The Year of Tommy Lee Jones


Tommy Lee Jones/Heaven and Earth

Benefit: Harvard Film Archive

December 10

September, 1965. Harvard Yard, Harvard University.

The Class of '69 is moving into its respective dorms. In the corridors of Mower, two young men are introduced for the first time. "Tommy Lee Jones, meet your new roommate Albert Gore."


On that day, the halls of Harvard witness yet another significant event in its more than 300 year-old history. A future international celebrity/actor meets a future Vice-President of the United States. The potential and promise in that room could have fueled rockets.

For Tommy Lee Jones, it was the first day of an illustrious college career as renaissance man on campus. Jack of all trades and master of ...all. He played for the Crimson all four years. He acted on campus in "the best [theater] he could." He became a member of The Signet Society, Harvard-Radcliffe's society's of arts and letters. (He has yet to return his initiation rose as he remains unpublished.) He "never paid any attention to the clubs [final or The Hasty Pudding]" and declined when offered membership. Active as he was, he wrote an honors English thesis on Flannery O'Connor and was graduated cum laude.

When discussing his undergraduate years, the former Dunster House resident is reserved and modest. Despite the fact that most faculty members were aware of his awe-some talent (his performance in Coriolanus is considered "legendary"), Jones insists that he was just another student doing his own thing he best he could. When asked if he and his roommate seemed destined for grandeur, ones replied, "We always seemed destined for in hourly exam."

Jones is still very much tied to the apron trings of Alma Mater. Involved with many projects and goings-on at the university, he was invested time and energy into The Harvard Film Archive (HFA) and, if his "volatile schedule" allows, he will be a participant in Arts First, an annual celebration of the arts at Harvard-Radcliffe. For those of you who question the staying power of post-graduation college friendships, fear not. Jones and the Vice President are "still friends."

December 10, 1993. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University.

Tommy Lee Jones is the guest of honor at a special advance screening of Oliver Stone's Vietnam docudrama "Heaven and Earth" in which he co-stars. Proceeds are to benefit the HFA and the Print Acquisition Fund. Asked to describe how it feels to be returning as a famous alumnus, Jones simply asks, "How far away from the tree can the apple fall?"

Committed to turning the HFA into the biggest film assemblage at any university in the country, Jones is raising funds to purchase a particular film collection. He feels that it is "very, very important" to have such a resource available to students. "Like language labs, the HFA must be available in a similar manner," says Jones.

After making some complusory opening remarks and introducing the film, Jones leaves the theater allowing the audience to soak up what is being billed as the final installment in Stone's Vietnam trilogy ("Platoon," "Born on the Fourth of July"). Based on the autobiographical memoirs of Le Ly Haslip, the movie chronicles the harrowing odyssey of a Vietnamese woman as she trades her war-torn homeland for an alien America. Jones, who plays Sgt. Steve Butler, Le Ly's jaded and abusive G.I. husband, says the film is "not about war, but more about the soul." The movie, which is written and directed by Stone, also stars Joan Chen ("The Last Emperor"), academy-award winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor ("The Killing Fields") and Debbie Reynolds.

At the film's conclusion, Jones engaged the audience in a brief question and answer period. An uptight Jones was curt in his responses. "Were you in the military or the war and if not what did you draw on to prepare for your role?" asked an eager viewer. "No, I was not," growled Jones, "But who wasn't affected by the war. Next question." "Which is your favorite role?" queried a student. Jones snapped back, "I don't play favorites. Next question." "What drew you to this role?" was the follow up. "Oliver [Stone] asked me to, and I needed the work." It seemed as if responding was becoming a chore for Jones as his tone conveyed condescension and frustration. But at the champagne reception that followed, he was gracious and patient as he autographed programs for, took photographs with, spoke to and even hugged the crowd of adoring, over-indulgent fans.

December 11, 1993. Bennett Street Cafe, The Charles Hotel.

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