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Ike Jones, film and entertainment pioneer dead at 84


He was a bonafide star of the UCLA Bruins football teams of the 1950s, and the first African American graduate of the UCLA film school. In his professional life, he worked as an actor and assistant director, and was the first Black producer of a major motion picture, but Ike Jones may be best remembered for his secret marriage to Blonde movie star Inger Stevens during the 1960s.

Jones died of congestive heart failure complicated by a stroke at an assisted-living facility in Los Angeles on Oct. 5. He was 84.

Isaac Lolette Jones was born Dec. 23, 1929, in Santa Monica, Calif. A stellar athlete at Santa Monica High School, he went on to gridiron success at UCLA, where he was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference (1952), and drafted by the Green Bay Packers the following year.

But football was just a method for securing an education, because Jones’ aspirations lay in a decidedly different direction.

“Handsome, personable, talented Isaac (Ike) Jones is determined to become the first Negro to crack the Hollywood motion picture industry from the production or executive ends,” reported the newly launched Jet magazine in 1952.

Playing bit parts that eventually garnered him 24 credits on IMDb, Jones also worked behind the camera as a second-unit director, and in the production companies of Harry Belafonte and Burt Lancaster. He was also instrumental in guiding the business affairs of Nat “King” Cole during the singer’s thriving music and performing career.

In 1961, Jones fell in love and entered into a clandestine Mexican wedding with Swedish starlet Inger Stevens. The Blonde beauty was a prolific actress perhaps best known for her hit television series “The Famer’s Daughter.” Moving easily between the small screen and motion pictures, Stevens was also emotionally fragile, having survived a botched suicide attempt via sleeping pills in 1959, and was romantically linked at one time or another with Warren Beatty, Harry Belafonte, Bing Crosby, Vic Damone, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Anthony Quinn, and Burt Reynolds.

The nuptials between Jones and Stevens were strictly confidential, revealed only to family and a few select friends. In those racially sensitive days, interracial marriage was still illegal in most of the 50 states, and knowledge of their relationship could have easily toppled Stevens’ thriving career. Sammy Davis Jr.’s marriage to another stunning Swedish import, May Britt a year prior, brought her once promising career to a standstill.

By 1964, Jones’ own career had progressed to the point where he became the first person of color to produce a major motion picture. “A Man Called Adam” featured Davis as a self-destructive jazz musician, and was patterned after the life of iconic trumpeter Miles Davis (ironically, it also starred love-interest Cicely Tyson, who later became Mrs. Miles Davis).

Jones would go on to work with Tyson as a producer on “The River Niger” (1976) and “A Woman Called Moses” (1978). He also produced the made-for-television film, “The Oklahoma City Dolls” in 1981.

Meanwhile, Stevens’ mental health, never her strong suit, eventually got the best of her. On April 30, 1970, her hairdresser found her dead on the kitchen floor of her Hollywood Hills home, apparently from an overdose of barbiturates, according to a autopsy conducted by “coroner to the stars,” Dr. Thomas Noguchi. Immediately, the marriage long hidden from public scrutiny became fodder for the tabloids.

When Jones came forward to claim Inger’s body and settle her estate, he ran into a road block in the form of the California Justice System, which held that since he had no legal documentation, there was no proof that the wedding ever took place.

Eventually Steven’s Brother Ola (Carl) Stensland, a noted painter in his own right, came forward to testify in support of Jones. A blurb from a Jet magazine article had her sibling reveal that “Miss Stevens had agreed to keep their marriage a secret because she feared that racial bias would jeopardize her career.”

Jet went on to state that “Jones, (a) one-time character actor and UCLA football star, is thus heir to her $171,000 estate.”

Stevens’ body was cremated at the Inglewood Park Cemetery with her ashes spread over the Pacific Ocean in accordance with her wishes. For his part, Jones entered into a series of unsuccessful business ventures, including ownership of a string of nursing homes. Before his stroke forced his being placed under convalescent care, he had been living in a rented room. This was a dramatic change from his heyday when he consorted with Hollywood’s movers and shakers from his Malibu home.

Jones left no known survivors, and no plans for his internment were available.