West T. to Hollywood Redux

One of the more interesting characters I have come across during my research is Grover Jones.  The son of a miner, Grover was born in Rosedale but proudly grew up in West Terre Haute (while substituting for a Hollywood columnist he once billed himself as GROVER JONES, formerly of W. Terre Haute, IND).  Like my grandfather, he began work at a young age in the mines as a breaker boy, young men who broke up too large chunks of coal into more manageable pieces.  The family lived on W. Johnson Street.  In addition to being a miner, young Grover showed his artistic side by painting advertising signs on the side.  According to Mike McCormick’s excellent piece in a Terre Haute newspaper, Jones was entranced by the silent movies he saw in West Terre Haute movie houses and even did a short film of his own on Terre Haute.  With the money he earned he took his talents and WTH upbringing to the very young Hollywood.

The family moved to Hollywood (Grover may have preceded them in 1913) , where by 1920  Grover and his father were both to find work in the nascent movie industry.  Grover began as a painter and set decorator (his father also found work as a studio electrician) but his irrepressible personality, persistence and wit led him to a career during which he was to direct over 120 short films and write or collaborate on over 400 scripts, winning an Oscar in 1932 for his original story Lady and a Gent.  His work included famous films like Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Lives of the Bengal Lancers, and Dark Command.  He worked (and fought with) such stars as Mae West, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton.

Jones was invariably called a “wag” and “cigar chomping” funny man and seems to have been beloved for his cantankerous wit (why do I feel a kindred spirit at work here?) by fellow writers.  His home seems to have been host to “salons” (one was called the West Side Asthma and Riding Club) attended by the Hollywood set that did not buy into the Hollywood mystique (and what right-thinking West T. lad would fall for that?).  Most of all he was highly regarded by his peers as a consummate storyteller.  Her was also not one to give a damn about convention and was once sued by neighbors who did not like the fact that he and his beloved wife Susan kept a “menagerie” in their swanky Riviera neighborhood in LA that included a monkey, goat, two deer and 14 dogs.  Yep, you can take the boy out of West T., but….

Grover also did verbal battle with George Bernard Shaw.  When Samuel Goldwyn was trying to option the rights to some of the Irish bard’s plays he famously said that when he signed over his plays the produces would turn them over to “the bellboys for adaption”  and the screenwriters could no more “tell a story than a blind puppy could write a symphony.”  Whether dog-loving Grover was more upset about the aspersions cast on the talents of puppies or his own particular writer breed is uncertain, but he replied that “The senile sage of the ages is at it again.  Once we had warts, pug dogs and Shaw.  Now we only have Shaw, so why not make the best of it.”

This from the man who called himself “Just another Jones.”  Jones died in 1940.

This is someone I want to know more about.  Jones’s papers are at the AMPAS (the Oscar organization) archives.  I have written to it requesting a collections guide in hope that some of his letters or memoirs mention growing up in West Terre Haute.  I sense a nice article may be written on Jones.  As I learn more I will pass it on.

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