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The 'Dean' of Disney

I miss Dean Jones already and I hadn't thought about him in years.

He died this week, triggering a flood of memories and making it another "take another piece of my Boomer heart" moment as I recalled the days of sunny summer afternoons spent in cavernous, almost-empty theaters watching 50 cent movies about magical Volkswagon Bugs or olive-picking monkeys or various dogs, horses, and cats--Disney co-stars were often quadrupeds.

It was probably not cool to like Dean Jones when I did. He was such a clean-cut, nonthreatening, Up With People kind of guy when "Down with the Establishment" was all the rage.

He did seem to have more connection with the 1950's than the decade he gained fame in as a Disney staple. While his credits were mostly movies, Disney's weekly program, Wonderful World of Color (then "of Disney" after Walt died) with its plugs and previews for upcoming attractions brought him into millions of homes, including mine.

Then there was his brief turn as Ensign O'Toole on NBC in 1963 (yes, I watched it), which was the lead-in to Wonderful World on Sunday nights and, at least according to Wikipedia, where Disney first saw him, then signed him to all those kid-targeted buddy movies--The Love Bug, Monkeys Go Home, The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit--the buddies often being inanimate objects or animals, though he got the girl, too.

If Fred MacMurray was the quintessential Disney Dad, Jones was the mature Disney "boyfriend." Handsome, affable, and straight as an Arrow collar

Jones did get much hipper, if not hippier, by the end of the decade, creating the role of Bobby in the initial production of Stephen Sondheim's edgy musical, Company, a role reprised recently by another arguably affable star, ("affable" not being a pejorative) Neil Patrick Harris.

The D.A. Pennebaker documentary of the making of that show's cast album is a classic and Jones' "tonsil closeup" as he belts out "Being Alive" was particularly memorable and was being reprised on at least one Web site reporting his death at a "boyish" (he was ALWAYS "boyish) 84.

Jones also did some later, notable, TV work as Ed Cooper in When Every Day was The Fourth of July and The Long Days of Summer. They were serious dramatic turns, but even those titles evoke his earlier role in a Boomer kid’s idyllic summers of lazily consumed media.

Affability is often underrated (though not by people signing the checks for folks like the late Johnny Carson and Pat Sajak), but it can be a star quality on the big and little screens, and Jones had it.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.