Richard Percy Jones was born Feb. 25, 1927, in McKinney, Texas. His
father was a newspaperman and his mother was a bit of a stage mother. By
the time he was about five, Jones was performing at rodeos, billed as the
world's youngest trick rider and roper.
His big show-business
break came when movie cowboy Hoot Gibson saw him perform at a rodeo in
Dallas. "Hoot told my mother the famous words, 'That kid ought to be in
pictures,'" Jones said in a 1984 Los Angeles Times interview. "She said, 'Whoopee!' and away we went to Hollywood." He worked almost steadily, often in westerns.
He was in a variety of big pictures, including the Laurel and Hardy
classic Babes in Toyland (1934) as well as Stella Dallas (1937), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Destry Rides Again (1939). He was also in some "Our Gang" shorts.
Jones appeared in more than 100 films and television shows in his long
career, but he is best known, by far, for a film in which he was never
seen onscreen, and for which his name never appeared in the credits. At
about 10, when he was known as "Dickie," Jones was chosen by Walt
Disney to be the voice of Pinocchio in the classic 1940 animated film.
Disney wanted a real youngster for the part of the wooden character who
wanted to be a real boy, and Jones' voice entered animation history.
voicing of Pinocchio, which took place over about a year and a
half, was most enjoyable, in part because Jones got along so well with
adult actor Cliff Edwards, who voiced Jiminy Cricket. At times Jones's
lip movements were filmed in close-up to help guide animators working
on the character. For the musical number "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee," he was
dressed in costume and filmed as he danced, also as a reference for
The most difficult sequence was when Pinocchio had to speak while under
the sea. "They had a real problem trying to make me sound like I was
underwater," he said in the Times interview. He was even subjected,
briefly, to an infamous interrogation technique. "They had me lie on a
table and poured water in my mouth while I tried to read the dialogue—I
almost drowned." The problem was finally solved by the use of a
rotating gadget while he spoke.
Jones was drafted into the Army
in 1944, and after his discharge he appeared in several more films. In
the 1950s, his career got a boost in early television, with roles on shows such as The Lone Ranger, and he played the title role in the 1955 Buffalo Bill Jr. series. But late in the decade, when landing roles became tough, he started to
get involved in real estate and founded a real estate agency. His last
acting role was in the 1965 western Requiem for a Gunfighter. In
2000, Dickie Jones was named a Disney Legend.
Jones, 87, died on July 7, 2014, of natural causes, after a fall at his home in Northridge, California.