A small point of pride in my life is that I share a birthday with Darth Vader (as well as Michelle Obama, Betty White, Eartha Kitt, Ben Franklin, Muhammad Ali, Jim Carrey, and Al Capone. Guess tax season was a busy time for everyone in the baby-making business…). So, since today falls on a Monday, I decided to dedicate today’s post to James Earl Jones, an iconic actor with a trailblazing career on stage, in film, and in television, going back several decades.
Tarzan (1966-1968) – Chief Bella
Not much info about the plot of this episode, but young James Earl Jones is cute AF.
The Great White Hope (1970)
Edit: Thank you readers for catching this omission! I had the image uploaded but for some reason didn’t make it into the post! This film looks incredible. Jones plays the lead character Jack Jefferson, who was modeled on real life boxer Jack Johnson, whose marriage to a white woman ended in tragedy.
The Cay (1974)
And less than 10 years later, he’s already playing an old man. I have a dim memory of having seen this film as a kid, because I remember Stew Cat, but nothing else about it.
Great Performances: King Lear (1974)
I really need to see if I can find this adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. The costumes look incredible.
The UFO Incident (1975)
Based on a “true” story (as in, the character Jones plays was a real person who purported to have been kidnapped by aliens along with his wife) the film is set in the early 1960s. Estelle Parsons plays his wife.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
Starring Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and James Earl Jones, this sports comedy film is set in 1932 and follows the exploits of the three Negro League baseball players fed up with their stagnating careers, who form a barnstorming club. It was apparently a hugely successful film at the time, and according to this reviewer, still holds up.
Ummm … yeah, I’m probably going to take a pass on this one. Looks like the sort of film that is described as a “romp” on the DVD cover.
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
I’m not a huge fan of biblical films, but I gotta say, this costume looks amazing.
The Greatest (1977)
James Earl Jones plays Malcolm X in a biopic of Muhammad Ali. Ali plays himself.
The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977)
Again, very dim memories having seen this as a kid, but no lasting impressions other than it co-starred Marty Feldman. And like, 932 other incredibly famous people.
Roots: The Next Generations (1979)
Jones portrays author Alex Haley in the dramatization of Haley’s research while writing Roots.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
If you think I’m not going to include Thulsa Doom on this list because this is technically a fantasy film, you don’t even know me.
A film about the coal workers’ strike of 1920. Jones plays “Few Clothes” Johnson, one of the coal miners.
The Wikipedia entry for this film is literally one sentence long and doesn’t really tell me anything about the character Jones plays.
An American Civil War film based on a French film about a case of possible identity theft in 16th-century France, Jones plays a judge who is presiding over the trial of Jack Sommersby, who may or may not be who he claims.
The Sandlot (1993)
This was apparently one of those generationally significant films for my generation, but I didn’t see it until very recently. Definitely enjoyable, and James Earl Jones is excellent as the scary old man who lives behind the sandlot.
The Vernon Johns Story (1994)
Based on the unpublished memoirs of minister Vernon Johns, who was key to the early Civil Rights Movement, and preceded Martin Luther King, Jr. as the reverend of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
We’ve done an in-depth review of this film, so go check it out!
Cry the Beloved Country (1995)
I read the book in middle school, and I’m pretty sure I also had to watch this movie around that time, too. Jones plays Stephen Kumalo, a preacher in South Africa during Apartheid, who forms an unlikely bond with the father of a white man that Kumalo’s son was accused of murdering.
A heartwarming film about … racism and a man falsely accused of murder.
What the Deaf Man Heard (1997)
Nothing is what it seems on the surface in this surprisingly nuanced Hallmark film.
I guess this is him as the Mountain King. There are no other images of him up close, so I’m just going to have to take Google’s word for it.
Obviously this photo is not of James Earl Jones. Even though we covered this film, we didn’t get pics of him in it, and there’s apparently no photos of him online in the film either. So, just look at the pretty costumes instead, because isn’t that why you’re here, after all?
What is your favorite historical character played by James Earl Jones? Share with us in the comments!
James Earle Jones makes everything better! On a side note, when I saw the picture from Swashbucklers, my first reaction was, “Is that Robert Shaw?” Yep, just looked it up. Happy Birthday, Sarah!
And I feel like Swashbucklers could be either amazing in it’s schlockiness or torturous. I’m scared to find out!
Roger Ebert seemed to like it:
Roger Ebert gave it 3 Stars (I tried to provide a link to his review, but it didn’t work) . Plus, Genevieve Bujold is in it. I might have to give it a try. :)
Swashbucklers is very schlocky, but I love it nonetheless. In addition to JEJ and Robert Shaw and Genevieve Bujold, it also has Peter Boyle, Beau Bridges and Jeffrey Holder! The pirate ship used was a replica of Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde (ca 1580) for a film set in 1720, so based on the I’m certain the costumes were equally out of sorts with the setting!
IIRC, it was a lot of fun. Back int he 1950s, Robert Shaw starred in a TV series (shown in Baltimore when I was a kid) title “The Buccaneers.” It was terrific. So, when I saw that Shwa was doing a pirate move, of course I saw it. I enjoyed it. It was fun and way better than “Cutthroat Island.”
Great guy! A friend of mine lives in the same area as him, and apparently he’s a wonderful man around the community.
And great birthday! (From someone with the same birthday ;) ) Here’s to Michelle Obama, Betty White, Eartha Kitt, Anne Bronte, Al Capone and many others as well!
It sounds like he’s just an all around awesome person. No one has ever had anything bad to say about him.
And did I land on the birthday jackpot or what? I remember growing up feeling like a mid-January birthday was the worst thing ever, because it’s cold out, and everyone is usually sick (including me. I’ve lost count of the number of birthdays I’ve been down with a cold, flu, strep, even a suspected case of COVID in January 2020. I’ve almost given up making any plans to celebrate on my birthday because of cold and flu season). But then all these incredibly interesting people share the same birthday! I even know two other people in my social circle with the same b-day. It’s so weird, lol!
Yes! I know a surprising amount of people in real life with a Jan. 17th birthday, too. I hope this year’s birthday has you free of cold, flu, or covid!
That voice! That wonderful voice!!
He also has the most astonishing eyes.
I’m happy to see him in film and I’ve been lucky enough to see him on stage. Most of all, it’s nice to hear him talk, even if it’s reading the dictionary.
Happy Birthday James and Sarah!
I so love his voice too, it makes me melt. I’ve mostly only seen his contemporary performances but now want to see several on this list!
His voice is so good! And his eyes… He’s the first actor I remember just getting lost in their gaze every time he was on screen.
Happy Birthday to all the January 17th Capricorns! FYI, my first film experience with Mr. Jones was watching the 1970 film, the Great White Hope, with Mr. Jones as a fictionalized version of the great black boxer Jack Johnson. The time period is the earliest 20th C, so I think it should count as a Frock Flik. See image linked below for Mr. Jones in his prime.
I came here looking for Great White Hope, thank you for bringing it up. Stellar cast and great performances.
I think I accidentally left that out because I remembered pulling the image and uploading it, but somehow it didn’t make it into the post! I’ll add it in now. Because, yeah, it looks like an amazing film!
Thanks for catching the omission! I totally had the image uploaded but just missed adding it to the post for some reason. It’s fixed now!
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings is a really good and often overlooked baseball movie. Highly recommend if that’s at all your jam (and it’s totally mine).
I hate sports, but weirdly I enjoy movies about sports, so I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the rec!
Jesus of Nazareth has some brilliant costume work throughout. It’s worth the watch.
Happy Birthday Sarah! Today is my mom’s birthday also, she’s 91!
Oh that’s awesome! Tell her I wish her a happy birthday, too!
It’s not at all historical but JEJ saying “totes magotes” will forever be my favorite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VV52m_wpgQ
I love so many of them (with a special fondness for Thulsa Doom), but my overall favorite is Matewan. Brilliant, harrowing film.
I know Field of Dreams isn’t period, but whenever I see JEJ, I hear his character saying “peace love dope!” in a hilariously singsongy voice :D
“You told me your finger was a gun!” I grew up with Darth Vader and Terrence Mann, and still love them both.
Oh, and Mufasa of course!
The ‘74 “King Lear” was a telecast of a Shakespeare in the Park production. I saw it when they broadcasted it. I really like it. It has Raul Julia, Rene Auberjonois, Paul Sorvino in it.
It’s on DVD (I have a copy) in the Broadway Theater Archives. Image Entertainment distributed it. ID088BDDVD. I went to the web site and no go.
But it is on YouTube. Remember, it’s the play filmed on video live in Central Park so I don’t know how the image will be.
The costumes are Dark Age inspired but with much artistic license, especially the 3 sisters. Lots of leather.
I saw that and loved it. JEJ was a wonderful Lear and I enjyed the hell out of Rene Auberjonois as the fool. Glad to see it’s on DVD because I’d love a copy. Yes, the costumes were more theatrical than “historic,” but it is worth tracking down and watching.
A happier birthday, Sarah, and thanks for all your hard work on our behalf, and that of Correct Costuming. What a relief to get a whole JEJ portfolio as a reminder that he is so much more than the Vader guy.
Happy birthday! I love JEJ. He’s so excellent. But I haven’t seen most of these! My favs of his that I have seen are contemporary to the making–Field of Dreams and Hunt for Red October. I seriously need to track down a lot of these though. The baseball one sounds fun, and I am a baseball fan.
I think I might have spotted the Hallmark one on its on demand option on cable. Hallmark now does almost only popcorn tv romances, but when it was just a producer, and its stuff had to find a home on other networks, some of them were pretty decent quality. (I do watch the silly romances for some easy-going escapism, but the vast majority today can’t be defended as worthwhile stories in their own right.)
I LOVED Swashbuckler, but then I like just about any film that swashes and buckles. I enjoyed his performance in Field of Dreams and frankly everything else I’ve seen him in.
back in 1983 I think it was, he was touring in either King Lear or MacBeth and he was staying in Winter Park Fla, at the Royal Garden hotel. So, a bunch of loopy library employees from the W.P. P.L high on Oreo Ice Cream gathered under the balcony of the hotel and sang “we Love you JAMES! oh! YES! WE DO!! (the ENTIRE song from Bye Bye Birdie) he came out and threw us kisses. we tried to take him to dinner but he gently refused us as he as already eaten. we all swooned.
There are also clips of him as Troy in “Fences” (set in 1950s) on YouTube.
And “A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away…”–does the “long long time ago” qualify for Frock Flicks?