September 3, 2015

"It was a clever, bright show on the surface, but its underlying message declared that marriage was, at best, a vapid compromise, insoluble and finally destructive."

Said Dean Jones, about the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”
Not long after the opening night of the musical — in which he played the central role of the 35-year-old bachelor Robert, an object of either envy or concern for a circle of married friends — he quit the production, citing stress and depression related to the recent collapse of his own marriage.

He soon after become a born-again Christian... Although he was replaced by Larry Kert, Mr. Jones agreed to record the original cast album, leaving him indelibly associated with the show, which won the 1971 Tony Award for best musical.
Jones was even better known as the standard man in a Disney movie, especially one with animals — “That Darn Cat!,” “The Ugly Dachshund,” “Monkeys, Go Home!,” “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “The Shaggy D.A.” — or Volkswagens — “The Love Bug” and “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.”

He died on Tuesday, of Parkinson’s disease, at the age of 84.

ADDED: Here he is recording "Being Alive" from "Company":

Here are the lyrics — in case you want to analyze what troubled him so:
FRIENDS [frantically]: Bobby...Bobby...Bobby baby...
Bobby bubbi...Robby...Robert darling...
Bobby, we've been trying to call you.
Bobby...Bobby...Bobby baby...Bobby bubbi...
Angel, I've got something to tell you.
Bob...Robbo...Bobby love...Bobby honey...
Bobby, we've been trying to reach you all day.
Bobby...Bobby...Bobby Baby...Angel...Darling...
The kids were asking--
Bobby, there was something we wanted to say.
The line was busy...
Bobby...Bobby bubbi...
Bobby fella...Bobby sweetie--

ROBERT [speaking]: Stop!...What do you get? [Sings]
Someone to hold you too close,
Someone to hurt you too deep,
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep.

PAUL: That's true, but there's more to it than that.
SARAH: Is that all you think there is to it?
HARRY: You've got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert,you haven't got one good reason for being alone.
LARRY: Come on, you're on to something, Bobby. You're on to something.

Someone to need you too much,
Someone to know you too well,
Someone to pull you up short
And put you through hell.

DAVID: You see what you look for, you know.
JOANNE: You're not a kid anymore, Robby. I don't think you'll ever
be a kid again, kiddo.
PETER: Hey, buddy, don't be afraid it won't be perfect. The only thing
to be afraid of really is that it won't be.
JENNY: Don't stop now. Keep going.

Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.

SUSAN: And what does all that mean?
LARRY: Robert, how do you know so much about it when you've never
been there?
HARRY: It's much better living it than looking at it, Robert.
PETER: Add 'em up, Bobby. Add 'em up.

Someone to crowd you with love,
Someone to force you to care,
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you
Of being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive.

AMY: Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. *Want* something!
Want *something*!

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!


Nichevo said...

No, Ann, Mr. Jones is chiefly interesting as an example to you. Once you realize that your powers are being used for evil, you too can withdraw from your current wicked activities and make some kind of new life aspiring to virtue

Ann Althouse said...

What does that "no" refer to, Nichevo. What in the post are you disagreeing with? I think you're talking to a voice in your head.

Nichevo said...

No you don't.

Nichevo said...

Excuse me, posting interrupted on train. No, you don't really think that, though it was a decent jape, about your level. You correctly infer that I was reading a meaning into your words. This never pleases you, though you are so oblique, and so demanding that we work harder to torture meaning from your words instead of to you writing better and more clearly. Some like to nag.

sinz52 said...

I got to see "Company" on Broadway when it starred Larry Kert. I found it cynical and depressing. It was the only on-Broadway musical that left me feeling worse than before I went there.

What a downer.

Chris said...

Last year I played Harry in a local production of Company. I love this show. To me it's message on marriage is not that its a vapid compromise. The message I take from the show is that marriage is worth it. For all it's ups and downs. Elaine Stritch who originated the role of Joanne (along side Dean Jones as Bobby), even came to our production a few months before she passed. She had recently moved back home to Birmingham Mi. What a firecracker she was. It was great to meet her. Rest in peace Dean Jones.

rhhardin said...

Chick flicks tend to kill off the love interest so as to show that love is eternal.

Guys are more interested in antagonistic opposites finding that they fit, an ongoing thing.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

For a protege of Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim's work is strangely morbid, cynical and antisocial. Company, Assassins, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd... And now that I have read about his childhood, I can see what made him that way. He was the child of wealthy parents who didn't love him or show him affection. Sad, but he was able to overcome it and make something great of himself. Respect, SS.

rhhardin said...

Monteverdi was pretty morbid, too, judging from l'Orfeo.

Women die because they sing Cavell, a structural fact about opera.

Jim in St Louis said...

Being Alive is an important point in the play because of the impossibility of speaking. So in the ‘not real’ world of singing the characters can actually say something.

Maybe especially when you are in a relationship it is so hard to talk. People talk all the time- but what do they say? ‘Pick up the towels, buy cat food, call the bank, drive Karen to dance class, I’ll be late on Tuesday’

Being Alive as a sung performance breaks out of that verbal trap. It lets the character’s inner selves come out- and sometimes they might be in harmony and have the same feeling and sometimes they are in counter-point.

Sondheim is always worth the effort.

Ken B said...

There are some brilliant songs in Company, but as a theater piece I never thought it worked.

gerry said...

This never pleases you, though you are so oblique, and so demanding that we work harder to torture meaning from your words instead of to you writing better and more clearly.

That is a perfect description of the Althouse blogging method. She probably thinks it is Socratic. It is just nagging.

rhhardin said...

Clarity comes from zingers.

CStanley said...

I'm not familiar with Company but I'm glad he abandoned the cynical stuff to make those Disney them, and their lack of "edginess." It's too bad that Disney has moved in the opposite direction.

Jim in St Louis said...

"Clarity comes from zingers."

Are you referring to the Trump campaign?

CStanley said...

I confess to being baffled by Nichevo's comment with regard to this post (even though I get the underlying point about the blog in general, and sometimes agree.)

traditionalguy said...

Glad to hear that Jones became a born again Christian. That is an important part of obituary news. It has eternal meaning.

Marriage is always what you make out of it. You have to learn that Romance is not a means to an end. It is the final goal of life.

Drew W said...

Nice to see that Dean Jones is being remembered more for originating a role in a Sondheim classic, and less as the star of Disney's worst movies. Good Lord, "Monkeys, Go Home!" I'd forgotten that one.

Bay Area Guy said...

In the 70's, there was a big cultural push to undermine marriage, and a big legal push to enact "no-fault" divorce laws, otherwise known as " dump your wife" laws.

The casualties of this Left-Wing cause, as with many Left-Wing causes, were the children being raised by single Moms, multiple boyfriends, a few Stepfathers, half-brothers, step-sisters, all of which resulted in stressful, fragmented family structures. The kids from "Company" became the adults in "Rent."

Carol said...

I remember a lot of dreary ambivalence about marriage from the early 60s onward. It was all just so, ehh, useless. Plus there was so much drinking and smoking and pill popping and arguing and shrinkery. It was all like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Then I found out a lot of the writers and artistes were closeted gays, and that explained a lot. So we were influenced by love songs and stories written by men who had little use for us personally. It's better now but it was hard when women came to realize men like Sondheim, Gore Vidal, Cole Porter, and Leonard Bernstein just weren't that into them.

Sebastian said...

"that marriage was, at best, a vapid compromise, insoluble and finally destructive."

Probably so. Prog target from day one. Transvaluation of values starts there.

But, without knowing context, I'd say in this particular case the lyrics would seem to seem to contain some ambiguity and allow for a different interpretation.

"Monteverdi was pretty morbid, too"

And Purcell, and Wagner, and . . .

Christy said...

I had such a crush on Dean Jones. R.I.P.

CStanley said...

Carol that is a great insight- but the cultural influence wouldn't have taken hold if those artists' sentiments hadn't struck a chord with heterosexual men.

Known Unknown said...

But Dean was always good in those mediocre Disney flicks.

YoungHegelian said...

As a kid growing up, every Dean Jones movie was a big deal at the local movie theater because he was a home-town boy made good. Thus, as part of my misspent youth, I saw probably every movie he made with Disney. That's okay. There's already a lot of flotsam & jetsam floating around in the head of an 8 year old boy, anyway, and a bit more on the silver screen isn't going to hurt.

He came back a couple of times to get an "award" at the big 4th of July festival, but I can certainly understand why he had had enough of the place.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I used to think ill of people like Mr. Jones because he wasn't doing Ibsen or Strindberg or O'Neill.

I was an idiot in more ways than I can possibly count.

I know better now and fully realize that the entire point of working is to put together a good life for yourself, and your loved ones, and your friends and community as best you reasonably can.

I hope Mr. Jones lived a good life.

YoungHegelian said...


"Monteverdi was pretty morbid, too"

And Purcell, and Wagner, and ...

But Wozzeck is just a laff riot if you listen to it with the right attitude.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Regarding what Carol said, I try to file it all under: "There's a Lot of Bad Advice Out There" or sometimes "Avoid Bad Influences."

Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
glam1931 said...

The character of Bobby has for decades been seen as a stand-in for the show's (at the time closeted) gay writera, perhaps the reason why the character and the show has made audiences uncomfortable for so long. Here's an interesting discussion of the issue:

Thorley Winston said...

The Love Bug series, The Snowball Express and The Shaggy D.A. were some of my favorite live action Disney films of all time. Dean Jones was also in Clear and Present Danger, Other People’s Money (one of Danny Devito’s best roles IMO) and Jailhouse Rock. RIP to a fine actor who brought joy to so many.

David Begley said...

As a kid, I loved Dean Jones in the Disney movies.

Bay Area Guy said...

I forgot that Dean Jones was in many of those Disney movies in the 70s -- I guess Tim Conway and Don Knotts made bigger impressions.

Those movies taught sweetness, without a heavy hand. Jones (and Disney) deserve a lot of credit for that. They were definitely positive influences and made for enjoyable matinee afternoons at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland.

William said...

Was Dean Jones ever up for the role of Darren in Bewitched? He would have made a good Darren. He couldn't project much evil. Kids probably found that quality reassuring......Sondheim was a better lyricist than composer. His melodies are sometimes pleasant but they never hook you.

Leslie Graves said...

@Christy. Me too!

What is this exciting new drama with Nichevo? I must have missed the first few acts.

Chris said...

William wrote:
"Sondheim was a better lyricist than composer. His melodies are sometimes pleasant but they never hook you."

Sondheim makes fun of this in Merrily We Roll Along: "There's not a tune you can hum, THere's not a tune you go bum bum bum de dum...."

Robert Cook said...

Quite beautiful and moving lyrics.

mikee said...

I, for one, look forward to analysis by Althouse of the Disney roles Dean Jones played, perhaps with a comparison of language among Dean Jones, Fred MacMurray and Snake Pliskin, er, um, Kurt Russell.

ken in tx said...

Only today did I learn that Dean Jones was from Alabama. Usually, people from Alabama know when someone famous is from Alabama. I didn't know.

Jay Vogt said...

He seemed like a good egg and RIP. However, as comedic lead actor he was just a poor man's Jim Hutton

FWBuff said...

RIP, Dean Jones. One quick comment: if you're a Sondheim fan, or a fan of musicals in general, that clip of Jones singing "Being Alive" is from a fascinating documentary called "Original Cast Album: Company". It isn't just a compilation of the songs from the musical, but rather an interesting look at how much work goes into recording an album and how hard it is to re-create the "on-stage" sound and character interaction in a music studio. You can get the documentary on Netflix (or in honor of our host!) on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

Char Char Binks said...

He was the Bill Bixby of Ken Berry impersonators.

The Godfather said...

"HARRY: You've got so many reasons for not being with someone, but Robert,you haven't got one good reason for being alone."

That nugget of wisdom outweighs a load of cynicism.

Joe said...

I liked Dean Jones. I find Sondheim extremely tedious and repetitious. I was genuinely astonished at how much "Being Alive" sounded like almost every other Sondheim song (I did a double take since I thought it was from Sunday in the Park with George.)

eddie willers said...

I'm glad he abandoned the cynical stuff to make those Disney them, and their lack of "edginess." It's too bad that Disney has moved in the opposite direction

One of the hardiest laughs I ever had:

Disney had created the masthead "Touchstone Studios" so they could make more "adult" films without sullying the Disney name.

Now Dean Jones was not only known as the go-to Disney guy, but also that as a born-again Christian he would now eschew rough language.

So when asked about what he thought of the new Touchstone brand he brought down the house with: "They'll probably remake the movie as 'That Fucking Cat'."