JAMES EARL JONES
Celebrated actor James Earl Jones continues in a series of impressive stage, film and television roles always capturing worldwide attention.
Jones’ beginnings are in the theater. He was in the historic company which incubated a generation of future black stars in Jean Genet’s “The Blacks.” His long association with the New York Shakespeare Festival began in 1959 and carried him from Hamlet to King Lear. He earned Daniel Blum’s Theater World Award as Most Promising Personality in “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” in 1962, and also garnered an Obie as Best Actor in Off-Broadway Theater for his performance in “Clandestine on the Morning Line.” He later received two Obies in 1965 for his work in “Baal” and “Othello”.
But it was a few years later that Jones earned worldwide acclaim in Howard Sackler’s “The Great White Hope”, in which he played ‘Jack Johnson’, the first heavyweight boxing champion. The performance earned him a Tony Award. His appearance in the film version two years later brought him an Academy Award nomination. In 1970, he earned his first Drama Desk Award for Lorraine Hansberry’s “Les Blancs.”
He followed his Broadway and national touring performances in Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold…and the Boys” with “Fences”, which earned him another Tony, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, as well as nationwide critical and audience acclaim. After nearly a three-year commitment to his stage role in “Fences,” Jones made a conscious career decision to devote more time to the film and television roles that had long sought him out. Not surprisingly, he has not had an idle moment since.
Jones made his feature film debut in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” opposite George C. Scott (who ironically won the Oscar the year Jones was nominated for “The Great White Hope”). In addition to the film version of “The Great White Hope”, which also earned him Most Promising New Actor by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Jones won critical acclaim for 1974’s “Claudine”, garnering him a Golden Globe and an Image Award from the NAACP.
In 1989, he co-starred with Kevin Costner in Universal’s “Field of Dreams,” playing the skeptical and reclusive 60’s author Terrence Mann in a film that is already considered a classic. A year later, he appeared in Paramount’s “The Hunt for Red October,” with Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, which become the fifth highest grossing film of 1990. Other recent film roles for Jones include the highly praised “Grim Prairie Tales,” “Convicts” (with Robert Duvall), and “Scorchers” (with Faye Dunaway and Emily Lloyd).
In 1992, Jones co-starred with Harrison Ford in Paramount Picture’s “Patriot Games”, reprising the role he played in “The Hunt for Red October”. He also completed a role in “Sneakers”, with Robert Redford, released in the fall of 1992. In addition, Jones completed “Excessive Force” for New Line, followed by the new Robert Townsend film “Meteor Man”, and then “Sommersby” with Richard Gere and Jodi Foster.
Other noteworthy motion picture roles include, “The Comedians”, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; “The River Niger”, with Cicely Tyson; “The Greatest” (as Malcolm X), with Muhammad Ali; “A Piece of the Action”, with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier; “Gardens of Stone”, with James Caan and Angelica Houston; “Coming to America”, with Eddie Murphy, and “Three Fugitives”, with Nick Nolte and Martin Short.
Jones, who enjoyed a return to television after nearly a decade, created the dynamic impassioned character of Gabriel Bird, an ex-police officer who is released after 20 years if imprisonment for killing his partner and then becomes an investigator on the streets of Chicago, in the highly acclaimed Lorimar/ABC weekly series, “Gabriel’s Fire.” Millions tuned in to watch this consummate actor’s work. That character later joined up with a new private investigator, played by Richard Crenna, in “Pros & Cons.” In 1991 he won two Emmy’s, as Best Actor in a Drama Series (for “Gabriel’s Fire”) and as Best Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series or Special (for the TNT movie “Heat Wave”).
Television has played a significant role in Jones’ career. He received his first Emmy nomination in 1963 for his guest-starring performance in the George C. Scott series, “East Side, West Side”. Additional television work included appearing in the “Tarzan” series in the late 60’s, co-starring in the BBC mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth”, playing Alex Haley in “Roots: The Next Generation.” In 1979, he was cast as the lead in the Steven Bocho series, “Paris.”
In addition, he received the 1992 NAACP Award Best Actor trophy for his series work, garnered two Best Actor Golden Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press, and a People’s Choice nomination for Best New Star on Television (the show received a nomination as well), among many accolades. Other more recent honors include two ACE Awards (cable’s highest) for “Heat Wave” and for his performance in “Third and Oak”, an anthology playhouse series on the Arts & Entertainment Channel.
His distinctive voice, which has enriched recordings of everything from classic dramas to Bell Atlantic commercials, also gave size and soul to ‘Darth Vader’ in the “Star Wars” trilogy of feature films. And yes, he is the ‘voice’ behind CNN.
Jones received critical praise in the literary world for his book, James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences, a memoir published by McMillan & Co. in 1997.
He returned to Broadway in early 2008 in an all-black cast of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and soon thereafter was signed to star in a London production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof which opened in late 2009. In 2010 he returned to Broadway in Driving Miss Daisy which has held over for an extended run and then went on to the London stage where this celebrated stage production ran until late 2011.
Among his many awards and recognitions, Jones holds honorary doctorates from Yale, Princeton, and the University of Michigan. In December 2002 he will be among five recipients of the Silver Jubilee Kennedy Center Honors. In 1992 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bush. He is also the recipient of the prestigious NAACP Hall of Fame Image Award for his great contributions to the arts. In 1990, the Los Angeles Film Teachers Association presented him with the Jean Renoir Award for his collected works.