Obituaries:Kay Brown

Derek Granger
Tuesday 31 January 1995 00:02
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Early in her career as one of America's most renowned entertainment agents and talent scouts, Kay Brown achieved two legendary coups. She took a boat to Stockholm to persuade an emerging Swedish actress to accept a Hollywood film contract from Selznick International. In the same period, she discovered a still unpublished novel and urged her reluctant employer, David O. Selznick, to take up an immediate option on the rights. The actress was Ingrid Bergman, the novel Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. Throughout her long working life, Kay Brown had an intuitive gift for spotting and fostering talent. Her shrewdness and ability are celebrated in the greatest of all producer's bibles, Memo from David O. Selznick (1972), a collection of front office memoranda which records Selznick's passionate and obsessive concern with every aspect and detail of movie production.

In all these wheelings and dealings, Brown was Selznick's invaluable lieutenant. Whether the problem was to sign Laurence Olivier for his first American contract, to find a better name for an ingenue film actress called Phylis Walker (re-christened Jennifer Jones), urging Alfred Hitchcock to direct Rebecca and warning Daphne du Maurier of impending changes to her original plot, or persuading Clark Gable to go to the Deep South on a Gone with the Wind publicity jamboree, Kay Brown was there - Kay Brown was always there - the persuasive and tactful figure working tirelessly behind the scenes.

Selznick was generous in his acknowledgement of Brown's "insistence and foresight" in purchasing Gone with the Wind and making possible his greatest triumph. Her talents were also much admired by John Hay ("Jock") Whitney, who was then Selznick's financial partner and board chairman before his appointment as US ambassador in London. When the first show print had been struck, Selznick cabled her: "Have just finished Gone with the Wind. God bless us one and all. David."

Kay Brown went to work for Selznick in 1935, first as Eastern Story Editor, and then as Eastern Representative. As Eastern Story Editor for RKO Pictures, she had already been responsible for the discovery and promotion of Edna Ferber's novel Cimarron, which won an Academy Award in 1931.

After leaving Selznick in 1942, a loss which he continually lamented, she went to work as an agent with MCA, and then the International Famous Agency, the company which was eventually to become International Creative Management. There she spent the rest of her career and represented many British stars in the United States, including Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Rex Harrison and John Gielgud, as well as leading American actors such as Fredric March and Montgomery Clift. Her literary clients included Lillian Hellman and Isak Dinesen and for 40 years she was the friend and agent of Arthur Miller.

Born into the American purple, Brown amused her hustling New York colleagues by the fact that, possibly uniquely among talent agents, she was listed in that antique chronicle of East Coast blue blood, The New York Social Register. Her parents were among the founders of the Museum of the City of New York. After majoring in English at Wellesley College, she worked in a New Hampshire theatre school. It was the school's owners, including Joseph Kennedy, who, having bought the motion picture company which was to become RKO, offered Brown her first opening as a talent scout for their new company.

Still working at 80, Kay Brown presented a perennially charming appearance, immaculate in tailored suit, a discreet brooch on the lapel, offering a wide smile and amused gaze through her large spectacles - a look which exuded an air of quiet confidence and authority.

Derek Granger Katharine Brown, talent scout and entertainment agent: born Hastings-on-Hudson, New York 1902; married James Barrett (died 1967; two daughters); died Hightstown, New Jersey 18 January 1995.

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