March 15, 2011

In Memoriam: Judd Jones

While reading the Times this morning, my husband K discovered that our friend Judd Jones had died.  That means the world is a less fun place.

Judd, who passed on March 9 at the age of 79, fell in love with performing when he participated in USO shows during his stint in the Army right after World War II and he never fell out of love with it. 

He moved to New York in 1954 after leaving the service, modeled for a while (he was one of the first African-Americans to be featured in national ads) studied acting (John Cassavettes was a mentor) and made tons of friends (the walls of his apartment near Lincoln Center were filled with personally-autographed photos of a Who’s Who of Broadway from the last half century).

At the suggestion of his pal Chita Rivera, Judd auditioned to be a replacement in the original production of  West Side Story and won the role of Chino, becoming the first black in the company.

Over the years, Judd performed in other shows on Broadway, off-Broadway and in the regional theaters. He also regularly toured his one-man tributes to his heroes Paul Robeson and Bert Williams.

But Judd was probably proudest of replacing David Carradine as the Incan king Atahuallpa towards the end of the run of The Royal Hunt of the Sun. It makes me smile now to remember his recreating  Atahuallpa's death scene 40 years later in his living room just for K and me.

But Judd loved being in the audience too.  He made a point of turning out—usually with flowers in hand—whenever one of his favorites like Betty Buckley, Audra McDonald or Patti LuPone was on a stage anywhere. One of the most magical nights I’ve ever had was going to Feinstein’s with him to see his buddy Brian Stokes Mitchell perform.

In fact, everything Judd did, he did with great exuberance—be it cooking (sweet potato pies were his specially) or gossiping (he was a great raconteur). He was, as I said, great fun to be around. K and I will miss him.

6 comments:

Chris Caggiano said...

Your tribute made me smile, Jan. Thanks so much for sharing this.

jan@broadwayandme said...

And thanks for your message, Chris. I think you and Judd would have gotten a kick out of knowing one another.

paul hecht said...

In the early '60's I was in what was probably the only unsuccesful production of the Fantasticks with Judd. I was younger than he playing one of the boys fathers. He was so sweet and gentle and we reconnected in New York .I visited him in his apartment on the corner of 46th and 9th avenue when that location was far less swell than it is today. How sad I am to learn of his passing as we had lost contact after that visit and I never found him again......Paul Hecht

jan@broadwayandme said...

Paul, thanks so much for taking the time to share your memories of Judd. I don't know if you're in New York but thought you might also want to know that a memorial service has been scheduled for Sunday, April 7 at 7 pm at the Good Shepherd Faith Church, 152 West 66th Street.

herb patchell said...

I met Judd when he was on tour with West Side Story on the Cape in the early 1960s. We stayed in contact for several years until sadly we lost touch. I last saw him in his brilliant performance in the Royal Hunt of the Sun and we had drinks after. He was a lot of fun and worked at his craft with great effort. I often went to New York in that era and went with him to auditions. Anyone who can withstand the rejection and competition that goes with that life is to be admired. I am learning of his death three years later but he has been in my thoughts for many years. He usually stayed with me when he had a show in Boston
Herb Patchell Boston

Broadway & Me said...

Herb, I'm sorry that this is the way you found out about Judd's passing but I really appreciate your taking the time to share your memories of him. He was a very special guy.