When James was 5, he went
to live with his maternal grandparents on their farm near Dublin,
Mich. The move, though, was so traumatic for James that it caused
him to stutter. All through grade school and into high school, James
had such a serious stuttering problem that he didn't talk with
anyone outside of his family, and his conversations with them were
minimal. At school, he was basically a mute.
His grandparents weren't able to solve his problem, but one day
in high school a teacher named Donald Crouch helped him overcome his
stuttering. Knowing that James had a talent for writing, Mr. Crouch
gave an assignment for each student to write a poem. James wrote his
poem about the fruit that the government had distributed to local
families in an effort to ease the burden caused by a shortage during
World War II. He titled his poem "Ode to Grapefruit."
Now, we all enjoy a nice piece of grapefruit now and then, but
it's not something that would usually inspire us to write a poem
about it. Well, citrus fruit was pretty rare during the wintertime
in Michigan during World War II and, apparently, it was worth
The teacher pretended that he didn't think James could have
written the poem himself, so he asked him to prove it by reciting it
aloud in class -- by heart. Normally, James would not have been able
to do this, because of his stuttering problem, but since he had
memorized the words in the poem, he was able to recite the poem
flawlessly in front of the whole class.
The class discovered at that point what everyone else knows today
-- that James has an excellent voice. To paraphrase a slogan from
the E.F. Hutton ads: When James speaks, people listen. His deep bass
voice is that distinctive.
James went on to receive his degree from the University of
Michigan. Then he served in the military and later became an actor.
It was his love of speech that fueled his passion for acting,
because for eight years he basically could not speak.
James' first major acting role was that of boxer Jack Johnson in
"The Great White Hope," in 1969, a role that earned James a Tony
award. Ironically, James' father was a boxer before becoming an
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You probably recognize some of his lines in some of his other
"NO, I AM YOUR FATHER."
This line was from the 1977 "Star Wars" movie, in which James
provides the voice of Darth Vader. (By the way, in case you've ever
wondered what the name Darth Vader means, here's the answer: In 2005
George Lucas explained that "Darth" is a contraction of "Dark Lord
of the Sith," while "Vader" is a variation of the word "father" --
the Dutch word for father is "vader." So Darth Vader translates into
And on TV, you've probably heard this line at least a hundred
"THIS ... IS CNN."
As a result of these three words, James has become known as the
voice of CNN.
He was also in "Dr. Strangelove," "Field of Dreams," "The Hunt
for Red October" and "The Lion King," among many other movies. He
was also the first celebrity to appear on "Sesame Street," in 1969.
James Jones uses his middle name, just like his father, Robert
Earl Jones. And like his father, James' middle name is Earl.
As in James Earl Jones. But you knew that all along, didn't you?
Paul Niemann's column has appeared in
more than 80 newspapers and counting. He is the author of the
"Invention Mysteries" series of books and can be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2009