Theatrical Agent Audrey Wood Dies at 80

Times Staff Writer

Audrey Wood, the venerated theatrical agent who represented and guided the careers of such playwrights as Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Robert Anderson and many more, has died in Connecticut four years after suffering a stroke.

She was 80 and had been confined to a nursing home in Fairfield.

In 1981, the year she was felled by the stroke, her autobiography, "Represented by Audrey Wood," was published. In it she detailed--not always lovingly--how she had discovered Anderson through a play he had written during Army service in World War II, how she had kept Williams' copy of "The Glass Menagerie" on a radiator behind her desk so it was nearby when producers dropped in, how the stack of Inge's bills she would pay often reached higher than the pages of his plays in progress.

The esteem in which she was held by New York's theatrical community was evidenced in 1984 when she was lying mute in the convalescent home. One of her writers, Arthur Kopit, wrote a play, "End of the World," in which her speech and movement were restored. Although the play was not widely accepted by the critics, the New York Times, in a 1984 profile of Mrs. Wood, found Kopit's work "a love letter."

"What does an agent do?" Mrs. Wood's character asks in the play. "This is a question I am asked all the time. In theory an agent is supposed to find her client work. Now while this has certainly been known to happen, fortunately, for all concerned, we do much, much more."

'A Mama of Drama'

That was a passing reference to her becoming, in the words of Esquire magazine, ". . . a mama of drama and natural analyst."

Before her cadre of playwrights became household names, Mrs. Wood loaned them money when their mortgages became due, comforted Inge through the deep depressions that culminated in his suicide, took Williams' mother shopping.

She had a reputation for persuading writers of unpromising plays to accept less in fees than they had hoped for and, conversely, talking producers out of more than they had expected to pay for a product that seemed commercially viable.

Her instincts were partly learned and partly inherited, for she was the daughter of William H. Wood, first manager of the Palace Theater, for whom she began reading scripts while still a high school student in Manhattan.

She joined the Century Play Co. and by the mid-1930s was head of its play department. In 1937 she formed her agency and began seeking new talent. That year she and William Liebling, a fellow agent, joined forces. She represented playwrights and he actors and directors.

Their first joint effort was the 1937 farce "Room at the Top." She and Liebling married the next year and their agency became preeminent on Broadway until 1954, when it was sold to Music Corp. of America. She continued to represent her playwrights through the renamed firm, International Creative Management. Liebling died in 1969.

She later served on the board of the American National Theater and Academy, the American Theater Wing and the New Dramatists Committee while teaching playwriting at Wesleyan University.

Mrs. Wood, who died Friday, had no immediate survivors.

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