1947, Margaret McDermott, a local philanthropist, gave ten thousand
dollars to transform the Magnolia Lounge into a theater. The person
placed in charge was a woman named Margo Jones. Margo was
born in Livingston,
Texas. After graduating from High School, she acquired a bachelor's
degree in speech and a master's degree in psychology and education.
She then studied at the Southwestern School of the Theater in Dallas
and the Pasadena Playhouse Summer School in California.
After all this education, Margo became the assistant director of
the Houston Federal Theater Project in 1935. The following year,
she founded and directed the Houston Community Players. She remained
there until 1942, discovering the talents of Ray Walston, Charles
William Goyen, Cy Howard, and Larry Blyden during her tenure.
Margo Jones arrived at the University of Texas in 1942 to teach
classes and direct plays. It was during this time that she met writer
Tennessee Williams. Thanks to her efforts to direct You Touched
Me, The Purification, and The Glass Menagerie,
the playwright gained national attention and a strong reputation.
The third production, which debuted on Broadway, provided Margo
with the necessary clout to be given control of the theater funded
by McDermott. Although all the paperwork was completed in 1945,
the Margo Jones Theater did not open until two years later. When
it did, the place became the first non-profit professional resident
theater and first arena theater in the nation.
From 1947 to 1955, Jones produced eighty-five plays, seventy percent
of them being world premiers. The most significant one arrived in
1955. Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee's play Inherit the Wind
was deemed too controversial at the time, so no one wanted to host
it. Margo took a chance in producing the play, resulting in its
transfer to Broadway. In addition to introducing new productions,
the theater launched the careers of many famous actors and actresses
like Larry Hagman, Brenda Vaccaro, Jack Warden, and Louise Latham.
During this time, Margo worked to help establish other resident
theaters, hoping to make her dream of making a network of them throughout
the country. Though she did not live to see it, her vision eventually
became a reality.
July 17, 1955, Margo Jones held a party for some of her friends.
Unfortunately, someone spilled paint on the carpet. Workers used
a chemical called carbon tetrachloride, which poisoned Margo while
she was sleeping by evaporating from the carpet it had absorbed.
She found unconscious and rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately,
she died nine days later.
Upon her death, the theater did not last for very long. The Magnolia
Lounge remained unused until the 1980s and 1990s when it served
as the park's visitor center. In 2003, it served as the temporary
home for the Video Association of Dallas. The place currently houses
the office of the Friends of Fair Park and the home of the Margo
Jones Theater Company. The company is actually a collection
of independent theater organizations which collaborate to produce
experimental productions. During the state fair, the outdoor region
is used for a beer garden and live entertainment.
November 12, 2016
© Clint Skinner
Williams' Texas Director Margo Jones by Bob Bowman