Sunday, November 13, 2011


When it was recent announced that the veteran trio of Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, and make-up artist Dick Smith will be honored with special Oscars, most of the attention focused on Oprah (do we really even need to say her last name anymore?) I believe that Oprah IS deserving of the special Oscar for the humanitarian work she does, so I'm going to move on and focus on James Earl Jones.

There is no denying the man's talent as an actor. He was first nominated for the Academy Award in 1971 for the Great White Hope; he has won dozens of Emmys and Golden Globes. He is the voice of Darth Vader and of Mufasa from Disney's The Lion King.

When discussing Jones, it all comes down to The Voice. That big, booming, basso profundo voice that is so deep and powerful and resonant that it makes Barry White seem like a soprano.

My favorite films featuring Jones have included The Great White Hope, the Sandlot, Bingo Long's Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, and his memorable turn as reclusive author Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams (a character which, in the original book, Shoeless Joe, was actually real-life reclusive author J.D. Salinger.)

Any discussion, though of Jones' work, and of The Voice, simply make his story more incredible. Why? James Earl Jones was functionally mute from childhood through his freshman year of High School.

Born in Mississippi, Jones was raised by his maternal grandparents, farmers Maggie and John Henry Connolly, in Jackson, Michigan from the age of five. The adoption was traumatic. He developed a stutter, and refused to speak aloud. When he moved to Brethren, Michigan in later years, a teacher at the Brethren schools started to help him with his stutter. He remained functionally mute for eight years until he reached high school.

"I was a stutterer. I couldn't talk. So my first year of school was my first mute year, and then those mute years continued until I got to high school." Jones recalls.

Jones credits teacher Donald Crouch, who discovered young Jones' gift for writing poetry, with helping him regain his voice. Crouch believed public speaking would help Jones gain confidence and insisted Jones recite a poem in class each day.

In my King Leary novel, "Death in the Fast Lane," LAPD detective T.S. 'King' Leary shows his compassion for working with victims of crime, and with those on the margins of society... Leary himself is working through the recent suicide of his wife, and he is emotionally hamstrung as he tries to carry on, and to build future relationships. But, like James Earl Jones beloved Prince Hamlet, Leary sees ghosts. A homicide cop who "Sees dead people."

This is a dynamic, which James Earl Jones would appreciate, I believe. So much of The Voice's resonance seems to come from those long-ago places, which are, like Hamlet's Elsinore Castle, haunted by ghosts on a mission, ghosts with a message. Even the most famous words ever spoken on film by Jones, Darth Vader's revelation: "Luke! I am your father!" is haunted by ghosts of the past... the ghost of the Anakin Skywalker who COULD have been.

Jones is also noted for his robust sense of humor, as was Shakespeare's Hamlet. I've tried to carry on that tradition with Det II King Leary in "Death in the Fast Lane."

As James Earl Jones knows, life is about thing like: love, loss, humor, regrets, ghosts, and overcoming one's fears and shortcomings to make the world a better place for ourselves and for all mankind.

Three cheers for 2011 OSCAR WINNER James Earl Jones.

Your Oscar is long overdue!

No comments: