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Pioneering Black Film Producer Ike Jones Dies at 84

Pioneering Black Film Producer Ike Jones Dies at 84

It sort of
irks me that too many people think that black cinema started with Spike Lee. True, I admit that may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the basic idea that
black cinema is a relatively “recent” is far from the truth.

As you well
know (or should), black films and filmmakers have been around since the
silent era. Some, such as Oscar Micheaux, Noble and George Johnson and Spencer
Williams, are well known while others have been forgotten.

Among those for
whom time seems to have passed by is film producer Ike Jones who passed away
two weeks ago at the age of 84 to very little attention from the media, which is a
shame since Jones was a true pioneer in many ways.

He was the
first African-American graduate of the UCLA’s film school back in 1952 breaking
through barriers and establishing a path for many others to follow.

While in
college he played football and was obviously good enough that in 1953, the year
after he graduated, he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers to play
for them. But his interest was always in films and he started out as an actor, mostly playing small roles and bit parts up until the mid-1970s.

He worked
for both Harry Belafonte and Burt Lancaster
helping to develop projects at their production companies, but he
really made a name for himself when he produced the dramatic feature film “A Man
Called Adam” with Sammy Davis Jr., Ossie Davis and Cicely Tyson in 1966. It’s still to this
day considered to be the first “A list” Hollywood feature film produced by a
black producer.

His output as
a film producer was not that prolific with only a handful of films and TV movies
during a 15-year period, but his
crowning achievement was the 1978 NBC four-hour mini-series “A Woman Called Moses” with Cicely Tyson as Harriet Tubman.

Jones also had
some controversy of his own when after the death of the very popular white
movie and TV actress Inger Stevens in 1970 (whether by accident or suicide has never
been determined), it was revealed that she and Jones had been married for
some time. However, they had been separated
by the time of her death.

Except for a
few close friends, they both kept the marriage a secret from the public, studio
and TV execs, and casting people because they feared that if it was known that
Stevens had been married to a black man it would have ruined her career.

Unfortunately
the last years of Jones’ life were a sad ones. He found himself bankrupt after a
series of bad investments and suffered from bad heath for years and he died on Sunday
Oct. 5 in an assisted-living facility in Los Angeles from heart failure and
stroke.

It’s a terrible
end for a true pioneer, but he never lost faith in himself and was actually
making plans for a comeback in his last few years.  As David Bushman, a curator at the Paley
Center for Media who is planning to write a book about Jones’ life said after his
passing, “It shows how indomitable
this guy’s spirit was. No matter what happened or how ill he got, he never
stopped believing in the future.”

The will to survive

and to triumph over all obstacles may be Jones’ greatest legacy.

 Here’s the
climax from Jones’ film “A Man Called Adam” with Davis, Tyson and Louis Armstrong.

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