Ike Jones, a pioneering African American film producer in the 1960s whose marriage to Swedish-born actress Inger Stevens was kept secret to avoid harming her career, died Sunday in an assisted-living facility in Los Angeles. He was 84.
Jones had a stroke several months ago and also suffered from congestive heart failure, said his friend Ann Stone.
Before his stroke, he was living in a rented room. It was a mighty fall from the time when Jones, whose last major producing credit was on the 1978 TV miniseries "A Woman Called Moses" (with Cicely Tyson as Harriet Tubman), lived in Malibu and hobnobbed with Hollywood elite.
Still, into his 80s, he was developing projects in hopes of a comeback.
"It shows how indomitable this guy's spirit was," said David Bushman, a curator at the Paley Center for Media who wrote a book proposal about Jones' life. "No matter what happened or how ill he got, he never stopped believing in the future."
Isaac Lolette Jones was born Dec. 23, 1929, in Santa Monica. Little is known of his early life except that he was raised by his stepfather, who worked as a pig farmer.
Jones played football at Santa Monica High School and then at UCLA, where he played end and in 1952 was named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1953 but turned down the offer.
For Jones, football was only a means to an end — it helped put him through the university, where he was enrolled in film studies.
A 1952 article in Jet magazine said, "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."
He went to work for production companies that oversaw projects for Harry Belafonte and Burt Lancaster, and he headed Nat King Cole's Kell-Cole Productions that produced the singer's highly successful live shows. For the rest of his life, Jones kept a photo of himself and Cole at the White House with President Johnson.
In 1966 Jones was one of the producers of the film "A Man Called Adam." Sammy Davis Jr. headed a cast that included Louis Armstrong. Jones said on several occasions that the movie marked the first time a black person produced an A-list picture.
Only Hollywood insiders knew that Jones and Stevens, who played the lead role in the mid-1960s television series "The Farmer's Daughter," were quietly married in Mexico in 1961. Because public knowledge of an interracial relationship could have ruined an acting career at the time, they went to great lengths to keep the marriage private.
"They would to go the airport, walk up to the counter and say, 'When's the next flight and where is it going?'" said Jones' friend TV producer Bob Booker. "They would disappear for a week."
The marriage was a tumultuous one, and during a period when they were estranged in 1970, Stevens died of an overdose in what was ruled a suicide.
By that time, Jones was involved with several business ventures, including a string of nursing homes, that turned out to be bad investments, and eventually he was in dire financial straits.
One of the films he tried to get underway in later years was based on his life.
"I told him the Ike and Inger story should be written before he died," Booker said. "But nothing came together."
Jones left no known immediate survivors.