The news that actor Dean Jones, the charismatic leading role from several popular Disney movies of 40-50 years ago, died on Tuesday, September 1, 2015, took this fan/writer by surprise. Honestly, I was unaware this talented thespian was still alive, seeing as how I was almost equally surprised to see the aging 1960s-1970s actor in Beethoven (1992) over 20 years ago. Despite the span of years since his career height as one of Disney’s leading men, nostalgia tinges memories of my childhood with many of his great performances. So without further sentimental reflection, below is a few of the best big-screen performances of the late Dean Jones.
That Darn Cat (1965)
FBI Agent Zeke Kelso is assigned to follow DC, a Siamese tomcat, who takes Agent Kelso on an adventurous and comical tour of the town from a cat’s perspective. The cat’s potential to help solve a bank robbery turned hostage situation leads Agent Kelso on the tenacious task of following DC in the hopes that the cat will lead to the robbers. Starring in his first Disney film opposite Hayley Mills (in her last Disney film), Jones creates a believable, endearing character in a successful film with a ridiculously unbelievable plot. Dean Jones also plays in the 1997 remake of the film, this time as Mr. Flint.
The Love Bug (1968)
Race car driver Jim Douglas has seemingly passed his heyday, as his current racing events include mostly demolition derbies against much younger competition. A search for an inexpensive car leads Douglas to a Volkswagen Beetle which is named “Herbie” by Douglas’s eccentric roommate. Herbie is discovered to have a mind (and personality) of his own, and Douglas finds his prospects improving in both his personal and his professional life. Jones reprises the role of Jim Douglas in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), the television series Herbie, the Love Bug (1982), and the television movie The Love Bug (1997).
Jones plays Dr. Varnik in this first movie of a franchise surrounding the antics of a precocious St. Bernard puppy and the people who love him. Dr. Varnik is a veterinarian who, unbeknownst to the Newton family, is involved in nefarious and cruel animal experimentation. Adeptly playing a perfectly unlikable bad guy, Jones contributes just the right amount of sinister mischief to the plot of this family film. Dean Jones would go on to voice the role of family patriarch George Newton in the 1994 animated series of the same name.
Aside from these notable roles, Dean Jones has 87 listed acting credits on IMDB.com. His versatility allowed him to play any type of role, from leading man to arch villain to supporting roles in which his relatively brief presence significantly improved the quality of those films. His contributions to family-friendly entertainment have enhanced the childhoods and lives of multiple generations. He will most definitely be missed. If you have a favorite Dean Jones role or story, your reflections are welcome in the comments below.