Christopher Jones, 1941-2014

joneswildWhat a fascinating career had Mr. Christopher Jones. Blazingly handsome – even we straight guys noticed! – he made his bones on tv but then got cast in a low-budget AIP satire called WILD IN THE STREETS and became a mini-icon in 1968, the perfect year to do such a thing.

Robert Thom’s script is about a rebellious kid who grows up to become a pop star and then takes the next logical step: he literally turns celebrity into power. He sponsors rallies, elects a Senator, lowers the voting age to 15, and finally installs “Max Frost” as President, at which point he declares 30 to be the mandatory retirement age and sends all geezers to LSD-fueled sunset camps. Hilarious – unless you’re a geezer yourself.

WILD IN THE STREETS is a monster movie in which the monsters are normal coddled boomer kids. We saw it as a goof, and our parents never heard of it, so there goes your satire. (Except for the final scene, in which a young groovily-raised tyke acquires camera and says, “We’re gonna put everybody over ten out of business.” Haw haw….huh?)

Chris Jones, the “new James Dean,” was the drive-in crowd’s faux hero because of this role, and we completely understood it was faux, even down to the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil songs Chris was hurriedly lip-synching. (One of them, “The Shape Of Things To Come” – thanx, H.G. Wells! – actually became a for-real pop hit, credited on the single to “Max Frost and the Troopers”!) Here’s Chris’s lip-synch.

But we drank in his next pic, the ludicrous THREE IN THE ATTIC, and then the classier THE LOOKING GLASS WAR, and no less than David Lean was also seduced, hiring Chris for RYAN’S DAUGHTER. (I think Lean came to regret his casting decision.) Chris retired from acting and became a hermit anent showbiz.

Quentin Tarantino, who’s perfectly aware of everything I’ve just written, begged Chris to come out of retirement for PULP FICTION: he wanted him to play Zed, the redneck sadist role that eventually went to Peter Greene. Only Larry Bishop, Joey’s son and his old WILD IN THE STREETS mate, could coax Chris out for a limp, incomprehensible mob story called MAD DOG TIME. I thought he looked and sounded fine, just profoundly disinterested.

Goodbye, Chris. If you knew who you were to a sliver of boomers, then I hope that could possibly make you happy once in a while. If it made you sad instead, then I feel complicit, but there the film is; I’d rather just sing “14 Or Fight” once more. My very fondest wish is much simpler. I truly hope you didn’t care.

One Response to Christopher Jones, 1941-2014

  1. Josh Frank says:

    And leave us not forget some of the other cast members in Jones’s most notable cinematic masterwork: Shelly Winters as his smothering mom, Hal Holbrook as the enabling senator…and, as Frost’s buddy and bandmate, a very young Richard Pryor! I haven’t seen this flick in 40+ years and I STILL remember it well!

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