Actor and voice of Pinocchio

Actor and voice of Pinocchio

Born February 25, 1927; Died July 7, 2014.

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Dickie Jones, who has died aged 87, appeared in more than 100 films and starred in his own western television series, but for his most celebrated role he did not appear on screen at all. Jones provided the voice for Pinocchio in Walt Disney's second full-length animated feature film. And as such he was one of the last surviving links with the studio's original golden age of feature animation.

He was only 10 when he was hired to provide both the speaking and singing voice of the puppet who is transformed into a little boy. But Jones had already been in dozens of films and had worked with the likes of Laurel and Hardy and John Wayne.

Before films, he had also been a star on the rodeo circuit. The son of a newspaper editor, Richard Percy Jones was born in Snyder, Texas, in 1927. He learned to ride as an infant and was billed as the world's youngest trick rider and trick roper.

Hoot Gibson, a rodeo star who had been in silent movies and early talkies, persuaded Jones's parents that his future lay in Hollywood. By the mid-1930s, the boy was making as many as ten or more films a year, features and shorts, major roles and minor roles, including the younger version of the title character in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), with Freddie Bartholomew as the older boy.

Jones disliked being cooped up indoors for the endless recording sessions on Pinocchio, preferring the outdoor life on westerns and adventure movies.

His biggest challenge was probably the scene in which Pinocchio talks under water. "They had me lie on a table and poured water in my mouth while I tried to read the dialogue," he said. "I almost drowned."

He also resented not being able to mix with other children his own age. He later adapted Pinocchio's own lines to complain: "I wanted to be a real boy."

Pinocchio was released in 1940 and, like Disney's first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), it was a major success. Actors did not receive on-screen credits for voice work in those days, but Jones continued working regularly and had the starring role in the television series Buffalo Bill Jr (1955-56).

By the early 1960s, he was appearing in fewer films and television shows. He had already trained as a carpenter and subsequently quit acting to become an estate agent.

He was officially designated a Disney Legend in 2000, but he admitted that he had watched Pinocchio only once between its release and the 70th anniversary DVD release, and even then it was to prepare for promotional duties.

He is survived by Betty, his wife of 66 years, four children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.