Richard Percy “Dickie” Jones has died at the age of 87. Jones was a child actor who maintained a career into his 30s, becoming a familiar face in low-budget and TV westerns. But he made his most lasting contribution to movie history when, at the age of 12, he voiced the title role in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940).
Jones got his start as a performer in rodeos, doing trick riding and roping before he was 5 years old. When he was 6, he found himself working for rodeo champion and pioneering cowboy film star Hoot Gibson, who told Jones’ parents that their boy had what it took to succeed in pictures, urging them to try their luck out West. As “Dickie Jones,” he began getting small parts in movies in 1934, including an uncredited bit in the Laurel and Hardy classic, Babes In Toyland. By 1940, he had racked up scores of credits that included Daniel Boone (1936), Black Legion (1937), Stella Dallas (1937), Nancy Drew… Reporter (1939), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), Virginia City (1940), and various installments of the Our Gang series.
In 1939, Jones was hired to bring the famous little wooden boy to life, after Disney made the fateful decision that the role of Pinocchio should not be voiced by an adult. At the time, the casting of Jones and singer Cliff Edwards (as Jiminy Cricket) represented the beginning of a new trend: the use of easily recognizable “celebrity voices” for Disney cartoons. In the years since, both performers—and their voices—have become so closely associated with Pinocchio, it’s easy to forget that they were ever famous for anything else.
Jones also appeared in such films as The Howards Of Virginia (1940), as the younger version of the character played by Cary Grant; Knute Rockne, All-American (1940); Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait (1943); and The Adventures Of Mark Twain (1944), where he played a young Samuel Clemens. In 1943 and 1944, he starred as Henry Aldrich on the long-running radio comedy The Aldrich Family.
As a young man, Jones co-starred with Jock Mahoney on the TV series Range Rider (1951-1953), took the lead in the series Buffalo Bill, Jr. (1955-1956), and appeared in the A.I.P. drive-in classic The Cool And The Crazy (1958). His final screen appearance was in the 1965 western Requiem For A Gunfighter, after which he retired from acting and pursued a career in real estate.