Brammer, William 1929-1978
BRAMMER, William 1929-1978
(Billy Lee Brammer)
PERSONAL: Born April 29, 1929 in Fort Worth, TX; died of a drug overdose February 11, 1978, in Austin, TX; married Nadine Ellen Cannon (Eckhardt) April 22, 1950 (divorced, 1961); married Dorothy Brown (divorced, 1969); children (first marriage): Sidney, Shelby, William.
CAREER: Writer and political adviser. Aide and speechwriter to U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, 1950s; staff member for Johnson as vice president, Washington, DC, c. 196l; staff member for economist Eliot Janeway, 1959-60; Time magazine, writer, 1960-61. Southern Methodist University, journalism professor, c. 1969.
AWARDS, HONORS: Press award, 1952, for excellence in writing for Austin Statesman; Houghton-Mifflin literary fellowship, c. 1961, for The Gay Place; Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Contest award for feature sports story for Austin American-Statesman.
The Gay Place; Being Three Related Novels (contains The Flea Circus, Room Enough to Caper, and Country Pleasures), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1961.
SIDELIGHTS: William Brammer's book The Gay Place is a collection of three short novels inspired by Brammer's tenure in the 1950s as a senatorial aide and speechwriter for U.S. politician Lyndon B. Johnson. Brammer also worked briefly for Johnson when he was vice president under John F. Kennedy. The three stories—The Flea Circus, Room Enough to Caper, and Country Pleasures—show readers the turbulence and scandals that sometimes surround American politics. Each story features a different protagonist, but include common themes, settings, and central character Governor Arthur Fenstemaker. Some believe Brammer based this fictional character on Johnson.
As a Contemporary Literary Criticism essayist wrote, "Critics generally agree that the primary strengths of The Gay Place are Brammer's witty and elegant prose style, his ability to recreate the dynamics and complexities of political campaigns, and his realistic depiction of the manners and mores of an elite stratum of society during a distinctive era of American history."
The stories take place during the 1950s in an unnamed Southwestern state believed by many critics to be Texas, which Johnson represented en route to the presidency. The Flea Circus focuses on a few days in the life of legislator Roy Sherwood, while Room Enough to Caper introduces Senator Neil Christiansen. Country Pleasures tells the story of aide Jay McGown. Politics compromises the beliefs of each of these once-idealistic young men.
Amid the turmoil is Fenstemaker, who Brammer portrays as a saintly figure comparable to the Prophet Isaiah or Jehovah, who combines charm and deceit to wield great power. Fenstemaker inspires the three young politicians, in the end managing to "save" Christiansen and Sherwood by urging them to go out and change the world. Despite Fenstemaker's apparent infallibility, he soon falls victim to the charms of a young Hollywood actress. Driven by his desire for her, Fenstemaker signs over control of the state to a Mexican tavern owner, and ultimately pays the price for his political failure with his life. As James Fallows noted in the New York Times Book Review, "The Gay Place is fundamentally a political book, but it is first a superbly controlled work of fiction, its characters vivid, its style elegant and knowing, its political and human insights growing naturally from its characters rather than being strapped crudely upon them."
As a critic for the Virginia Kirkus Service remarked, "Brammer has a gift for dialogue, a sharp wit, a keen sense of posing irreconcilables." The Gay Place was Brammer's only novel; its author died from a drug overdose at age forty-eight in 1978. Originally published in 1961, the novel was not widely received; however, Brammer's novel earned greater recognition when republished after his death.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 31, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Lively Arts and Book Review, March 21, 1961, Caroline Tunstall, "Award-winning First Novel," p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, March 12, 1961, Wirt Williams, "A Political Triptych," p. 33; January 14, 1979, James Fallows, "Success Story," pp. 7, 30-31.
Virginia Kirkus Service, Volume XXIX, number 1, January 1, 1961, review of The Gay Place, p. 30.
Washington Post Book World, February 4, 1979, pp. 1, 4.
Washington Post February 14, 1978.*