Robert Earl Jones
|Robert Earl Jones|
Robert Earl Jones, 1939
February 3, 1910|
Senatobia, Mississippi, USA
|Died||September 7, 2006
Englewood, New Jersey, USA
|Cause of death||Natural causes|
|Other names||Earl Jones|
Jumelle P. Jones
|Children||James Earl Jones
Matthew Earl Jones
Robert Earl Jones (February 3, 1910 – September 7, 2006) was an American actor. One of the first prominent black film stars, he was best known for his leading roles in films such as Lying Lips (1939) and later in his career for supporting roles in blockbusters such as The Sting (1973) and The Cotton Club (1984). He was the father of actor James Earl Jones.
Born in Mississippi, the specific location of his birth is unclear as some sources indicate Senatobia, while others suggest nearby Coldwater. Additionally, his date of birth has been variously reported by different sources as between 1900 and 1911. The most likely date is 1910 as reported by the United States Social Security Administration.
Jones had to leave school to become a sharecropper, and later he 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.
Altogether Jones appeared in more than twenty films, including The Cotton Club (1984) and The Sting (1973). 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 told the New York Times in 1974:
"It was kind of natural. Langston Hughes' aunt, Toy Harper, taught me how to read my first poem: 'I am a Negro black as the night is black/ Black like the depth of my Africa' and several other poems. It was poetic drama, put together by several of his poems. We linked them together by a narrative, and I was that narrator.
Jones' career in films 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 also 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". Although he never achieved the fame enjoyed by his son, James, Jones found a comfortable niche in Hollywood with steady work from the 1960s through the early 1990s.
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 the 1992 drama Rain Without Thunder. 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.
Though 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.
- Robert Jones, father
- Elnora Sunden Jones, mother
- Brian Jones, brother
- Mary Jones, sister
- John Earl Jones, brother
- James Earl Jones, son
- Matthew Earl Jones, son
- Flynn Earl Jones, grandson
- David Patrick Stearns (December 2006). "Robert Earl Jones: US actor rooted in the Harlem renaissance". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- "Robert Earl Jones". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- "Social Security Death Index Search". RootsWeb.com. Retrieved 2007-05-23. A database search on Robert Jones, 121-01-1664 returns: ROBERT EAR L JONES, 03 Feb 1910, 07 Sep 2006, (V) 12564 Pawling, Dutchess, NY 121-01-1664, New York.
- Margalit Fox (19 September 2006). "Robert Earl Jones, 96, Broadway Actor, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-21.