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H. Strauss; Built Literary Stable for William Morris

May 09, 1987

Helen M. Strauss, who created the literary department at the William Morris talent agency and whose clients came to include six Pulitzer Prize winners, died Sunday of cancer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. She was 83 and had been ill for the last year.

Miss Strauss began her career with the story department of Paramount Pictures. In 1944, she joined the William Morris agency, which at that time handled mostly entertainers. She was asked to create a literary department.

She assembled a stable of client writers that included James Michener, who remained a lifelong friend, Robert Penn Warren, Gore Vidal, Archibald MacLeish, Justice William O. Douglas and Herman Wouk.

Miss Strauss also was a member of Morris' executive committee for more than 20 years.

In her 1979 memoir, "A Talent for Luck," she had both praise and criticism for her friends and clients, chastising Vidal for wasting his talents on "Myra Breckenridge," twitting Irving Stone for being "the biographer of the safely interred" and hailing Wouk, who came to her after being a gag writer for Fred Allen.

She was credited with negotiating for Michener a contract in which he did not have to pay his hardback publisher half of his paperback profits and suggesting to him, when she no longer was his agent but still his friend, that he write a Western. The result was "Centennial," a best-selling historical novel that became an acclaimed television miniseries.

After leaving Morris in 1967, Miss Strauss joined Warner Brothers-Seven Arts productions and then Universal Pictures. She produced "The Incredible Sarah," a 1976 film with Glenda Jackson as Sarah Bernhardt.

Miss Strauss, who married and divorced early in her life, leaves no survivors.

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