Blly Lee Brammer grew up at 922 S. Windomere, a “menopause baby” whose older parents alternately doted on him and left him alone, according to a new biography about the author’s life.
“Hence, his frequent boredom,” writes Tracy Daugherty in “Leaving the Gay Place.”
Brammer’s father worked as a lineman for the Texas Power and Light Co. and kept a spare fridge filled with cold Dr Peppers on the screened-in porch out back, according to the book. Brammer had two much-older siblings, and bridge parties were the highlight of his parents’ social life.
“The greatest excitement in the neighborhood was to watch for the Oak Farms milk truck making its morning deliveries” or hop a streetcar to the Texas Theatre, which had “a night-sky tableau on the ceiling featuring projected clouds and winking-light stars,” Daugherty writes.
Brammer first gained an interest in politics in 1938 when then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to force the Texas power company’s hand in bringing electricity to rural parts of the state. Brammer would later work for LBJ in the United States Senate.
But his claim to fame is the book he wrote late at night, high on speed while in the politician’s employ. It’s the roman á clef that simultaneously exposed Johnson as a lecher and put Texas on the literary map: “The Gay Place.”
In honor of this new spotlight on our homegrown literary saint and the gift-giving spirit of December, we chose these Oak Cliff-related books that are better than a gift card.
“The greatest excitement in the neighborhood was to watch for the Oak Farms milk truck making its morning deliveries.”
TThe book is composed of three interwoven novellas about the shenanigans of Texas politicians.
Brammer, by then living in New York City’s East Village, was afraid to return to his home state for an Austin book-signing after it was published in 1962 because he feared his old friends would turn their backs on him.
All these years later, “The Gay Place” is considered one of the best American political novels of all time. And Brammer, a newspaper reporter who graduated from Sunset High School and the University of Texas at Austin, became an original beloved Austin weirdo before his death from drug addiction in 1978.
“Candy” — Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
This is a naughty book.
Screenwriter Terry Southern composed it, mostly via letters, with poet Mason Hoffenberg. Risqué French publisher Olympia Press paid them $500 each and released it under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton in 1958.
Southern grew up in Oak Cliff and graduated from Sunset High School in 1941. He graduated from SMU and was a founder of New Journalism. He is encapsulated in pop culture of the Baby-Boom generation as the only person pictured on the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” not wearing sunglasses.
“Candy” became an underground hit and was republished by Putnam under the authors’ real names in 1964.
By then Southern already was respected for his novels “Flesh and Filigree” and “The Magic Christian” as well as his work on the “Dr. Strangelove” screenplay.
A New York Times book reviewer at the time chalked the book up to “Mr. Southern’s artist-as-young-dog days. If he had intended it to be more than that, he would have put his name to it in the first place.”
But “Candy,” which began as a Southern short story based on Voltaire’s “Candide,” holds up as a hilarious parody of American sexuality.
In 2004, Southern’s son Nile Southern published “The Candy Men: The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy,” to positive reviews.
Grove Atlantic published a 60th-anniversary edition of “Candy” earlier this year, featuring an intro from actor/writer B.J. Novak.
That publisher also offers editions of the previously mentioned novels, plus “Blue Movie,” his satire of the film industry, and “Now Dig This,” a collection of Southern’s journalism pieces and memoirs.
“Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood”— Horton Foote
He once lived in a boarding house in Oak Cliff. That’s enough to put one of the greatest American playwrights on this list. Horton Foote was born and raised outside of Houston in Wharton, Texas, in 1916.
His stack of accolades include the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “The Young Man from Atlanta” in 1995, two Academy Awards — Best Original Screenplay for “Tender Mercies” in 1984 and Best Adapted Screenplay for “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1963 — and the National Medal of Arts in 2000. Oh, and an Emmy in 1997 for his adaptation of William Faulkner’s “Old Man.”
If you love Foote’s screenplays, which also include “The Trip to Bountiful” and Glen Campbell’s first movie, “Baby the Rain Must Fall,” then Foote’s 1999 memoir will sound as sweet as Robert Duvall singing “Wings of a Dove.”
A biography, “Horton Foote: American Storyteller” by Wilborn Hampton, published six months after Foote’s death, in September 2009.
“Dangerous Animals Club”— Stephen Tobolowsky
Stephen Tobolowsky lives in this generation’s pop-culture highlights as his character Ned Reyerson in “Groundhog Day.”
He’s less famous for his fabulous storytelling and delightful persona, but he may just go down in history for his books of true tales.
Tobolowsky grew up in Oak Park Estates on Watervaliet. As a kid, he thought, “Oh my goodness, that uses so many letters of the alphabet,” he told the Advocate in 2013. The only Jewish kid at Kimball High School, he once recorded an album with classmate Stevie Ray Vaughan.
His first book, “Dangerous Animals Club,” is named after his childhood club that spent hot afternoons trapping spiders and snakes in the Kiest Park area. The name serves as a metaphor for the “dangerous animals” one encounters throughout life.
“It’s a collection of short stories. They’re all true, and they all happened to me. It could fall into the category of a memoir, but the stories are not chronological,” Tobolowsky said in 2013. “Most of the book is a good laugh. As you read the stories, as you get about halfway through, you see the pieces connecting, and it creates a narrative.”
Tobolowsky’s second book, “My Adventures with God,” reveals that he’s not just a comic storyteller but also a bit of a mystic. Another collection of real-life short stories, this one explores the idea that most people’s lives can fit into Old Testament narratives.
“The Hidden City”— Bill Minutaglio and Holly Williams
If this isn’t on your coffee table, do you even live in Oak Cliff?
Published in 1990, when Bill Minutaglio was a Dallas Morning News columnist, it remains the definitive book about early Oak Cliff history. After it was out of print for a few years, Heritage Oak Cliff had it republished and now offers it for sale online and at events.
The narrative, composed with Minutaglio’s wife, Holly Williams, begins on the grassy hills of undeveloped 1800s Oak Cliff and moves into the real-estate drama of Thomas L. Marsalis, our neighborhood’s first developer. While the businessman managed to turn the old “Hord’s Ridge” into streets and parks and houses, it ruined him financially.
The book is full of pictures and anecdotes about Oak Cliff and co-written by Minutaglio, one of Texas’ most accomplished journalists, who also is known for writing the original magazine story “The Dallas Buyers Club.”
Check out these books by Oak Cliff-based authors and illustrators
The “Murder Becomes” series— Jeffrey Eaton
Kessler Park-based mystery writer Jeffrey Eaton released his latest, “Murder Becomes Mayfair,” in October. The books follow world-renowned architect/detective Dalton Lee as he chases clues all over the globe while offering insights into architectural wonders.
“Bizarro”— Dan Piraro
Those wacky comics from Dan Piraro, who lived in Kings Highway for many years, have been compiled in several anthologies that would make great stocking-stuffers.
“The Introvert’s Way”— Sophia Dembling
Here is a book for your favorite quiet type. Introverts “can come across as bitchy or dickish sometimes,” when really, they’re just conserving energy. Oak Cliff-based author Sophia Dembling offers this funny and insightful book that will help you understand and accept the introverts in your life, even if that’s you. Don’t miss her follow-up, “Introverts in Love,” and several other titles that could be just right for someone on your list, including “The Yankee Chick’s Survival Guide to Texas.”
“The Rap Yearbook” written by Shea Serrano and illustrated by Arturo Torres
The subtitle says it all: The most important rap song from every year since 1979. Oak Cliff-based artist Arturo Torres illustrated this beautiful and informative history of the art form.
“I Can See Just Fine”— Eric Barclay
Oak Cliff-based author/designer/illustrator Eric Barclay released this children’s book about a girl’s first trip to the optometrist in 2014. His other titles include “Hiding Phil,” about two siblings who try to keep their pet elephant a secret.