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Los Angeles history -- stage

September 15, 2008 |  5:06 am

T.C. Jones, male actress

'T.C. Jones is the greatest female impersonator I have seen and heard since Julian Eltinge -- and that's going back a long way.' -- Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times file photo

T.C. Jones in "Mask and Gown," 1958.
1958_august_24_tc_jones He was one of the newest -- and certainly one of the freshest -- of the "New Faces of '56," a Broadway show directed by Paul Lynde with sketches by a variety of writers, including Neil Simon and his brother Danny.

His name was Thomas Craig Jones, but he was best known as T.C. Jones and he was, according to The Times' Philip K. Scheuer, "the greatest female impersonator I have seen and heard since Julian Eltinge -- and that's going back a long way."

In an August 1958 Times story, Charles Stinson described Jones as "a husky, medium-sized fellow in his 30s with a Yul Brynner coiffure and a most affable manner."

Times movie critic Kevin Thomas said in response to my query: "The 1950s were his decade. He was a terrific entertainer, more a male actress, as Charles Pierce described himself, rather than a traditional female impersonator. His rendition of his signature song, 'Ten Cents a Dance,' was unforgettable, really wrenching."

Jones was a Navy veteran and a graduate of Carnegie Tech who appeared on Broadway in 1944 as a dancer in "Sadie Thompson," starring June Havoc. Before becoming a female impersonator, he had worked as a nightclub emcee, standup comic, dancer and actor. He was married, The Times says, and his wife, Donnie Dickson Jones, told Stinson "I keep his wigs in order."

"One night when I was doing stock," Jones said, "another of the players brought me some comic sketch material that was hilarious. The only catch was that it more or less required a woman to deliver it. He suggested I do an impersonation. I told him I didn't know if I could bring it off. I had never done any female impersonations and I was starting a career as a male comic.

"I finally agreed to try it, though, and it surprised me and went over big. Strangly enough it was in a revue called 'I'm Not Myself Tonight' and I haven't been most nights since."

In "Mask and Gown," Jones portrayer Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Mae West, Judy Holliday, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Ethel Merman. "It is curious, in passing, how impersonators always latch on to the same handful of stars to lampoon," Scheuer said. "They are the most distinctive!"

And, yes, he did Judy Garland too. The Times said in 1965:  "Judy Garland and her rendition of 'Over the Rainbow' will never be the same after the telling treatment of Jones." The Times said: "Mrs. Jones has done a splendid job in picking out the proper attire for her husband's vignettes. Her choice of wigs and outfits matched the mood perfectly."

Los Angeles Times file photo

T.J. Jones in 1965. He often ended his act by removing his wig to show his bald head.

Although Jones said he planned to return to Broadway in a male role in the fall of 1958, the show apparently fell through and he continued as an impersonator for most of his career, although he did appear in a male role in the 1964 production of "Three Nuts in Search of a Bolt" with Mamie Van Doren.   

Jones made several records  and occasionally appeared on television, including a Jackie Gleason TV special in 1960 and a cult episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He was in the 1968 Bob Rafelson film "Head," starring the Monkees. Writing in 1973 on a reappraisal of the film, Charles Champlin said: "One of the lads slugs female impersonator T.C. Jones, then argues with director Rafelson whether it's right for the image. (The grips and extras shy away from him as from someone unclean.)"

Jones died Sept. 25, 1971, at the age of 50. The Times did not publish an obituary on him. 

He is also featured in a 1955 article in the Mattachine Review, "The Other Side of the Coin."