Texas Originals: Margo Jones

MARGARET VIRGINIA (MARGO) JONES
(December 12, 1911–July 24, 1955)

 

Texan Margo Jones revolutionized American theatre. At a time when few professional drama companies existed outside New York, Jones fought for regional productions and new voices. Her enthusiasm earned her the nickname the “Texas Tornado” and led Tennessee Williams to describe her as a combination of Joan of Arc, Gene Autry, and nitroglycerine.

Born in Livingston in 1911, Jones trained in Denton and Dallas but soon learned that professional theatre opportunities were limited to New York and Los Angeles.

Jones spent time in those cities but returned to Texas determined to create the best theatre in America. “I saw no reason,” she said, “why I couldn’t have it in Houston.” She soon proved to be one of the nation’s most promising young directors. She championed young playwrights such as Tennessee Williams, Jerome Lawrence, and Robert Edwin Lee and directed the premiers  of The Glass Menagerie and Inherit the Wind.

In 1947, in Dallas, Jones founded America’s first modern professional resident theatre, which in turn launched the regional theatre movement throughout the nation. Hers was also America’s first professional theatre-in-the-round, using minimal sets on a stage surrounded by the audience.

Jones died in 1955, just as her dream of a decentralized American theatre came to fruition. Today, strong regional theatre companies continue to thrive throughout America.

 

For More about Margo Jones

Helen Sheehy’s 1999 biography Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones remains the best and most comprehensive source of information about Jones, her life, and her career. Sheehy has published online an extended essay titled “Who Was Margo Jones?”

The 2006 documentary Sweet Tornado: Margo Jones and the American Theater also provides a compelling introduction to Jones’s influential career. The filmmakers maintain a website with additional materials on Jones’s life, including archival interview footage with Jones herself. The film was made possible with a grant from Humanities Texas.

Though Margo Jones became a national figure celebrated in New York and Los Angeles, East Texas was always home. After her death, she was laid to rest in Forest Hill Cemetery outside Livingston. It is here that the state of Texas has erected a historical marker celebrating her life.

 

Selected Bibliography

Chinoy, Helen Krich and Linda Walsh Jenkins, eds. Women in American Theatre. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987.

Fliotsos, Anne and Wendy Vierow. American Women Stage Directors of the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Jones, Margo. Theatre-in-the-Round. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1951.

Sheehy, Helen. Margo: The Life and Theatre of Margo Jones. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989.

Sheehy, Helen. “Jones, Margaret Virginia.” Handbook of Texas Online

 

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