The original voice of the classic character talks about his experiences on the film and the new 70th Anniversary edition DVD and Blu-ray
Dick Jones was a child star with over 60 film and TV credits to his name, mostly in western films, but he's most known for a voice role. Jones was the original voice of Pinocchio, which comes back to DVD and debuts on Blu-rayfor the first time on March 10. I had the chance to speak with Jones over the phone about his classic character and here's what he had to say.
I'm just curious how this voice of Pinocchio first came to you. You had a number of credits to your name in Westerns, so I'm curious how this role came about for you?
Dick Jones: They were soliciting actors. They put out a call that they needed a young voice and they tried the adults and they had youngsters and they said Walt Disney wanted a real young boy, so that they can't imitate it without being detected. You had to have some experience so that you could read the script and convey the action and the attitude and the thoughts that are going on in a person's mind. That's more or less how I ended up the show. It was just like a radio show, and I had done some radio so I knew what I was in for. Having had all that experience beforehand, I guess I outpaced all the other kids.
So when they recorded this, everyone was recording together? Is that how it went?
Dick Jones: Yep, yep. It's not like that anymore, but all the actors worked together on that. It was fun working with Jiminy Cricket, Cliff Edward and Walter Catlett, who played Honest John and then Christian Rub was Geppetto. But we all worked together. It wasn't just come in, do your lines and go. That way, you get a better play of how to continue with the action and the emotions.
Yeah. That's very rare that it happens like that these days. I was wondering, how long were you actually doing the recording sessions for and how did you really get along with your castmates?
Dick Jones: I was on the studio lot, off and on, for 18 months. I'd work maybe two or three days, and then would be off two or three days. Or I'd work a week and then be off for a couple of weeks. It just depended how the animators came up with stuff. We would record the scene, have them do the animation, and then we would come back and try to piece it together.
You had about 60 credits at such a young age, I believe you were 13. That's unheard of these days with a young actor working that much, but was that more commonplace back then? That a young actor would get so much work?
Dick Jones: Well, we were making an awful lot of movies back then and I was gone almost all the time. Yeah, I did an awful lot, but I don't know what they're doing with the kids today. Back then, I know that me and Dickie Moore and Scotty Beckett worked more than anybody else at that time.
Do you have a favorite memory of Walt Disney himself, or any maybe advice that he gave to you during this production?
Dick Jones: Walt Disney never gave me any advice. Walt Disney was the boss, as was the director who directed, and I was the actor who took orders from the director. But every time I was in front of the microphone in the soundstage, he was there, I guess, hovering over me, making sure I did right, because that was his baby. He never ever gave me any direction or said anything bad, like 'Don't do that.' He always let the director do the directing. We'd do our singing and we'd stand there and watch the control booth. They had a big glass in front of it and we could tell by their reactions, if Walt was nodding his head and smiling, we knew it was a good one. If he was scowling, we knew we would have to do it again. After that, we would go through a day's shoot and we'd finish up that segment, and he'd come out and start setting up the next ones, what we'd do next and he would tell us about the next ones and what we should be thinking about. Then he'd stop all the business and we'd start playing darts. I never could beat him though, he was much better than I was at darts.
Nice. When the film was initially released, it was kind of a financial failure until it was re-released and started making profits and it came to be known as the classic that it is now. Why do you think when it was originally released in 1940, that it didn't catch on with audiences?
Dick Jones: Real simple. The United States was on the verge of going into World War II and when they released it in the latter part of 1940, it was out for about two or three weeks and then everybody was concentrating on the war effort, so they put Pinocchio in the vault and kept it there until the war was over. It didn't come back out until around '49 or '50. And then, when they re-released it back then, everybody was happy. The war was over and everybody was having fun and enjoying themselves so they went to Pinocchio and had a good time and enjoyed themselves and that's where Pinocchio started off on the legendary run it's done.
With this release next week, the film is finally on Blu-ray, and I was wondering if you've had a chance to view the film in this new format for the first time?
Dick Jones: No, I haven't. I just got mine delivered to me. I don't have a Blu-ray machine so I'm going to have to borrow somebody's. They did a screening at the studio back in January and they showed the original and then they showed us the new, and I'll tell you, the difference... the old one, it's like you're trying to watch the movie through a fog. The sound was scratchy, the music was pulsing, high-low, high-low, but now they have the surround sound and all kinds of depth to it. The colors are so brilliant, it feels like you're watching a fresh flower that just blossomed. It's just great. It's awesome.
Yeah. I went to a similar screening where they showed the restoration of Sleeping Beauty, and they did the same thing at the El Capitan. It was quite amazing, the difference between the two.
Dick Jones: Yeah. I heard.
I read that you retired from acting some time ago and went into banking and real estate. Did you still get offers to keep coming back after you had hung it up?
Dick Jones: Well, to be very honest with you, I didn't hang it up. They hung me out.
Dick Jones: Yeah. They said I was too, oh what's the word, too identified with the cowboy hat on, after being under Gene Autrey for seven years. What they wanted me to do, I didn't want to do, and I didn't want to work for what they wanted to pay me. It's different today than it was back then. Back then if you were in a (TV) series, they didn't want anything to do with you. Today, if you were on a series and you got out of that series, they hired you right now because they knew you knew what you were doing. Then you have the 25-year-old out of acting school and college, they come out here and they think they know it all and they don't want to hire anybody who knows more about the business than they do.
I'm a huge fan of Western's myself and it's kind of sad that the genre really hasn't been as prominent in the last few years. Why do you think that people just aren't making Western's anymore? I just love Western's
Dick Jones: Oh, I do too. They're not making any money because the people are too far into sex and sadism, blow-em-up and all this crazy Star Wars type stuff. They make pictures that's going to make money and I guess Western's are too tame for them. There are a couple of them like Open Range, that was the last good Western that was made.
So with the film finally being released on DVD again and debuting on Blu-ray, it's really a whole new generation that's getting a chance to see this for the first time. What would you like to say to the younger generation who might not be as familiar with Pinocchio?
Dick Jones: If they watch it, and listen to it, there are some good words of advice in it and some good moral stories. I think that the most important one is always let your conscious be your guide and it elaborates on always telling the truth and what William Shakespeare said back in the 15th Century: "To thine own self be true." If you're true to yourself, you're not going to be untrue to your fellows.
Great. Well, that's about all I have for you today, Dick. Thank you so much for your time, and best of luck.
Dick Jones: Oh, great. Thank you.
You can relive the magic of Pinocchio, voiced by Dick Jones, when the film comes back to DVD and debuts on Blu-ray on March 10.