Jones, Preston St. Vrain (1936–1979)

By: Mark Busby

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: April 27, 2019

Preston St. Vrain Jones, playwright, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on April 17, 1936, the son of James Brooks "Jawbone" and Maud Gwinn (St. Vrain) Jones. Jawbone Jones served two terms as lieutenant governor of New Mexico, from 1943 to 1946. Maud was a grandniece of Col. Ceran St. Vrain, a contemporary of Christopher C. (Kit) Carson. Jones attended St. Michael's, a Catholic boys' school in Santa Fe, and received his diploma from Highland High School in Albuquerque in 1954. He graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1958 with a teaching certificate in speech. After teaching high school speech in Tucumcari for a semester, he returned to the University of New Mexico to take theater courses while applying for graduate school.

In 1961 he went to graduate school at Baylor University because Paul Baker, who also commuted to Dallas to direct the Dallas Theater Center, was teaching there. After working for a semester with Baker, Jones was invited to join the company at the Dallas Theater Center. When Baker left Baylor in 1963 in a dispute over staging Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and began commuting to Trinity University in San Antonio, Jones also transferred. For his master's thesis (1966) under Baker, Jones adapted Davis Grubb's novel The Night of the Hunter (1953) for the stage.

During summers in undergraduate school Jones had worked for the Texas Highway Department in Colorado City, the prototype of the mythical town of his plays, Bradleyville. He was married briefly there and had a daughter. At the Dallas Theater Center he met Mary Sue Fridge, an actor, director, and set designer, who soon became his second wife and was an important influence on his work.

In 1972 Jones became the managing director of Down Center Stage, Paul Baker's fifty-six-seat workshop theater. When Jones found that the plays submitted by local playwrights were unsatisfactory, he decided to write his own. His first play, presented as part of the Theater Center's festival of local plays in 1974, was a major success. In the audience were Audrey Wood, the literary agent who discovered Tennessee Williams, and Alan Schneider, the director who took John Houseman's place as head of the Juilliard drama division. Wood became Jones's literary agent, and Schneider helped plan a Washington performance.

Thus Jones's career was under way. His trilogy of plays, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, and The Oldest Living Graduate, were presented in repertory at the Kennedy Center in Washington to enthusiastic audiences and reviews. His picture was on the cover of Saturday Review and Smithsonian. His Broadway reception, however, was in marked contrast. The reviews were mediocre, and the trilogy closed after only sixty-three performances. Jones returned to Dallas, where he wrote three more full-length plays: A Place on the Magdalena Flats (1975); a farce, Santa Fe Sunshine (1977); and Remember (1979).

He continued acting at the Dallas Theater Center as well. In September 1979 in rehearsal as the Duke of Norfolk in A Man for All Seasons, directed by his wife, Jones began suffering from bleeding ulcers and underwent surgery. He unexpectedly died from complications on September 19, 1979. His premature death was particularly ironic because his plays examined the impermanence of life and the destructiveness of time.

Patrick Bennett, Talking with Texas Writers: Twelve Interviews (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980). Mark Busby, Preston Jones (Boise: Western Writers Series, 1983).

  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mark Busby, “Jones, Preston St. Vrain,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
April 27, 2019

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