Nell Nolan, who has spent more than three decades chronicling the city’s Mardi Gras royalty, debutantes and charity balls for The Times-Picayune, is bringing her coverage of the New Orleans social scene to the city’s daily newspaper, The Advocate.
“I am very excited to be working with a staff of colleagues whom I have read and respected for years, very excited about the new local owner and very excited about the fact that we have a daily, home-delivered newspaper,” Nolan said. “I’m thrilled to be able to deliver social and society news to a readership whom I love and have worked with for 34 years.”
Nolan’s arrival marks the latest in a string of hires at The Advocate aimed at bolstering New Orleans coverage since local businessman John Georges purchased the newspaper in May.
At The Times-Picayune, Nolan illuminated the New Orleans social scene with a meticulous attention to detail and penchant for the alliterative turn of phrase. She held up the city’s newly minted debutantes and worthy charitable causes alike, along the way cementing a reputation as a New Orleans institution.
Nolan began her column in 1979 at The Times-Picayune’s sister paper, The States-Item, before the two merged. “I was given a notebook and a typewriter and told, ‘Go to it,’ ” she remembered.
Though she had a job teaching French and English at the Academy of The Sacred Heart, she dove into her new assignment.
Her first celebrity interview was with Muhammad Ali. She recalled seeing him in a taxi, hopping in and announcing, “I’m a new reporter with the newspaper here and I would love to get a quote from you.”
Over time, she changed the way social news was covered. Among the innovations: Taking photographs at the events and adding coverage of groups that had been ignored by the newspaper.
Over the next three decades, she wrote thousands of columns and rubbed elbows with many prominent figures, including presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and celebrities Anne Hathaway, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.
She also spent time with actor Brad Pitt after he filmed “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in her family’s home.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., Nolan has spent almost her entire life in New Orleans, except for a few years studying literature in Paris at the Sorbonne. She earned graduate degrees in French and Italian from Tulane.
Her father, the late architect Ulisse M. Nolan, was King of Carnival in 1977. And her sister, Elizabeth Anne Nolan (Walsh), was Queen of Carnival in 1972.
In addition to writing her column and teaching, Nell Nolan is a familiar face in the city’s theater scene.
She has acted for more than 50 years, and appeared in “Love Letters” for 17 years with a cast of leading men that included the late lawyer David Stone, Times-Picayune cartoonist Steve Kelley and TV anchorman Dennis Woltering.
This week, she will be appearing in Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” as Le Petit Theatre reopens after 2 ½ years.
Some of the roles were in productions that raised money for charities, including a fund to help employees who lost their jobs when the Newhouse family closed down The Times-Picayune Publishing Co. in 2012, reduced publication of the newspaper to three days a week and laid off about half of the news staff.
At The Advocate, Nolan’s column will begin next month. She will be joined by photographer Daniel Erath, who has worked with her covering social events for years.
Editor Peter Kovacs said he is committed to improving the Advocate’s local lifestyle coverage, and sees Nolan as a critical part of that effort.
“The faces I see with Nell’s column are people who love New Orleans unconditionally and have helped build one of the country’s most important cultural centers,” he said. “Nell has honored us by agreeing to join The Advocate.”