June 5, 2021

Film editor and screenwriter Robert C. Jones, ACE, died Feb. 2 at his home in Los Angeles, having been suffering from Lewy body dementia. He was 84.

Behind he leaves a body of work that would be enough credits for 10 editors. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Ship of Fools; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Paint Your Wagon; Love Story; The New Centurions; Being There; Man of La Mancha; Heaven Can Wait and The Babe are only a few of the films his talents have shaped.

Besides his many editing credits, Jones was also an Oscar®-winning screenwriter. Editing is the last rewrite of the script and in many ways film editing and writing are the same. It’s storytelling. With film you tell a story by arranging images and sounds. With writing you arrange words and sentences.

Jones made the transition into writing when working on a film that didn’t work. He asked the director to give him a couple of weeks with the film. He restructured it and when he showed it, the director’s reaction was, “You have just [rewritten] my film through editing.” While working for Hal Ashby on Bound for Glory he did some rewriting for the film though it was uncredited. When Ashby was in pre-production on Coming Home screenwriter Waldo Salt fell ill and Jones was asked to take over the writing. It brought an Oscar to Jones, Salt and Nancy Dowd who
conceived the story.

It seems Jones was destined for film as the son of the Oscar-nominated film editor Harmon Jones, who edited Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement and went on to become a director. Robert Jones was born on March 30, 1936 and occasionally spent time with his father in cutting rooms as he was growing up. He dropped out of college to take a job in the shipping room at 20th Century Fox.  He became an apprentice and then an assistant editor working on such films as Untamed and The Long, Hot Summer.

In 1958, Jones was drafted into the Army and because of his experience he was assigned to the Army Pictorial Center in Astoria, New York. There he honed his skills on training films and documentaries as well as editing several episodes of The Big Picture television series. After discharge he returned to Fox as an assistant editor until he received his editing break co-editing with Gene Fowler Jr.
on John Cassavetes’ A Child Is Waiting. Producer Stanley Kramer, impressed by Jones’ sense of story brought him on Mad World. In 1966, Robert edited Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title which was directed by his father.

In 2014, ACE honored him with its Career Achievement Award presented to him by his friend and collaborator Warren Beatty, who in his playful remarks lamented as to why wasn’t he in more of Robert’s films. Making editing generational in his family, on some of his later films Jones was assisted by his daughter, Leslie, who would become an editor and member of ACE. She went on to be nominated for an Oscar for editing on Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.

In editing, Robert was nominated for the Oscar three times – for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Bound for Glory – and twice for the ACE Eddie, on Mad World and Dinner.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Sylvia; his sister, Polly; two daughters, Leslie and Hayley; and four grandchildren.
JACK TUCKER, ACE

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