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.