James Earl Jones

Definition

Theater

  • (1931 - ) US Black actor, noted for his Shakespeareanroles.

    Jones, the son of the actor Robert Earl Jones, said of hisfather, "I saw how difficult it was for him. I knew I had toaccept a low standard of living for some years". In 1957 hewent to New York to study acting with Lee Strasberg, makinghis debut in the city that year in Wedding in Japan. In 1960he began his long association with Joseph Papp at the NewYork Shakespeare Festival, where he appeared in Henry V andMeasure for Measure; subsequent performances as Othello, Macbeth,and Lear at the Festival were much praised by the critics. Jones wonthe Village Voice Obie award for Best Actor (1961 - 62)for three off-Broadway plays, including Moon of the Rainbow Shawl,in which he appeared with his father.

    Jones made his first European tour in the summer of 1967,playing the title role in O'Neill's The Emperor Jones. Thatsame year he opened in Washington, DC, in The Great White Hope,in which he played the first Black heavyweight fighter, Jack Johnson(Jack Jefferson in the play), a performance that won him a Tony Award.The critic Martin Gottfried said, "Bravura actors are almostextinct in America and now there is Jones." He was also nominatedfor an Academy Award for playing the part in the 1970 film version.

    Other successes include Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena(1970), Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1973), Steinbeck's OfMice and Men (1974), and August Wilson's Fences (1987),which earned him a Tony Award. In 2008 he starred as Big daddy in an all-Black Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that latertransferred to the West End. He was also the voice of the sinister Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977).

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