A TALENT FOR LUCK by Helen Strauss


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Helen Strauss built up and for 23 years (1944-66) ran the writers' stable at the multi-media William Morris Agency, where she represented such American luminaries and sales-leaders as James Michener, Frank Yerby, Robert Penn Warren, Walter Lord, Gore Vidal, Leon Edel, Edwin O'Connor; a clutch of public figures; some flamboyant Britishers (meet Edith Sitwell in wimple and fur mittens); an assortment of ""celebrity pen dabblers"" (Tallulah takes the cake); and a few theatrical lights (""temperamentally, I couldn't handle plays""--too many cooks). As the foregoing may indicate, Strauss is as discreetly close-mouthed about her American pros as any doctor or lawyer (Michener is, above all, a ""gentleman""; Leon Edel was her ""easiest client"") and only slightly more communicative about the inner coils of agenting (TLC plus candor, as she tells it--with no specifics, for instance, on the auctioning of hot properties which she started). The book only picks up, in fact, when Strauss launches into the politicos whose careers she declined to further (very notably the Kennedys: ""One did not merely represent the Kennedys. . . . One inherited their massed armies, their appointed lieutenants and self-appointed generals""), the celebrities who grew possessive about every word written for them, the clients she turned down or turned off (Ethel Barrymore--because she got the wrong answer to ""will my book sell better than the Bankhead?""), the suspicious wives who came to look Strauss over, and most women writers (who ""ultimately only gave a damn what a man thought""). She's proudest, understandably, of serving as a catalyst (for Jean Renoir's biography of his father; for the King and I in toto) and most acerbic about the Sixties and its effect on the likes of Gore Vidal, ""who talks when he should be writing."" Some cocktail-talk for literary groupies, then, but the lady obviously knows more than she's telling.

Pub Date: June 4th, 1979
Publisher: Random House