Despite more than 100 film and television credits, Dickie Jones was best known for a film 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.
Jones began performing when he was four and was billed as “the world’s youngest trick rider and trick roper” in his native Texas. He became a protégé of the cowboy actor Hoot Gibson and had begun appearing in a series of low-budget westerns by the time he was seven.
After roles in the Our Gang serial and in the 1937 melodrama Stella Dallas, Jones won an audition to become the voice of Pinocchio. He beat 200 other child actors for the part. 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 to finish . When he had to sing in the film, Jones thought his voice sounded like “a squeaking door closed under protest”. But he was so animated while reading the script that Disney’s cartoonists sometimes used his facial expressions to depict Pinocchio.
When Pinocchio was released in 1940, it was a huge hit, and it continues to hold a universal and long-lasting appeal.
Jones found time to act in 27 other films from 1938 to 1940, including two with James Stewart, Destry Rides Again and Mr Smith Goes to Washington, in which he played a Senate page.
Richard Percy Jones Jr. was born in 1927, in Snyder, Texas, the son of a newspaper editor. After his early start he appeared in 1943 and 1944 as Henry Aldrich in the radio comedy The Aldrich Family. He later performed as a rodeo cowboy and Hollywood stunt rider before getting roles in film and TV westerns including The Range Rider and Annie Oakley.
He starred in the short-lived television series Buffalo Bill Jr in the mid-1950s and in the 1958 film The Cool and the Crazy. After his final film, Requiem for a Gunfighter (1965), he worked in the property business. In 2000 his name was added to Disney Legends, a hall of fame for those who made substantial contributions to Disney movies.
Pinocchio remains one of Hollywood’s greatest animated films, but Jones was not listed in the credits. “I may not get the recognition, but I can at least console myself that my nose never grew like Pinocchio’s,” he said.
Richard Percy Jones, actor: born Snyder, Texas 25 February 1927; married Betty Ann Bacon (two daughters, two sons); died Northridge, California 7 July 2014.