James Earl Jones

Who Mentored James Earl Jones?

A photo of James Earl Jones.
A photo of James Earl Jones.

Celebrated actor James Earl Jones is known for his powerful and critically acclaimed motion picture, television, and theater performances.

He earned worldwide acclaim and his first Tony Award in the role of Jack Johnson, the first heavyweight-boxing champion in Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope. His second Tony came as a result of his performance in August Wilson’s play Fences.

I was raised by my grandparents, and I would say that my grandfather was, and still is, my hero. Outside of the family, my most influential role model was a high school English teacher, Donald Crouch. Professor Crouch was a former college teacher who had worked with Robert Frost, among others. He had retired to a farm near the small Michigan town where I lived, but when he discovered that there was a need for good teachers locally, he came to teach at my small agricultural high school.

Growing up, I had a hard time speaking because I was a stutterer and felt self-conscious. Professor Crouch discovered that I wrote poetry, a secret I was not anxious to divulge, being a typical high school boy. After learning this, he questioned me about why, if I loved words so much, couldn’t I say them out loud? One day I showed him a poem I had written, and he responded to it by saying that it was too good to be my own work, that I must have copied it from someone. To prove that I hadn’t plagiarized it, he wanted me to recite the poem, by heart, in front of the entire class. I did as he asked, got through it without stuttering, and from then on I had to write more, and speak more. This had a tremendous effect on me, and my confidence grew as I learned to express myself comfortably out loud.

On the last day of school we had our final class outside on the lawn, and Professor Crouch presented me with a gift–a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance. This was invaluable to me because it summed up what he had taught me–self-reliance. His influence on me was so basic that it extended to all areas of my life. He is the reason I became an actor.

Excerpted from The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans Recall Their Mentors by Matilda Raffa Cuomo, Editor, with foreword by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.