Disney great dead at 84
Dean Jones was beloved to the children of my generation. After starting in movies (playing small roles in films like Tea and Sympathy, These Wilder Years and Jailhouse Rock) he built a career in television and on Broadway. Jones’ career path changed – and his legacy was set – when, in 1965, he starred in the first of 10 Disney films: That Darn Cat. His Disney career spread over 12 years and included almost-forgotten movies like Monkeys Go Home and The Ugly Dachshund, as well as better remembered fare such as The Shaggy D.A. and Blackbeard’s Ghost. In 1968 Jones starred in The Love Bug, the movie that introduced us to a living, mischievous Volkswagon Beetle – then went on to appear in one of the sequels (the best sequel, of course), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. For children of the late ’60s and ’70s, Dean Jones was one of our stars. He never saw family films as beneath him, but played them as straight as one possibly could, given the silly stories.
With warm eyes and an easy smile, Jones had the air of a man who could deal with any situation, exasperated but still cool. Off screen his life was more complicated – as they usually are – and by his own admission he was most miserable while at the peak of his success. After a drunk driving accident in the early ’70s Jones converted to Christianity and remained a devout believer for the rest of his life. He also kept working: in episodic television, in Christian films, the occasional mainstream film (Beethoven, Clear and Present Danger) and in theater. In his private life he founded the Christian Rescue Fund, and he and his wife Lory adopted several foster children.
Dean Jones had a longer, broader, more diverse career than most of us knew. To many of us he was always the guy who could play second banana to a car – and straight man to Buddy Hackett – and be endlessly cool and charming while doing it.