Jay Presson Allen, 84; Writer Adapted Novels for Movies and the Theater

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jay Presson Allen, an adapter of novels for stage and screen who stood out in an era when few women worked in that field, has died. She was 84.

Allen died Monday at her home in Manhattan after suffering a stroke, daughter Brooke Allen said.

Allen’s work is credited with bringing out the best in several actresses, including Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Liza Minnelli.

In the 1960s, Redgrave, Smith and Zoe Caldwell portrayed a liberated schoolteacher in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” which Allen adapted for both the theater and film from Muriel Spark’s novel. It was perhaps the best critical success for Allen, and it yielded Caldwell a Tony Award and Smith an Oscar.


In 1972, Allen’s film adaptation of the musical “Cabaret” was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including adapted screenplay. Minnelli, in the role of Sally Bowles, won best actress.

Allen shared an Academy Award nomination in 1981 with director Sidney Lumet for their adapted screenplay for “Prince of the City.”

Friends and family described Allen as a blunt and funny person with a knack for writing quickly.

“She was very delightful to talk to, but you had to sit up straight because she’s going to say some things that came out of left-center field,” said Gray Beverley, a longtime family friend.


“I said, ‘Did you ever have any trouble writing?’ She said, ‘I did. I couldn’t type fast enough.’ It really did come out of her so fast. She’d write these plays in a day and a half.”

Born Jacqueline Presson on March 3, 1922, she left her native Texas for New York to act but soon turned to writing. She published a novel in 1948 titled “Spring Riot.”

Other works by Allen include the 1964 screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie,” a 1968 English adaptation of the French play “Forty Carats” and “Family,” a television drama she created. Using Truman Capote’s writings, Allen wrote and directed the 1989 play “Tru.”

“In theater, you write to please yourself,” Allen told The Times in 1982. “On film, you have to aim your work at an awful lot of people.”

And of television, she said, “I hate it. I hate it because the buck doesn’t stop anywhere.

“Finally, you are answerable only to faceless numbers,” the writer added.

Jay Presson met her second husband, Lewis M. Allen, a Tony Award-winner who produced the Broadway hit “Annie,” in 1955; he died in 2003.

Along with her daughter, Jay Presson Allen’s survivors include two grandchildren.