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Obituaries

Dick Jones, 87; voiced Pinocchio for classic Disney film

Mr. Jones was so animated, Disney’s cartoonists sometimes copied his facial expressions.

Walt Disney Company

Mr. Jones was so animated, Disney’s cartoonists sometimes copied his facial expressions.

WASHINGTON — Despite more than 100 film and television credits, Dick Jones was best known for a movie in which his face was never seen. As a child actor, he voiced the role of Pinocchio in the enduring 1940 animated film by Walt Disney.

Mr. Jones, who died Monday at age 87, began performing when he was 4 and was billed as ‘‘the world’s youngest trick rider and trick roper’’ in his native Texas. He became a protege of the cowboy actor Hoot Gibson and had begun appearing in a series of low-budget Westerns by the time he was 7.

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After roles in the ‘‘Our Gang’’ serial and in the 1937 melodrama ‘‘Stella Dallas,’’ starring Barbara Stanwyck, Mr. Jones, then known as Dickie, won an audition to become the voice of Pinocchio. He beat out 200 other child actors.

‘‘Pinocchio’’ was Disney’s second full-length animated feature, following ‘‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’’ (1937).

Because each frame of the film was drawn by hand, it took nearly two years for ‘‘Pinocchio’’ to be completed.

For the performers, the film was like a radio play, with Mr. Jones reading his part in a studio alongside the other voice actors, including Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket, Walter Catlett as the devious J. Worthington Foulfellow, and Christian Rub as Gepetto, the wood carver who made Pinocchio.

“ ‘Pinocchio’ was a tough job for me, because I didn’t like being so cooped up,’’ Mr. Jones said in 2009, recalling the film from a boy’s point of view. ‘‘I preferred being outdoors all the time; that’s why I like making Westerns so much.’’

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When he had to sing in the film, Mr. Jones thought his voice sounded like ‘‘a squeaking door closed under protest.’’ But he was so, well, animated while reading the script that Disney’s cartoonists used his facial expressions to depict Pinocchio.

At one point, however, ‘‘they threw their hands up in the air.’’

In the scene, Pinocchio and J. Worthington Foulfellow, a fox bent on leading the young lad astray, walk down a path, singing ‘‘Hi, Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me).’’

‘‘They just couldn’t figure out how to do it,’’ Mr. Jones said in 2009. ‘‘So they dressed us up in costume and built a set for the road, and we acted the thing out two or three times until they said, ‘Aha! Now we’ve got it.’ ”

When ‘‘Pinocchio’’ was released in 1940, it was a major hit, and it continues to hold a universal appeal.

Because of the film’s protracted production schedule of ‘‘Pinocchio,’’ Mr. Jones found time to act in 27 other movies from 1938 through 1940, including two with James Stewart, ‘‘Destry Rides Again’’ and ‘‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’’ in which he played a Senate page.

‘‘Of all the movies I made,’’ Mr. Jones said in 1992, ‘‘I never in my wildest dreams thought that ‘Pinocchio’ would be the one that would endure. It was just another job at the time.’’

Richard Percy Jones Jr. was born in Snyder, Texas, the son of a newspaper editor.

He performed as a rodeo cowboy and Hollywood stunt rider before getting roles in Westerns including ‘‘The Range Rider’’ and ‘‘Annie Oakley.’’

As Dick Jones, he starred in the short-lived TV series ‘‘Buffalo Bill Jr.’’ in the mid-1950s and in the 1958 teenage gang film ‘‘The Cool and the Crazy.’’ After appearing in his final film, ‘‘Requiem for a Gunfighter’’ (1965), Mr. Jones worked in real estate for many years. He was named to the ‘‘Disney Legends,’’ a hall of fame for those who made substantial contributions to Disney movies, in 2000.

Mr. Jones died at his home in Northridge, Calif., his daughter Jennafer Jones said. She did not know the specific cause.

He leaves his wife of 66 years, Betty Bacon Jones of Northridge; four children, Melody Hume of Las Vegas, Richard P. Jones III of Medford, Ore., and twins Jeffrey Jones of Aliso Viejo, Calif., and Jennafer Jones of Northridge; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

‘‘Pinocchio’’ remains one of Hollywood’s greatest animated films, but Mr. Jones was not listed in the credits for the role that left his most lasting mark.

‘‘I may not get the recognition, but I can at least console myself that my nose never grew like Pinocchio’s,’’ he told the Montreal Gazette in 1992, ‘‘No, I learned my lesson a long time ago, and I never tell whoppers anymore. And my nose has been fine for all these years.’’

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