By Neil Cotiaux | Photo by Don Bensman
You may not know his name, but it’s likely you’ve seen his face and heard his voice.
Meet Gary Jones, Cleveland’s all-purpose actor, who, after five decades in show biz, shows no sign of slowing down.
A versatile talent who is also a model and voiceover artist, Jones’ career took off when he was befriended early in life by some well-placed celebrities.
“He had such a likeable personality from the beginning,” Dick Blake, the iconic dance and etiquette instructor who counts Jones as a close friend, remembers. The two met shortly after Jones, at 13, began performing in fashion shows at Cleveland’s Antioch Baptist Church. “I’ve never even met another performer who had so much passion for the profession,” Blake says.
When international hairstylist and jet setter Walter Fountaine visited the city, Jones scored a meeting with him.
“So I put him in a production that I had for all the department stores,” the hairstylist featured in Superfly recalls. “He was like my little brother.”
Jones’ recollections of the period remain vivid.
Modeling at May Company, “I came in on roller skates,” Jones says. “He (Fountaine) was bringing in new looks.”
Through Blake and Fountaine, Jones’ contacts widened, then deepened when a high school friend dared him to cold-call Geoffrey Holder, the bass-voiced Trinidadian who gained fame in the Bond film “Live and Let Die” and later pitched 7-Up, “The Un-Cola.”
Speaking for an hour by phone, Holder took a shine to Jones and opened some doors. “I was really saddened to hear of his death,” Jones says.
With his career in high gear, work came steadily.
“I rarely go through a month without getting a call for something,” the Willoughby Hills resident, who is affiliated with Docherty Models and Talent Agency, says. “Many times I don’t do any audition at all.”
“He’s probably had more exposure through commercials than any other actor in Cleveland,” Blake says.
“He hustles; he follows through on things,” actor-writer Joseph Parnell, another longtime friend, adds. “He has a very strong work ethic.”
Warned by Fountaine not to get caught up in the “glitter and glamour,” Jones says acting is all in a day’s work.
When his agent expressed displeasure that Jones wasn’t shown full-body in a State Farm commercial, he responded, “What difference does it make? … I made $10,000.”
On another job, Jones and his fellow actors earned some extra compensation when LeBron James vetoed plans to send some Nike apparel back to storage. “Why go through all that; let them have it,” Jones quotes the megastar.
Not one to navel-gaze, Jones defers to his director and Vannessa, his wife, for feedback.
As for waiting around on set, “I get paid overtime and triple-time,” the SAG-AFTRA member reveals.
Parnell continues to pitch two television scripts involving Jones; Fountaine says he’s planning a trip to Cleveland to meet with civic leaders about a new opera.
“Gary will be in there somewhere,” the aging jet setter says emphatically.
“We have to try a little bit of it all,” Jones says.
For more information: See IMBD.com profile