Dick Jones, the lovable voice of the wooden puppet who longed to be a real boy, Pinocchio, died on July 7, 2014, after his wife discovered him on the floor in his Northridge, Calif., home. The cause of death has not yet been determined. Jones was an active child star in the 1930s and 1940s, and rose to fame after landing the lead role in Disney’s 1940 film Pinocchio, when he was just 10 years old.
Richard Percy Jones was born on February 2, 1927, in Texas. His father worked as a newspaperman and his mother influenced young Dickie to take to the stage at a young age. By the time he was five years old, he was performing as the self-titled youngest trick rider at rodeos around the South. He made his first break into the pictures in an unaccredited role in the musical film Wonder Bar by Al Jolson in 1934. From there on, he worked a number of small roles on films such as Babes in Toyland (1934), Stella Dallas (1937), and Nancy Drew…. Reporter (1939).
His big break came at the age of 10 when he voiced the small wooden-puppet-turned-real-boy in Disney’s Pinocchio. Up until then, young characters had always been voiced by older actors. However, when Walt Disney created Pinocchio, he thought a young man’s voice would better portray the character. Jones’ prepubescent, soft and sweet voice was the perfect fit. The film went on to win two Academy Awards in 1941, including Best Music for the original song “When You Wish Upon a Star” and Best Original Score.
After being drafted into the Army in 1944, Jones returned to civilian life and continued his career throughout the ’50s and ’60s, appearing in over 100 films and TV shows. A majority of his work was on westerns, and he is well known for his roles in Buffalo Bill, Jr. (1955), The Range Rider (1951), and Annie Oakley (1955). He appeared in Requiem for a Gunfighter in 1965 and a few TV shows after that before retiring from show business, at which time he became a real estate agent and started a family, leaving Hollywood behind for the simple life.
Pinocchio was the biggest movie of Jones’ career, followed by an increasingly hard trail of finding jobs in his adulthood. According to his son, Rick Jones, he did not want to do TV commercials, so he moved on to find a normal job. Dick Jones stated in interviews in the past that he never much liked acting as a child. He would study on set, instead of in a classroom with other children, and the experience left him like his puppet counterpart: wanting to be a real boy.
His wife, Betty, of 66 years, along with his two sons, Rick and Jeffery; two sisters, Melody Hume and Jennifer Jones; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren survive Dick Jones. He will always be remembered as a pioneer for young child voice actors, and beloved by Disney fans of all generations for voicing the innocence in one of the most successful Disney movies of its time.
By Morgan Louchen