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Gordon Jones Biography

  • Profession: Actor
  • Born: Apr 5, 1911
  • Died: Jun 20, 1963

Tall, muscular Gordon Jones played heroes, villains, comic-relief second bananas, and just about everything in between, in a screen career lasting almost 30 years -- not bad for a fellow who, eight years into that career, admitted to a reporter that he was still learning about acting. Born in 1911, Jones came to movies in his early twenties, not out of any aspirations as an actor but on the basis of his good looks and athletic build. The brawny Iowa-born Jones was well known as a top student athlete and star football guard ("Bull" Jones) at U.C.L.A., and had also played a few seasons of professional football. Jones started doing movie work for the easy money, and got serious about acting when he found that he liked it; he soon began downplaying his football background so that casting agents would take him more seriously. Jones started out playing small roles in Wesley Ruggles' and Ernest B. Schoedsack's The Monkey's Paw and Sidney Lanfield's Red Salute, and by 1937, he had moved on to a contract at RKO. His biggest screen role in terms of billing came in 1940, in the Universal serial The Green Hornet, where he portrayed publisher Britt Reid, the alter ego of the masked hero of the title; Jones also played the Hornet, but when he was in that guise, he was redubbed with the voice of the era's more familiar radio Green Hornet, Al Hodge. Jones had gained some stage experience, particularly in comedy, during the late '30s, and this stood him in good stead when he auditioned for a role in Max Gordon's Broadway adaptation My Sister Eileen while on a visit to New York; the "rambling wreck from Georgia Tech" (billed as the Wreck in the original program) was the role of a lifetime, giving Jones the chance to play exactly what he was, a lovable big lug. He was good enough in the part to repeat it in Alexander Hall's 1942 movie version, produced by Columbia Pictures. Jones wasn't able to follow up on his success in the film, however, due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The actor held a reserve commission in the army and he was called into the service very soon after finishing work on the movie. In contrast to some actors, however (such as Ronald Reagan, who felt war service had damaged his career and resented it deeply), Jones never complained and, indeed, was very active for the next 20 years of his life in encouraging college students to consider the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). One of his other key roles during 1942 was as Alabama Smith, John Carroll's slightly dim-witted but good-natured sidekick, in Flying Tigers (1943), a John Wayne-starring vehicle that was one of the most popular action films of the war. This picture began Jones' 20-year onscreen association with Wayne, who was also (perhaps not coincidentally) a former football player from U.C.L.A. After resuming his acting career in the late '40s, Jones appeared in prominent roles in the John Wayne features Big Jim McLain and Island in the Sky. By the end of the 1940s, Jones had aged into a somewhat beefier screen presence and into very physical character roles. He would no longer have been considered a leading man, even in serials, but he had developed a very good, slightly over-the-top comic villain persona, strongly reminiscent of Nat Pendleton, Joseph Sawyer, or William Bendix. All of these attributes meshed well with the work of the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; Jones' association with the duo began in The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947) with the role of the film's heavy, Jake Frame. During the early '50s, when they began their television series The Abbott & Costello Show, Jones was cast as Mike the cop, the hulking, loud-voiced antagonist to the roly-poly Costello (and, thus, succeeded Pendleton, Sawyer, and Bendix, who had played tough, burly foils to the duo in the movies Buck Privates, Buck Privates Come Home, The Naughty Nineties, and Who Done It). The program was only in production for two seasons, but was rerun regularly into the 1980s and became available on DVD in the 21st century, and, thus, has ensured Jones a permanent place in American popular culture. He remained busy in films and on television throughout the 1950s, in pictures as different as the sci-fi chiller The Monster That Challenged the World and the Tony Curtis/Janet Leigh sex comedy The Perfect Furlough, and on series ranging from The Real McCoys to The Rifleman. Jones also appeared in two very successful Disney movies during the early '60s, The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, portraying harried school coaches in both pictures. He returned to the John Wayne stock company portraying Douglas, the bureaucrat antagonist to Wayne's G.W. McLintock in the Western comedy McLintock, in the spring of 1963. Jones succumbed to a heart attack on June 20, 1963, five months before the release of that movie. He is remembered, however, by millions of Abbott and Costello and John Wayne fans, and also for his work in serials, and he is given a special mention -- in connection with The Green Hornet -- on the home page of the town of his birth, Alden, IA. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi