James Earl Jones: Here, There and Everywhere

The impressive screen career of James Earl Jones is easy to trace. He's made dozens of films, from Dr. Strangelove and The Great White Hope, to recent hits like Field of Dreams and The Hunt for Red October.

His stage career is even more distinguished: 14 years with the New York Shakespeare festival, plus countless triumphs on and off-Broadway. Then there's his recent TV series, "Gabriel's Fire," which mutated into another show, "Pros & Cons." But the James Earl Jones of the deep, mellifluous, disembodied voice is harder to keep track of.

Even those who are well aware that the menacing voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy was provided by Jones may not know where else they've heard those resonant tones. As he's one of the busiest voice-over men in the business, Jones has, as a matter of fact, urged you to buy Chryslers and use Bell Atlantic Telephone. And that's Darth dramatically intoning "This is CNN" just before all the cable network's commercial breaks. "I forgot I even did it by the time it came out," Jones says of that assignment. "My son recognized it. Then I thought I did it as a freebie and told some interviewer that. I forgot they paid me a lot of money for it."

Hearing Jones is one thing, but to get to him in person at his country hideaway in Pawling, New York, you have to hurtle down the same picturesque train tracks featured in the opening of "That Girl" when Marlo Thomas leaves her TV hometown of Brewster (a couple of stops before Pawling) to seek fame and fortune in the big city. Jones came to this rolling farmland in the Catskills after he made it. He and his second wife prefer the country solitude to city life. "I'm not very social. That's why I live up here," says Jones, settling in to a table at the Corner Bakery, just off Main Street. "I'm dour, but I married a woman who's taught me a great deal about laughter."

It's hard to imagine that Jones has had much time to sit in Pawling laughing it up. After picking up a pair of Emmys for his television work last year, Jones turned his attention back to film, reprising his role as Admiral James Greer in the Red October sequel Patriot Games. He co-stars with Robert Redford in Sneakers, due out this fall, and will appear in the upcoming Sommersby, with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster.

So, Patriot Games gave Jones the chance to work with Harrison Ford again, after those Star Wars movies years ago, right? No. Although Ford became a superstar battling Darth Vader, Jones was, after all, just a voice on the soundtrack and never actually worked with Ford. Going into Patriot Games, Jones worried that Ford "might be the stringent type," but they got along just fine. Jones says he's had few conflicts with directors or co-stars: "I rarely work with jerks." Given his prodigious output, that's nothing short of a miracle.