At the end of his play Chicago Club Rum Boogie that is currently running at the Stage 52 playhouse through Feb. 17, playwright Jerry Jones leaps on-stage. “Tell everybody about the play,” Jones shouts to the audience members. “The next time you come, I might even get up and tap dance.”
To the delight of the audience, Jones does a soft shoe and shuffles offstage.
Mention the title Renaissance man, and Jerry Jones could easily fit the bill. Actor, playwright, dancer, producer, model, musician, and former disc jockey, Jones has experience in nearly every facet of showbusiness–a background that has served him well.
A colorful collage of singing, dancing and acting, Chicago Rum Boogie depicts the rough and tumble world of cops and mobsters in Chicago in the 40’s and ’50s. Much of the action is culled from the recollection of Jones, who once owned The Talent Scout nightclub in Chicago.
“All the players, pimps, and prostitutes used to come there,” recalled Jones, who said their colorful stories helped to fuel many of his plays.
Among the colorful characters in the play is Chicago cop and legend Sylvester Washington, who was popularly nicknamed Two Gun Pete. Jones, who knew the notorious policeman personally, said the Pete was the “Dirty Harry” of his day and developed a reputation around Chicago for “kickin’ the butts” of bad guys. “Pete used to carry two .357 magnums, one on each hip,” recalls Jones.
“He was on the police force for 18 years and arrested about 40,000 criminals,” recalls Jones, who also wrote a book in the 60’s about the legendary cop. “They say he killed about 16 criminals, but in actuality, it’s believed he may have killed about 60 or 70.”
Jones laughs as he recalls the time he met a beautiful young lady, only to find out later that she was Two Gun Pete’s daughter. “She had a picture of this man over the mantle of her fireplace. I said, “Who is that?” She looked at me and responded ‘That’s my dad-you may know him by his nickname–Two Gun Pete.’ I took her to the movies, but before the credits could roll, we were in the car. That was our first date and the last. I saw her recently and she laughed about it. She said, ‘My daddy nearly scared you to death, didn’t he?”
After quitting the nightclub business, Jones decided to venture into acting and enrolled in Goodman Memorial Theatre of Drama in Chicago. “In the five years I attended Goodman, we acted in everything-including plays by Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. One day I asked the teacher why we didn’t perform in any black plays. She turned to me and said, ‘There aren’t any.’ That got me to thinking–if there weren’t any black plays, then I would start writing them.”
After writing his first play, ‘Heel and Sole,’ about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jones moved to New York to continue his acting career. “I met Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. Baldwin allowed me to option a few of his plays and I went back to Chicago and produced ‘Blues for Mr. Charlie’ and ‘The Amen Corner.’ Black folks were standing in line to see those plays-they were packing the house. That was the first time I attempted to produce plays, and I liked the fit,” said Jones.
It wasn’t long before Jones decided to tackle Hollywood where he met comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore. Moore and Jones co-wrote and co-starred in the popular Dolemite films in the ’70s.
But playwriting is Jones’ first love. So far, the prolific thespian has written 40 plays with such colorful titles as “All God’s Children’s Got Shoes the Devil Can’t Wear,” “Mama’s Got a Brand New Jag,” “The Homeless Party on Crack Alley,” and “When Muddy Waters Wasn’t Muddy.”
And the prolific playwright and producer has more plays in store. “I just wrote a gospel play, and its dynamite,” said Jones, who will produce it in the spring of 2008.
For the past eight years, Jones has also been involved in his Call for Peace Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded to help at-risk children. “We try to teach kids how to be more active and more positive by getting them off the street and teaching them how to act right. We also work with senior citizens. Eventually I want to purchase a school where I can teach acting, spoken word, and the performing arts,” said Jones.