ALLEN, Jay Presson
Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Jacqueline Presson in San Angelo, Texas, 3 March 1922. Family: Married the producer Lewis Maitland Allen (second marriage), 1955, one daughter: Brooke. Career: Writer: first novel published in 1948; 1963—film version of her play Wives and Lovers produced by Paramount; 1964—first film script, Marnie ; 1969—play adaptation of the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie published; also wrote screen version; 1976–80—creator and script consultant, TV series Family ; 1980—produced first film, Just Tell Me What You Want , first of several films with Sidney Lumet. 1995—appeared on camera and provided commentary in the documentary The Celluloid Closet . Agent: ICM Agency, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
Films as Writer:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Neame)
Cabaret (Fosse); Travels with My Aunt (Cukor) (co)
The Borrowers (Miller)
Funny Lady (Ross) (co)
Just Tell Me What You Want (Lumet) (+ co-pr)
Prince of the City (Lumet) (co, + exec-pr)
Deathtrap (Lumet) (+ pr)
The Morning After (Lumet) (co)
Lord of the Flies (Hook); Year of the Gun (Frankenheimer) (co)
Copycat (Amiel) (co)
Films as Producer:
It's My Turn (Weill)
Hothouse ( The Center ) (Gyllenhaal)
By ALLEN: books—
Spring Riot (novel), New York, 1948.
Forty Carats (play), New York, 1969.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (play), New York, 1969.
Just Tell Me What You Want (novel), New York, 1975.
A Little Family Business (play adapted from Potiche by Pierre Barillet), New York, 1983.
By ALLEN: article—
Los Angeles Times , 11 May 1975.
Filmkultura (Budapest), July-August 1983.
On ALLEN: articles—
Roddick, Nick, in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.
Francke, Lizzie, in Script Girls: Women Screenwriters in Hollywood , London, 1994.
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Jay Presson Allen is a curiously overlooked screenwriter whose work has never received the attention it deserves. This may be in part because of a debut film which seemed inauspicious at the time, but which has grown in critical estimation: her screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie . Although criticized at the time for what was regarded as facile psychoanalyzing, the screenplay is actually a finely constructed work, presenting with great subtlety, voyeurism, and yet sympathy, an emotionally disturbed woman who can hold her own with those female creations of Bergman and Antonioni of the same period, but who, perhaps typical of her American context, is able to overcome her problems. Providing Hitchcock with the screenplay for this, one of his two or three greatest films, is certainly a notable achievement, even more apparent if one is familiar with the original novel by Winston Graham and knows how well (and radically) Allen adapted the material. Her power to adapt brilliantly is present also in her screenplay for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie , based on the novel by Muriel Spark, which once again presented sympathetically a three-dimensional, deeply disturbed woman.
Allen's greatest critical acclaim came for her adaptation for Bob Fosse of Cabaret , which not only threw out most of the sentimental trappings of the Broadway musical, but also had the courage to go back to the original Christopher Isherwood stories and to make explicit in the film itself the central homosexuality of the character generally patterned on Isherwood. By providing Fosse with a screenplay which allowed him to express his characteristic cynicism in great displays of technical razzle-dazzle, Allen made an inestimable contribution to the institution of the American musical; in its portrait of Nazism and German society, Cabaret claimed definitively for the musical a kind of laudable pretension and seriousness, as well as providing for Liza Minnelli one of the American cinema's great roles—yet another of Allen's portraits of neurotic women. Allen's most underrated screenplay is the surprising Just Tell Me What You Want , directed by Sidney Lumet, which offered an excellent Hollywood story and provided Ali McGraw the chance to turn in her most accomplished performance. Allen expanded the scope of her career somewhat by writing the screenplay for Sidney Lumet's Prince of the City , with its largely masculine milieu and adapting (again for Lumet) the thriller Deathtrap , perhaps her least interesting or successful project. Like many of her screenwriting colleagues, Allen became an occasional hyphenate, taking increased control of her work by functioning as her own producer as well. She also expanded into television and theater work. Tru , a one man show based on the life of Truman Capote which she wrote and directed, had great success on Broadway. Allen's theatrical follow-up was The Big Love , adapted from a novella by Florence Aadland. Cowritten with Allen's daughter, Brooke Allen, the play was produced by Allen's husband, Lewis Allen, and Home Box Office (HBO), and later appeared on the cable network. In 1994, Allen returned to film, discussing her work on Cabaret in The Celluloid Closet , a documentary on gay representations in Hollywood films. Allen also co-wrote the script for Copycat , a thriller featuring Sigourney Weaver as an agoraphobic psychologist. Copycat 's distraught detective (Holly Hunter) and paranoid psychologist are further examples of Allen's effective portraits of neurosis.
—Charles Derry, updated by Mark Johnson