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Thu, 02.03.1910

Robert E. Jones, Actor born

Robert E. Jones

*Robert E. Jones was born on this date in 1910. He was a Black actor and professional boxer.

Robert Earl Jones was born in n Senatobia, or Coldwater, Mississippi, the son of Robert and Elnora Jones. He left school early to work as a sharecropper to help his family. Jones later became a prizefighter. Under the name "Battling Bill Stovall," he was a sparring partner of Joe Louis. Jones became interested in theater after he moved to Chicago during the Great Migration.

He moved on to New York by the 1930s. He worked with young people in the Works Progress Administration, through which he met Langston Hughes, a young poet, and playwright. Hughes cast him in his 1938 play, Don't You Want to Be Free.  Jones also entered the cinema business, appearing in more than twenty films. His film career started with the leading role of a detective in the 1939 race film Lying Lips, written and directed by Oscar Micheaux, followed by The Notorious Elinor Lee (1940). Then came Wild River (1960) and One Potato, Two Potato (1964). In the Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting, he played Luther Coleman, an aging grifter. In the later 20th century, Jones appeared in Trading Places (1983) and Witness (1985).

Toward the end of his life, Jones played Creon in The Gospel at Colonus (1988). He also appeared in TV shows Lou Grant and Kojak episodes. One of his last stage roles was in a 1991 Broadway production of Mule Bone. His last film was Rain Without Thunder (1993). Although blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s due to involvement with leftist groups, Jones was ultimately honored with a lifetime achievement award by the US National Black Theatre Festival.

Jones was married three times. As a young man, he married Ruth Connolly (died 1986) in 1929; they had a son, James Earl Jones. Jones and Connolly separated before James was born in 1931, and the couple divorced in 1933. Jones did not come to know his son until the mid-1950s. Jones married two other times, to Jumelle Jones from 1938 to 1950 and Ruth Williams from 1960 until she died in 1981. He fathered a second son, Matthew Earl Jones. Jones died on September 7, 2006, in Englewood, New Jersey, from natural causes at age 96.

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