In honor of TCM and their “Summer Under the Stars” series, we launch our companion series, Summer Madness. The series will spotlight the achievements and films of one Black actor, daily throughout the month of August.
James Earl Jones (born January 17, 1931) is an American actor. His career has spanned more than 60 years, and he has been described as “one of America’s most distinguished and versatile” actors and “one of the greatest actors in American history.” Since his Broadway debut in 1957, Jones has won many awards, including a Tony Award and Golden Globe Award for his role in The Great White Hope. Jones has won three Emmy Awards, including two in the same year in 1991, and he also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role in the film version of The Great White Hope. He is also known for his voice roles as Darth Vader in the Star Wars film series and Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King as well as many other films, stage, and television roles.
Jones has been said to possess “one of the best-known voices in show business, a stirring basso profundo that has lent gravel and gravitas to” his projects, including live-action acting, voice acting, and commercial voiceovers.
On November 12, 2011, he received an Honorary Academy Award.
He is the son of Robert Earl Jones (1910–2006), an actor, boxer, butler, and chauffeur who left the family shortly after James Earl’s birth, and his wife Ruth (Connolly) Jones, a teacher, and maid. Jones and his father reconciled many years later.
Jones is an accomplished stage actor; he has won Tony awards in 1969 for The Great White Hope and in 1987 for Fences. He has acted in many Shakespearean roles: Othello, King Lear, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abhorson in Measure for Measure, and Claudius in Hamlet. Jones played Lennie on Broadway in the 1974 Brooks Atkinson Theatre production of the adaptation of Steinbeck’s novella, Of Mice and Men, with Kevin Conway as George and Pamela Blair as Curley’s Wife. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2002.
His first film role was as a young and trim Lt. Lothar Zogg, the B-52 bombardier in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in 1964. In 1967 Jones portrayed a surgeon and Haitian rebel leader in The Comedians.
His first starring film role came with his portrayal of boxer Jack Jefferson in 1970’s The Great White Hope. For his role, Jones was nominated Best Actor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making him the second African-American male performer (following Sidney Poitier) to receive a nomination.
In 1974, Jones co-starred with Diahann Carroll in the film Claudine, the story of a woman who raises her six children alone after two failed and one “almost” marriage.
Jones also played the villain Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, “Few Clothes” Johnson in John Sayles’ Matewan, the author Terence Mann in Field of Dreams, the feared neighbor Mr. Mertle in The Sandlot, King Jaffe Joffer in Coming to America, Reverend Stephen Kumalo in Cry, the Beloved Country, Raymond Lee Murdock in A Family Thing, and Vice Admiral James Greer in The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, among many other roles.
Jones is also well known as the voice of Darth Vader in the 1977 film Star Wars and its sequels The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Darth Vader was portrayed in costume by David Prowse in the film trilogy, with Jones dubbing Vader’s dialogue in postproduction because Prowse’s strong West Country accent was deemed unsuitable for the role by George Lucas. At his own request, Jones was uncredited for the original releases of the first two Star Wars films, though he later would be credited for the first film in its 1997 “Special Edition” re-release. His other voice roles include Mufasa in the 1994 animated Disney film The Lion King and its direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride. #SummerMadness #Day31 #Jones
The Great White Hope (’70)
Star Wars (’77)
Field of Dreams (’89)