Herbie Loses A Friend - Dean Jones Dead at 84

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
herbie loses a friend dean jones dead at 84

Actor Dean Jones died this past week from Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 84. Though he had a long and fairly successful career on both stage (he and Jane Fonda made their Broadway debuts as co-stars) and screen, he found his greatest success as the likeable star of a series of family comedy films made by the Walt Disney studio in the 1960s and 1970s. You’re reading about him at a car site because his best known role was portraying racecar driver Jim Douglas in the 1968 hit movie, “The Love Bug”.

The plot of that film, if I recall it from the time I took my little sister to see it at the Americana theater that year, was that Douglas was down on his luck and had to resort to racing his VW Beetle, Herbie, who turned out to have wheelstanding power to go along with a mind and soul of its own. Jim went on to win the race and the girl.

The Love Bug also starred Michelle Lee as Douglas’ love interest in addition to one of my parents’ favorite comedians, Buddy Hackett, as Herbie and Jim’s racing mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz. Racing and engineering legend Andy Granatelli had a cameo role. My seven-year-old sister loved it and my own 13-year-old car enthusiast self was entertained enough to not be too offended at the preposterous notion of a VW Beetle beating Stingrays, Cobras and XKEs (yeah, I know the correct nomenclature is E Type, but that’s what everyone called them back then).

The film was so well, er, loved that, like the evergreen Disney animated classics, it was able to make money in sequential re-releases. The Love Bug also spawned moderately successful theatrical sequels like 1977’s “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo”, and television shows including a 1982 television series, “Herbie the Love Bug”, and a remake of the original as a TV movie in 1997. Jones reprised the Jim Douglas character for each of those productions but Bruce Campbell was the leading man and driver of Herbie for the made for TV remake. Jones did not appear in the first sequel, “Herbie Rides Again”, from 1974, nor the last, 2005’s “Herbie, Fully Loaded”, starring Lindsay Lohan at the wheel of Herbie. A total of six Love Bug/Herbie films have been made.

The Love Bug didn’t just inspire sequels and TV shows. If you go to enough car shows, you’ll see Herbie replicas. I saw one a few weeks ago on Woodward at the Dream Cruise and a promotional Herbie made for the studio on display at a roadside car museum in rural Illinois last week. You can count on the Vintage VW Show in Ypsilanti to have at least a couple of Herbies every year.

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  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Sep 08, 2015

    When I was a kid we would rent The Lovebug from the local grocery store, we'd rent it ALOT. It was that and Beethoven, which I never knew featured Dean Jones as a villain, not until a decade later. I'm sad to see Dean Jones pass away, he was kind and had a good sense of humor in interviews, one of the few actors you'd genuinely like to meet with. From interviews, it seems that Dean was offered the chance to act in Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bannanas but he didnt like the scripts, supposedly he was to cameo in Fully Loaded but that was cut. I think 7 Herbie films total were made, the only one I never liked as a kid was Bananas (the film that inspired ratrods). During my hipster teen years I discovered "Superbug", a deranged German knock-off of Herbie that I'm pretty certain inspired both Transformers and Knight Rider.

  • -Nate -Nate on Sep 08, 2015

    RIP Mr. Jones . I took my Son to see Herbie when it was re released , as I had a VW Shop at the time it made a huge impression , his first car was a 1963 DeLuxe Beetle with sliding sunshine roof.... -Nate

  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).
  • Master Baiter New slogan in the age of Ford EVs:FoundOnRoadDischarged
  • Albert Also owned a 1959 Continental Mark IV coupe for 20 years and loved every minute!