Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dean Jones R.I.P.

Dean Jones died today at the age of 84. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for some time.

Dean Jones was born on January 25 1931 in Decatur, Alabama. He was still attending Riverside High School in Decatur when he hosted his own, local radio show, Dean Jones Sings. He studied both acting and music for year at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky before he enlisted in the United States Navy and served during the Korean War. He spent much of his time in the Navy in Special Services, putting on variety shows for his fellow sailors.

After being demobilised Mr. Jones got a job at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. It was there that he was discovered by the songwriting team of Vernon Duke and Frank Loesser. Messrs. Duke and Loesser brought him to the attention of Dore Schary, then president of MGM. Mr. Schary signed him to a contract with the studio.

Dean Jones made his film debut in an uncredited role in Somebody Up There Likes Me in 1956. Mr. Jones had minor roles in the films These Wilder Years (1956), Tea and Sympathy (1956), The Opposite Sex (1956), and The Rack (1956) before receiving his first substantial role in the film The Great American Pastime in 1956. For the remainder of the Fifties Mr.Jones appeared in such films as Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957), Handle with Care (1958), Imitation General (1958), Torpedo Run (1958), Night of the Quarter Moon (1959), and Never So Few (1959). He made his television debut in an episode of Zane Grey Theatre in 1960. That same year he guest starred on the shows The Aquanauts, Outlaws, and Stagecoach West. He made his debut on Broadway in There Was a Little Girl in 1960 and appeared that same year in the play Under the Yum-Yum Tree.

Arguably the peak of Dean Jones's career was in the Sixties. Mr. Jones starred in the title role on the short lived television comedy Ensign O'Toole, which aired on NBC during the 1962-1963 season. While the show only lasted a single season, it brought Dean Jones to the attention of legendary producer and animator Walt Disney, having preceded Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour on the NBC schedule. Mr. Disney himself recruited Mr. Jones to star in a series of family friendly comedies produced by Walt Disney Productions. The first, and among the most popular of the Disney films in which Dean Jones starred was That Darn Cat (1965). It was followed by other Disney films starring Mr. Jones, including The Ugly Dachshund (1966), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968), and The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968). Perhaps the most successful film Mr. Jones made for Disney was The Love Bug (1968). Centred around a sentient Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, the film proved very successful at the box office and produced several sequels and a TV series.

Of course, Mr. Jones did more than star in Disney movies during the Sixties. Beyond starring in Ensign O'Toole, he was also the host of the TV show What's It All About, World?. He guest starred on such TV shows as The Dick Powell Theatre, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Ben Casey, and Burke's Law. He reprised his role from Broadway as Dave Manning in the film adaptation of Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963). In the romantic comedy Any Wednesday (1966) he played opposite Jane Fonda. He also appeared in the films The New Interns (1964), Two on a Guillotine (1965), and Mr. Superinvisible (1970). On Broadway he originated the role of Robert in in Stephen Sondheim's Company.

In the Seventies Dean Jones continued to star in Disney comedies, including The Million Dollar Duck (1971), Snowball Express (1972), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977).  He also appeared in the film Born Again (1978)  and had a cameo in the film The Sugarland Express (1974). He starred in the short lived sitcom The Chicago Teddy Bears and guest starred on the shows Medical Centre and Good Heavens. He appeared in the TV movies The Great Man's Whiskers, Guess Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?, When Every Day Was the Fourth of July, and The Long Days of Summer.

In the Eighties Mr. Jones starred in the short lived television series Herbie, The Love Bug. He guest starred on The Love Boat; Finder of Lost Loves; and Murder, She Wrote. He appeared in the film St. John in Exile (1986). He appeared on Broadway in the play Into the Light.

In the Nineties Dean Jones played the villainous veterinarian Dr. Varnick in Beethoven (1992). He also appeared in the films Clear and Present Danger (1994) and That Darn Cat (1997). Mr. Jones provided the voice of George Newton on the animated series Beethoven. He provided the voice of Colonel Sam Lane in an episode of the animated series Superman and  Dean Arbagast in the straight-to-video animated release Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, He was a guest voice on the animated series Adventures from the Book of Virtues and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. He appeared on television in the TV films The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Love Bug. He guest starred on the short-lived cult series Nowhere Man. He appeared on Broadway in a revival of Company.

In the Naughts Dean Jones appeared Lavinia's Heist (2007) and Mandie and the Secret Tunnel (2009). He appeared in the TV special Scrooge and Marley.

There can be no doubt that Dean Jones was best known for the work he did with Walt Disney Productions. Indeed, for an entire generation of movie viewers Mr. Jones is perhaps as identified with Disney as Hayley Mills or Mickey Mouse. More often than not in the movies he made for Disney, Dean Jones played an average guy somewhat befuddled by the unusual circumstances in which he found himself. Over the course of several years in various Disney films he found himself contending with a very intelligent cat, a Great Dane who thought he was a dachshund, a sentient VW Beetle, and a duck that laid golden eggs. Dean Jones was perfect in such roles, coming off as an everyman who also happened to be handsome and intelligent, if a bit gobsmacked by the unusual events occurring around him. Indeed, it is hard to picture any other actor playing those parts.

Of course, Dean Jones made many more films than simply Disney movies. He appeared in two of my all time favourite Sixties sex comedies. Curiously, in both he plays a handsome, clean-cut everyman who finds himself in unusual circumstances. In Under the Yum Yum Tree he played David Manning, who finds himself in the then strange situation of living (platonically, of course) with his girlfriend Robin Austin (played by Carol Lynley) to determine their compatibility. In Any Wednesday he played Cass Henderson, who has the misfortune of falling in love with the mistress (played by Jane Fonda) of John Cleves (played by Jason Robards), of whom he is a client. Dean Jones excelled in both roles, proving that he could do far more than play opposite cats, dogs, and cars.

Indeed, it is to Dean Jones's credit that while he usually played nice guys, he could play a villain when called upon to do so. In Beethoven Dr. Varnick was as evil as they come--a veterinarian involved in highly unethical, illegal, and usually fatal experimentation on animals.  He was also adept at acting in dramas. In the TV film When Every Day Was the Fourth of July he played a defence attorney defending a brain-damaged World War I veteran on a charge of murder. The film received critical acclaim, as did Dean Jones for his performance.

While Dean Jones was best known for his many comedies, it must also be pointed out that he had an incredible singing voice. In another time and place he could have easily had a career in movie musicals. His impressive voice was put to good use in Company. Although best known for the movies he made for Disney, Dean Jones a multi-talented actor who was equally at home performing musicals and drama as he was comedy. While he will probably always be best known for his Disney movies, he did so much more.


Carissa Horton said...

Oh, so sad. He was one of my favorite actors from the 60s, just so much fun. And the only likeable thing for me in Under the Yum Yum Tree. His role in That Darn Cat! was just so perfect! He will be very much missed.

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