ANNIE LAURIE WILLIAMS, LITERARY AGENT

 

Few people among us have not seen the movie, "Gone with the Wind." Most people who have been around a few years remember it by how many TIMES they’ve seen it. It’s even been brought back in living color.

None of us would have had the opportunity to see it if it hadn’t been for the efforts of a woman who was born and grew up in Denison.

Young Annie Laurie Williams had always wanted to be an actress. From the time she was a student at Peabody Elementary School, then Denison High School, that had been her dream. She longed to see her name in lights. She quit high school shortly before she was to have graduated because she wanted to take a business course.

Still in her teens, she took a stenographic position with the James B. Boyd clothing store in downtown Denison and saved her money to go to drama school in Dallas. She then toured the country with the Charles Winninger vaudeville troupe that eventually took her to New York in the 1920s.

She took a job with the New York Morning Telegraph when bit parts were hard to get and although she made a few silent movies, she never got her "big chance." She worked for the newspaper for six years as a feature writer and movie reviewer. That’s when she began thinking it might be worthwhile to try to turn some of the books she reviewed into movies.

So she quit her job and opened her first literary agency. Clients were slow coming, however, so she took a job with a book publishing company to learn all about the business. Before long she went back selling manuscripts and built a strong reputation selling them to Hollywood. In fact, it was said that she could sell stories that Hollywood didn’t even want, according to a 1975 article in The Denison Herald by Lora Vieux.

One writer called her "an intriguing middle-aged women with a face and figure like Mae West and a mind like a steel trap".

One of her first successes was the sale of "Magnificent Obsession" by writer Lloyd C. Douglas - films: 1935, dir. by John M. Stahl, screenplay by Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman and George O’Neil, starring Irene Dunne, Robert Taylor, Charles Butterworth; 1954, dir. by Douglas Sirk, starring Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson; Sublime Obsessão, 1958 (TV series), prod. TV Tupi (Brazil), dir. Dionísio Azevedo. The romantic story deals with a playboy, who is half-responsible for the death of a woman's husband and for her own blindness. Tormented by this he becomes a surgeon and cures her. "Once you find the way, you'll be bound. It will obsess you, but believe me, it will be a magnificent obsession."  That writer, Lloyd C. Douglas, later wrote "Green Light," "Invitation to Life" and "The Robe," all of which she sold to filmmakers.

But back to "Gone with the Wind." Filmmakers had said that Margaret Mitchell’s novel was too big and expensive to produce during the Depression with all the costuming, the bold language and the controversial theme.

However, Twentieth Century Fox offered $35,000 and Warner Brothers upped the offer to $40,000 so that the role of Scarlett O’Hara could go to Bette Davis, their female star who was threatening to walk out on suspension.

None the less, Annie Laurie, Margaret Mitchell’s new agent, refused all these offers, saying they would accept no less than $65,000.

This was done without Margaret’s knowledge and when she found out she was very upset that such a fortune as $40,000 in that day was turned down.

Annie Laurie was determined to get more than the $40,000 offered by Warner Brothers. Although Margaret Mitchell was not a fan of Annie Laurie, according to an Internet story by Mitchell’s husband, she was hired to serve as her agent.

Then "Gone with the Wind" became the topic of the Book-of-the-Month Club which planned to take 50,000 copies to start and pay $10,000 for exclusive book-club rights.

Annie Laurie sent the novel to Katherine Brown in the New York office of Selznick-International Pictures and talked David Selznick into buying the rights in July 1936 to the tune of $50,000, of which she received $5,000 and Margaret Mitchell received $45,000.

Annie Laurie became the agent for writer John Steinbeck and sold the rights for "The Grapes of Wrath," and "Of Mice and Men."

She represented Kathleen Winsor in selling "Forever Amber" and Patrick Dennis with "Auntie Mame."

In the early 1940s she sold the rights to Steinbeck’s new play, "The Moon is Down" for $300,000, her best record to date and one of the highest prices ever paid an author for the motion picture rights to a story at that time. That was quite a jump from the $50,000 that bought "Gone with the Wind" just a few short years before.

She was married to fellow Texan and literary agent Maurice Crain, who brought her "Stalag 17". Crain had been a prisoner in the real Stalag 17. He was a well-known author of historical works, and they met at the Texas Club in New York City and lived in an apartment just Off-Broadway. They commuted to their place in Connecticut for weekends until he died in 1970.

Annie Laurie went into partial retirement that year, but handled a few clients, including Truman Capote for "The Glass Harp."

She was born in Denison in 1895 to Mr. and Mrs. P.E. Williams and grew up in the 200 block West Munson. Her dad, like so many other Denison men in that period, worked for the MK&T Railroad for 50 years. He was the chief engine dispatcher when he died.

When she died in 1977, she was survived by five sisters, including Mrs. Elmer Hafner with whom she made her home in New York. Her nephew, Frank Yarborough, was well known in Denison, according to her obituary on May 17 that year.

Among other books handled by Annie Laurie are "Run Silent, Run Deep," "Long Grey Line," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Cheaper by the Dozen."

In 1971 Annie Laurie gave her collection of books through more than 50 years as one of the top literary agents in the country to Columbia University in New York City.

The collection includes documents from many well-known motion pictures and correspondence by and related to many outstanding authors. But John Steinbeck’s far outweigh the others. There are more than 200 letters dating from 1933 through his last major works, "Travels with Charley," in 1962, and until his death in 1968.

The collection also includes papers of her late husband from 1946 until his death in 1970.

Annie Laurie may never have seen her name in lights as she had dreamed sitting in a classroom at Peabody School in Denison, but she did get to walk down Broadway and see plays and films in lights that never would have gotten there had it not been for her.

 

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