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Jay Presson Allen

Adapter of novels for stage and screen

Jay Presson Allen, a famed adapter of novels for stage and screen who stood out in an era when few women worked in that field, died May 1 in Manhattan after suffering a stroke. She was 84.

Allen’s work is credited with bringing out the best in several female actresses, including Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Liza Minnelli. The writer was also known for her sharp tongue and witty observations.

In the 1960s, Redgrave and Smith, as well as 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. Liza Minnelli, in the role of Sally Bowles, won best actress.

Born Jay Presson in Fort Worth, Texas, she moved to California at age 18 to act but soon turned to writing instead. She published a novel in 1948 titled “Spring Riot.”

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

Other works by Allen include 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.” She also adapted the novel “Marnie” for Alfred Hitchcock. In later years, she wrote and exec produced “Just Tell Me What You Want” for director Sidney Lumet from her own novel as well as “Prince of the City” and “Deathtrap.”

She is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.

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