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Remembering Dick Jones, the humble performer who gave "Pinocchio" his voice

Remembering Dick Jones, the humble performer who gave "Pinocchio" his voice

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In my career as a radio reporter, I have had the opportunity to interview many fascinating people.  In the past 30 years, I have talked with legislators, authors, movie directors, actors and actresses and -- yes -- even Disney Legends. 

Such was the case in 2009 when I had the chance to speak with Dick Jones.  Now you may ask who is Dick Jones.  He was a child star who had many roles in those so-called B-Westerns. But perhaps he is best known as the lead voice in a classic Disney animated movie.

Dick Jones was the voice actor and live action reference model for Walt Disney's "Pinocchio" who passed away at the age of 87 earlier this week.

Young Dick Jones in a 1940 publicity photo for Disney's "Pinocchio"

In my 2009 interview, Jones recalled how at the age of 11 he was cast in the role of the "little puppet made of pine."  He recounted "there was a huge casting call, close to 200 people interviewed for it over a period of several months."  After the audition process was whittled down only he and another boy survived and were up for the role.  "In the last go round, I won," Jones said and he and his mother were invited by Walt Disney to have lunch at the Hyperion Studio.  Jones said Walt asked him if he would like to do the voice of Pinocchio to which he responded "Sure, you bet."  What he really wanted to say to Mr.  Disney was "what the heck was I doing there all this time. But I didn't though."

At the age of 11 when he was cast in the role he admitted he had no idea of just how important the character would be to the wonderful world of Disney animation adding that it was "just another job."  It wasn't until much later when he was an adult that he realized how special the movie was to movie-goers of all ages.

When Jones auditioned for the Disney studios he was no stranger to show business.  He had a list of acting credits to his name appearing in a string of B-Westerns in the 1930's and a small role in the "Our Gang" movies and in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in 1939.  After giving life to the wooden puppet, Jones appeared in the TV series "The Range Rider" as well as on "The Gene Autry Show" and "Annie Oakley."

Dick Jones back in his B Western days

While his acting resume listed many of his television roles, Jones did not get his well-deserved recognition for the role of Pinocchio until he was honored as a Disney Legend in 2000.  And even then it was not that easy to get his just desserts.

In the original official program for the Legend awards, he was listed as Richard Jones and it had someone else's photo next to the name.  Jones says he was always known as Dick Jones by the Screen Actors Guild so he notified the company of the mistake for which they corrected the photo & name error and printed a new set of Legend programs.

Five years ago, Jones conceded he was "at the right time, at the right place, at the right moment and Pinocchio turned out to be a classic. And I am real proud to be part of it."

Dick Jones drops by the Walt Disney Archives to visit
with an old friend.

Long retired from acting since the 1960's, Jones was appreciative of all the attention he was getting in 2009 as he spoke about the DVD release of Pinocchio.  A true Disney Legend who will be sadly missed but his contributions will never be forgotten.

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  • "After the audition process was whittled down...."

    And that's how you cast the role of a little wooden puppet!

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