News your connection to The Boston Globe

Robert Earl Jones, 96, veteran actor, father of James Earl Jones

LOS ANGELES -- Robert Earl Jones, the veteran actor and father of actor James Earl Jones, has died. He was 96.

Mr. Jones -- whose career spanned stage, screen, and television -- died of natural causes Sept. 7 at the Actors' Fund of America home in Englewood, N.J., said publicist Dale Olson.

Mr. Jones, who had a deep, resonant voice like his son, appeared in numerous New York theater productions, including ``Strange Fruit," ``The Iceman Cometh," and the Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes play ``Mule Bone" on Broadway in 1991.

Mr. Jones appeared in several productions with his son, including ``Infidel Caesar" and ``Moon on a Rainbow Shawl" in 1962, and ``Of Mice and Men" in 1967.

He also had guest roles in TV series such as ``Kojak" and ``Lou Grant" and appeared in more than 20 movies, including ``One Potato, Two Potato," ``Mississippi Summer," and ``The Sting."

Born in Senotobia, Miss., Mr. Jones dropped out of school in the third grade and worked as a sharecropper. Before James Earl's birth in 1931, Mr. Jones left his wife and moved to Memphis, where he got a job working on the railroad.

After losing his railroad job because of the Depression, Mr. Jones told The New York Times in 1974, he moved to Chicago ``to seek my fortune as a prize fighter." His short fighting career included becoming a sparring partner for heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

Mr. Jones got his first taste of acting after moving to New York and landing a Federal Works Progress Administration job working with youths in recreation. Langston Hughes asked to use the recreation group in a one-act play. Mr. Jones was asked to take the lead role.

``It was kind of natural," he recalled in 1974. ``Langston Hughes's aunt, Mrs. 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."

Mr. Jones made two early screen appearances as part of the all-black casts in the low-budget dramas ``Lying Lips" (1939) and ``The Notorious Elinor Lee" (1940), which were written and directed by pioneer black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

Mr. Jones's career, according to Olson, was interrupted in the 1950s when he was blacklisted and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of his involvement in the leftist movement in the 1930s. Mr. Jones studied acting at the American Theatre Wing in New York in 1955, while living with his son.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives