Carolyn Jones

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Morticia is described as a vamp; she is slim, with extremely pale skin and long flowing straight black hair. She commonly wears black gothic dresses to match her hair, tightly form fitting, with a hobble skirt. She easily allures her husband Gomez by speaking French (or any other foreign language for that matter) and is musically inclined, often to be seen strumming a Japanese shamisen.

Carolyn Jones was Morticia, a strikingly unusual looking woman, a true blonde who developed her defining look by dying her hair brunette and undergoing cosmetic nasal surgery. Top and tailed with an hourglass dancer’s physique, she was a beguiling creature on screen, an actress capable of wide ranging emotions and barely restrained sexuality. She wasn’t cheesecake, and therefore captivated me as a young man.

I probably first began studying her acting ability when the BBC screened King Creole’ in January 1975, to publicise Elvis Presley’s 40th birthday. I recall ‘G.I. Blues’ being transmitted the following weekend, both films top and tailing his two year stint in the US Army. The artistic castration John Lennon often referred to was palpable, the vastly superior 1958 picture undoubtedly his finest celluloid moment. Helping pull the all important ingredients together was this bewitching dark haired woman who, that same year, would win the Golden Globe award for ‘Most Promising Female Newcomer.’

Carolyn Jones was born Carolyn Baker on April 28, 1930, in Amarillo, Texas. In 1934, when her father Julius left the family, her mother Jeanette relocated Bette and four-year-old Carolyn to stay with her daughters’ maternal grandparents. Life with her grandfather would not prove easy and she would attempt to overcome her dreary life and chronic asthmatic condition, by surrounding herself with books, records and movie fan magazines, as well as attending the theatre when her health condition would permit.

By 1947, she was singularly focused on achieving movie stardom and her grandfather agreed to pay her tuition to enroll in the Pasadena Playhouse. There, she would study acting, voice and dance, whilst excelling in her program as a quick study in memorizing dialogue.

Soon, Paramount Pictures would award the starlet with a three-picture contract, for which she would receive favorable reviews for her film debut, in ‘The Turning Point’ (1952).

As cinema going audiences began dwindling in the 1950’s, a period in time which coincided with the explosion of television in millions of American households, Paramount Pictures elected not to renew her contract. She was not alone as scores of fellow employees would endure a similar fate.

By now, Carolyn was married to Aaron Spelling, a fledgling screenwriter and encouraged him to forge a career in Hollywood, whilst she, in turn, took on many acting roles in an attempt to peddle his scripts to producers along the way. He never fulfilled his promise as a writer, eventually moving into production where he would become highly successful, winning two Emmys and producing a slew of television series such as ‘Starsky and Hutch,’ ‘Charlie’s Angels,‘Love Boat,’ and ‘Dynasty.’ By the time of his divorce from Jones in 1965 he was ‘on the up’ yet she never took a penny in alimony despite the strenuous input she had made to promote his once fledgling career. They remained friends and to my mind, her behaviour was exemplorary. In view of womens’ natural acquisitiveness, the fact that she asked for nothing was highly commendable.

Carolyn would receive many favorable reviews throughout the 1950’s, especially after dying her naturally light hair dark. She also had it trimmed to create a fresh and pleasantly exotic appearance, an image that was well suited to diverse roles in both comedy and drama.

As the 60’s dawned, she would embrace the changing times and work actively in television. Accepting a starring role as Morticia in “The Addams Family,” which would run for two seasons on ABC-TV (1964-1966), she finally created a level of audience identification that would bring her enduring sucess. The decision by ABC executives, to cancel the series after two seasons, was baffling but perhaps indicative of a desire to raise the bar for ‘quality drama’. a possibly pretentious aspiration and certainly commercially misguided.

On the other side of the coin, the role would typecast Carolyn, and parts would be hard for this ersatile actress to receive. After a recurring stint as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds in ‘Batman’ (1966-1967), Carolyn would return to the theatre, to perform in productions of ‘The Homecoming,’ ‘Murder Among Friends’ and other plays, while also appearing on television.

As screen offers began to wane in the late 60’s she elected to marry her vocal coach, the composer Herbert Green. He was twenty four years her senior and according to many sources, not a good influence, encouraging her to withdraw from Hollywood, a decision she was unsure of, being both professionally frustrated at her typecasting whilst also committed to making her marriage work. The lure of a return to work would ultimately prove too powerful to ignore and the relationship dissolved in 1977. Green cannot defend himself, and in fairness, he may have become involved with the actress at a precise moment in time when she was questioning what she had really gained in life from such a single minded persuit of professional goals. She had vetoed having children with her first husband Aaron Spelling, by all accounts, the great love of her life, and by the time of her remarriage, was already in her late 30’s. It appears rather simplistic to automatically side with the testimonials of her friends, but this is the problem with the passage of time and the passing of first hand testimonials. Carolyn appears to have made strenuous efforts in her second marriage, but she had never established a firm foothold in the leading actress market for even the brief period of years enjoyed by so many of her contemporaries; the lure of one last attempt proving too large a temptation.

She was by now forty six, and finding work would prove difficult.

When Jones was receiving treatment for cancer of the colon, she told everyone on the set of the daytime series ‘Capitol,’ that she was suffering from ulcers. A daily schedule was comprised of filming in the morning and chemotherapy sessions at night. She had flourished in an era when smoking was part of social etiquette. Now it seemed, the cigarettes were catching up with her.

In 1983, at just 53 years old, Carolyn died of cancer in her home in West Hollywood, California, a month after her third marriage to long-time boyfriend, actor Peter Bailey-Britton. Jones told her sister, Bette Moriarty, that she wished her epitaph to read “She gave joy to the world.”

For me personally, she remains one of celluloid’s unsung heroines, in essence, amongst a small coterie of nearly forgotten stars who figured amongst a handful of reasons for supplementing my art with commentaries. Had illness not compelled a heartbreaking withdrawal from filming on “From Here to Eternity”, it might have been her, rather than Donna Reed, who collected the best supporting actress oscar at the 1954 Academy Awards ceremony; such is fate in Tinseltown.

Fortune, if one can refer to tragic circumstances in such a way, has bestowed a lasting legacy upon certain stars in a manner disproportionate to their talent. For my money, Carolyn has been sadly neglected since her early demise; if I can make only the merest contribution towards a re-evaluation of her acting skills, then I shall be a happy man.

Recommended viewing

Carolyn Jones – Morticia and More

Bill Murphy narrates this account of the life and career of Carolyn Jones, who, from the time of her birth in Amarillo, Texas, to Julius and Jeanette (who enjoys films and names her daughters after Carole Lombard and Bette Davis), has dreams and determination of film stardom of her very own.

Bette Moriarty speaks of Carolyn as, “One who gave joy to the world,” Lisa Loring as, “Warm, gracious, fun and talented,” John Astin as, “Warm, comforting and friendly, as many considered Carolyn their closest friend,” and Nolan Miller as, “Loving, joyous, one who never stopped and cried and said that she couldn’t go on.”

Interview Guests for this episode consist of sister, Bette Moriarty, friend Muriel Lipsey, Actresses Lisa Loring and Constance Towers, Actors John Astin and Don Murray, Designer Nolan Miller, Film Critic Stephen Schaefer, and Film Historian Ronald L. Davis. (Matt Roush, although credited, does not seem to appear in this episode.)

Archive footage includes Carolyn Jones with first husband, Aaron Spelling, and Co-stars Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie, Tom Ewell, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Shirley McClain, Rod Taylor and others in speaking parts.

Film Clips include a screen glimpse of Carolyn through the years, in scenes from “House of Wax” (1953), “Desirée” (1954), “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “The Bachelor Party” (1957), “King Creole” (1958), “A Hole in the Head” (1959), “Career” (1959), as well as television’s “Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater,” “This Is Your Life,” “The Addams Family” (1964-1966), “Batman” (1966-1967), and “Capitol” (1982).

The programme is a well constructed overview of Carolyn’s life and work but as always with programmes like these, there is much that remains unanswered. After their divorce, her first husband Aaron Spelling made a fortune producing top rated television shows and was worth an estimated $300m when he died in 2006. At the time of his death, he had been married for thirty eight years to Candy Marer, and the couple had two children. When they married Aaron was 42 years old and Candy was 23 years old. In his autobiography ‘A Prime Time Life’, pg. 75, he wrote:

“Candy’s the only one I’ve ever shared with. … If you really love somebody, you have to reveal yourself. You can’t hide behind masks, which is what I always did before.”

More tellingly, he once remarked to the ‘New York Times’ (Jul 3. 1997) that:

“I don’t recall ever refusing my wife anything.”

My subsequent research hints at dysfunctional elements within the Spalling family, especially since Aaron’s death, a less than surprising scenario in view of the amount of wealth involved.

Frankly, I have little interest in exploring this ‘story’ – what does interest me is once again, the all too evident problems facing any biographer is reaching ‘the truth’. Contemporary friends attest to the wonderful dynamics of the Aaron-Carolyn relationship and one can only surmise at the professional pressures that drove a wedge between the couple; his rise to prominence in the television industry and the attendant workload involved, running parallel with her ‘fading star’. In any marriage, it is surely sensible to accept that, where both parties work, one of them will be in a career ascendency at any given point. Perhaps Carolyn had never envisaged her public profile stagnating during those formative years of her marriage when she was forever peddling her husband’s scripts to whomever she could buttonhole. Perhaps, as their respective fortunes changed, and being desparately ambitious, she was losing confidence in her childhood dream? An absent husband, more and more preoccupied with his work, the invariable ‘downtime’ associated with out-of-work actors and you have the classic ingredients for a strained relationship.

When Spelling spoke about his love for his second wife, he did so secure in the knowledge that Carolyn was long gone. Looking back on his life, he must have known that only she had seen qualities in him when the world seemingly did not wish to know. It is unlikely that any successful remarried man with a much younger second wife, would have alluded to this fact in his autobiography.

House of wax (1953)

A classic hammer horror and an important early appearance for Jones in her pursuit of mainstream stardom.

Professor Henry Jarrod is a true artist whose wax sculptures are lifelike. He specializes in historical tableau’s such a Marie Antoinette or Joan of Arc. His business partner, Matthew Burke, needs some of his investment returned to him and pushes Jarrod to have more lurid exposes like a chamber of horrors. When Jarrod refuses, Burke set the place alight destroying all of his beautiful work in the hope of claiming the insurance. Jarrod is believed to have died in the fire but he unexpectedly reappears some 18 months later when he opens a new exhibit. This time, his displays focus on the macabre but he has yet to reproduce his most cherished work, Marie Antoinette. When he meets his new assistant’s beautiful friend, Sue Allen, he knows he’s found the perfect model – only unbeknown to anyone, he has a very particular way of making his wax creations.

Jones meets a macabre end but her film cameo remains an important one amidst the deluge of television work she was involved in at the time.

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Richard Sherman, struggling with the concept of monogamy, seeks help from Dr. Brubaker, and his nurse Miss Finch. Jones is suitably appealing in her uniform, all concern and suppressed sexuality, yet in many ways, her cameo in posssibly Marilyn Monroe’s finest moment, is indicative of her overall celluloid role as the perennial bridesmaid.

The Batchelor party (1957)

Like his earlier Marty (1955), Paddy Chayefsky’s ‘The Bachelor Party’ began life as a TV play. The film version centers around the impending wedding of thirtyish Arnold (Philip Abbott). As they gather for the traditional “wild” bachelor party, Arnold’s married pals begin reflecting on their own lives. Most of what develops is seen through the eyes of Charlie Samson (Don Murray), a staid bookkeeper who intends to cut loose at Arnold’s premarital bacchanale. The unexpected pathetic figure in the proceedings is Walter (E. G. Marshall), a self-described “swinger” who after a few drinks bursts out in a uncontrolled fit of self-loathing. Though by necessity their characters are secondary, the women in The Bachelor Party, including Nancy Marchand, Patricia Smith, and Karen Norris, also reveal their true natures in ways both mundane and profound.

Carolyn Jones, debuing her new dark sulty look, resonates throughout her twenty minute appearance in a brilliant, Oscar-nominated turn as the “good time girl” with whom Charlie Samson briefly dallies.

King Creole (1958)

Jones plays Ronnie, a woman with a past and a yearning for more innocent times. Presley’s character Danny, duly observes the change in her as she flees the sewer that is Maxie Fields’s world. In a playful teasing scene, he tells her affectionately that ‘You look like a kid’ whilst the couple embrace. ‘Take a day out of your life Danny and love me’ she implores him. It’s a tender moment and sadly all too brief; Carolyn imbuing Ronnie’s character with a painful honesty one is unlikely to find in women with a similar background.

An article on Jones and a surprising reunion with Presley can be located at:

Last train from Gun Hill (1959)

Kirk Douglas (Morgan) is the sheriff determined to take in the rapist who killed his wife, Anthony Quinn the old friend and father of the delinquent and equally determined to stop him. An enjoyable Western, remarkably similar but much inferior to 3.10 to Yuma, made a couple of years earlier. Vigorous performances, superb camerawork from Charles Lang and muscular direction make this a superior western, undermined only in part by a handful of one dimensional supporting players.

Jones is Linda, a woman who has been both romanced and abused by Belden (Quinn), the only person in town who will lift a finger on Morgan’s behalf, and displays her concern and resourcefulness in equal measure throughout her scenes.

Blood Red - Zane Grey Theatre Season 5 (1961)

Jones is Jess Whiting, a frontier wife, tormented by her past and half indian heritage. Her husband remains fearful that the Indian uprising is because of his wife and that she will be taken from him.

A mere twenty three minutes of prime time television, yet the actress is never less than convincing in her emotional scenes. Perhaps sensing that her husband’s feelings will change towards her now he knows her background, the Whitings suddenly find their life together and her impending motherhood under threat, yet the ending is upbeat, a reaffirmation of their feelings for one another. There’s more emotion conveyed in under half an hour than most modern commercial television dramas can achieve over three consecutive evenings.

The Addams Family: The Complete Series (1964-66) [DVD box set]

All 64 monochrome episodes spread over 9 discs.

Carolyn’s Morticia burst onto the screen in 1964, with a unique blend of goth and seductiveness to become a unique sex symbol hitherto unseen on terrestrial television.

The family matriarch’s haunting dark eyes, pale skin and jet-black long hair was not the Middle America girl next door. She even inspired a makeup style known as “Morticia Makeup.”

Keeping her husband Gomez (John Astin) in a constant state or arousal, Jones exuded sex appeal, her linguistic talent for french sufficient enough to ensure an arm kissing frenzy. Gomez and Morticia were the most romantic couple on TV. They danced the tango, playfully fenced with each other and retained a heated passion. As Morticia told him, “When we’re together, darling, every night is Halloween.”

Her defining screen moment and one affectionately recalled by millions over a certain age. The remakes don’t cut it for me.

Recommended reading

In Morticia’s shadow (James Pylant) 2013

The family-authorised biography of the late Carolyn Jones and a book that chronicles her life and work – more than thirty movies including starring roles with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and a decade-long marriage to producer Aaron Spelling. But the road to Hollywood from her native Amarillo, Texas, was studded with rejection, typecasting, and unwanted comparisons to Bette Davis, an actress who hated her.

Determined to succeed, Carolyn reinvented herself by enduring plastic surgery and dyeing her blonde hair black. Hollywood rewarded its rising star with an Oscar nomination and THE ADDAMS FAMILY, which would become a curse, overshadowing the future of her acting career.

‘In Morticia’s Shadow’ is the true story of Carolyn Jones: a lonely childhood in the Texas Panhandle, blind loyalty to a devoted mother, attempts to erase all trace of a long-absent father, four marriages, her scathing indictment of Hollywood through the pages of a best-selling novel, a courageous battle with cancer, and a triumphant return to television as the evil Myrna Clegg in ‘Capitol’.

Author James Pylant unveils the real Carolyn Jones, with access to her personal correspondence and journal, as well as interviews with her family, friends and fellow actors. What emerges is an intimate portrait of the iconic actress, a consummate professional who created a mystique not only for Morticia but for herself.