Back in Mower: Tommy Lee Jones '69

by Alicia Anstead

When the actor Tommy Lee Jones ’69 stopped by his old room in Mower Hall, the freshman dorm in The Yard, he had a moment of wonder. "I never thought I’d be back in this room," he said. But there he was sitting on a couch surrounded by agog freshman.

Margaret Ho '15 didn't know she was living in the historic room until recently. "I think it's really cool," she said. "I feel like I can be great, too."

Students mostly wanted to know what life was like when Jones was famously a resident in the room where they were holding a reception for him. How many roommates did he have? (Three: One was former Vice President Al Gore.) What kinds of things did he do as a student?

Turns out, Jones – best known to this generation as the sheriff in the 2007 hit film No Country for Old Men – cooked a turkey in his dorm fireplace one Thanksgiving, strung the carcass on a tree and carved lines into another tree that he has visited whenever he returns to his alma mater.

The tree, he said, is "not only a measure of time but a botanical lesson that bark grows upward." He paused as students laughed and then he added: "As you will."

The college-crazy stories were not the only part of Jones’ education. He also built the foundation at Harvard for his life as an artist, for which he will be recognized today with the 2012 Harvard Arts Medal.

"I read a lot of books while I was here, and I studied narrative structure rather thoroughly, and that’s all very informative for an actor," he said. "You were able to get a practical education in the theater here because there were so many plays going on. So you try and fail, try and succeed – whatever you did, you were always doing it."

And he still is.

The Harvard Arts Medal Award ceremony at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 26 in Sanders Theatre is a part of ARTS FIRST, Harvard's annual celebration of the arts, April 26-29.