In Sweet Bird of Youth, 29-year-old Chance Wayne returns to his hometown—a sleepy Gulf Coast hamlet known as St. Cloud—to win back his girl, Heavenly. But once there, he is forced to confront the mistakes of his past and the people from his hometown that won’t let him forget.
To keep all the names and faces from Chance’s past straight, we’ve compiled a guide to the residents—and visitors—of St. Cloud that Chance encounters on that day in 1959.
Chance Wayne was once the best-looking boy in his Gulf Coast hometown of St. Cloud. (At least, that’s what he claims.) Although his family was poor, as a child Chance befriended the offspring of St. Cloud’s elite. A skilled diver and star of his high school drama program, he left home at 18 to sing in Oklahoma! on Broadway. The Korean War led Chance into the Navy, but he left after several years of service resulted in a mental breakdown. Since then, he’s traveled in hopes of becoming an actor and movie star, although he primarily finds work as a gigolo. Despite this, he professes true love and loyalty to his longtime sweetheart, Heavenly Finley, who still lives in St. Cloud. Now 29 years old, Chance Wayne has returned to St. Cloud in the company of the Princess Kosmonopolis.
Princess Kosmonopolis/Alexandra Del Lago
Alexandra Del Lago was a major movie star in her youth, but retired 15 years ago. She believed that her reputation hinged upon her beauty and youth, and left the movies when she felt that those qualities had begun to fade. Recently, however, she has filmed her comeback picture—but left the premiere early, and hasn’t been in contact with her Hollywood friends since. She wants no public attention whatsoever and has been traveling under the pseudonym “The Princess Kosmonopolis.”
She picked up Chance Wayne in Palm Beach—he came to her cabana to administer a papaya cream rub, and something drew them together. She has spent the better part of the last few days in the car with Chance, under the influence of various intoxicants.
Tom “Boss” Finley is one of the biggest political wheels in the South. Although not a politician, he is popular and influential across several states, and growing increasingly powerful. He recently completed an extremely lucrative deal with the Tidewater Oil Corporation and is wealthy enough to have previously sponsored St. Cloud’s primary hospital and the state university. Boss Finley is about to venture onto the national political stage for the first time and has scheduled a rally on maintaining Southern segregation that will be shown live on national television.
Boss Finley is also the patriarch of the Finley family. He’s father to Heavenly and Tom Finley Junior; his wife has been dead for a number of years. Boss has never approved of his daughter’s long relationship with Chance Wayne, and has previously attempted to throw Chance out of St. Cloud. Currently, he’s trying to incorporate Tom Junior, his only son, into his political dealings. In addition to his family, he also provides for his mistress, Miss Lucy. Although his longstanding relationship with her is public knowledge, he still occasionally denies her existence.
Boss comes from humble beginnings. At the age of 15, he came as a barefoot hillbilly to St. Cloud out of the “red clay hills.” He claims that the Voice of God called him to defend segregation and protect white southern youth from corruption, and is willing to do nearly anything to protect what he considers a sacred mission.
Heavenly Finley, 27 years old, is the only daughter of Boss Finley; the younger sister of Tom Finley Jr; and Chance Wayne’s longtime sweetheart. Like her late mother she is a practicing Catholic, although this frustrates her father. Recently, Heavenly suffered through an awful loss and put on black in mourning. Although her family attempted to keep her circumstances private, there are rumors throughout St. Cloud that something tragic has happened concerning Heavenly.
Tom Finley Junior
The only son of Boss Finley, Tom Finley Junior has devoted the past year to organizing the “Youth for Tom Finley” clubs. However, some believe that the club members are little better than thugs, and Tom Junior himself holds a decidedly spotty record, including a citation for drunk driving and a raucous stag party that was difficult to keep out of the papers. He also flunked out of college and was only readmitted at his father’s insistence. Despite this, Tom Junior is a significant lieutenant for his father.
Tom Junior and Chance Wayne used to be friendly—primarily because of his relationship with Heavenly, Chance used to lend Tom Junior money and find him dates when they were in school. But since Heavenly’s recent tragedy, Tom Junior’s feelings towards Chance have drastically cooled.
Aunt Nonnie is the sister of Boss Finley’s late wife, and aunt to Heavenly and Tom Junior. She lives in the Boss’s household with Tom Junior and Heavenly. Unlike the Boss, who—like the majority of the state—is Protestant, Aunt Nonnie is Catholic. Also unlike Boss Finley, she encouraged the relationship between Heavenly and Chance Wayne for a long time, and claims a position of nearly maternal influence over both Heavenly and Chance. She asserts that Chance was once the sweetest boy in St. Cloud, and disapproves of violence and the Boss’s attempts to chase him out of town.
George Scudder is the chief of staff at the Thomas J. Finley hospital in St. Cloud. He knows the Finleys well and is becoming more of a confidant—as well as a personal physician—to the Boss and his family. He’s a serious man; he tries to act conscientiously, and is very much aware of his position as the young, successful head of the local hospital. George has known Chance Wayne for a long time, and is one of the first people to know that he has returned to St. Cloud.
Miss Lucy is Boss Finley’s longstanding mistress. She lives in a $50-dollar-a-day suite at the Royal Palms Hotel and has charge accounts at many shops in New Orleans, all of which the Boss pays for. She is also a connoisseur of fine jewelry. Despite her long relationship with him and her reliance on his wealth, Miss Lucy is beginning to realize and resent the physical repercussions of the Boss’s increasing age.
In high school, Miss Lucy was the president of Alexandra Del Lago’s local fan club, and is hugely excited by the possibility that she might have come to St. Cloud with Chance Wayne. Miss Lucy has fond memories of Chance when he was younger, and always made a point of watching his free diving exhibitions. But although she’s pleased to see Chance, she doesn’t think it was a good idea for him to return to St. Cloud.
Charles is the Finley’s servant. He’s served the family for many years, and is privy to many of their secrets.
Fly is a waiter at the Royal Palms Hotel. He remembers seeing Chance Wayne and Heavenly Finley dance together at the Grand Ballroom on Saturday nights.
Stuff is the bartender at the Royal Palms Hotel cocktail lounge, having advanced from his previous job as a soda-jerk at Walgreens. Despite this promotion, Chance Wayne believes that Stuff isn’t up to date on the latest cocktails. Stuff is a member of the Youth for Boss Finley club, and a fan of the fiery speeches in the Boss’s political rallies.
The Heckler appears at Boss Finley’s rallies. Although he is accused by Boss Finley and his followers of heckling, he claims to only be asking questions—but the questions he asks are loaded, and he’s previously been beaten after asking them. The Heckler, like the Boss once was, is a hillbilly; he is not from St. Cloud.
Bud and Scotty
Bud and Scotty are married to Edna and Violet, and used to be friends and classmates of Chance Wayne and Heavenly Finley. Scotty works at the bank in town. They’re supporters of Boss Finley, and strongly agree with his agenda of Southern segregation. Both Bud and Scotty used to be friends and classmates with Chance Wayne, but now neither approves of his return.
Edna and Violet
Edna and Violet are married to Bud and Scotty and are some of the young matrons and bridge-players of St. Cloud society. Although they grew up with Chance Wayne and used to be friends with him, they’re not pleased to learn that he’s come back to St. Cloud.
Dan Hatcher is the assistant manager of the Royal Palms Hotel in St. Cloud. Having seen Chance check into the hotel with the Princess Kosmonopolis, Hatcher is one of the first to know that Chance Wayne has returned to St. Cloud. He’s also friendly to George Scudder and Boss Finley—after all, the Boss pays Miss Lucy’s not insignificant hotel bill.