Robert Earl Jones

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Robert Earl Jones
Robert Earl Jones in Langston Hughes' Don't You Want to be Free? (23 June 1938; photograph by Carl Van Vechten).jpg
Robert Earl Jones in Langston Hughes' Don't You Want to be Free? (23 June 1938)
Born February 3,1910
Tate County, Mississippi, U.S.
Died September 7, 2006 (aged 96)
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
Other names Earl Jones
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–1993
Spouse(s) Ruth Williams
Jumelle P. Jones
Ruth Connolly
Children 2 (including actor James Earl Jones)

Robert Earl Jones (February 3, 1910 – September 7, 2006)[1] 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 The Sting (1973) and The Cotton Club (1984). He was the father of actor James Earl Jones.


Early life[edit]

Born in Mississippi, the specific location is unclear as some sources indicate Senatobia,[1] while others suggest nearby Coldwater.[2]


A son of Robert and Elnora Jones, Robert Earl Jones left school at an early age to become a sharecropper. As a young man, he married Ruth Connolly, but they separated before James Earl was born in 1931. The couple later divorced, and Jones did not come to know his son until the mid-1950s. 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.[3]

Jones appeared in more than twenty films, including The Cotton Club (1984) and The Sting (1973).[4] 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.[4]

He 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".[4]

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 (1992).[4]

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.[citation needed]


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?[citation needed]


Jones died September 7, 2006 in Englewood, New Jersey from natural causes. His age was given as 96.[3]





  1. ^ a b David Patrick Stearns (December 2006). "Robert Earl Jones: US actor rooted in the Harlem renaissance". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  2. ^ "Robert Earl Jones profile". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  3. ^ a b Margalit Fox (September 19, 2006). "Robert Earl Jones, 96, Broadway Actor, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  4. ^ a b c d Robert Earl Jones at the Internet Movie Database

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