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|Born||Margaret Virginia Jones
December 12, 1911
Livingston, Texas, U.S.
|Died||July 24, 1955
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
|Occupation||Theater director and producer|
Margo Jones (December 12, 1911 – July 24, 1955) was an American stage director and producer best known for launching the American regional theater movement and for introducing the theater-in-the-round concept in Dallas, Texas. In 1947, she established the first regional professional company when she opened Theatre ’47 in Dallas. Of the 85 plays Jones staged during her Dallas career, 57 were new, and one-third of those new plays had a continued life on stage, television and radio.
Early career and Theatre '47
Born Margaret Virginia Jones in Livingston, Texas, Jones worked in community and professional theaters in California, Houston, and New York City. "Since 1936, Margo Jones had served as assistant director of the Federal Theatre in Houston, traveled to Soviet Russia for a festival at the Moscow Art Theatre, and founded and directed the Houston Community Theatre. She had recently joined the faculty of the University of Texas's drama department in Austin (around 1942)." She traveled the world, experiencing theater everywhere, eventually gaining commercial success on Broadway as co-director of the original production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. She directed Williams' Summer and Smoke, a flop in its first production but highly regarded years later. After she directed Maxwell Anderson's successful Joan of Lorraine, starring Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc, she was fired during the Washington, D.C. tryout. However, her name remained on the marquee and playbills, and no other director was ever credited for the production.
All three plays were filmed. Bergman repeated her Joan of Lorraine role in Joan of Arc (1948), for which she was Oscar-nominated. Geraldine Page was Oscar-nominated for her performance in Summer and Smoke (1961). Since 1950, there have been at least five different film/TV productions of The Glass Menagerie.
The success of The Glass Menagerie allowed her to take the next step toward her dream of running a repertory theatre outside of New York. She moved back to Dallas and opened Theatre ’47 (which changed its name to the corresponding year every New Year’s Eve).
Her theater was in the sleek "Magnolia Lounge" (Magnolia Petroleum Company, later Mobil Oil) building, designed by Swiss-born architect William Lescaze, in 1936 for the Texas Centennial and situated on the grounds of Fair Park in Dallas. The theater was America's first modern nonprofit professional resident theater and also the first professional arena theater (theater-in-the-round) in the country. Jones was inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression era National Theater Project and the European arts movement which she had experienced directly during the 1930s. The resident company was dedicated to staging new plays and classics of world theater rather than revivals of past Broadway hits. The initial season introduced William Inge's first play, Farther Off from Heaven, later revised as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.
Regional theater movement
Though touring shows did exist at this time, there were no quality professional American theatre companies outside of New York. Jones believed in the decentralization of theater. She wanted her art to exist all across America, beyond the realm of commercialized Broadway. She reasoned that if she and her collaborators succeeded “in inspiring the operation of 30 theatres like ours, the playwright won’t need Broadway.” (Sheehy 2). Playwrights Inge, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee championed this sentiment when they received their first big breaks from Jones' Dallas theater.
Jones envisioned it as a place where actors, writers and technicians could have steady jobs and not be subject to the problems found in the volatile New York scene. When the Ford Foundation began giving grants outside of New York during the 1950s, the movement gathered momentum and Theatre ’47 became the model of how to build a new company. (Weeks)
In her book Theatre in the Round, Jones outlined inexpensive methods to enable companies to get started, detailing valuable information on subscription sales, board development, programming, actor/artist relations and other issues relevant to new regional theatre companies. Her theater-in-the-round concept requires no stage curtain, little scenery and allows the audience to sit on three sides of the stage. That concept was used by directors in later years for such well-known shows as the original stage production of Man of La Mancha, and all plays staged at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre (demolished in the late 1960s), including Arthur Miller's autobiographical play After the Fall (1964).
On July 17, 1955, Jones invited friends over to a party. However, during the party an artist spilled red paint on the carpet, so she later brought professional cleaners to deal with it. They used carbon tetrachloride, a strong solvent commonly used in dry-cleaning processes at the time. Jones, satisfied with the cleaning, fell asleep into the night. Unfortunately, some carbon tetrachloride had been absorbed into the carpet and later evaporated, filling her home with toxic fumes. So she woke up dizzy; it was later discovered the gas had caused kidney failure. She was then found unconscious on the couch resting and she was rushed to hospital, but died 9 days later. According to her friends, she briefly regained consciousness and found out she was going to die, and made elaborate preparations for her burial, including asking her friends to dress her properly and grooming her for her funeral. She died July 26, 1955 at the age of 43, never realizing what killed her. In 1959, her theater was closed.
For eight years Jones balanced her career between Broadway and regional projects. In Dallas, she staged the world premiere of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee's Inherit the Wind, a fictionalized retelling of the Scopes monkey trial, after it had been rejected by several Broadway producers. The play received rave reviews and subsequently opened on Broadway in April 1955, where it became a major hit. Inherit the Wind become an Oscar-nominated film in 1960 and has been revived as a TV special three times.
Jones' innovative ideas inspired the growth of numerous resident companies, and made it possible for regions across America to experience the art she loved. In 1950-55, producer Albert McCleery brought the concept of theater-in-the-round to television with his Cameo Theatre.
The Margo Jones Award was established in 1961 by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
In 2006, a documentary film about her life and career, Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theater, was shown on PBS. With Jones portrayed by Judith Ivey, the film dramatized scenes from her life, adapted from her letters and correspondence with Broadway producers and Tennessee Williams (portrayed by Richard Thomas). The film features interviews with people who worked with her, including actor Ray Walston, who got his first big break in the original production of Summer and Smoke.
|1942||The Eve of St. Mark||Maxwell Anderson||University of Texas, Austin|
|1943||Sporting Pink||Theodore Apstein||University of Texas, Austin|
|A Choice of Weapons||Theodore Apstein|
|You Touched Me||Tennessee Williams||Pasadena Playhouse, California|
|1945||The Glass Menagerie||Tennessee Williams||Playhouse, New York|
|1946||On Whitman Avenue||Maxine Wood||Broadway, New York|
|Joan of Lorraine||Maxwell Anderson||Alvin Theatre, New York|
|1947||Farther Off From Heaven/The Dark at the Top of the Stairs||William Inge||Theatre '47, Dallas, Texas|
|Hedda Gabler||Henrik Ibsen|
|How Now Hecate||Martyn Coleman|
|Summer and Smoke||Tennessee Williams||Theatre '47, Dallas, Texas
Music Box Theatre, New York
|Third Cousin||Vera Mathews||Theatre '47, Dallas, Texas|
|1948||The Master Builder||Henrik Ibsen||Theatre '48, Dallas, Texas|
|The Taming of the Shrew||William Shakespeare|
|The Importance of Being Earnest||Oscar Wilde|
|Summer and Smoke||Tennessee Williams||Broadway, New York|
|Last of My Solid Gold Watches
This Property Is Condemned
Portrait of a Madonna
|Tennessee Williams||Theatre '48, Dallas, Texas|
|Throng o' Scarlet||Vivian Connell|
|Lemple's Old Man||Manning Gurain|
|Leaf and Bough||Joseph Hayes|
|Black John||Barton MacLane|
|1949||The Learned Ladies||Molière||Theatre '49, Dallas, Texas|
|Twelfth Night||William Shakespeare|
|The Sea Gull||Anton Chekhov|
|She Stoops to Conquer||Oliver Goldsmith|
|Here's to Us||Shirland Quin|
|Sting in the Tail||Tom Purefoy|
|The Coast of Illyria||Dorothy Parker and Ross Evans|
|1950||Heartbreak House||George Bernard Shaw||Theatre '50, Dallas, Texas|
|An Old Beat-Up Woman||Sari Scott|
|My Granny Van||Loren Disney and George Sessions Perry|
|Cock-a-Doodle Dandy||Seán O'Casey|
|The Golden Porcupine||Muriel Roy Bolton|
|Southern Exposure||Owen Crump|
|A Play for Mary||William McCleery|
|An Innocent Time||Edward Caufield|
|1951||Lady Windermere's Fan||Oscar Wilde||Theatre '51, Dallas, Texas|
|The Merchant of Venice||William Shakespeare|
|Candida||George Bernard Shaw|
|A Willow Tree||A. B. Shiffrin|
|One Bright Day||Siomund Miller|
|Walls Rise Up||Duane, Frank and Richard Shannon|
|A Gift for Cathy||Ronald Alexander|
|1952||A Midsummer Night's Dream||William Shakespeare||Theatre '52, Dallas, Texas|
|Sainted Sisters||Alden Nash|
|The Blind Spot||Edward Caulfield|
|So in Love||Vern Matthews|
|I Am Laughing||Edwin Justus Mayer|
|1953||Hamlet||William Shakespeare||Theatre '53, Dallas, Texas|
|The Rivals||Richard Brinsley Sheridan|
|Goodbye, Your Majesty||Vivian Connell|
|The Rising Heifer||Robin Maugham|
|The Last Island||Eugene Raskin|
|Uncle Marston||John Briard Harding|
|The Day's Mischief||Lesley Storm|
|1954||Volpone||Ben Jonson||Theatre '54, Dallas, Texas|
|The Footpath Way||Burgess Drake|
|The Guilty||Harry Granick|
|Happy We'll Be||Samson Raphaelson|
|Oracle Junction||Samson Raphaelson|
|The Heel||Samson Raphaelson|
|A Rainbow at Home||Milton Robertson|
|Horatio||Wallach, David Baker, and Harnick|
|The Purification||Tennessee Williams|
|Apollo of Bellac||Jean Giraudoux|
|The Brothers||John S. Rodell|
|A Dash of Bitters||Reginald Denham and Conrad Sutton-Smith|
|The Hemlock Cup||Edward Hunt|
|1955||As You Like It||William Shakespeare||Theatre '55, Dallas, Texas|
|Inherit the Wind||Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee|
|Whisper to Me||William Goyen and Greer Johnson|
|La Belle Lulu||Jacques Offenbach and Charles Previn|
|The Girl from Boston||Joseph Hayes|
- Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theater interview clips (Albert J. Devlin, Helen Sheehy, Judith Ivey, Jerome Weeks)
- Jones, Margo (1951). Theatre-in-the-round. New York: McGraw Book Coy.
- Sheehy, Helen (1989). Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.