Obituary: Claude Earl Jones

Actor, father, author, educator


Professional actor and director Claude Earl Jones died peacefully at Claremont Place on November 25, with his wife of 48 years by his side.

Claude was born April 29, 1933 to Dora and John Henry Jones in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a small boy, he and his family, including his younger sister, Billie, packed up their meager belongings and headed west in search of a better life.

He often compared his childhood to an “Okie” kid picking crops with other migrant field workers to that of the Joad family immortalized in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The family ate what they picked and he often joked he was glad it was potatoes rather than cotton.

Mr. Jones recalled the only real argument between his parents was when his mother put her foot down and refused to let his father pull him out of school to pick crops. Books were his salvation, and he taught himself to read at a very early age by translating the pictures in comic books and figuring out what the words meant.

The family settled in Phoenix, where he attended Phoenix Union High School, playing football and accidentally getting cast in a play because he went to a casting session to give support to a friend. His love for theater was born there and he never wavered in his desire to be on stage.

He graduated in 1952 and went on to Phoenix College to study under John Paul, whom he claimed was the world’s best teacher and responsible for launching his acting career.

He was set to attend the Pasadena Playhouse upon graduation with his associate’s degree in 1954, but Uncle Sam came calling. The timing was fortunate, since he was sent to Germany instead of Korea. A huge break came when, out of boredom, he directed, acted in and produced a show for his unit that was seen by an officer, who made him part of the US Army’s NACOM Special Services, which was responsible for entertaining American troops.

In 1956 he finally made it to the Pasadena Playhouse, where he studied until 1958. He married and had three children while taking on every job he could as a struggling actor. With each new position he gained experience that would serve him well. He earned his master’s degree in theater from Cal State University Los Angeles in 1966.

One of the jobs he took while making his way as an actor was teaching theater at Pomona’s Ganesha High School from 1969 to 1972. He laughed about staying one page ahead of the students in the English classes he was required to teach, but the theater department thrived. His first play there was Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which was a huge success. He went on to direct How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Arsenic and Old Lace, West Side Story and Raisin in the Sun, among others. 

His “kids” adored him, and kept in touch until the end, many visiting him recently at Claremont Place. He often remarked his time at Ganesha was some of the most important work he ever did.

On January 1, 1972 he married his second wife, Nancy. The couple moved to Upland, where they lived with their five children for 35 years before moving to Claremont in 2006.

He enjoyed a successful television and movie career, but his first love was live theater. His favorite role was Henry Drummond in Lawrence and Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Inherit the Wind, which he directed and/or acted in seven times, including theaters in the Inland Empire. As artistic director for Sturges Theater in San Bernardino, and guest director in multiple theaters throughout the region, he will be remembered for award winning productions such as Sylvia, Harvey, Light Up the Sky, Of Mice and Men, Teahouse of the August Moon and many, many others.

In film and television, he’s enjoyed somewhat of a cult following for his appearances in Bride of Re-Animator, Dark Night of the Scarecrow (a perpetual Halloween favorite) and Battlestar Galactica, but by far his personal favorites were the two films he made with Andy Griffith, The Deadly Game and Girl in the Grave, and the legacy episode of Little House on the Prairie, with Michael Landon. Both Andy and Michael were cherished friends. Mr. Jones’ filmography can be found on the website IMDb.

For several years, he had a comedy partner, Jack Fisher. Together they performed a show with original material based on the work of Abbott and Costello to enthusiastic audiences throughout Southern California.

Mr. Jones wrote four books: Specially Not No Chocolate, a collection of short stories about his childhood, Hello Devil, Welcome to Hell, about his directing and acting experience as Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind, The Real Ones Learn it Somewhere, about his education and teaching experiences, and I’d Drink It, a novel. All are available on Amazon.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons, Steve Jones of Twentynine Palms, California and Tawn Jone of Apache Junction, Arizona; daughter, Julie Jones of Twentynine Palms; and stepdaughter Beth Donovan, of Huntington Beach.

The family would like to thank the amazing staff and caregivers at Claremont Place and VNA of Southern California as well as the Neptune Society for their professionalism and heartfelt support.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in memory of Claude Earl Jones to the Theatrical Workforce Development Program at Roundabout Theatre at join-and-give.


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