Documentary on Margo Jones--with Ivey and Thomas--Premieres in March
"Fifty years ago, Margo Jones was famous in the American theater world as 'The Texas Tornado.' She fought for success as a woman in a man's world, lived too fast, and died too young. Few know her name today, but her vision has transformed the American stage. The more-than-450 nonprofit resident theaters that now stretch across the country are all offspring of Jones's beliefs and commitment," state press notes.
The documentary will star Judith Ivey (Follies, Blithe Spirit, Hurlyburly) as the dynamic and idealistic director from Texas, and Richard Thomas (A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, Democracy) as Tennessee Williams, whose early career she championed. The one-hour documentary, produced in high-definition format, is narrated by Marcia Gay Harden (Oscar-winner for Pollock, Angels in America on Broadway), and will premiere nationally in March 2006 during Women's History Month.
Margo Jones (1912-1955) came to prominence in the cultural upsurge after World War II. She triumphed on Broadway as co-director of The Glass Menagerie in 1945, but dreamed of something beyond commercial theater. Summoned to culturally ambitious Dallas, Texas, after Menagerie's success, Jones began her own experimental professional playhouse in 1947, where she launched the career of playwright William Inge, and presented the world premiere of Williams' Summer and Smoke, both in her first season.
She had failures, notably Summer and Smoke's 1948 Broadway production, but amassed a striking record of finding new talent, and literally wrote the book, Theatre-in-the-Round, on how to make non-profit professional theater work in American communities. The book later became "the bible" of the resident theater movement of the '60s and '70s. In a typically bold move, Margo premiered Lawrence and Lee's Inherit the Wind in conservative Dallas in 1955, after it had been rejected by eight Broadway producers. The play went on to world fame – but Jones herself died soon after, at the age of 43, and her reputation died as well.
"Now, Jones makes a comeback in this surprising and moving documentary, which combines rare archival footage and interviews with a theatrical representation of Jones's pioneering life and achievements." The dramatic sequences for the production were filmed in Dallas on a set designed to suggest Jones's own landmark theater-in-the round in Dallas's Fair Park.
The script for "Sweet Tornado" draws on published and unpublished writings by Jones and by playwright Tennessee Williams – who was perhaps the most important figure in her life – and the Texas novelist and playwright William Goyen, who witnessed some of the events that led to her decline and death. Interwoven in the production are fragments from Inherit the Wind, Williams's The Glass Menagerie, and his drama Summer and Smoke. The documentary includes interviews with playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Horton Foote, actor Ray Walston, and Jones's biographer Helen Sheehy.
The theater sequences in the documentary were directed by New York filmmaker A. Dean Bell. His independent film, What Alice Found – starring Judith Ivey – won a Special Jury Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003 and the Grand Prize at the Deauville Festival of American Film in France.
"Sweet Tornado" is produced by KERA-Dallas/Fort Worth, and distributed by American Public Television. The documentary was co-produced and co-written by Kay Cattarulla and Rob Tranchin. Sylvia Komatsu is Executive in Charge.
KERA, a major public broadcasting producer and a leading community-based radio and television institution, regularly contributes to the national PBS schedule by producing programs that showcase Texas and the Southwest to the nation. Its television productions have been lauded for excellence by top industry awards, including a national George Foster Peabody Award in 2002 for KERA's co-production of "The Cliburn: Playing on the Edge" and a national Emmy Award in 1998 for KERA's four-part documentary series, "The U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848)." In 2001, KERA received a national Emmy nomination for its first high-definition television documentary, "Matisse & Picasso."