Disney Icon: All for God Now
People assume Dean Jones has had the perfect life. He was a Disney icon, the beloved star of such films as That Darn Cat, Blackbeard's Ghost and The Love Bug. He had more money than he knew what to do with and spent it on lavish homes, fast Italian sports cars, and exotic vacations.
And women. Each night a different Hollywood starlet could be found on his arm—and just as often in his bed. Out of the spotlight, Jones' life was far from perfect. In fact, he was living a lie.
For years he had deceived himself into believing that the Hollywood lifestyle would satisfy him, but it had only left him depressed and suicidal. He addictively sought the comforting roar of audience approval, but such pursuits had only shattered his first marriage (which ended in divorce) and alienated him from his children. He began to see life as a pointless exercise in futility, to be managed by copious amounts of alcohol and a parade of affairs.
According to his autobiography, Under Running Laughter, Jones heard a voice in his spirit one evening, saying his lifestyle "will never satisfy you." He started thinking: Could I continue to deceive myself into believing that whatever vacuum existed within me would be filled in the future by more and bigger portions of that I'd consumed in the past?
Later, after a drunk-driving accident almost claimed his life, Jones reached his breaking point. Though he'd grown up in a religious home and even briefly attended Asbury, a Christian college in Kentucky, Jones had rejected the faith of his family. After his near-death accident, he was ready to stop running from God, crying out, "I've done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn't work. I have everything and I have nothing. I have no choice but to believe. If you don't exist, then I'm a dead man."
After his conversion, Jones felt a peace he'd never known before, and he felt whole for the first time. He righted his blighted relationships, remarried (he and Lory have been together 36 years), and began seeking out projects on and off screen that he could do for the glory of God.
Recently, CT Movies caught with Jones, 78, about his storied career, his faith, and his role in a new independent Christian film, Mandie and the Secret Tunnel, which releases today. (Jones provided his answers to our questions via e-mail.)
The Mandie books are adored by children around the world. What appealed to you about these stories?
Dean Jones:Mandie and the Secret Tunnel—the book and now the movie—pits a very young woman against forces she cannot control and events she cannot possibly know about. She's in way over her head, and you're pulling for her from the opening scene.
After 50 years in the motion picture business, I'm still learning my trade. This recent shoot of Mandie and the Secret Tunnel was a revelation. The two young directors, Joy Chapman and Owen Smith, represent a group of actors, directors, and cinematographers all over the country that never show up in New York or Hollywood. And they're making a living making movies—family movies. Hollywood abandoned them and they started shooting films anyway; you have to admire this new breed of young filmmakers. They beat the bushes for financing and then start shooting, never intimidated by the filmmaking process. Working with them is like catching a commuter train—the doors are open but the train doesn't stop.
You appeared in some of Disney' most beloved hits throughout the '60s and '70s. What brings you the greatest sense of satisfaction when you look back on your career?