James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences

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James Earl Jones, one of the great actors of our time, has joined forces with biographer-scholar Penelope Niven to write a moving and memorable book about his remarkable life - a life in which he has faced extraordinary challenges and reached new heights at every turn. Born in Mississippi, James Earl Jones came from a family of farmers and sharecroppers who lived twelve to a house. He was a shy boy who was raised by his grandparents; he spent much of his time in the fields alone. When his family moved from rural ...
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Overview

James Earl Jones, one of the great actors of our time, has joined forces with biographer-scholar Penelope Niven to write a moving and memorable book about his remarkable life - a life in which he has faced extraordinary challenges and reached new heights at every turn. Born in Mississippi, James Earl Jones came from a family of farmers and sharecroppers who lived twelve to a house. He was a shy boy who was raised by his grandparents; he spent much of his time in the fields alone. When his family moved from rural Mississippi to a farm in Michigan, the trauma of being uprooted triggered a stuttering, and he withdrew into silence, relinquishing the power of speech. Between the ages of ten and fourteen, he kept his entire world locked up inside himself. Encouraged by an English teacher and the music of poetry, he eventually reclaimed his voice and soon made his first tentative attempts at acting. He then moved to New York City, began to know his father, the actor Robert Earl Jones, and plunged into acting lessons himself. Within a few years, he had set off-Broadway afire with spectacular performances in Jean Genet's The Blacks and Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot. Critics referred to him as a "dynamo." His next stop was Broadway, where he rose to stardom in The Great White Hope, for which he won a Tony award. His performances were also nothing short of dazzling in Othello, Paul Robeson, and August Wilson's Fences, for which he won another Tony award. In recent years he has garnered tremendous acclaim for his roles in television and in movies such as Matewan, Field of Dreams, Coming to America, and Sommersby. James Earl Jones is currently recognized throughout the world for his unmistakable voice, but readers of this spellbinding account will discover him as a man of deep thought and silences as well.

The renowned Tony Award-winning actor recounts his remarkable life story--a journey from the depths of poverty to the pinnacle of fame on Broadway and in Hollywood. "A brilliant performance . . . graceful, elegant, and satisfying."--The Washington Post. 3 8-page photo inserts.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Celebrated actor Jones, writing with Niven ( Carl Sandburg: A Biography ), has produced a compelling memoir. Raised by his hardworking grandfather and storytelling grandmother, six-year-old James began to stutter when the family moved from Mississippi, where he was born in 1931, to Michigan. Virtually mute for the next eight years, he recaptured speech by reciting poetry and prose. Jones reconnected with his estranged actor father during his journeyman years in Manhattan theater; in the 1950s he blossomed in the ``democracy of the frontier'' that was off-Broadway. He offers lively and nuanced reflections on his great and sometimes controversial parts, which include, on stage, Paul Robeson, and on film: the title role in Othello , Lennie in Of Mice and Men , Jack Jefferson in The Great White Hope and Troy Maxson in Fences. While Jones concentrates more on his professional than on his personal life, he also discusses his complicated multiracial heritage and his two marriages. He ends with tender thoughts about the almost spiritual richness of life on his New York farm and the joy he takes in his young son. As his career and his memoirs verify, Jones's lifelong struggle with language has produced some lasting words. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Library Journal
At 62, James Earl Jones has earned a curious stature: a distinguished stage actor, lauded for playing Othello, Paul Robeson, and Jack Johnson, he also works frequently as a character actor in films. But his widespread fame is for his voice (as Darth Vader in the Star Wars films) and genial presence in TV commercials. In his memoir, Jones cheerfully accepts this state of affairs; he loves to work, and his role as a company pitch person pays too well to ignore. Among the highlights of this readable and entertaining volume is Jones's search for his father (actor Robert Earl Jones), who left his infant son to be raised by his grandparents. Readers will be stunned by Jones's account of his stuttering problem, which rendered him mute from the age of ten to 14. Recommended for all collections.-- Thomas Wiener, formerly with ``American Film''
Booknews
An engaging (auto)biography, written by Jones and author Niven, telling of the great actor's childhood, sources of strength and inspiration, and the development and events of his career. Includes many photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
An autobiography in brief, as well as a supremely rewarding text on acting, by the always brooding, green-eyed black actor today best known as the voice of Darth Vader and the steely, saturnine voice of New Jersey Bell. Niven (Carl Sandburg, 1991) worked with Jones for four years on this project, which the thesbian seems to write entirely in his own voice. Jones apparently didn't start out to write a text on acting and perhaps doesn't think of this as such, but budding actors shouldn't leave home without it. Knowing Jones's work, we wait somewhat impatiently for him to get through his early days on the Mississippi farm where he was born and raised and into the exciting worlds of stage and film. But those early days are Jones. Parted from his father and mother and raised by his grandparents, he began to stutter as a child, then fell into a muteness that lasted until a high-school teacher had him read a poem aloud and he found that he could read fluently from a text. What's more, his awakened voice had deepened. (The muteness may account for the great intensity of Jones's listening when he acts.) He spent a decade playing innumerable roles Off-Broadway and in regional theater before his breakthrough with Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park troupe. Long enthralled by Othello, he has played the role in many productions, each of which he analyzes here for new ideas about who the Moor is and how to play him. Best moments overall include the lessening in scope and power of The Great White Hope from Washington to Broadway to film; the difficulty of wrestling a better text out of Angus Wilson for Fences; and stone-sucking thoughts about Jones's feelings and passions in his various roles. Astar is born among the classics on acting. (Three eight-page photo inserts—not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671899455
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 9/2/1994
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.27 (d)

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