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2015 material on F. Richard Jones

An Essay by Betty Sherman Corp

November 1, 2015

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick Jones was sixteen years old when he became involved in the fledgling film industry in his hometown with the Atlas film company. A technician, Jones worked in the film laboratory and other departments but his real interest lay behind the camera, creating the visual product. With the industry's shift to Hollywood, in 1915 he joined Mack Sennett at his Keystone Studios where he put together a few scripts and was given the opportunity to direct. Initially his directorial work was difficult but he dedicated himself to learning the job. Jones first came to prominence when Mabel Normand promoted him to co-direct the troubled feature 'Mickey.'(released 1918). The film was a major success and Normand always credited Jones with having rescued the project. He gained a solid reputation among his peers after directing Mabel Normand in Molly O' (1921). Unfortunately, the film came out after the murder of William Desmond Taylor and many movie-goers boycotted the film because of the negative publicity surrounding Normand's involvement in the matter.

While at Keystone, Dick Jones met and married Irene Lentz, a young actress who would go on to become one of Hollywood's leading costume designers. In 1923 Dick Jones began producing films but after directing and/or producing forty-five films for Keystone, including feature-length productions, in 1925 he was lured away from Hal Roach Studios. Although he directed films for Roach, Dick Jones worked mainly as an executive coordinator, serving as a production supervisor and a supervising director. In 1926, Jones was responsible for signing Mabel Normand to a contract with Roach Studios after health and drug addiction problems had kept the star actress out of films for three years. He would direct or produce Normand in all five of her films made at Roach Studios until her permanent retirement in 1927. As well, during his time with Roach, Jones worked on nineteen different film projects with Stan Laurel. In later years, Laurel would state that it was Dick Jones who taught him everything about comedy filmmaking.

Leaving Roach Studios at the end of 1927, Jones directed Douglas Fairbanks in the highly acclaimed adventure epic The Gaucho. Now much in demand for his skills and filmmaking versatility, in 1928 Jones signed on with Paramount Pictures where he directed three productions – including The Water Hole (1928) with Nancy Carroll – before accepting an offer from producer Samuel Goldwyn in 1929 to direct talking films. Dick Jones' first talkie was a mystery/thriller starring Ronald Colman and Joan Bennett titled Bulldog Drummond (1929). At a time when a number of prominent silent film directors could not make the transition to sound, Jones' first effort was heralded for its quality and his future looked bright.

However, Jones soon fell ill, possibly from tuberculosis that ravaged Los Angeles in the early 1930s and that would claim the lives of stars such as Normand and Renée Adorée.

F. Richard Jones died in 1930 at the age of thirty-seven. He left behind a widow, designer Irene Lentz, two former wives, Carol and Josephine, and a daughter, Dickey. He was interred in the Great Mausoleum, Florentine Columbarium, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Following the 1962 death of his wife Irene, she was interred next to him.

 

 


 

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We need to thank Betty, for sharing the information but remember Dick’s work with Mabel Normand continued with Sennett, after Molly O (1921); they were working on Suzanna (1922) when William D. Taylor died and The Extra Girl (1923) –a huge success was the last Sennett feature, they made together.  Then Mabel tried on the stage (Little Mouse -1924/25) and then both Dick and Mabel went to the Roach Studio. And under Dick’s supervision Mabel made (1) ONE HOUR MARRIED, (2) RAGGEDY ROSE,  (3)THE NICKEL HOPPER, (4) ANYTHING ONCE and her last movie,  (5) SHOULD MEN WALK HOME?

 

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PHOTOS OF DICK JONES

 

F. Richard (Dick) Jones, Mabel Normand’s favorite director.

 

 

Dick still has most of his hair and hasn’t grown his mustache yet.Mabel picked the young director to work with on  her first full length feature at Mabel’s personal studio, Mickey.  1917

 

 

 

Irene Lentz received 2 Oscar nominations and is in the Costume Designers Guild Hall of Fame. There is a great deal of material on Irene in Special Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library http://www.oscars.org/mhl/sc/irene_215.html

 

 

Premier of Molly O’

 

1921

 

Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand and F. Richard (Dick) Jones.  This photo was taken at the premier of Mack’s first feature length drama, Molly O’ starring Mabel and again Mabel had her favorite director, her friend Dick.  Mack brought a theater called the Mission in downtown Los Angeles in which to premire Molly O' during Christmas,1921. Mack had negotiated with the Goldwyn Studios for Mabel release so she could star in this movie.

 

Molly O’

 

1921

 

Mabel Normand and F. Richard (Dick) Jones.  The star of Molly O’ and her director stand atop a skyscraper after a long day viewing the sights on location in Florida

 

 

 Suzanna

 

1922

 

F. Richard (Dick) Jones and Mabel Normand are in deep discussion on the set of Suzanna, the Mack Sennett production filmed in 1922.  It was during the filming of Suzanna that William Desmond Taylor was killed and it affected the shooting schedule and Mabel’s mind was not on the film.

 

 

Raggedy Rose

 

1926

 

F. Richard (Dick) Jones, Production Supervisor, at Hal Roach Studios; Mabel Normand, star of Raggedy Rose and Richard Wallace, her director with unknown male in the background  At this point Mabel had come to Roach Studios after a disappointing try on the legitimate stage. It was through the influence of Dick that Mabel was given a contract.  They seem to be in conference by Mabel famous collapsing car...

 

 

MABEL NORMAND AND F. RICHARD JONES

RAGGEDY ROSE (1926) HAL ROACH

They walked together holding hands as friends do.

or does it look like he is taking Mabel to woodshed

 

 

The Extra Girl

 

1923

 

Here is George Nichols, Mabel Normand, Homer Scott and F. Richard (Dick) Jones.

George often played Mabel’s father in her Mack Sennett films.  Mabel has taken over the job of the director here as she is holding the megaphone, perhaps this accounts for Dick holding his head.  The man behind the camera is a rare image of the great photographer Homer Scott.  He was famous in his day for his pictures of the Mexican Revolution.

 

F. Richard (Dick) Jones

 

and Mabel Normand

 

 

1917

 

Here they are in a soft moment together at the river, early in their time together. Dick and Mabel were born in the same year 1893 and they both died in 1930 of TB.

 

 

 

Mickey

 

1917

 

The crew and cast of the one and only film made at the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company set around the camp fire, telling stories. Mabel is setting right behind the fire and Dick is standing far left

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suaznna

 1922

Lunch with the cast and crew during the filming of Suzanna

note the milk, it was used in film

 

Molly O

1921

Mack Sennett - Mabel Normand with

F. Richard Jones

 

 

Suzanna

 

1922

 

Senor Sanchez Garcia, unknown male, Mabel Normand and F. Richard (Dick) Jones on the set of the Mack Sennett Feature Production of Suzanna.

 

Mabel looks up at reporter as he seems to be trying to explain a point. Dick looks as if he is trying to understand.  Mabel is in the wedding dress on the set of the film. 

 

 The still # 1030 – X indicates that this photo was to be used in publicity for the film.

Suzanna

 

1922

 

Senor Sanchez Garcia, Mabel Normand and F. Richard (Dick) Jones on the set of the Mack Sennett Feature Production of Suzanna.  The reporter is interviewing Mabel with notebook in his hand on a visit during the filming of Mabel in the fantastic wedding dress near the end of the film with her friend and director, Dick.  He sits on the other end of the sofa listening intently.

 

The still was made for publicity purpose, # 1032-X

 

Dick Jones as he looked in 1914

 

The Extra Girl

 

1923

 

Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett and F. Richard (Dick) Jones on the set of the film within the film.  Mabel is playing at making a screen test.  Mack seems to have dropped by to see how the production was doing in this candid shot.  I wonder if the folded arms and expression mean anything, this was the last film that Mabel made for him.

The Extra Girl

 

1923

 

George Nichols, Mabel Normand, Homer Scott and F. Richard (Dick) Jones posing with the camera on the set.  George plays the part of Mabel’s father in this Mack Sennett Production.  Mabel has taken over the high director’s chair and his megaphone and Dick just smiles up at his star.  The fantastic Homer Scott is behind his camera.

 

 

 

So…

Who was F. Richard Jones?

By

Marilyn Slater 

Mabel called him, Dick but his name was Frank Richard Jones; he was from St. Louis, Missouri.  He started a career in films working for Atlas Film Company in St. Louis at the age of 16.  Dick was born the same year as our Mabel, 1893 and by just 22 years old, he was working in California for Mack Sennett at Keystone as an assistant director and had directed a few shorts comedies.  Mabel had an eye for talent and taped him to direct her in Mickey, at first, Mack didn’t think he was a good choice but Mabel had her way.  Dick met Irene Lentz[2], costume designer during his period at Keystone but only married late in their relationship.  

Part of the incentive that Mack used to draw Mabel back from the Sam Goldwyn Studios was that the dramatic full-length feature, Molly O (1921) would be directed by Dick Jones.

As with his earlier work with Mabel, he was able to present her at her very best.

He went on the work with her on her next two Sennett features, Suzanna (1922) and The Extra Girl (1923). 

It was during the filming of Suzanna[3] that Mabel’s friend William Desmond Taylor was killed.  The investigation of the murder did interfere with film and the effects can be seen on the screen, as the film is not Dick and Mabel at their best, although there are some wonderful moments.

It did not however damage Dick’s reputation as a quality filmmaker.

He is credited with directing over 45 films for Sennett. In 1925, Hal Roach Studio appointed Dick, production supervisor at his new studio in Culver City, California.  Dick encouraged Hal Roach to offer Mabel a contract to appear in Hal Roach Comedies.  Mabel made her last 5 films under Dick’s supervision, until her failing health made it imposable for her to continue to work before the camera.  Mabel retired from the screen and married Lew Cody in 1926.

Dick continued at Hal Roach Studios and the records show that he was involved in at lest 19 films.  In an interview with Stan Laurel, Stan stated that it was Dick Jones that taught him everything about comedy filmmaking, high praise indeed.

He was able to direct more then comedies, the Douglas Fairbanks adventure Gaucho (1927) was a Dick Jones film, his peers and as a matter of fact, the whole industry acknowledges his skill[4].  In 1928, at Paramount Pictures he made 3 films before going to Sam Goldwyn in 1929. 

Dick had been dealing with tuberculosis for sometime and even through he was very ill, he was able to make the transition to sound with the highly acclaimed Bulldog Drummond with Ronald Colman and Joan Bennett[5].  So it was that his career ended in 1929, but on a high note, he had proved that he could make quality film regardless of genera.

Dick was too ill to act as pallbearer at Mabel Normand’s funeral in February 1930 and Dick[6], himself died in December at the age of 37.

In an article written by Dick’s friend Harry Carr for the Los Angeles Times[7] are a couple of interesting tales.  Harry tells that while working on Mickey, a friend drove up and Mabel got into the car and didn’t come back for 2 weeks.

Harry called her ‘Harem Scarem Mabel.’ There is heaps of evidence that Mabel and Dick understood each other and were able to work very successfully together.

Harry refers to Mickey as ‘The Mortgage Lifter’ and ‘that it was the greatest money winner, dollars earned for dollars invested that the screen had known,’ so although Mabel may have been “harem scarem’ in Harry opinion the collaboration of Dick and Mabel worked.

Dick also did his time working, with perhaps, the greatest filmmaker ever, the eminent D. W. Griffith but according to Harry this was one of Dicks few failures[8]. 

Dick was able to deal with Mabel but not the Gish sisters nor with the great D.W.  Here is a Dick and DW story as told by Harry Carr[9], ‘while working at Mamaroneck studio.  (This is a funny one,) DW was directing an angst-ridden screen with Lillian Gish next to a stage where Dick was doing a scene with ‘uncounted’ millions of dogs. Dick had rounded up all the dogs in a 10 state area, WD ordered “quiet”  and in came the dogs, upsetting sets, props, actors and making such a racket that Harry thinks that on a still day it could have been heard for 2 miles.

Everyone was frazzled but not Dick, who was very unruffled.  He had had “Harem Scarem Mabel” training. He just laughed and decided the scene wasn’t that important and let the dogs find their ways out of the studio using any exit available and Dick exited to his home in New York.

One more Dick story from Harry Carr, this one in his own words…

He had enough Welsh blood to give him quiet obstinacy.  I remember that Dick, having been raised in a country where a bucketful was a lot of water, decided to be a yachtsman.  He bought a big racing yacht that looked like an American cup defender.  He asked me to sail it for him.

     The wind that day was smack abeam in the only course we could hold.  Dick insisted that he wanted to have the boat lean over like in yacht pictures.  It is a physical impossibility to sail a boat close hauled with the wind at right angles.  It keeps coming up into the wind.  Dick only laughed at my struggles, fighting the boat along with a lashed tiller, but he didn’t want a boat that wouldn’t lean over on demand.  I don’t believe he ever took it out again.

There is nothing to indicate that the friendship between Dick and Mabel was more then the wonderful and joyful friendship seen in photos of the two together.  There seems to be a warm and deep understanding.



 

[2] Even though Irene Lentz went on to a very successful career as a fashion design after the death of Dick Jones, with a couple of academy award nominations and in 2005, Irene was inducted into the Costume Designers Guild.  By the age of 62 she was despondent and killed herself in November 1962, she requested to be buried by Dick.  At the time of her death, she was married to Eliot Gibbons the screenwriter, brother of Cedric Gibbons.

 

[3] Oakland Tribune, December 18, 1921 pg W4 Dick Jones production manger of Mack Sennett comedies company has set cast for period costume feature (Suzanna)

 

[4] Kingsport Times, July 11, 1930 pg 12 called “The Gaucho” a remarkable production

 

[5] F. Richard  Jones directed, with George Barnes as cameraman and Wallace Smith as writer of Bulldog Drummond

[6] F. Richard Jones is interned at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California

[7] Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1930 pg B9 & 20; Dick Jones Hollywood Anomaly

 

[8] Dorothy Gish’s Paramount comedy, The Ghost in the Garrett (1921) & Flying Pat (1921)

 

[9] Oakland Tribune, December 18, 1921 pg W4, Newspaper Is School for Filmdom; “Harry Carr, assistant managing editor, Los Angeles, major domo of exploitation for D. W. Griffith.

  

 

 

 press on image to see information on Dick's career

NEXT

 

a little on Mrs. Jones

 

 

Harry Carr article on Dick Jones

DICK JONES HOLLYWOOD ANOMALY[1]

Erstwhile Sennett Director, One of Least Know of Film Colony, Proved Ability as “Mortgage Lifter” at Box Office

 

BY HARRY CARR

 


F, Richard Jones, who died last Sunday, was one of the anomalies of Hollywood.

One of the least known directors of the film colony and one of the biggest box-office directors who ever had anything to do with motion pictures.

 

Motion pictures were not, to him a shrine gained after artistic yearnings.  After graduating from a small college in the South, he sat down with his mother and they figured out his life together.  They decided that law and medicine were washed up and overcrowded.  Only two new avenues of success seemed to stand open.

     Aviation and motion pictures.  At that time aviation had not been well enough commercialized to offer anything beyond a short death and a merry one.  By the process of elimination, he became a movie.

 

FIRST STUDIO JOB

 

     Dick’s first job was in the cutting room at the old Mack Sennett studio.  When I first knew him, he had already become a director. As I remember it, he was directing the Keystone Cops. That valiant band including many future stars, including Wallace Beery, Ramon Novarro, slim Summerville, Mal St, Clair (afterwards a famous director) and many others.

     Mabel Normand was queen of the studio.  Gloria Swanson, Marie Prevost, Mary Thurman were extra girls.

     Shortly after I met Dick, Sennett became ambitious and started his first dramatic picture, “Mickie.” Two or three other directors fell down on the job; finally, it was turned over to Dick Jones.  He had a knock-down-and drag-out struggle that lasted for a year.

     He was the only director, other than Sennett himself, who ever could get anything out of Mabel Normand.  Under his direction, she became the greatest comedienne that has ever been seen on the screen.

 

HAREM SCAREM MABEL

 

     But what a time! Harem scarem little Mabel.  I remember one while they were working on a big set that a friend drive up alongside in a car and Mabel went over to speak to her.  She got in the car and didn’t return for two weeks.

     When “Mickie” finally staggered to a close, everybody regarded it as a prune, except Sennett.  Dick had nothing to say.  It turned out to be the greatest money winner, dollars earned for dollars invested that the screen has ever known.  It is still known to the trade as “The Mortgage Lifter.”

     Dick made two other comedies with Mabel, “Molly O’” and that little early-California picture whose name I have forgotten.  I shall always think that the scene where Mabel went walking down the hot dusty road and sat down on a hot rock was the finest piece of comedy that any woman comedian ever gave to the screen.

 

ONE OF FEW FAILURES

 

     Afterward, Dick went to the Griffith organization to direct Dorothy Gish.  This was one of his few failures.  He had been used to working in studios where he was the king.  He found another king on the job.  He didn’t get along well with Dorothy and the two comedies he made were failures.

     Coming back to California, he worked in various studios and nearly always with huge success.  He directed Mary Pickford and also Douglas Fairbanks.

     Dick was a charming fellow.  He was always cool, unexcited with no delusions about “art.”  A good deal of his success came from his experiences in the cutting room.  He knew what the scene before him was going to look like after it got to the screen.

     I remember one day at the Griffith studio at Mamaroneck, New York.  Dick had decided to use a scene in which there were a lot of dogs.  He must have collected most of the dogs east of the Mississippi River.  They were there in uncounted millions.  Mr. Griffith was at the moment directing a very tense scene with Lillian Gish on the next set.  The order had gone forth for “quiet,” when in rushed Dick’s dog pound, upsetting all the scenery and most of the actors and raising a tumult that could have been heard on a still day for two miles.  All the rest of us were on the point of collapse, but Dick was quite serene.  He just laughed and remarked that he guessed the dog scene didn’t amount to much anyway and went home to New York, leaving the dogs to make their several exits as seemed best to them.

     He had enough Welsh blood to give him quiet obstinacy.  I remember that Dick, having been raised in a country where a bucketful was a lot of water, decided to be a yachtsman.  He bought a big racing yacht that looked like an American cup defender.  He asked me to sail it for him.

     The wind that day was smack abeam in the only course we could hold.  Dick insisted that he wanted to have the boat lean over like in yacht pictures.  It is a physical impossibility to sail a boat close hauled with the wind at right angles.  It keeps coming up into the wind.  Dick only laughed at my struggles, fighting the boat along with a lashed tiller, but he didn’t want a boat that wouldn’t lean over on demand.  I don’t believe he ever took it out again.


 

 

 

 



[1] Los Angeles Times

December 21, 1930, pg B9 and 20

 

1921 Motion Picture Classic March

-gift from William Thomas Sherman to the fans of Mabel Normand-

 

from Motion Picture Classic, March, 1921

The Man Who Made Mickey

by Frederick James Smith

 

Not only Mabel Normand's "Mickey" but that burlesque satire, "Yankee Doodle in Berlin." And the last three Dorothy Gish pictures, produced just before the comedienne went upon her recent trip. The man? Richard Jones.

 

Somehow or other, the spotlight of publicity has rather missed Dick Jones. Yet it is about time that film fans jotted down his name in their memory book. For Jones has just gone West to be super-comedy director for Mack Sennett with a studio all to himself and the cream of the Sennett lot-beauties and comediennes-from which to select his casts.

 

Jones has a $105,000 contract to make at least three, and not more than four, features during the coming year. These are to be super-comedies; (note the word!) six reels or more in length, according to the subject requirements.

 

There is a picturesque and colorful story behind Dick Jones. He fought his way to success in every sense of the words. Jones was born in St. Louis. Oddly, he has been connected with motion pictures. Dick secured his first position with O.T. Crawford, who then controlled a chain of Missouri theaters and was owner of the Atlas Publishing Company. Dick's first work was connected with the filming of a Jesse James series of thrillers. He was exactly seventeen and a half years old when he made this lurid film debut. That was nine years ago.

 

Next, Dick drifted to the Coast and secured a position with Mack Sennett. There he remained over seven years. He started as cutter, rapidly advanced to head of his department and soon was writing and editing those subtitles so characteristic of the Sennett comedies of a few years ago. Remember them?

 

About this time, "Mickey" was started as a special Mabel Normandy production. One director after another began work and then failed, until a total of five had fallen down on "Mickey." Then Mr. Sennett, who had come to rely upon Dick Jones, called him to general headquarters and made him a director - with "Mickey" as his first task.

 

Most young men would have feared to take a chance, but not Dick Jones. He started by throwing away everything that had been made previously. He took the scenario, but one and a quarter page in length, and wrote a brand-new story. Then he started. That "Mickey" later scored so strongly testifies to Jones' ability. "Mickey," be it known, holds the screen's comedy record as money maker.

 

David Griffith, meanwhile, had cast his eye upon Jones and called him East to direct Dorothy Gish.[1]

 

Jones is a hard worker. He literally lives his motion picture work. He has just one hobby - yachting. While in the East, he purchased a small yacht and spent his spare time cruising around the Sound off Mamaroneck, where the Griffith studio us located, with that other sea-going member of D.W.'s forces, Harry Carr.

 

Jones has interesting ideas upon screen farce comedy. "I see radical changes coming very shortly," he says. "The trouble with the present-day farce lies in the fact that it is but a series of comic incidents strung together. There is no romance, no sympathetic theme running thru. Harold Lloyd's comedies have leaped into popularity because there is a sympathy-winning story revolving around Lloyd's efforts to win the girl. The same thing, more deeply characterized, won for Chaplin. There is, in a phrase, no personal interest in the average farce.

 

"Directors have simply endeavored to film something funny. They have not tried for heart interest. In reality, situations are infinitely more humorous if they revolve around characters in which you have a personal interest. We must have more real characters in our farces, people who aren't mere comic supplement cartoons.

 

"Screen farce has developed a routine set of characters. There is the huge, usually bewhiskered, man who pursues the comedian. There is the comic - flirtative but henpecked - father of the heroine, along with the iron-jawed mother. The set includes a comic count, a burlesque parson and the usual squad of bathing girls. No imagination goes into the story.

 

"Other days are coming. Farces must be cleaner. Again, they must have better photography. There is no reason why a farce cannot be as beautiful in camera work as serious drama."

 

Jones has ideas and an alert imagination. He has youth. He has grown up with the screen. Hence, his forthcoming super-farces should be well worth watching.

 


[1] The Dorothy Gish films Jones did for Griffith were (as released), Flying Pat (1920), The Ghost in the Garret (1921), The Country Flapper (1922)