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Claude Earl Jones, a character actor who appeared in such films as Bride of Re-Animator and Miracle Mile and on TV shows including Buffalo Bill, Battlestar Galactica and Little House on the Prairie, has died. He was 86.
Jones died Nov. 25 of complications from dementia at a senior living facility in Claremont, California, his wife of 48 years, Nancy Jones, said.
Jones’ first love was the theater, and his favorite gig was portraying lawyer Henry Drummond in Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Inherit the Wind. (The role was made famous by Spencer Tracy in Stanley Kramer’s acclaimed 1960 film adaptation after Paul Muni played Drummond on Broadway.)
Jones also directed the courtroom drama several times and served as artistic director for the Sturges Center for the Fine Arts in San Bernardino, California.
He had small roles in the Robert Zemeckis movies I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) and Used Cars (1980) and appeared as a deputy working for Andy Griffith’s small-town police chief Abel Marsh in two 1977 NBC telefilms, The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game.
He also recurred as sound man Stan Fluger on the short-lived but brilliant Dabney Coleman NBC comedy Buffalo Bill. (A running gag had Coleman’s character never pronouncing his last name correctly.)
In Bride of Re-Animator (1989), the second of three films in the series based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, Jones played the cop who is given a fatal heart attack by Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and then re-animated.
He also starred as a guy named Philby in another cult horror project, the 1981 CBS telefilm Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a perennial Halloween favorite.
Born on April 29, 1933, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jones was raised in Phoenix. At Phoenix Union High School, he got his first acting job after he went to a casting session to support a friend. He then studied the craft at Phoenix College and the Pasadena Playhouse around a stint in the U.S. Army.
After earning his master’s degree in theater from Cal State Los Angeles in 1966, Jones taught theater at Ganesha High School in Pomona, California, from 1969-72. He often remarked his work at the school was among the most important he ever did.
His acting résumé included the films Thunder and Lightning (1977), Evilspeak (1981), Impulse (1984), No Man’s Land (1987) and Cherry 2000 (1987) and the TV shows Dallas, Simon & Simon, Who’s the Boss?, 21 Jump Street and the Griffith-starring Matlock.
Jones also wrote four books: Specially Not No Chocolate, a collection of short stories about his childhood; Hello Devil, Welcome to Hell, about his work on Inherit the Wind; The Real Ones Learn It Somewhere, about his education and teaching experiences; and I’d Drink It, a novel.
In addition to his wife, survivors include his sons, Steve and Tawn; his daughter, Julie; and his stepdaughter, Beth. Donations in his memory can be made to the Theatrical Workforce Development Program at the Roundabout Theatre Company.
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