Preston Jones Papers
Scope and Contents
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.
- Majority of material found within 1963-1979
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Materials from the Wittliff Collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user assumes responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish, and abiding by U.S. copyright laws. https://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/visit/policies/publication.html
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 that 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.
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Language of Materials
Metadata Rights Declarations
- The descriptive data created for this finding aid is licensed under the CC0 Creative Commons license and is free for use without restriction.
The collection chronicle Preston Jones personal and professional life, from his childhood in New Mexico through his days as a successful playwright.
Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use: https://www.thewittliffcollections.txstate.edu/research/makearesearchappointment.html.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Mary Sue Jones.
- Guide to the Preston Jones Papers
- Gwynedd Cannan
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
- 2005: Inventory revision by Brandy Harris.
- 2021: Revised for ArchivesSpace by Susannah Broyles.