not read or write, she maintained her friendship with Gary with the help of French Quarter bartenders and shop owners who would read her his letters, and write back for Ruthie. This began a correspondence that has lasted even to this day. Ruthie often talked about Gary to anyone who would listen, referring to him as her boyfriend, and then later, her husband. She has been announcing her engagement to Gary for the past 35 years. Many bartenders, artists, waiters, and merchants through the years have heard of Gary Moody, but have never seen him. Some thought he was a figment of Ruthie’s imagination. Others who helped Ruthie with her correspondence with Gary, knew he existed, but were clueless about who he really was and the origins of their relationship.
Starting July 19th of ‘63, the date of Gary’s first letter to Ruthie, he wrote once a week while in the Navy. In the next year, the letters were down to twice a month. After Gary’s stint in the Navy, the letters became less frequent as Gary moved on with his life. Gary never stopped writing and always remembered to drop a card or letter off to Ruthie a few times a year, especially during holidays.
“Ruthie doesn’t know, but I got married in 1980.” Gary has never told Ruthie of his marriage because he didn’t want to disappoint her. He was also afraid she’d stop writing. “She thought all these years I would come down there and marry her.” If Gary let too much time pass without responding to Ruthie’s letters, his wife would remind him to write her. The Moodys had one son together, Nick.
Ruthie did not send photos of herself in later years. In the 1980s, Gary was surprised to see Ruthie on an Mardi Gras special on MTV. She looked quite different, but still recognizable. “I was somewhat shocked that she lost her teeth because they were pretty prominent in her early pictures and when I knew her…well, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised because almost all of us do lose our teeth."
In 1998, when contacted for the documentary, Ruthie the Duck Girl, Gary was going through divorce proceedings. Earlier, he had gone deer hunting and returned home a week later to find the house empty and his wife gone. “It was kind of a shock. I didn’t plan on living alone. That wasn’t my long-term plan…. but that’s the way it is.”
Gary Moody lives in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of Stillwater located on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Gary keeps an active lifestyle. He enjoys golf, motorcycle riding, fishing, boating, skiing, as well as deer, grouse, and duck hunting. He’s most proud of his son, Nick, age 17. “He’s just a great kid. He’s never given me one speck of trouble. My kid’s on the National Honor Society. He’s got one of the top scores in the nation on his SAT. He’s not really a nerd. He put brakes in his own car the day before yesterday. So, he can handle a wrench. He’s not scared to get dirty. He plays softball and sports. He’s a pretty good kid. He’s working now. He’s got a job in a pizza place. So I feel pretty lucky.”
Gary rarely leaves town, except maybe to visit his brother in Phoenix. But, in 1998, he returned to New Orleans to be reunited with Ruthie. “When I was coming down, I thought, ‘why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?’ I mean, why did I wait so long? It’s ridiculous… I do have more money now than I did then.” He has since been back twice, for the premiere of the documentary, and for Ruthie’s 66th birthday party. Gary’s enjoyed the red-carpet treatment New Orleans has given him. He has appeared on the local news, been photographed for the newspaper, and mentioned on the radio. As one observer put it during the reunion, “It’s the Bourbon Street Romance of the Century!”