Obituary: Morgan Jones (1927?-2012)

February 10, 2012

Actor Morgan Jones died on January 13 at the age of 84.  Jones logged more than a hundred appearances on television and in a few films from the early fifties through the mid-eighties.  Like many dozens of actors, he capped his career with a Murder, She Wrote role.  Jones looked older than he was, so you probably thought he’d died long ago.

Some of the obituaries will call him a character actor, but I don’t think that’s quite right; that term should be reserved for actors who had meaty, attention-getting parts in most of the things they did.  Jones, on the other hand, was emblematic of a different tier of actors – the familiar, comforting faces who didn’t get cast as characters with backstories or inner lives, but as narrative avatars who delivered exposition and moved the plot along.  Jones specialized in bland authority figures, military men or police officers, along with the occasional reporter or blue-collar working man.  The hierarchy is important here: if Jones played a cop, odds are he was the number-two detective, the one who stood in the background with a notepad and answered questions from the better-known actor playing the other detective.

Back, and to the left: Jones (with Arthur Franz) on The Invaders (“The Life Seekers,” 1968).

It should come as no surprise that Jones played federal agents in some Quinn Martin shows (The F.B.I. and O’Hara, U.S. Treasury).  He was also a regular on something called The Blue Angels (as a Navy officer), and a semi-regular on Highway Patrol (as a cop); The Rat Patrol (as an Army captain); The Young Rebels (demoted to a sergeant); and, extending his range to the max, as an Intertect researcher-cum-computer technician during the first season of Mannix.

I hope none of the above sounds condescending, because actors like Morgan Jones are favorites of television aficionados.  They perform a specific and rather hard-to-describe role in creating an alternate televisual reality across different shows, different genres, multiple decades.  When Jones’s solid frame and slightly beefy, slightly squinty face appeared on the screen, it announced a certain subliminal meaning: a piece of information was about to be conveyed, or a villain momentarily impeded.  Some of that came through Jones’s physique, or the various uniforms he often wore; but if you watched a lot of television, the idea came across even more clearly just through the frisson of recognition.

Finally, the usual refrain: Jones was on the list.  I would have loved to have interviewed him for this blog, but never got around to making the call.  Faster, I must move faster.

9 Responses to “Obituary: Morgan Jones (1927?-2012)”

  1. Stephen, another great piece. Thanks for keeping this history alive!

  2. Ronald Jack Says:

    You are not at all condescending. You express very well the need for this type of character in television drama and also the caliber of actor who is cast. Now as an expert on the topic you need to create a catchy term for actors such as Jones – something fresh, which we can all pick up and use in our discussions of old performances we admire.

    • Stephen Bowie Says:

      I don’t know if I’m the one to come up with it, but you’re absolutely right — there should be a non-pejorative term for bit players / small-part actors / “atmosphere” (which used to be, and maybe still is, the industry term for extras).

  3. Kliph Says:

    Just posting a quick thank you here for your site, which i frequently forget to check, but am just as often blown away by when i do. Furthermore, your list of book recommendations never fail to deliver. Thanks so much.

  4. Steve Pellicani Says:

    Morgan Jones had a very good role as Beverly Garland’s police officer boyfriend in the original version of the film “Not of This Earth.”

  5. Mark Speck Says:

    Stephen, while I enjoy your writing, you need to check things a little better…O’Hara: U.S. Treasury is a Jack Webb production, not a QM production (I can only guess that David Janssen being the star threw you off a little). Morgan Jones also appeared on Dan August, in the series’ second episode, “Love Is a Nickel Bag”.

  6. Ann Palmer Says:

    Morgan & Joan Jones were good friends for many years – we were all together in Rome in the early 1960’s when I worked in “Cleopatra”- they returned to USA because Joan got pregnant. I attended many parties at their house, seemed turned around on the lot now… I wonder what happened to their son? (I baby sat a few times), Ann Palmer

    • Hello Ann, I cut Mr. Jones hair at the barber shop where I used to work (in Tarzana). The man that used to drive him to the shop was his Nephew who lived nearby. I enjoyed Mr. Jones immensely and wish I had kept in contact with his family. April Lawrence

      • Ann Palmer Says:

        That is amazing to hear from anyone who knew either Joan and Morgan. They were good friends and I have often wondered about their son who would have been born around 1962 and if he also was an actor. I did not remember posting this but at this time in life, memory is a thing of the past…

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