It seems rather appropriate that, while we spend this year celebrating TSL’s 10th birthday, we’ve taken the time to recognize the birthdays of so many of our favorite directors and actors. Earlier today, Jeff already paid tribute to Andy Kaufman and Donald Cammell.
Well, today is also James Earl Jones’s birthday and there’s no way we’re going to let that go unacknowledged. James Earl Jones is 89 years old today and he’s still working. Everyone, of course, knows Jones’s voice and the story of how, when he was a child, he suffered from a stutter so severe that he refused to speak. (Jones has described the years before he entered high school as being his “mute years.”) What’s often overlooked is just how good of an actor James Earl Jones is. Jones has played everyone from villains to mentors to heroes. He’s appeared in every possible genre and his presence has never not been welcome.
James Earl Jones made his film debut with a small role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Jones played Lt. Luther Zogg, one of the men aboard the B-52 bombardier that eventually causes the end of the world.
Jones has often said that he didn’t really care for either the role or the film. Lt. Zogg is a small role and it is true that, if not for the fact that he’s played by James Earl Jones, you probably wouldn’t remember much about him. For the most part, Jones spends the majority of the movie listening as Maj. Kong (Slim Pickens) talks about following orders and doing their patriotic duty.
And yet, I think Jones is a bit too dismissive of the role. It’s a small role but the undeniable authority of Jones’s voice provides a nice contrast to the country drawl of Maj. Kong. Without Lt. Zogg calmly following orders, it would be too easy for the audience to dismiss Maj. Kong as an outlier as opposed to a representative of what the film viewed as being the military’s blase attitude towards the possibility of nuclear war.
Add to that, Jones’s delivery of “Hey, what about Maj. Kong?” is absolutely perfect.
So, with that in mind, here’s James Earl Jones in two scenes from Dr. Strangelove!