Robert Earl Jones
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|Robert Earl Jones|
Jones in Langston Hughes' Don't You Want to be Free?, 1938.
|Born||February 3, 1910
Tate County, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||September 7, 2006
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
|Other names||Earl Jones|
(m. 1929; div. 1934)
(m. 1938; div. 1950)
(m. 1960; d. 1981)
|Children||2; including James Earl Jones|
Robert Earl Jones (February 3, 1910 – September 7, 2006), sometimes credited as Earl Jones, was an American actor and prizefighter. One of the first prominent African-American film stars, Jones was a living link with the Harlem renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, having worked with Langston Hughes early in his career. In New York in the 1930s Jones worked with young people on the Works Progress Administration, the largest New Deal agency, through which he met Langston Hughes, who cast him in his 1938 play, Don't You Want to Be Free?. Jones was best known for his leading roles in films such as Lying Lips (1939) and later in his career for supporting roles in films such as The Sting (1973), Trading Places (1983), The Cotton Club (1984) and Witness (1985). Jones was the father of actor James Earl Jones.
Jones was born in Mississippi; the specific location is unclear as some sources indicate Senatobia, while others suggest nearby Coldwater. A son of Robert and Elnora Jones, Robert Earl Jones left school at an early age to become a sharecropper, and later became a prizefighter before making his way (via Chicago) to New York City and a career on stage and in film. Under the name "Battling Bill Stovall", he was a sparring partner of Joe Louis.
Jones appeared in more than twenty films, including The Cotton Club (1984) and The Sting (1973). His film career started with the leading role of a detective in the 1939 race film Lying Lips. Jones acted mostly in crime movies and dramas after that, with such highlights as Wild River and One Potato, Two Potato. Jones appeared in several other noted films over the span of his career: Witness, Trading Places, and The Cotton Club. Jones appeared in the Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting, as Luther Coleman, an aging grifter whose con is requited with murder leading to "the sting".
Toward the end of his life, Jones was noted for his stage portrayal of Creon in a 1988 musical version of the Oedipus legend, The Gospel at Colonus. He also made appearances in the long-running TV shows Lou Grant and Kojak. His last film was in Rain Without Thunder (1993). One of his last stage roles was in a 1991 production of Mule Bone by Hughes and another figure from the Harlem renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston. Although blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, he was ultimately honored with a lifetime achievement award by the U.S. National Black Theatre Festival.
Jones was married three times. As a young man, Jones married Ruth Connolly in 1929 which produced a son, James Earl Jones. Jones and Connolly separated before James was born in 1931. The couple divorced in 1933, and Jones did not come to know his son until the mid–1950s. Jones married two other times, to Jumelle Jones from 1938–1950 and Ruth Williams from 1960 until her death in 1981. Jones fathered one other child in addition to James Earl. Jones died September 7, 2006 in Englewood, New Jersey from natural causes at age 96.
- Lying Lips (1939) – Detective Wenzer
- The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940) – Benny Blue
- Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – Club Employee (uncredited)
- Wild River (1960) – Sam Johnson (uncredited)
- The Secret of the Purple Reef (1960) – Tobias
- The Defenders (1963, TV) – Joe Dean
- Terror in the City (1964) – Farmer
- One Potato, Two Potato (1964) – William Richards
- Mississippi Summer (1971)
- Willie Dynamite (1973) – (uncredited)
- The Sting (1973) – Luther Coleman
- Cockfighter (1974) – Buford
- Kojak (1976, TV) – Judge
- The Displaced Person (1977) – Astor
- Proof of the Man (1977) – Wilshire Hayward
- Lou Grant (1978, TV) – Earl Humphrey
- Jennifer's Journey (1979) – Reuven
- The Sophisticated Gents (1981) – Big Ralph Joplin
- Cold River (1982) – The Trapper
- One Life to Live (1982)
- Trading Places (1983) – Attendant
- Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Ben
- The Cotton Club (1984) – Stage Door Joe
- Billions for Boris (1984) – Grandaddy
- The Gospel at Colonus (1985) – Creon
- Witness (1985) – Custodian
- Starlight: A Musical Movie (1988) – Joe
- Maniac Cop 2 (1990) – Harry
- Rain Without Thunder (1993) – Old Lawyer (final film role)
- David Patrick Stearns (December 2006). "Robert Earl Jones: US actor rooted in the Harlem renaissance". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- "Robert Earl Jones profile". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- Margalit Fox (September 19, 2006). "Robert Earl Jones, 96, Broadway Actor, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-21.