Jerry Louis Jones (1927–2012)
Jerry Louis Jones was an actor, screenwriter, and playwright best known for his collaboration with fellow Arkansan Rudy Ray Moore on the 1975 film Dolemite. He also had roles in such films as M*A*S*H, The Long Goodbye, The Human Tornado, and Disco Godfather. He was played by Keegan-Michael Key in Dolemite Is My Name, a film about Rudy Ray Moore and the making of Dolemite.
Jerry Jones was born in Varner (Lincoln County) on February 16, 1927, to Louis (also spelled “Lewis”) Jones and Marie Jones. His father was a native of Arkansas and a railroad laborer in the Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) area. His mother was a native of Mississippi. His parents divorced when he was young, and his father remarried in 1941. It is unclear when he left Arkansas with his mother, but he eventually settled in Chicago.
In Chicago, Jones worked as a radio DJ and ran the Talent Scout Nightclub, where he said “players, pimps, and prostitutes used to come.” He quit the nightclub business to become an actor and enrolled in the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago. There, he said he performed in everything from William Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams. The first play he wrote was Heel and Sole, about Martin Luther King Jr. He lived briefly in New York City, where he met James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, but he moved back to Chicago to continue his theater work.
In the late 1960s, Jones moved to Los Angeles. In the 1970s, he appeared in various television shows, including The Brady Bunch, Mission Impossible, The Doris Day Show, and The Odd Couple. He is best known, however, for his movie acting, which included a part in the beginning of the 1970 Robert Altman film M*A*S*H as a man who has his Jeep stolen. In another Altman classic, The Long Goodbye (1973), he played Detective Green and shared the screen with Elliott Gould.
In Los Angeles, Jones met raunchy and flamboyant comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who was also born in Arkansas the same year as him. Jones’s most memorable work was with Moore on the 1975 movie Dolemite, for which Jones wrote the screenplay and acted in the role of Lieutenant Blakely. Jones called the Chicago premiere of the movie “the most exciting moment of my life.” He also took part in other Rudy Ray Moore vehicles, The Human Tornado (1976) and The Dolemite Explosion (2002).
In the 1980s and 1990s, Jones’s film work slowed down, but he remained an active playwright. He authored such works as Girl, I Knew He Was a Dog When He Barked in His Sleep, Queen of the Blues (a tribute to Dinah Washington), and the musical The Chicago Club Rumboogie (2006). In Rumboogie, Jones included a part based on the policeman Sylvester Washington, better known as “Two Gun Pete,” who got his nickname for carrying two pistols with which to take down criminals. Jones had written a book about Two Gun Pete in 1988.
Jones was married and divorced at least once and had children by different mothers: a daughter Gloria “Duchess” Gunn, a daughter Judith Jones Brown (who died in 2010), and a son, Stephan B. Turner, who became an actor. Turner, like his father, attended the Goodman School of Drama. He has said his father could be “demanding” but that he also respected other talented people. He stated that his father was his “first reference point for acting,” saying that he “convinced me that I could do something out of the ordinary with my life.” Turner got his acting start in Chicago and later founded the Gate Theater Group in Thailand.
Craig Brewer’s film Dolemite Is My Name premiered in 2019, starring Eddie Murphy and featuring Keegan-Michael Key as Jones. The movie was a critical success, though Jones’s daughter, Gloria Gunn, was unhappy with the fact that the family was not consulted by the filmmakers about her father and his role in the making of Dolemite.
Jones died on November 18, 2012, in Los Angeles. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Pacific.
For additional information:
“Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore, Donald Randell, and Jerry Jones Interview.” YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwm8q11AhIY (accessed December 22, 2022).
Jones, Jerry. Two Gun Pete: Not a Western, a True Story. N.p.: 1988.
Metz, Nina. “‘Everybody Has Taken Advantage’: Eddie Murphy’s Upcoming Netflix Movie about the Making of Dolemite Uses the Likeness of Its Chicago Screenwriter and His Characters. His Family Wants to Know Why They Weren’t Involved.” Chicago Tribune. https://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/tribune/article_popover.aspx?guid=6106ed89-7f82-47e1-ae95-23acfcc998ec (accessed December 22, 2022).
“Renaissance Man Jerry Jones.” Our Weekly, January 31, 2008. https://ourweekly.com/news/2008/01/31/renaissance-man-jerry-jones/ (accessed December 22, 2022).
Colin Edward Woodward
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