A Guide to the Larry L. King Papers, 1929-ongoing (Bulk: 1957-1993)
Lawrence Leo King, the youngest child of Clyde Clayton and Cora Lee Clark King, was born January 1, 1929 in Putnam, Texas. He fixed on a career as a writer early in his childhood, inspired by the Mark Twain his mother read to him. As early as grade school, King pursued publication of his works. He wrote regularly for the student newspaper at high school where he found a mentor in Aubra Nooncaster, football coach, English teacher and poet. From high school, King joined the army where he was a reporter for his base paper. He wrote professionally as a sports and crime reporter for the Hobbs (N. M.) Daily Flare, the Midland Reporter-Telegram and the Odessa American after a brief stint at Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University) as a journalism major. In 1954, King moved to Washington, D.C. as the Administrative Assistant to Representative J. T. Rutherford. After Rutherford was defeated in 1962, King joined the staff of another Texas congressman, future House Speaker Jim Wright. In 1964, struggling to complete a contracted novel, King quit Capitol Hill to become a free-lance writer.
The novel, The One-Eyed Man, was published in 1966, but King’s chief livelihood as a writer during this time came from his magazine articles. From 1964, King wrote for The Texas Observer, an iconoclastic liberal magazine “then the only voice of dissent (constant) or reason (occasionally) to be found in my native state” (King, Blockhead 20). At the same time, Mississippian Willie Morris, a University of Texas graduate and former editor of the Observer, encouraged King’s writing ambitions. Morris gave King his first national exposure in Harper’s, where Morris was an editor. In 1967, Morris was named editor-in-chief of Harper’s and under his aegis, the magazine became famed for it’s exciting and innovative writing. Morris published the brightest literary lights of the day as represented by an impressive list King catalogues in The Old Man and Lesser Mortals: “James Dickey, Jules Feiffer, Robert Penn Warren, Justin Kaplan, Sara Davidson, Jack Richardson, Elizabeth Hardwick, Norman Podhoretz, Arthur Miller, Tony Lucas, George Plimpton, Bud Shrake, Michael Arlen, Joe McGinnis, Alfred Kazin, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, Jeremy Larner, Ward Just, Truman Capote, Herbert Gold, Tom Wicker, Gay Talese, Larry McMurtry, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, John Fowles, Irving Howe . . .” (286). Not to be left out are William Styron, Norman Mailer, Bill Moyers and David Halberstam. King’s best magazine work, as witnessed by the dominance of Harper’s pieces in King’s published collections, was done under Morris’s editing. Examples of their collaboration are “Requiem for a West Texas Town”, “My Hero LBJ”, “The Old Man”, and “The Whole World’s Turned On.”
King went on to write for numerous, well-known publications including Life, Holiday, Cosmopolitan, The Progressive, Playboy and Sports Illustrated. His topics were, in the main, Texas (“Requiem for a West Texas Town,” “The Old Man,” “The Lost Frontier,” “Playing Cowboy”) and politics (“My Hero LBJ,” “God, Man and William F. Buckley,” “The Trial of John Connally”), but he also treated other subjects such as sports, travel, and music.
In 1978, King penned the book for the hit Broadway musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, based on an article he wrote for Playboy. The success of Whorehouse allowed King to get off what he had come to feel was the magazine treadmill and develop his talent in a different form. He has subsequently seen his plays The Night Hank Williams Died, The Kingfish and Golden Shadows Old West Museum produced.
During his career, King’s work has received no little praise. He earned a National Book Award Nomination in 1972 for Confessions of a White Racist. He received a Stanley Walker Journalism Award from the Texas Institute of Letters in 1973 for the article “The Lost Frontier.” A television documentary, CBS Reports: The Best Little Statehouse in Texas, earned him an Emmy. He received the Mary Goldwater Award from the Theatre Lobby Trust in 1988 for The Night Hank Williams Died. This same work brought him the Helen Hayes award for best new play in 1989.
Though a college dropout, King’s journalistic talent brought him to Harvard University in the 1969-1970 academic year as a Nieman Fellow. (He chronicled this experience in the October 1970 issue of Harper’s, “Blowing My Mind at Harvard”.) From Fall 1973 through Fall 1974, King taught as a Ferris Professor of Journalism and Political Science at Princeton University. He was a Duke Fellow of Communications from 1975 to 1976.
King has lived the majority of his life away from his home state but he continually returns there in his writing. In his own words, “That time and place of my youth -- which, I had been thoroughly convinced contained no story material, has merely provided me with the stuff of a career.” (King, National Geographic Speech 1988, SWWC) By chronicling the Texas that formed him, a Texas that is passing if not past, King, who believes “understanding of the past is vital to the lessons of the present” (King, The Old Man 46) has come to see himself as a leaver of “literary signposts. Those signposts say, simply . . . this is how it was, in my time and my place, when I passed this way . . . . Pass it on!” (C.A.S.T. Speech 1993, SWWC).
King married Wilma Jeanne Casey (d. 1991) in 1950. They had three children, Alexandria (b. Cheryl Ann, October 6, 1951), Kerri Lee King Grandey (b. February 7, 1955) and Bradley Clayton (b. March 27, 1958). King, divorced in 1964, married on February 20, 1965 Rosemarie Coumaris Kline, who died of cancer June 8, 1972. Since May 6, 1978, King has been married to Barbara S. Blaine, who is also his lawyer and agent. They are the parents of two children, Lindsay Allison (b. November 16, 1979) and Blaine Carlton (b. August 1, 1982).
The Larry L. King papers span the years from 1929 to the present with most of the material dating from the late 1950s. They are arranged according to the following five series: 1. Works (books, plays, articles, short stories, television, songs, speeches); 2. Material about King; 3. Other Writers; 4. Personal; 5. Other Collections re Larry L. King. Within the archive are manuscripts, galley proofs, magazines, tear sheets, playbooks, flyers, posters, tapes, videos, clippings, correspondence, calendars, cancelled checks, tax receipts, vital records, photographs, T-shirts, a jacket and a typewriter. These materials document King’s life and career and provide a thorough overview of his writing process. They include correspondence with or about other Texas writers, such as Larry McMurtry, Bud Shrake, Billy Lee Brammer, Dan Jenkins, Peter Gent, Jay Milner and Gary Cartwright along with letters to friends and family such as cousin Lanvil Gilbert and colorful Texas lawyer, Warren Burnett. The materials are most frequently arranged in chronological order.
Series I: Books, 1959-1976 Boxes 1-3
This series contains drafts, galley proofs and jackets for books by Larry L. King. Titles include One-Eyed Man (1966), …And Other Dirty Stories (1968), Of Outlaws, Con Men, Whores, Politicians, and Other Artists (1980), The Whorehouse Papers (1981), None But the Blockhead (1986), and Because of Lozo Brown (1988). Also included are drafts from an early unpublished novel, “The Back of a Bear,” research material for a never-realized book on Lyndon Baines Johnson, and a file of articles gathered together for Warning: Writer at Work, published by TCU Press. The material is arranged in chronological order.
Series II: Plays, 1977-1993 Boxes 3-8
This series, arranged in chronological order, contains material related to the writing, production and reception of the following theatrical works: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Kingfish, The Night Hank Williams Died, That Terrible Night Santa Got Lost In The Woods, The Golden Shadows Old West Museum, and The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. Many of the manuscripts include letters from King explaining the history and background of the drafts.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, co-written with Peter Masterson is based on King’s 1974 Playboy article. It was first produced in showcase production at Actor’s Studio, New York City, October 27-November 12, 1977. It then opened off-Broadway at Intermedia Theatre in April 1978, and moved to Broadway’s 46th Street Theatre, on June 19, 1978, where its success supported 1,584 performances over the next four and half years and garnered King a Tony award nomination.
The files in this series include scripts, sheet music, screenplay drafts, a playbook, playbills, posters, flyers, reviews, clippings, photographs, tickets, T-shirts, a jacket, promotional buttons, congratulations and a 1981 cartoon by Patrick Oliphant drawn on a napkin.
The Kingfish, a one-man play about the flamboyant Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long, was written with long-time friend and Texas legislator, Ben Z. Grant. Found here are scripts, programs, playbills, the SMU Press book jacket and clippings.
The Night Hank Williams Died premiered at the Memphis State University theatre. After several revisions, the play received its world premiere in Washington, D.C. in 1988. The following year it opened Off-Broadway. For this play, King received the Theatre Lobby Trust’s 1988 Mary Goldwater Award for his contribution as playwright and actor and the 1989 Helen Hayes Award for best new play. These files contain scripts, correspondence on rewrites and production prospects, congratulations, awards, flyers, posters, playbills, audition notes, reviews, clippings, SMU Press proofs, a playbook and screenplays.
The Golden Shadows Old West Museum was also tried out first in a workshop production at Memphis State University. These files contain a script, correspondence on revisions, playbills, flyers, reviews, and posters.
In addition to the above material, this series includes an outline of The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, a playbook for a one-act play titled Christmas: 1933 and a playbill for the same one-act under the original title, That Terrible Night Santa Got Lost In The Woods, and a prospectus and treatment for “Road Story” an aborted project with Glenn Frey and Jimmy Buffett, put together by the New York producer Rocco Landesman.
Also included in this series is research material and a script for a never-completed project on Lydia Thompson, an English burlesque queen who was all the rage in late 19th century America.
Series III: Articles, 1953-1991 Boxes 8-12
This series covers King’s contributions to magazines and newspapers from his days with the Odessa-American in the 1950s, through his stint in Washington as editor of Capitol Hill, to his work for national magazines including Harper’s, Life, Esquire, The Progressive, Sports Illustrated, Sport, Cosmopolitan, Playboy and Parade. The series contains tear sheets, and in some cases, whole copies of the magazine in which the article appeared. In addition, King’s collection of The Texas Observer, to which he was a frequent contributor, is included. These issues have been removed from the plastic, colored, 3-ring binders in which King kept them. There are tear sheets for King’s column for New Times and Washington Star, and newspaper clippings of his book reviews. The files contain galley proofs, magazines, cover pages, tear sheets and newspaper clippings and are arranged chronologically.
Series IV: Short Stories, 1990 Box 12
This series contains only one file. Something Went With Daddy appeared in the literary journal, Story, in Autumn 1990. Herein is found the original manuscript, a final edit and a copy of the journal.
Series V: Television, 1981-1989 Box 13
King won an Emmy in 1982 for his television contribution, CBS Reports: The Best Little Statehouse in Texas, which first aired in August 1981. These files include a videotape and transcript of the show as well as a publicizing post card. Here also is a proposal for a TV series with a political setting.
Series VI: Songs, 1989-1990 Box 13
King penned some lyrics for his play The Night Hank Williams Died and later sold these along with others styled in a country and western vein in a package of ten. This series contains a demo tape and scratch notes for the songs. See also the Gary Cartwright Papers, Box 7, file 13 for a lyric King composed one night in New York with friend and fellow writer, Cartwright.
Series VII: Speeches, 1981-1993 Boxes 13-14
This series contains the invitations, announcements and flyers for functions King attended or participated in. Manuscripts of his speeches and the tape from the PEN Faulkner honors ceremony of 1990 are located here.
Series VIII: Material About Larry L. King, 1957-1991 Boxes 14-15
This series contains clippings, interviews, a video, cartoons and research papers on King’s writing career.
Series IX: Other writers, 1989-1993 Box 15-16
This series contains material, mostly clippings, King collected on contemporary writers. It includes a reminiscence of Billie Lee Brammer by Glenn Wilson of their days on Capitol Hill and a manuscript by Jack Runnel probably sent to King for his comments.
Series X: Personal Papers, 1929-1993 Box 16-18
This series contains personal records such as report cards, army discharge, birth and marriage certificates. There are photographs of King, his family and friends, cancelled checks and tax records from the mid-1970s.
Series XI: Correspondence, 1957-1993 Boxes 18-39
Correspondence forms the bulk of the King Papers, filling over 21 document cases. It is arranged chronologically, reflecting King’s own arrangement -- he keeps a box under his desk where he tosses the letters (with a copy of his response attached) as he answers them. When the box becomes full, King stuffs the letters into a large brown envelope upon which he marks the months and year covered.
The correspondence describes writing projects, including fan response and King’s reaction to it. He is generous with advice to aspiring writers and frequently discusses the literary craft with his writer friends. Writer correspondents include Borden Deal, Ronnie Dugger, Peter Gent, A. C. Greene, Norman Mailer, Jay Milner, Willie Morris, Terry Pringle, Frank Rich, Edwin (Bud) Shrake, H. Allen Smith, William Styron, Barlow Herget, and, less frequently, Billy Lee Brammer, Jim Brosnan, Jim Lehrer, Larry McMurtry, Bill Moyers and Bill Wittliff. Other correspondents are the Texas attorney, Warren Burnett, King’s cousin Lanvil Gilbert, legislator and The Kingfish co-writer Ben Z. Grant, Midland lawyer Reagan Legg, Director Keith Kennedy, high school coach Aubra Nooncaster, politicians Morris Udall and Jim Wright, and many more friends and family.
Open for research.
Larry L. King Papers, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.
Multiple donations since 1987. Donors: Larry L. King, Russell Harding and Lanvil Gilbert. Contact the SWWC for information about additional materials from this writer that have not yet been fully processed.
Gwynedd Cannan, April 1993 [inventory revised, 2004].
See also the Bill Wittliff Collection, Accession nos. 88-052, 89-028, 90-054, -071 and 92-053 for photographs, articles and scripts of Larry L. King. See 89-015 for original illustrations by Patrick Oliphant for the Encino Press publication of King’s book That Terrible Night Santa Got Lost In the Woods.
Detailed Description of the Collection