This article appeared in the January 1972 issue of After Noon TV. It is accompanied by photos of Tom Lee Jones (Mark Toland) & his wife Kate
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C’mon, Tom ... Put On A Happy Face
Tom Lee Jones rarely smiles – and here’s why...
by Linda Rosenbaum

Tom Lee Jones was born 25 years ago in San Saba, Texas, population somewhere around 1500 and location somewhere around 40 miles from Johnson City, Texas, home of our former President. That’s about all that can be said about Tom’s humble place of origin. But that’s not all that can be said about its native son, who created the role of Dr. Mark Toland on “One Life to Live” just a few months ago – and has been a sensation ever since.

For much of Tom’s early life, home was a trailer as his father traveled with his wife and son all over the state of Texas, looking for work as an oilrig operator. It was probably rough on young Tom, but he prefers to remember his childhood as filled with adventure, rather than rootless and filled with upheavals. The frequent struggles to adjust to alien situations made Tom better equipped to handle a life that was destined to be filled with them.

When he was 16, Tom’s father accepted a supervisory position working in the oil fields of North Africa. But his son decided he could manage on his own and stayed behind. Winning a scholarship to a prep school in Dallas, this wandering country boy found that although he wasn’t as socially polished as his rich classmates, when it came to scholastic achievement and performance on the football field, being a reach city slicker really didn’t have much to do with anything.

Tom found out the same thing when he entered the hollowed halls of ivy-bedecked Harvard, that bastion of wealthy Northeastern intelligentsia. Once again, a scholarship was his passport to Academia, and once again, Tom excelled in the brain and brawn departments. After racking up an impressive list of football honors, Tom capped his four years in Harvard by graduating cum laude with a degree in English. Not bad for an itinerant country boy from humble origins.

Yet for all of his accomplishments, Tom does show definite signs of those earlier years and the turbulence they must have caused in him. For one thing, there’s the very obvious fact that Tom seldom smiles. And it seems very important for him to point out his accomplishments. Urgent, in fact, almost as if what Tom Lee Hones thinks and feels today somehow wouldn’t have as much as significance unless presented against this backdrop. There’s something about this intense young man that says he never has and never will stop trying to meet a challenge, and that if he can’t be the best, then he’s at least going to be almost the very best at whatever he does.

Tom is obviously proud of what he’s done because he knows nothing ever came easy for him, and he seems to want others to know it, too. Things aren’t going easy for him now, either. But Tom is undaunted. Perfection has been and always will be his ultimate goal.

Today, he finds himself working desperately to understand the medium of television. Like the other challenges he’s faced in his lifetime, this one, too, must be conquered. And he’ll do it himself, thank you.

Tom has never taken an acting lesson in his life. “I don’t wasn’t to be told how to do it,” he says adamantly. “I don’t think I could get along very well with a teacher unless I was absolutely convinced he was better than me. And I’m not all that convinced anyone would be.”

Without anyone’s help, Tom is intent on learning how to give a flawless performance. If he makes mistakes while taping a segment, he resolves to learn by his mistakes and not make the same ones again. And mistakes o happen. Tom still cringes when he remembers the time he called a character by the wrong name, and rather than let it go by and hope no one caught the error, he grabbed his head in his hands and said, “Oh, no!”

Of course, the scene had to be retaped, but Tom will probably never make the same mistake again. That’s why he’s convinced that he is his own best teacher and that one day he will have gained enough experience through trial and error to be able to say he has mastered the medium.

But right now, there’s serious work ahead for Tom. The fact that he respects daytime serials and is intrigues by the mechanics of putting one together, combined with Tom’s strong drive to succeed, has produced an astute student. “To learn how thirty people in a studio – actors, technicians and production people – can put together in a single day what 20 million people are going to be looking at is fascinating to me,” says Tom. “I’m intrigued by the way you communicate with 20 million people at once.”

“And quality work can be done on a serial if you work incredibly hard at it. The thing that concerned me most now is to master the medium technically by learning how to use the camera and how to relate to the other actors. But even if an actor is reciting Mother Goose, he should reach the point where the performance he gives is impeccable and can’t be criticized. If an actor work hard enough in his craft, he can learn how to do that every time he performs, no matter what medium he’s performing in. That’s what I want to do. I want to learn how to be a really good actor. I want to be untouchable. I want to be so good that no one can find fault with my performance.”

“I do see myself getting better at it. In the beginning, I kept asking myself if I really wanted to be in soaps. I felt they were bad art. Well, I certainly changed my mind about that. An actor can really get into trouble with that attitude. I thought it would be easy, but it’s not. I’m really working hard to find my way around a soap and my goal is to achieve perfection as a soap-opera actor.”

Although Tom says he “always had things for books,” hence his decision to major in English at college, he also had a keen interest in performing, which blossomed when he had one of the leads in his prep school production of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.” He pursued his interest further when he got to Harvard, appearing in over 20 universities productions at the renowned Loeb Theatre in Cambridge, and in numerous plays in summer stock. He also appeared in two films for the educational television network in that area. It was while working in one of these that Tom met the woman who was to one day become his wife, actress Katharine Lardner, who was also appearing in the film. They tied the knot in August 1970, a year after they met, and settled in New York with Kate’s two young children from a former marriage.

By this time, Tom’s interest in acting had turned from an avocation into a mission practically. But even to this day, he refuses to actually call it his career. Asked when he decided to become an actor, Tom replies, “I never did. I still haven’t said that yet.”

If that answer sounds like a paradox, it’s because Tom entertains thoughts of one day branching out into other areas of show business, such as writing, producing or directing. Teaching is also always in the back of his mind and sometimes Tom likes to think about what his life would have been like if he’d accepted a job offered to him upon graduation to teach English and coach football at a small New England school.

But tempting as that offer was to a man who had a passionate love of literature and football, Tom decided to give acting a whirl on a full-time professional basis.

Like almost everything he’s attempted in his life, Tom met with resounding success, landing roles in New York stage productions of “A Patriot For Me,” “Four On A Garden” and “Fortune And Men’s Eyes.” He also appeared as Hank, Ryan O’Neill’s roommate, in “Love Story” and will be seen in the soon-to-be-released film “Eliza’s Horoscope.”

Like most actors, Tom prefers working in films. “Movies are really where it’s at,” he insists. “I think film is the important twentieth century medium.” Nevertheless, Tom is enthusiastic about his work on daytime television and would like nothing better than to combine it with an important stage role.

In his spare time, he likes to play tennis, listen to country and rock music and sketch. The latter interest recently caused quite a stir at a New York hospital. Tom explains: “My wife and I have been taking life drawing classes and a friend of ours was the model. When my wife was hospitalized with a broken leg after we both took a spill from a motorcycle, our friend decided that as a get-well gift to my wife she would pose for us in the hospital. So we did our sketching with a nude model in my wife’s hospital room while she was recuperating. It sure caused quite a commotion among the nurses.”

Since the Jones’ motorcycle accident occurred on a typically busy New York City street, it seemed natural to ask Tom if he wasn’t particularly fond of living there.

“I’d never ride a motorcycle in the city again,” he replied. “but I think New York is a glorious place, even though everyday brings the city closer total collapse. I like it because it presents such horrible problems to the people who live here, like overcrowding and pollution, and I enjoy living with people who are performing under stress.”

“Of course, eventually I’d like to leave. I don’ want to leave here for the rest of my life. After all, it’s a rotten place to raise kids. Ours don’t have many problems living here because their parents hustle. But as a rule, people in this city can’t afford to send their children to good schools, and during the summer to nice camps. Ellis and Carlo go to he Dalton School, a great place for little kids. But if they didn’t go to that school, getting an education would be a horrible experience for them in this town. And, of course, they went to a good camp this past summer and they’re able to get out of the city on weekends and visit Kate’s parents and their father, both of whom have homes in the country.”

“But kids who live 20 blocks north of here in Harlem are tortured. New York is a bad place for kids and grownups, too, unless they’re very privileged financially.”

To hear Tom talk about it, living in New York, sounds like another one of the many challenges he has relished pitting himself against. Perhaps that’s why two of the political figures he respects and admires most in the United States are Yippie leaders Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, two men who are fighting against what seem to be insurmountable odds to buck the system.

“They’re the essential political freaks,” Tom declares. “They say things like, ‘If I were mayor of New York, I would shut down all the industry because it polluting the air.’ They say totally outrageous things like that, but they make their point by reacting immediately to a need.”

“What I would do, and not talk about, if I was in the position to do so, would be to get rid of the Army and stop spending money on a war and preparation for war. In general, I think the government is in pretty bad shape on a national, state and city level. The United States is on the way down and we’re going to get in some pretty bad trouble shortly.”

If that is true, with Tom’s proven skill at meeting a challenge head-on, maybe he should go into politics. It’s about time we had some perfection in government and less all-is-right-with-the-world smiles on the faces of our politicians.

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