A man in composite: Who inspired Charlie Croker’s resume?

Tom Wolfe’s novel ”A Man in Full” got Atlanta’s gossip mill churning
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Well before its 1998 publication, Tom Wolfe’s Atlanta-centric “A Man in Full” was the talk of Buckhead’s cocktail party circuit; once the 742-page opus hit shelves, the chatter became deafening. In response to Wolfe’s theme of racial tension (one plot twist: a KKK rally staged to lower property values), former mayor Sam Massell “disinvited” Wolfe from a Buckhead Coalition luncheon and then-mayor Bill Campbell released a statement touting Atlanta’s “history of racial harmony.” Fueling all this controversy: the AJC “Wolfe Watch” column. When the author appeared at the Borders store in Buckhead, more than 1,000 fans stood in line—some for nine hours. Wolfe’s protagonist Charlie Croker, the 60-year-old builder of high-rises and Old-Meets-New South blowhard, was fictional, but the “King of the Crackers” bore a likeness to several Atlanta businessmen, blistering Buckhead society like a shotgun blast to defenseless quail. Everyone claimed to know who “Charlie” really was—the problem was, nobody could agree.

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This article originally appeared in our March 2015 issue.