By BURT A. FOLKART
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 30, 1992
The curly-haired Jones, whose signature song was "Donkey Serenade," was 84 when he died Saturday in New York City.
His biographer, Margarita Shelps, said Jones--whose 1936 marriage to actress Irene Hervey produced pop singing star Jack Jones--had recently returned from a tour of Australia, where his films still draw large crowds.
Born the son of a coal miner in Scranton, Pa., Jones worked the mines as a boy before attending the Syracuse University Music School on a scholarship. He studied voice in Paris, where his pristine tones brought him several club dates before he returned to the United States, touring with national companies of Broadway musicals.
On Broadway, he had a minor role in "Roberta" and a larger part in the 1934 revival of "Bitter Sweet."
Moving to Hollywood he quickly became a romantic lead opposite such stars as Irene Dunne in "Show Boat" and as a Spanish grandee opposite Jeanette MacDonald in "The Firefly." It was in that 1937 picture that he first sang Rudolf Friml's paean to a mule, a melody that was to dominate his concert and club performances for the rest of his life. His recording of "Donkey Serenade" became one of RCA Records' all-time bestsellers.
He also was the tenor lead in the Marx Brothers pictures "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races." His other pictures include "The Great Victor Herbert," "The Boys From Syracuse," "Moonlight in Havana," "Honeymoon Ahead," "Everybody Sing" with Judy Garland and Fanny Brice, and "A Swingin' Summer" in 1965.
On national radio he was a guest artist on the short-lived "Fred Astaire Show" in 1937 and appeared often with other opera and operetta stars on the long-running "The Chicago Theatre of the Air."
He also starred in the national road company of "Guys and Dolls" in the 1950s and in a touring company of "Man of La Mancha" in the 1970s as Don Quixote.
In addition to his son, Jones is survived by his wife, Maria; a stepdaughter, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be private.
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