James Earl Jones Wins 2011 Paul Robeson Award
Actors' Equity Association announced today that James Earl Jones is the recipient of the 2011 Paul Robeson Award. Created in 1971, the Award recognizes a person who best exemplifies the principles by which Mr. Robeson lived.
Mr. Jones, who is currently starring in Driving Miss Daisy in the West End, London, sent a statement to be read at Equity's General Membership meeting on Friday, October 14, 2011. The statement reads, in part: "Mr. Robeson was blessed with many endowments-among them the scholarship and athleticism of his youth, and the activist commitment that followed his fame as a performer. Perhaps he reached the most souls (including mine) as a singer and artist in the performing arts, and in doing so, he mightily elevated the importance of art to humanity."
Jones joined Equity in 1955 and made his Broadway debut in 1957 in Sunrise at Campobello.
Legendary producer Joseph Papp gave Jones one of his first major breakthroughs, casting him as Michael Williams in Shakespeare's Henry V. This marked the beginning of Jones's long affiliation with the New York Shakespeare Festival, eventually counting the title roles of Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear among his many distinguished performances for the company.
In addition to his celebrated Shakespearian work, he began a long-standing collaboration with South African playwright Athol Fugard, acting in The Blood Knot, Boseman and Lena, and the critically acclaimed Master Harold...and the Boys, among others. In 1969, Jones won a Tony Award for his breakthrough role as boxer Jack Johnson in the Broadway hit, The Great White Hope (which also garnered him an Oscar nomination for the 1970 film adaptation). He won a second Tony Award in 1987 for August Wilson's Fences, in which he played a former baseball player who finds it difficult to communicate with his son.
In the spring of 2005, James Earl Jones appeared on Broadway in a critically acclaimed revival of On Golden Pond for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. The following year, he starred as Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall in the production of Thurgood at the Westport County Playhouse and in spring of 2008 portrayed "Big Daddy" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway with cast members Terrance Howard, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad. James Earl Jones recently finished a second run of Cat on Hot Tin Roof on stage in London with Adrian Lester, Sanaa Lathan, and again Phylicia Rashad. The production won an Olivier Award for "Best Revival" and Mr. Jones was nominated for an Olivier in the Best Actor category. His most recent Broadway appearance was in the acclaimed Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave.
Based on his success in the theater, he was cast in several television roles. In the 1960s, Jones was one of the first African-American actors to appear regularly in daytime soap operas (playing a doctor in both The Guiding Light and As the World Turns. He played Alex Haley in Roots: The Next Generation (1979), Junius Johnson (an Emmy-winning performance) in Heat Wave, about the 1965 riots in Watts, and a great number of guest roles in series ranging from The Defenders and Dr. Kildare to more recently, Two and a Half Men and House. He also earned an Emmy as Gabriel Bird, a disgraced cop turned private investigator, in the 1990-92 series Gabriel's Fire.
He made his film debut in 1964 in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. His numerous film performances include his work as the oppressed coal miner in John Sayles' Matewan, the embittered writer in Field of Dreams. Jones starred the Tom Clancy blockbuster trilogy--The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger--as well as in the film version of the Alan Paton classic Cry, the Beloved Country. Jones is known to Star Wars fans as the voice of Darth Vadar and to children who know him as Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King.
In addition to the many awards he has received as an actor - two Tony Awards, four Emmys, a Golden Globe, two Cable ACEs, two OBIEs, five Drama Desks, and a Grammy Award - Jones has been honored with the National Medal of Arts in 1992 and the John F. Kennedy Center Honor in December 2002. He was honored by the Screen Actors Guild with the Lifetime Achievement Award and next month The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present Mr. Jones with an Honorary Oscar in recognition of his long and distinguished career.
Paul Robeson was the epitome of the 20th Century Renaissance man. An actor, singer, cultural scholar, athlete and author, Robeson was also a political activist who spoke out against racism and strove to guarantee the civil rights for all people of color. He strongly believed in the artist's responsibility to society, the freedom of conscience and of expression and was dedicated to the universal brotherhood of all mankind. To honor the man and the principles he set forth, Equity created The Paul Robeson Award in 1971 and made the first presentation in 1974 to Mr. Robeson himself. Past recipients also include Micki Grant, Sidney Poitier, Lloyd Richards, Judith Jamison, Carl Harms, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.
Actors' Equity Association was founded in 1913 and represents more than 49,000 professional stage actors and stage managers nationwide. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity will celebrate its 100 Anniversary in 2013.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/WM Photos