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Remembering Dick Jones—The Voice Of Pinocchio

Remembering Dick Jones—The Voice Of Pinocchio

Some years ago I showed the 1939 classic Destry Rides Again to my class at USC; most
of the students had never seen it. Following the screening I introduced Dick
Jones, who appeared in the film and was featured in the penultimate scene with
James Stewart. We talked about the fact that he worked with Stewart that same
year in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,
and also spent some time at the Walt Disney studio recording the dialogue for Pinocchio. I turned to the class and
said, pointedly, “He was the voice of Pinocchio.” This was greeted by a chorus
of oohs and ahhs and immediately changed the tenor of the evening.

Pinocchio gave
Dick a kind of immortality, but if it affected him he certainly never showed
it. He was gracious and self-effacing, proud of the work he did in show
business but not one to live in the past. When jobs became scarce, he moved on,
obtained a real estate license, and made a good living, specializing in
appraisals. Or as he liked to say, “I didn’t retire from the motion picture
business; I’m just an actor without a job right now.”

My wife was tongue-tied when she first met him, (as she had a
crush on Dickie, as he was then known) from his days on early television as the
sidekick to Jock Mahoney on The Range
and the star of his own series, Buffalo
Bill, Jr.
The fact that he was so warm and likable made it all the more rewarding
to know him and his cheerful wife Betty.

I think one reason Dick remained down-to-earth is that he’d
been through so much in his life. Earning prizes as a champion horseback rider in
Texas rodeos at the age of 3, relocating to Hollywood, going out on auditions,
winning some parts and losing others, serving in the Army during World War II
then coming home and not finding any jobs…and so much more.

After the war he wanted to get married and start a family. Unable
to find work in movies, he took a job at a gas station. “Then I started working
as a carpenter; I worked apprentice to get a journeyman’s on that, and I was doing
pretty good. I was making $35 dollars a week, if it didn’t rain. We had [our
first child] Melody and paid for it out of $35 dollars a week. Boy, you can’t
have a baby today at that price. I worked all kinds of jobs ‘cause I had a sexy
brunette wife and babies to feed. I stood in the unemployment line one time and
that was so degrading, I said, ‘No way! I am healthy, I’m not going to do this;
I’m going to earn my keep.’ And I never did stand in line again. Then getting
that job with Gene Autry…I don’t know what happened but right after that I
got all kinds of calls.” Autry cast him in some of his Westerns, then put him
to work with Jock Mahoney on The Range
, which showed off Dick’s remarkable agility and horsemanship.

He and “Jocko,” one of Hollywood’s most talented stuntmen,
got on famously and devised their own elaborate action scenes for the half-hour
series, which was filmed at a breakneck pace. “Oh, man, we had so much fun,”
Dick recalled. “We’d stay up at night and conjure up things and say, ‘Well, has
this ever been done?’  ‘No, but we’re
gonna figure out [how] it can be done.’ We did stuff that’s never been on
television before. Our timing was identical. We could say, ‘OK, one, two, three’
and walk around the block and come back and we’d still be on the same count.”

Yet he was a man of quiet contradictions. Although he was
once billed as The World’s Youngest Trick Rider and Trick Roper he confessed to
me that he never liked horses—and didn’t own one. And while he was happy to be
identified as the voice of Pinocchio, he admitted that it was one of his
toughest assignments because he always felt claustrophobic indoors. “Most
of the time they’d have to spend half an hour trying to find me ‘cause I’d be
around the studio somewhere.”

Yet it’s that credential more than any other that will keep
Dick Jones’ name alive in movie history.

Our condolences go out to Dick’s wife and family. He lived a
full, rich 87 years…but we’ll miss him just the same.

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