A Guide to the Preston Jones Papers, 1940-1988 (Bulk : 1963-1979)
Playwright Preston Jones is best remembered for A Texas Trilogy, an evocative depiction of small town Texas life. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 7, 1936, Preston developed an interest in the dramatic arts while attending the University of New Mexico. Though he graduated with a BA in education in 1960 and took a teaching position, drama professor Eddie Snapp continued to encourage Preston to study theater and steered him toward Baylor University in Waco, Texas. At the time, the Baptist school's Drama Department was headed by Snapp's former Yale classmate, Paul Baker, a nationally known figure in regional and experimental theater. Preston applied successfully to Baylor and while waiting to enroll, worked for the highway department in Colorado City, Texas, the place which later formed the basis for Bradleyville, the setting for A Texas Trilogy.
Preston completed his coursework at Baylor but before he could receive his degree, Paul Baker and the Baylor University administration had a falling out over the production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. Baker moved his entire department to Trinity University in San Antonio in 1963 and Preston followed, receiving his Master's there in 1966. His thesis was a dramatization of the novel by David Grubb, The Night of the Hunter.
In 1959, Paul Baker became director of the newly formed Dallas Theater Center (DTC) which he headed in conjunction with his position as a drama department chairman. Baker invited Preston to join the DTC during his first year as a student at Baylor thus beginning the association with an important regional theater that lasted until the end of his life. In line with Baker's philosophy of non-specialization, Preston performed all duties in the theater: actor, director, stage manager, ticket taker, etc. As an actor, he appeared in Julius Caesar, Journey to Jefferson, Medea, A Streetcar Named Desire, What Price Glory, and The Girl of the Golden West. He played the stage manager in Our Town and Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind. Preston's directing projects included Under the Yum-Yum Tree, Barefoot in the Park and The Knack. Preston was to credit this varied experience in the theater for his success in writing material for the stage.
It was through the Dallas Theater Center that Preston met his second wife, Mary Sue Birkhead Fridge. The two worked together in many Dallas Theater productions where Mary Sue was assistant director to Paul Baker as well as a popular actress and designer. Mary Sue, for her part, provided Preston with encouragement and support in his writing endeavors. Preston's admiration for his wife's talent was oft expressed. "I never belonged on the same stage as that woman," he told John Anders of the Dallas Morning News (July 5, 1992).
In 1972, Baker appointed Preston managing director of Down Center Stage, a smaller workshop theater in the Center. Jones wished to provide a stage for new works but the lack of good material inspired him to begin writing what became the Trilogy. The first of the three plays, The Knights of the White Magnolia, premiered at the Down Center Stage on December 4, 1973. Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander followed on February 5, 1974 and The Oldest Living Graduate in November of that year. Baker chose Knights and LuAnn (Graduate had not yet been completed) along with other original plays by resident playwrights to be presented in a spring showcase, Playmarket 74. Producers, agents and critics from around the world were invited to view these works, among them literary agent Audrey Wood and director Alan Schneider. Wood, who had discovered, among others, Tennessee Williams and William Inge, became Preston's agent and Schneider eventually directed the Trilogy in Washington, D. C. and New York City. In 1975, the three plays were performed together for the first time on the main stage of the Dallas Theater Center under the title, The Bradleyville Trilogy. That same year the American Playwright's Theater, which promotes the production of new works in theaters around the country, chose Knights as one of their offerings. In 1976, the renamed A Texas Trilogy played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to popular and critical acclaim. Preston received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to write a play for the American bicentennial and the Golden Apple Award from Cue magazine. After these initial successes, the Trilogy opened September 1976 on Broadway to a lukewarm response, closing after three weeks.
Preston returned to Dallas reassuming the varied tasks required of members of the company but by no means resting on his laurels as a playwright. His A Place on the Magdalena Flats played at the Dallas Theater Center in 1976 while the Trilogy wound its way from Washington to New York. Santa Fe Sunshine premiered at the Dallas Theater Center April 9, 1977. That same year, Preston won the Outer Critics Circle Award for the Trilogy and staged a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson on her 65th birthday. In 1978, Preston created the one-act Juneteenth for the Actors' Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, forming the plot around Black Texans' annual celebration of emancipation. This play was later presented with other one-acts on PBS's "Earplay" series under the title Holidays. In 1979, Remember was on the boards. While working on rewrites, Preston was also crafting a screenplay of the Trilogy for producer Hal Wallis.
Preston was slated to appear as the Duke of Norfolk in the Dallas Theater Center's production of A Man For All Seasons under Mary Sue's direction when he was suddenly taken ill and hospitalized. He died September 9, 1979 after surgery on a bleeding ulcer.
See also: Busby, Mark. Preston Jones. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Western Writers Series No. 58, 1983.
The Preston Jones papers span the years 1940 to 1988. The archive contains typescripts, set designs, playbills, props, clippings, magazines, articles, letters, photographs, personal items (pipes, glasses, keys, a stuffed bear collection, etc.), mementos (World War I items, ticket stubs, "good show" gifts, etc.), awards, posters, school records, sculptures, scrapbooks, audiotapes, videotapes, T-shirts, and athletic equipment. Most of the material was saved by Preston's widow, Mary Sue Jones. Mary Sue kept files on Preston and his career in several different file groups. These file groups have been rearranged and consolidated into chronological order within subjects. The records are comprised of five series: Early Years and Dallas Theater Center, Plays, Professional Files, Publicity Files, and Illness and Death. The series chronicle Preston's personal and professional life, from his childhood in New Mexico through his days as a successful playwright.
Series I: Early Years and Dallas Theater Center, 1940-1983. Boxes 1-4
This series outlines Preston Jones' life before he became known as a playwright. It begins with photographs, articles and memorabilia of his father, James "Jawbone" Jones. It continues with boyhood photographs, yearbooks, memorabilia and drawings from his elementary school, high school, and college in New Mexico. Class notes, designs, school records, and diplomas represent his master's work in playwrighting from Baylor University in Waco and Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Scrapbooks and photographs of Mary Sue and Preston's honeymoon trip to Europe in 1964 and subsequent trips and vacations to Europe and Colorado are present. Jones was an enthusiastic player of darts and baseball, and equipment from both sports is included here. His intense interest in World War I, in which his father had served, is well documented by pamphlets, photographs, slides, medals, posters, and military memorabilia as well as sculptures Preston made out of coffee stirrers, many of which represent World War I scenes. Included too in this series are personal items: wallets, slides, programs, posters, pipes, and other paraphernalia. Finally there is material on Jones’ career at the Dallas Theater Center in the form of scrapbooks, audiotapes and photographs.
Series II: Plays, 1966-1988, n.d. Boxes 4-20
This series is organized into 3 subseries: Unproduced Writings; A Texas Trilogy; and Post-Trilogy plays. Many of the files reflect Mary Sue's filing system but the material has been consolidated and reorganized by play in chronological order.
The group Unproduced Writings contains manuscripts of Preston Jones’ unproduced plays. Included is his thesis adaptation of The Night of the Hunter.
The three plays of the trilogy in the second subseries were performed together for the first time at the Dallas Theater Center in 1975 as the Bradleyville Trilogy. They played again as A Texas Trilogy in May 1976 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. and at the Broadhurst Theater in New York in September 1976. The first set of files refers to the three plays as a unit and contains playbills, posters, set designs, reviews, clippings and screenplay drafts. There is considerable documentation of the Washington and New York productions--promotional articles, photographs, reviews, playbills, congratulation notes, memorabilia (t-shirts, Algonquin hotel mementos) and interviews. Preston's Teddy Bear collection is included here. His favorite was a small teddy bear named Fred, an ever-present good luck talisman that was buried with him.
Knights was the first completed play of the Trilogy, premiering at the Down Center Stage in the Dallas Theater Center on December 4, 1973. This subseries contains the handwritten versions of the play along with successive drafts and rewrites. Also included are props, costumes, playbills, programs, clippings, reviews, and interviews. The material is arranged by format (scripts, props, programs, clippings) in chronological order.
Preston Jones began LuAnn before the other two plays of the Trilogy, inventing as he did so the connecting thread, the town of Bradleyville. LuAnn was the second of the three plays to be completed, premiering in February of 1974. This subseries contains scripts and rewrites, programs, clippings, reviews, photographs and a video of the University of Minnesota 1980s production.
After Knights and Luann had been presented, Preston Jones wrote the final play of the Trilogy, The Oldest Living Graduate. It premiered at the Down Center Stage November 1974. In 1980, Graduate was presented live on television costarring Henry Fonda, Cloris Leachman, George Grizzard, and Harry Dean Stanton. This set of files contains the scripts and rewrites, clippings, reviews, and photographs. Included is a video of the 1980 telecast along with clippings and reviews. Preston Jones turned to his native New Mexico as the inspiration for the three plays written after the Trilogy. In 1975, Jones began writing A Place on the Magdalena Flats, also titled The Plains of St. Augustine, which examines the relationship of two brothers working their New Mexican ranch during the 1956 drought. Santa Fe Sunshine is a comic play about an artist's colony. Remember concerns an actor reminiscing on his past during a visit to his boyhood home. Included here also are records on Juneteenth, a one-act play commissioned by the Actor's Theatre in Louisville, and a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson on her 65th birthday, scripted and staged by Preston. This subseries contains handwritten and typed drafts and rewrites, programs, photographs, set designs, memorabilia, clippings of reviews and publicity, and audio and videotapes.
Series III: Professional Files, 1963-1986, Bulk 1972-1979. Boxes 21-25
This series contains journals, address books, correspondence, contracts, royalty payments, articles, clippings and photographs. The major part of the material relates to A Texas Trilogy and is made up of communications with agents, fans, and theaters concerning options on the plays. Included is correspondence with Hal Wallis in regard to the movie production of the Trilogy.
Series IV: Publicity, 1974-1986. Boxes 25-28
This series contains materials on the promotion of Preston Jones' theatrical career especially in regard to the Trilogy. It includes photographs, clippings, reviews, articles, interviews and videotapes, providing information on aspects of the author's life, career, and writing methods.
Series V: Jones Illness and Death, 1979-1983. Boxes 29-33
Jones died unexpectedly in September of 1979 after surgery for bleeding ulcers. This series contains documents concerning Jones' medical care and cause of death, obituaries, the funeral service, the memorial fund established at the Dallas Theater Center, sympathy cards, Christmas cards, acknowledgments from Mary Sue Jones, correspondence and reports on the estate.
Open for research.
Preston Jones Papers, Southwestern Writers Collection/Texas State University-San Marcos.
Donated by Mary Sue Jones.
Processed by Gwynedd Cannan, Nov. 1993; Inventory Rev. by Brandy Harris, 2005.
Detailed Description of the Collection