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Wirt Williams, 64; Novelist Nominated for Pulitzer Prize 3 Times

July 03, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Wirt Williams, a novelist probably better known to Pulitzer Prize judges than to the general public, died Sunday in a Hollywood hospital.

The veteran California State University, Los Angeles, English professor was 64 and died after suffering a stroke last week.

Williams was nominated three times for the Pulitzer, twice for his novels, "The Far Side" in 1970 and "Ada Dallas" in 1960 and earlier for his reporting.

The reporting nomination was for a series of investigative articles he wrote as a reporter for the New Orleans Item.

A writer whose concise prose reflected the Ernest Hemingway style he was attracted to as a youth, Williams exchanged journalism for academia after winning the Heywood Broun Newspaper Guild Award for a series he did on inefficiency and corruption at a Louisiana state hospital for the insane.

He wrote six novels, one of which, "The Trojans," sold more than a million copies.

It was a tale of intrigue in the motion picture industry, and he credited its success to the beautiful blonde film star who was its protagonist.

However, a later and different examination of the relationship between the artist--this one a writer--and his society, "The Far Side," proved his poorest seller, leading Williams to reflect wryly:

"If one needed an example about the public's interest in writers as compared to movie stars, this is as good as any."

"Ada Dallas" was made into the 1961 film "Ada," starring Susan Hayward as a onetime call girl who becomes governor of Louisiana.

His other novels include "The Enemy," "A Passage of Hawks" and "Love in a Windy Space."

In 1982, the Louisiana State University Press published "The Tragic Art of Ernest Hemingway," in which Williams argues that the Nobelist's literary output portrayed mankind as eternally condemned to defeat, as humans grappling with their fates and fantasies in a world beyond their control.

Hemingway had been not only an influence on Williams but a longtime friend.

After Williams' World War II naval service as commander of a landing ship in the Pacific, he wrote "The Enemy," detailing those battle experiences.

Williams, who retired from Cal State Los Angeles last month after 33 years, is survived by a daughter, Meredith Bricken; a brother, Randolph Williams; a sister, Mrs. William Graves III, and two grandsons.

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