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Walter H. Gray

BRAMMER, WILLIAM LEE (1929–1978). William Lee (Billy, Bill) Brammer, journalist and political novelist, son of H. L. and Kathleen Brammer, was born at Dallas (Oak Cliff), Texas, on April 21, 1929. He graduated from North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) and worked in the late 1940s and early 1950s as sports editor of the Denton Record Chronicle and on the staffs of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and Austin American. Later in his career he was a writer for Time magazine and a contributing editor to Texas Monthly magazine and the Texas Observer. From 1955 to 1959 Brammer worked as press aide in Washington, D.C., to Lyndon B. Johnson, when Johnson was Senate majority leader. During that period he wrote a 1950s era novel, The Gay Place (1961), which was set in an unnamed state capital that clearly was Austin. The novel's central figure was a crude and ruthless political progressive, Gov. Arthur Fenstemaker, who was a master of solving political crises and imposing order on the legislative process. The fictional governor, while depicted as an earthy but sympathetic and charming character, shared some of the personal traits and the political acumen of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ did not appreciate the book. The Gay Place was published by Houghton-Mifflin in March 1961 and won critical acclaim in literary circles but did not sell well. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist David Halberstam called The Gay Place "an American classic that will be on reading lists a hundred years from now." Brammer had an excellent literary mind and a knack for the absurd that made him a master of the political lampoon. The novel earned him the Houghton–Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award for 1960 and was believed to be front-runner for the 1962 best book of fiction award of the Texas Institute of Letters, which went instead to Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. In 1963 The Gay Place was scheduled to be made into a movie starring Paul Newman, but a change in studio management caused the plans to be canceled.

Brammer covered the 1960 Democratic national convention as a correspondent for Time magazine. In 1961 he worked in the unsuccessful United States Senate campaign of Congressman James Wright of Fort Worth, who later served as speaker of the House. Brammer continued to write and received an advance from Random House to do a biography of Johnson while LBJ was serving in the White House. But Brammer developed "writer's block" and never completed another book. He lived in Austin and supported himself by holding numerous menial jobs (short–order cook, waiter, house-painter) until January 1970, when he was named to the faculty of the School of Journalism at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That position was short–lived. Brammer returned to Austin, where he continued to write and work at odd jobs. Friends said his eccentric work habits and drug use, coupled with frequent moves and self-imposed pressure to produce a novel to match The Gay Place, caused physical deterioration and eventual loss of his drive to write. He lived in Austin in a room supplied by a friend, where he suffered cardiac arrest on February 11, 1978. He had been working an another novel, Fustian Days, when he died. The Gay Place has been reissued several times, including a paperback edition by Texas Monthly Press in 1978, and was reprinted in 1995 by the University of Texas Press. Brammer and his first wife, Nadine, were divorced in the 1950s. He married Dorothy Vance while in Washington. They were divorced in 1969. He was not married when he died. Brammer was survived by two daughters and one son. The funeral service for Brammer, a Protestant, was at the Wilke-Clay Funeral Home Chapel in Austin, and interment was in Laurel Land Memorial Park, Dallas.


Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Walter H. Gray, "BRAMMER, WILLIAM LEE," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbrbr.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on May 1, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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