Allan Jones: From the Mines to the Marx Brothers

Classic comedy fans have ample reason to know who Allan Jones (1907-1992) is. He is the first and strongest of the Zeppo replacements, co-starring with the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day At the Races (1937). He also co-starred in One Night in the Tropics (1940), the first movie to feature Abbott and Costello; and he had a prominent turn in Olsen and Johnson’s Crazy House (1943).

Jones’ main thing was singing. The son of Welsh coal miners from Scranton, he inherited musical talent from both his father and grandfather. Music was so valued in the family that they paid for Jones to leave the mines and take serious vocal lessons in New York and London. In the early ’30s he garnered some credits in regional and Broadway musicals. This experience (and his easy charm, dashing good looks, and vocal talent) were enough to land him a contract at MGM in 1935. After a small role in the star-studded musical Reckless, he was cast in A Night at the Opera, the success of which made him briefly a star. Next came Rose-Marie (1936) with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, although Eddy reportedly demanded most of Jones’ work wind up on the cutting room floor. Then came the 1936 version of Show Boat, also major, followed in 1937 by A Day at the Races and The Firefly, a 1911 operetta which included “The Donkey Serenade”, which became Jones’ theme song. (“Donkey Serenade, eh? Well, it sure beats “The Tenement Symphony”.) The Firefly was followed by Everybody Sing (1938), with Judy Garland and Fanny Brice, Honeymoon in Bali (1939), The Great Victor Herbert (1939), The Boys from Syracuse (1940) and One Night in the Tropics (1940). A dozen more films followed through 1945, most of them wartime B movies, an indication of his drop in prestige. Senorita from the West (1945) with Bonita Granville and Fuzzy Knight was his last from this period.

When World War Two ended, Jones dropped out of films and toured England for two years. He then had several productive years performing in night clubs, touring regionally in musical theatre, and appearing occasional on television programs like The Milton Berle Show, The Ed Wynn Show, Colgate Comedy Hour, The Merv Griffin Show and The Mike Douglas Show. One is not surprised to learn that he made a 1980 appearance on The Love Boat: his son, Jack Jones (b. 1938) sang the theme song!

For more on classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.