- Margo Jones
Margo Jones Born Margaret Virginia Jones
December 12, 1911
Livingston, Texas, U.S.
Died July 26, 1955(aged 43)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Occupation Theater director and producer
Margo Jones (December 12, 1911 – July 26, 1955) was an influential 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. "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).
In 1955, Jones died at age 43 from accidental exposure to poisonous carbon tetrachloride fumes from a newly-cleaned carpet in her Dallas apartment. She was found unconscious on the floor and rushed to the hospital, where, according to friends, she regained consciousness, and slowly realized that she was dying, making elaborate preparations for it and instructing her closest friends to groom and dress her properly for burial. However, she never actually knew what had killed her, and her theater closed in 1959.
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.
Date Production Author Location 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 Ghosts Henrik Ibsen 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 Late Love Casey 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 Sea-Change William Case 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)
- Sheehy, Helen. Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989.
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