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            Jay Presson Allen

            Biografie

            Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jay Presson Allen was born Jacqueline Presson in San Angelo, Texas on March 3, 1922, the daughter of a department store manager. Educated at Miss Hockaday's School for Young Ladies in Dallas, Presson in her own words received no education at all. At the age of 18, she decided to become an actress in New York City. The charms of the profession soon paled and she married in the early 1940s, moving to southern California.

            Disenchanted with acting, she saw writing as a way of becoming financially independent and enabling to leave her unhappy marriage. Her first novel "Spring Riot" was published in 1948. She moved back to New York, where she performed in cabaret and on the radio, but she was as disenchanted with performing as she had been before. She eventually divorced her husband and in 1955, she married Lewis Allen, a reader at the office of Broadway producer Bob Whitehead. Allen initially rejected a play she had sent Whitehead that later was optioned but never produced.

            She decided to write under the name J. Presson Allen, but a clerk at the Social Security office changed the first part of her name to Jay. She sold work to television, including the Philco Playhouse. She eventually wrote another play, "The First Wife," that was turned into the 1963 film Wives and Lovers (1963). She optioned Muriel Spark's novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) and wrote a dramatization. It was this play-script that brought her to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who engaged her to adapt Winston Graham's novel Marnie. Under Hitchcock's tutelage, she developed her screen-writing gifts.

            "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" was produced in London in 1966 and was a success, making the transfer to both Broadway and the silver screen. Maggie Smith won her first Oscar playing Jean Brodie. Allen had another success on Broadway with her play 40 Carats (1973), which she adapted from a French comedy. The great Julie Harris won a Tony Award for her performance as a 42-year-old woman who seduces a man twenty years her junior. The 1973 film was a failure.

            She wrote the screenplay for George Cukor's 1972 film adaptation of Graham Green's Travels with My Aunt (1972), which initially was to star Katharine Hepburn, but Hepburn hated the script and rewrote it. Presson quit the picture but her name is in the credits as Hepburn was not a Writer's Guild member. Ironically, Hepburn quit the picture and was replaced by Maggie Smith.

            The same year that "Travels With My Aunt" was released and failed, Allen was engage to adapt the Broadway hit Cabaret (1972) for director Bob Fosse. Under the direction of the producers, Allen went back to Christopher Isherwood's source material, the 1939 novel "Goodbye to Berlin," the basis of his I Am a Camera (1955), which itself is the genesis of "Cabaret." Allen had to give structure to the story for the movie, but she clashed with Fosse, whom she found a depressive who drained the script of humor. She eventually quit but was given the credit for the script, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.

            Other projects that Presson worked on were Funny Lady (1975), the 1974 sequel to Funny Girl (1968), and the TV series "Family." She adapted her 1969 novel "Just Tell Me What Your Want" for movie director Sidney Lumet, which was the first of four projects they collaborated on. She was nominated for an Oscar for her adaptation of Robert Daley's novel Prince of the City (1981), directed by Lumet. Her third collaboration was an adaptation of Ira Levin's play "Deathtrap." She also worked uncredited on Lumet's The Verdict (1982) rewriting David Mamet's script.

            She worked on the adaptations of "A Little Family Business" and "La Cage Aux Folles" on Broadway and the TV series "Hothouse." She wrote a biographical play about Truman Capote, "Tru," which made it to Broadway in 1991. She had not known Capote, but his friends say she captured the essence of the man. Her last screenplay was a remake of "Lord of the Flies," but she disliked the 1990 film and had her name taken off of it.

            In an interview with the "New York Times" in 1972, Allen said that the essence of a successful adaptation is to not "muck around with the essence" of the original work.

            Jay Presson Allen died on May 1, 2006 in New York City. She was 84 years old.

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