By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS – September 3, 2015) — Actor Dean Jones, a committed Christian, whose boyish good looks and all-American manner made him Disney’s favorite young actor for such lighthearted films as “That Darn Cat!” and “The Love Bug,” has died of complications from Parkinson’s disease in Los Angeles on Tuesday, September 1, 2015. He was 84.
I had the privilege of working from time to time with Dean Jones, who adopted numerous foster children, and in in 1998, had a vision to rescue persecuted Christians and Jews, through the Christian Rescue Committee, and I would help publicize his many vital projects.
Eventually, Dean entrusted Jubilee Campaign with continuing the vision and mission of the Christian Rescue Committee, and they then established the Christian Rescue Fund to do just that.
Dean Carroll Jones left his hometown of Decatur, Alabama, at 15, supporting himself by picking cotton and cutting timber until he landed a job as a singer in a New Orleans nightclub. When the club closed, he returned to Decatur to finish high school.
After studying voice at Ashburn College in Kentucky, he spent four years in the Navy. Soon after his release, he was signed by MGM, and it appeared for a time that he was being groomed as a possible successor to James Dean.
Jones married Mae Entwisle, a onetime Miss San Diego, in 1954, and the couple had two daughters, Carol and Deanna. He and his second wife, Lory, had a son, Michael. He is survived by Lory, his wife of 42 years; three children; 8 grandchildren; and 3 great-grandchildren
Over the course of his career, he appeared in 46 films and five Broadway shows. In 1995, Jones was honored by his longtime employers with a spot in the Disney Legends Hall of Fame.
Jones’ long association with The Walt Disney Co. began after he received an unexpected call from Walt Disney himself, who praised his work on the TV show “Ensign O’Toole,” noting it had “some good closing sequences.” Jones, himself a former Navy man, played the title role in the 1962 sitcom.
Jones puzzled over Disney’s remark until it occurred to him that “Ensign O’Toole” preceded Disney’s own Sunday night show on NBC, and he realized Disney probably only watched each episode’s ending.
Two years later, Jones heard from Disney again, calling this time to offer him a role in “That Darn Cat!” opposite Hayley Mills. His FBI agent Zeke Kelso follows a crime-solving cat that leads him to a pair of bank robbers.
Released in 1965, it would the first of 10 Disney films Jones would make, most of them in the supernatural vein.
He had a successful stage and film career and said he had more wealth and possession than he could imagine, but he felt empty and unfulfilled until he gave his life to Christ in the early ’70s.
The Washington Post explained how he finally give his life to Christ, saying that after a drunk-driving accident and what the Chicago Sun-Times called “an entertainer’s tour” of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Jones’s outlook changed in the early 1970s. He said he had a “divine visitation” that gave him “a peace I had never before had but which I had longed for.”
“I knew that if there didn’t come something that changed my life, that I would probably end up a pretty mess at some point or another,” he said in 1997. “And the night that I said ‘yes’ to the lord, it changed instantly. The peace of Christ rolled over me like an ocean wave and I’ve never been the same.”
He worked regularly into his 70s, appearing often on TV and in films. His later credits included “St. John in Exile,” “Beethoven” and “Other People’s Money.”
I first met Dean Jones back in 1978 at Warner Brothers studios where he was playing Charles Colson in the movie “Born Again,” which was being directed by a friend I had met in London, Irvine Rapper, famous for his many Bette Davis movies including “Now Voyager.”
My family (Norma, Andrew and Peter), were in Los Angeles for a vacation while I was still working in London for the Sunday People, and we happened to bump into “Born Again” producer, Robert Munger, who had also come up with the idea for “The Omen,” and who had once introduced me to Gregory Peck during the filming Shepperton Studios.
We were walking along Hollywood Boulevard when Munger spotted us and promptly invited all of us to accompany him to Warner Brothers to first of all meet the cast of The Waltons, which was an all-time high experience for Norma, and then to watch the filming of Colson’s life story, as Jones played Colson, the former Watergate conspirator who later found Christ.
“If God can forgive me and Chuck, he can forgive anyone,” Jones told The Washington Post at the time of the film’s release. “… One man came up to me and said, ‘How can you play that criminal?’ and I just said that Edward G. Robinson made a career out of playing criminals.”
Dean Jones was quite delightful and so began a long friendship with this dear man who was always a joy to be with.
I once took my welsh singer friend, Kevin Gould, over to Hollywood to meet him, along with Christian journalist, Jerry Jensen, then the editor for the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Association, and he welcomed us with open arms.
My last connection with Dean Jones was on Thursday, January 29, 2015, when the Hollywood Prayer Network hosted “HOLLYWOOD HONORS 2015” at CBS TV in Studio City, California, to honor Christians who have served as trailblazers and mentors in the entertainment industry.
The packed star-studded gathering attended by many believers who have been highly successful in Hollywood over the past 40 years, included Dean Jones, Pat Boone, Gavin MacLeod, Wink Martindale, Ken Wales, Rosey Grier, and veteran stuntman, Bob Yerkes.
If there was ever a Hollywood personality who deserved this recognition, it was Dean Jones. He was truly a one-off with a deep faith in Jesus Christ, and he showed it in all that he did in his rather amazing life.
Now he’s enjoying his new life in heaven. And I am sure he has heard the words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Photo captions: 1) Dean Jones. 2) Born Again movie poster. 3) Jerry Jensen, Dean Jones and Kevin Gould. 4) Dan Wooding.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books, and next week, begins a new TV show for the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv/) called “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding,” which is being produced and edited by Tim Hathaway.
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