Rob Jones: Biography
Rob Jones was born Robert Oliver Jones on October 13, 1925, in Mineola, Long Island, New York. His British-born father, Wendell, was a shoe clerk, his mother, Rita, was a dancer. Rob's parents were divorced when he was a child. To support herself and her son, Rita Jones pursued a career in show business and sent Rob to live with various aunts, uncles and grandparents.
Dropping out of high school, Rob enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, which he almost disliked. He got himself discharged after convincing a team of Navy psychologists that he was experimenting with homosexual urges. With some help from his mother, Rob began doing impressions, one-liners and movie parodies in small nightclubs. In 1948, he obtained some bookings as a result of his appearance on the TV show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Rob married a red-headed stripper named Jennifer Pate in 1951, but they were divorced five years later.
After Jennifer was arrested and sent to jail for a narcotics violation, Rob raised their daughter, Gracie, by himself.
Slowly, Rob begain working his way up from performing stand-up comedy in seedy New York City strip joints and jazz clubs. Gradually his act evolved into something wholly different from that of other comics. Onstage, he was a dark, slender and intense figure prowling around like a caged animal. He peppered his monologues with four-letter curse words and Yiddish expressions. In his act, Rob liked to expose racist attidudes by forcing his audiences to examine their own prejudices. In another act bashing religions, Rob acted out a conversation between Oral Roberts and the Pope with both speaking in the vernacular of glib show-business personalities.
When jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote about Rob, he began to gain the recognition he so badly wanted. Unfortunately, the seedy subculture of strippers, junkies and dives infected him with a taste for hard drugs and fast times. Through his nightclub acts and record albums, Rob became the hipster saint of the comedy world, hurdling past the line of propriety that others feared to cross. However, his foul mouth began to catch up with him. Police arrested him in 1961 on obscenity charges following an appearance at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco, but a jury found him not guilty.
Authorities and zealous religious groups tried to silence him as he appeared in clubs all over the country. In 1964, he was arrested again in New York City on more obscenity charges. During his trial a police officer read notes about Rob's profane act, which caused the desperate comic to beg the judge to let him perform the material himself so the court could hear it in context, but the judge refused. Despite support from noted writers, critics, educators and politicians, the judge found Rob guilty and sentenced him to several months in prison, but he was paroled just a few months later.
Continually harrassed by the police, Rob became depressed and paranoid. Further prosecutions for obscenity and his drug use drove him toward instability. By 1965, he was broke and heavily in debt. He claimed that every time he got a gig, the local police, wherever he was, would threaten to arrest the club owner if Rob went onstage.
In February 1966, Rob traveled to Los Angeles and appeared onstage for the first time in years. He performed for a very small crowd containing a few hecklers and vice cops waiting to arrest him if he again engage in profanity. By this time, Rob was bearded, overweight, and haggard. His performance centered on his current obsessions: his constitutional right of free speach, free assembly and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
When a friend asked him afterwards why he turned his back on comedy he replied, "I'm not a comedian anymore. I'm Rob Jones." On August 3, 1966, Rob died from a drug overdose in his Hollywood home.