|Born||in Jackson, Tennessee, USA|
|Died||in Los Alamitos, California, USA (cancer)|
|Birth Name||William Franklin Jones|
|Height||5' 8" (1.73 m)|
Mini Bio (2)
Christopher Jones was a brief cult star of the late '60s counterculture era and a would-be rebel successor to James Dean had he wanted it. Born William Franklin Jones amid rather impoverished surroundings to a grocery clerk in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1941, his artist mother had to be institutionalized when Chris was 4. She died in a mental facility in 1960, and this was always to haunt him. He shifted back and forth between homes and orphanages and was placed in Boys Town at one point to straighten out his life.
Chris joined the service as a young adult but went AWOL just two days later. After serving out his time on Governor's Island for this infraction, he moved to New York and studied painting, meeting a motley crew of actors and artists. Friends were startled by his moody nature and uncanny resemblance to the troubled Dean and he was encouraged to audition for the Actors Studio. He was accepted and eventually won the Broadway role of Pancho in "The Night of the Iguana" in 1961. Chris wound up marrying acting coach Lee Strasberg's daughter, Susan Strasberg, in 1965, but his erratic behavior would send her packing after three years and two children.
Chris's brooding good looks and undeniable charisma led him straight to Hollywood and, following a few TV episodic parts, earned the title film role of Chubasco (1968) co-starring then-wife Susan. He then earned cult stardom in Wild in the Streets (1968) as Max Frost, a rock star who becomes president. This popular satire, in turn, led another movie satire as the college boy Lothario in the interracial sex triangle Three in the Attic (1968) and such distinguished international projects as The Looking Glass War (1970), Jardines de España (1957) and Ryan's Daughter (1970). But the trappings of success quickly got to him.
Numerous entanglements with the Hollywood "in crowd" eventually took their toll, including those with Pamela Courson (Jim Morrison's girlfriend at the time), the ill-fated Sharon Tate, one-time co-star Pia Degermark, and Olivia Hussey. Not only did his volatile relationships with directors also leave him depressed, but his personal life remained in constant turmoil. Morrison's early drug-related death and Tate's particularly brutal murder hit him particularly hard and led to a breakdown.
Chris split the Hollywood scene altogether to regain himself but instead ended up a victim of the Sunset Strip drug culture for a time. He eventually cleaned up his act and two subsequent relationships led to five more children. He also turned to painting and sculpting as creative outlets and lived the Southern California beach scene. Little was heard until decades later when Quentin Tarantino offered him a part in Pulp Fiction (1994). The now reclusive and eccentric Jones turned down a role in that, but later decided to take on a cameo part in friend Larry Bishop's crime comedy-drama Mad Dog Time (1996) a couple of years later. This proved to be his only return to acting. Chris died of gall bladder cancer in 2014 at age 72.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / email@example.com
Christopher Jones was born William Franklin "Billy Frank" Jones on Monday, August 18, 1941, in Jackson, Tennessee, the younger son of J.G. Jones, a grocery clerk, and his wife, Robbie. Until Billy Frank was three years old, the Jones family lived in a small apartment over the grocery store that employed his father.
Billy Frank inherited his artistic talent from his mother, who was a talented visual artist. In 1945, his mother was institutionalized for mental instability at the State Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee. Robbie Jones remained incarcerated at the mental hospital until her death in 1960. Her son retained a very faint memory of her: "I can remember her picking me up once, but I can't remember what she looked like."
Unable to care for his two sons, J.G. sent Billy Frank to live with an aunt in Mississippi. He was reunited with his older brother Robert in 1947 when they were sent to Boys Town in Memphis, Tennessee. Billy Frank would live at Boys Town, making occasional trips back home to see his father on holidays, until he was 16 years old. To divert his frustration from the regimented life that he found abhorrent, Billy Frank turned to drawing. Boys Town Executive Director Joe Stockton was so impressed by Billy Frank's artistic ability, he obtained a scholarship for him to study at an art school.
Remembering Christopher Jones for the press, Stockton reminisced, "This boy was no punk. Don't ever believe anything you might read that would make you think that. He was bright and he was good. He should be living proof to other underprivileged boys that you can become a fine man. And find your own place in life no matter what has happened, if you just aim for the heights."
It was Stockton who first noticed Jones's uncanny resemblance to actor James Dean. He brought James Dean to young Billy Frank's attention in a meeting in his office.
"I must have been 14 or 15 years old at the time and I was sure I was going to be punished for something," Jones said to an interviewer. "Instead, the man handed me a copy of Life magazine with a photograph of James Dean [from Giant (1956)] on the cover. After a long silence he said, "You know Billy, you look just like this guy!" and as I studied the picture, he sat staring at me. I saw a resemblance, although I'd never seen a picture of James Dean before."
Stockton took Billy Frank to a showing of Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Jones became fascinated with Dean, particularly as he had met his death in a car accident, which was quite romantic to a youngster in 1950s America. However, Billy Frank's adolescent heroes were Elvis Presley, another Tennessean musician from Memphis, and Jerry Lee Lewis. It wasn't until later that Dean became a personal icon for Jones.
When Billy Frank left Boys Town, he went to live with his father, who had remarried and had three other children. He lived with J.G.'s new family in Jackson, performing chores like babysitting. It was around this time that Billy Frank got hooked onto the movies and decided to become an actor.
In 1966, he told an interviewer, "I adored movies. Everything was so clean and uncomplicated in the movies. All those important people in their big houses. That was my idea. I wanted to become a movie star. The movies kept me going for a long time. They kept me going until I learned in New York, three years ago that there is no ideal, that there are very few people who aren't hypocrites".
Billy Frank learned a new appreciation of James Dean. According to Jones, "Dean had a sophisticated subtlety about him and although people have always compared me to him, at the time I would have preferred to be thought of as more flashy, like Elvis. After seeing Love Me Tender (1956) and East of Eden (1955) at about the same time, I realized how brilliant James Dean was. I've always been torn between the two role models though".
To escape from Tennessee and make his way in the world, Billy Frank decided to enlist in the army. After he was inducted, Jones began to resent the strict discipline and went AWOL, stealing a car in order to make his way to New York City. On this trip to what he thought was his freedom, he stopped at James Dean's Indiana birthplace. Because of Billy Frank's resemblance to Dean, Dean's relatives invited the young soldier into their home.
"The Winslows were very nice people and made me feel right at home", Jones said, recounting the experience. "They took me up to Jimmy's room, where his Levi's jeans pants] were lying on the bed waiting for him to jump into them and there were several pairs of boots on the floor just where he had left them. His uncle showed me his motorcycle and took me to the barn to see Jimmy's hand print they had put in the cement when he was nine years old". After he made it to New York City, Billy Frank heeded the advice of a friend and turned himself in to the army. He was then court-martialed and given a six-month sentence. He served it on Governors Island in the East River. But he was in New York. After getting out of jail, he thrived in the big town. He studied painting, which had been one of his life's passions. He began studying acting with Frank Corsaro, who had been a friend of James Dean. Corsaro mentored the young Jones and turned him on to the joys of classical music, just as he had done with Dean. Though Billy Frank obviously was flattered by the attention his resemblance to the late great James Dean in the movie Rebel Without a Cause (1955) brought him, in his own words, "I never took the resemblance and comparisons to Dean too seriously. I felt that I had talent in my own right". Yet the resemblance to Dean would make his career. Billy Frank enjoyed acting class, as his personality allowed him to fit in with fellow would-be thespians. Changing his name to Christopher Jones, he decided to make a serious stab at becoming a professional actor. Christopher Jones made his Broadway debut in Tennessee Williams's "The Night of the Iguana" on Tuesday evening, December 27, 1961. The play, which was directed by Frank Corsaro, turned out to be a hit, and during the run of 316 performances, he became close friends with co-star Shelley Winters. The two hung around New York with James Farentino, who also was in the cast. He met his future wife, Susan Strasberg, while dining with Winters and Farentino. It was Shelley, an alumnus of her father's Acting Studio classes, who made the introduction after he told her, "I'm going to marry her".
The relationship between Jones and Strasberg deepened after he was admitted to Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio as an observer in 1961. Despite friction between Jones and her father during the acting classes, the two began a long-term affair that eventually led to their marriage.
In 1963, Chris and Susan journeyed to Los Angeles and stayed at the famed Chateau Marmont hotel on the Sunset Strip. One night, while watching one of Strasberg's movies on television, Jones had an other-worldly experience when a close-up of his wife smiling in the film reminded him of his mother. Struck by Strasberg's resemblance to his mother in an old snapshot he had of her, Jones spaced out, experiencing the image of his mother from the photograph superimposing itself over Strasberg's on-screen visage.
The relationship was troubled by Jones' jealousy, which occasionally turned to violence. The instability in Jones' character was exacerbated by the drug culture' that was establishing itself in America, with the Sunset Strip as one of the Counter-Culture's ground zeroes in turns of dope and a revolution in consciousness. His masculinity also was threatened by Strasberg's fame and greater earning power. In 1965, Jones was cast in the leading character role of the television series, The Legend of Jesse James (1965). The young actor with a face akin to James Dean touched a nerve with fans, and he soon began receiving more fan mail than any other Twentieth Century-Fox star had, since the late Tyrone Power Jr. in his hey-day. Susan Strasberg hoped that the success of his series would boost his ego and improve their relationship. When she became pregnant, Strasberg and Jones got married in Las Vegas in September of 1965. Susan gave birth to a daughter named Jenny, but his new child and the success of his series - it was picked up for a second season - did not assuage Jones' demons.
When the TV series was canceled after its second season, Jones accepted an offer to star in the film Chubasco (1968). Strasberg was cast as his character's lover, but they separated after the shooting was over and they were divorced in 1968. Now, free to indulge himself, Jones turned into quite a ladies' man, even finding time in his hectic love life for a hot, long-term affair with Jim Morrison's girlfriend/common-law wife, Pam Courson.
Jones' next film, Wild in the Streets (1968), made him a cult icon and should have been his springboard to superstardom. A B-movie that was meant to spoof the idea of "The Generation Gap", the film was taken straight by Baby Boomer audiences when it was released in 1968 and became a huge hit. More than The Graduate (1967) or Bonnie and Clyde (1967), this was the movie that signaled the Youth Revolution of the 1960s was morphing into a true revolution, in culture if not on the streets.
A seminal film of the 1960s decade, that spoke directly to the new generation, Wild in the Streets (1968) is about the establishment's nightmare in the wake of Bob Dylan and The Beatles: that a rock n' roll star would tap into the youth against and use their vast popularity for political ends. (The Nixon Administration was sufficiently worried about the political activities of John Lennon in the early 1970 decade, that it took steps to deport him.)
In the movie, the rock star "Max Frost" (played by Christopher Jones) joins a movement to lower the voting age in California from the then-legal 21 to 14. He uses his popularity to elect a politician to the U.S. Senate and a former child movie star and rock band member to the U.S. House, where they were agitated, for lowering the voting age. After states begin lowering the voting age, a voting rights' march on Washington leads to the shooting of marchers. Radicalized by their deaths, Max enters the race for president. Responding to the Establishment's dirty tricks, Max, and his cronies lace Washington, D.C.'s water supply with L.S.D. in order to drug congressmen and blow their minds straight out of the box. In response to being turned on, Congress lowers the voting age to 14 and Max is elected President of the United States in a landslide due to the younger youths voting. Due to a climate of political violence targeted at the new regime, Frost assumes close-to-dictatorial powers and declares 30 to be the mandatory retirement age, after which citizens will be drugged on LSD. Violence sweeps the land as the fascists launch a counter-revolution, and at the end, children under 14 have begun to regard Frost and his generation as the enemy.
The movie was influential enough to lead to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley having his police protect the city's reservoirs against L.S.D. droppers during the 1968 Presidential Convention, itself a watershed in U.S. politics when the police rioted against youthful protesters. Following his big hit with the successful comedy, Three in the Attic (1968), Christopher Jones became the hottest property in Hollywood, (younger than thirty).
The success of Wild in the Streets (1968) led to his being cast in an A-list picture, The Looking Glass War (1970), an espionage thriller based on John le Carré's novel, a genre that was hot and defined the Establishment Sixties in a way "Wild" and Easy Rider (1969) would the counter-cultural Sixties. His first A-list picture, Jones was pleased that he would be able to do "serious" work for a change and dismissed his previous movies as junk. While shooting the film in London, Pamela Coursonjoined him, but she stormed out in a jealous rage when she read a letter that Jones had written to his ex-wife, Susan Strasberg. Jim Morrison had to fly to London to bring Pamela back to Los Angeles. Aside from Strasberg, the mother of his child, the Courson relationship was doomed as Jones had fallen in love with his "Looking Glass" leading lady, Swedish actress Pia Degermark. The two departed to Italy to film another picture together, A Brief Season (1969), for producer Dino De Laurentiis. However, Jones found the movie to be not only frustrating but degrading, and his relationship with Degermark expired. Then, he developed a friendship with actress Sharon Tate, who was in Italy filming "13" (a.k.a. Eye of the Devil (1967)) at the same time. Pregnant, with husband Roman Polanski's child, she and Chris became close friends, Jones sometimes looked after her, while she was alone.
After The Looking Glass War (1970), Jones was cast in his next film, which was his most prestigious yet: Ryan's Daughter (1970). The film would prove to be the career Waterloo for both Jones and his director, David Lean, then arguably the most famous, accomplished and honored mainstream director working in English language cinema, still at the peak of his powers.
David Lean had a long-time difficulty casting the lead role of the handsome, dashing British military officer who has an affair with the eponymous heroine. Lean wanted to work with Marlon Brando for years, since On the Waterfront (1954) producer Sam Spiegel had offered Brando the part of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in 1960. Brando turned the role down, saying that he, "did not want to spend two years riding a camel in the desert.", After Lean's Oscar-winning collaborator Robert Bolt had written his original screenplay (based loosely on "Madame Bovary") of Ryan's Daughter (1970), the director had sent a script to Brando. Though his star had dimmed precipitously over the past decade, Brando was still a great, charismatic actor (the rap on him at the time being that he needed to be reunited with Elia Kazan, i.e. a strong & strict director), who had proved in the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) (the movie Brando preferred to act in, rather than Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962)) that he could "do" an English accent. Though Lean was a two-time Academy Award winner whose last picture, an adaptation of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (1965) had been one of the most successful pictures ever made in terms of box office, Brando never bothered to give him a response, so no offer was tendered.
After being shown The Looking Glass War (1970), Lean approved of the casting of Jones. And Jones was offered $500,000 for the role, a near-superstar salary in those days. (The biggest stars in the late '60s were typically offered from $750,000 to one million dollars, ($1,000,000), though a 'Richard Burton' could bring down $1.25 million against 10% of the gross). What Lean didn't realize was that Jones's voice had been dubbed for "Looking Glass". Jones flew to Ireland in March of 1969, to commence the shooting of Ryan's Daughter (1970), then budgeted at a rather hefty $12 million (approximately $70 million, in 2005's dollars price and inflation). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer President, Robert O'Brien was hoping for another "Zhivago" sized hit, and had provided Lean with a distinguished cast, including Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, and John Mills, who would go on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Sarah Miles, the wife of Robert Bolt (for whom he had written his screenplay) would win a Best Actress Oscar nomination in the role of the eponymous, Ryan's Daughter (1970). Having made his career based on his resemblance to James Dean (i.e. on looks, rather than talent), in TV and B-pictures Jones proved unable to match this caliber of acting.
Lean shot the movie in sequence, so Jones' first scene with Miles was when his character, Major Doryan, an officer suffering from shell shock of the battlefields of World War I, falls to the floor of her father's bar as he suffers a flashback. Rosy is able to calm Doryan and the vibration between the two bursts like a German shell on the Western Front. The major throws himself upon Rosy, pinning her to a wall, from which position he engages her in a passionate kiss. Lean was dissatisfied with the playing of the scene and called for retake after retake. Lean even physically pushed Jones against Miles for one take. As Lean ordered retake after retake, Jones' confidence began to lag. Extremely irate, Lean finally gave up after 30 takes.
Jones' performance, as captured on film, is virtually monosyllabic. As Lean realized that he had made the mistake of his career in casting Jones in the role, he was forced to build up the business of Jones' character's aide-de-camp, the Captain played by Gerald Sim. Though Jones had brooding good looks, his acting was simply not up to the demands of a script that demanded a sophisticated performer. Let alone one of the caliber of Brando. Eventually, Lean was forced to have Jones' dialog dubbed, using Julian Holloway, who had played another major in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)!
Jones' confidence was further undermined when he watched rushes of the scene in which his character stops an I.R.A. truck. Jones was dismayed by how badly he had looked in the scene, and wondered why Lean would have allowed him to continue to play the scene. Daunted by the logistics of making his film in the unforgiving weather of Ireland, Lean had given up on eliciting a performance from Jones.
The shoot went on for months, and Jones launched an affair with ingénue Olivia Hussey, the star of the youth hit, Romeo and Juliet (1968), who had visited the set and stayed on to be with Jones. Jones decided to marry Hussey, but his managers convinced him to postpone the marriage, temporarily. A piqued Olivia split from him and eventually married Dean Paul Martin, the son of Dean Martin, in 1971. While shooting the film, Jones' turmoil was deepened when he learned of Sharon Tate's being murdered, in devastating ways, pulled by and the diabolical personalities of members of 1960 decade gangster, Charles Manson, as Sharon was nearing motherhood, by September of 1969.
A Brief Season (1969) producer De Laurentiis had given Jones a $20,000 365 GT Ferrari as a bonus, and Jones had shipped it to Ireland. He nearly mimicked James Dean's death when the Ferrari, being driven by Jones at speeds nearing 100 MPH, crashed when he came to a sharp L-shaped turn in the road. The turn was marked by a pole, and the braking vehicle blew out its tires while Jones flattened himself to try to avoid the impact of the car and the pole. The Ferrari rolled over after taking a six-foot drop upon leaving the road, then wound up on the edge of a 100-foot cliff, its engine was still running. Miraculously, Jones was uninjured, except for a few cuts and abrasions.
Despite the conflict between Jones and Lean, the director praised him. Of Jones, Lean said, "[H]e had this extraordinary quality of screen personality which I always find terribly difficult to describe or even to understand." Unfortunately, it was not right for the part of a British officer, emotionally destabilized by the horrors of war.
On his part, Jones admired Lean, saying "I loved Lean, and he liked me and we got along great most of the time. Just a few times it was head-to-head. But I totally respected him. A brilliant director. The best there was."
The shoot took a year, and when it was over, and Jones had returned to Los Angeles, he became a recluse.
"I'd had a nervous breakdown over Sharon Tate's death," Jones was quoted in a 1996 interview. "I had done three pictures in a row in Europe and had so many love affairs I was exhausted. I was tired, man."
Ironically, Jones wound up living in the caretaker's house at 10048 Cielo Drive, which is located on the very estate where Sharon Tate and her friends were killed, on Saturday, August 9th, 1969. One of his business managers owned the estate, and Jones reported that he was disgusted how the owners would show the blood stains from the massacre, just to interest passersby. Whether this was a form of therapy or guilt, living on the estate where his friend had met such a tragic death, Jones did not elaborate.
When The Looking Glass War (1970) and Ryan's Daughter (1970) had their premieres in February and November 1970, respectively, Jones did not attend. The first film was not a success, and though Ryan's Daughter (1970) performed admirably at the box office (if not as well as Doctor Zhivago (1965) levels), it was excoriated by critics. The critical reception of Ryan's Daughter (1970) was so bad, Lean effectively retired from directing, taking a 14-year sabbatical before braving the cameras with A Passage to India (1984). Jones' lackluster performance, coming after "Looking Glass," stalled the buzz surrounding him.
Although producers still offered him scripts, having a reputation of being dubbed in not one but two successive films certainly did not enamor him to other A-list directors, the kind of filmmakers the serious-minded Jones wanted to work with. (Ingmar Bergman had thoroughly divorced Elliott Gould after working with him on The Touch (1971), a.k.a. "The Touch"); the new generation of American actors was generating a negative buzz.) The movie industry was in flux in 1970, with Gould briefly becoming a low buffing box-office icon as the radicals on campus continued their reign. 'Dustin Hoffman' had created the paradigm of the unusual-looking, ethnic character actor who was also a box office champ, a paradigm that would give rise to 'Al Pacino' and Robert De Niro in the 1970 decade. The days of the WASP leading man went into eclipse, with only Robert Redford achieving superstar status during that time, among the traditional handsome WASP-type. Even such a first-rate talent as Jon Voight would find it hard going during the Seventies, as Hoffman, Pacino, and quirky Jack Nicholson would become superstars, critically lauded for their acting gifts as well as their box office clout.
Louis B. Mayer had said that talent was unnecessary to the making of a star. It was the look, and how that look was captured by the camera, that was all important. A talent for acting like that of Spencer Tracy was a welcome bonus, but it was unnecessary when it came to creating a new star.
Seemingly, there was no longer room in post-studio, 1970s Hollywood for an actor to get by on just looks alone. Jones had failed to follow up on the promise of Wild in the Streets (1968). A phenomenally talented actor like Brando would remain in demand long after his star went into violent eclipse at the box office due to his acting chops (and though a Jon Voight never became a huge star, his great talent kept him in featured roles for 35 years and bring him a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar amidst multiple nominations), but Jones had no such reputation to fall back on after Ryan's Daughter (1970).
It was a moot point as Jones personally was burned out and turned his back on Hollywood and acting. After suffering his nervous breakdown, he was further devastated by the news of Jim Morrison's death, an Orpheus who expired in his bathtub in Paris.
"The death of Jim Morrison really upset me more than anything else," Jones said. "I felt empathy for him, and I identified with what he was saying. The fact that he died that young really affected me."
Thoroughly disillusioned with fame and its reality, Jones retired, living off the $1 million fortune he had accumulated during his acting years. He began a relationship with Carrie Abernathy in 1974, and she gave birth to his son, Christopher Jones Junior, in 1975. It was a major moment in his life as he derived great satisfaction from being a father. Living quietly in the San Fernando Valley, Jones dedicated his life to his new family and to painting. His relationship with Carrie ended in 1980, but he found love again with Paula McKenna. The two were a couple for the ten years from 1984 to 1994. They had four children together.
Producers kept trying to interest Jones in a comeback. In the early nineties, Quentin Tarantino became the latest filmmaker to seek Jones out, hoping to cast him in his follow-up to his first film, Reservoir Dogs (1992). He offered Jones the role of one of the pawnshop perverts in Pulp Fiction (1994), but Jones turned him down as he did not want to return to acting. Surprisingly, he did return to acting in 1996, accepting a small role in Mad Dog Time (1996), (after he retired in 1969, from results of friendly actress, Sharon Tates brutal death, on Saturday evening, August 9th, 1969, that Charles Mansons extremely diabolical cult members had pulled, which was written and directed by Larry Bishop, who had played the character role of "The Hook", in "Wild in the Streets." There are no signs that he plans to make another picture, or leave behind his painting for a second go at a career before the camera.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood
|Susan Strasberg||(25 September 1965 - 1968) ( divorced) ( 1 child)|
Personal Quotes (6)
|Ryan's Daughter (1970)||$500,000|