Kay Brown Barrett, the powerful talent scout and agent who discovered and secured the film rights to “Gone With the Wind,” died Jan. 18 from a stroke she suffered at a retirement home in Highstown, N.J., where she had resided since 1980. She was 93.
Having discovered three novels that eventually became Oscar-winning films for her clients, Barrett showed a keen sense of how a story would play on the screen and enjoyed a long career as a scout and agent.
She was representing film producer David Selznick in New York when she discovered Margaret Mitchell’s civil war epic and brought it to his attention.
Over the years Barrett scouted for such agencies as International Creative Management, Leland Hayward and MCA. She influenced the careers of such stars as Ingrid Bergman, Laurence Olivier and Alfred Hitchcock and directly represented Montgomery Clift, Fredric March, Patricia Neal, Rex Harrison, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Alex Guinness. Other clients included Lillian Hellman, Isak Dinesen and Arthur Miller, whom she represented for 40 years.
She also found such screen-worthy titles as Edna Ferber’s “Cimarron” and Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” the latter of which won Academy Awards for best picture and cinematography in 1940. It was produced by Selznick, directed by Hitchcock and starred Olivier.
The daughter of Kate Ross and Henry Collins Brown, a founder of the Museum of the City of New York, Barrett was born in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1924. She attended Wellesley College and upon graduation took a job with the Mary Arden Theater School in New Hampshire.
The owners of the school went on to buy a film company and offered her a job reading stories and hunting properties.
The company, then called the File Booking Office, became RKO, for which “Cimarron” was her first big discovery. Directed by Wesley Ruggles, the saga won Academy Awards for best picture and screenplay in 1931.
Her husband, James Barrett, died in 1967. She is survived by two daughters, Laurinda of New York City and Kate of Greensboro, N.C.