Jay J. Armes is 84 now, and the larger-than-life, cooler-than-cool, handier-than-those-with-actual hands private investigator (and actor, author, educator, and model for his own line of toys) continues to keep cracking cases.
Born Julian Armas in 1932 to Mexican-American parents in El Paso, Texas, Jay J. lost his hands when he was 11. He and a pal swiped a couple of explosive railway detonators from a nearby train track and, after rubbing them together, Jay J. accidentally blew his appendages clean off (the pal was unharmed).
Doctors quickly fitted Jay J. with prosthetics. Afterward, the already adventurous boy became even more determined to excel at everything he ever set out to do. And he did.
Armes tried his hand (no pun intended) at both acting and law enforcement. In 1958, he opted to more fully pursue the latter, getting his private investigators’ license and earning credentials as a peace officer. He put both achievements to almost superhuman use by way of his own (still thriving) agency, The Investigators.
Over the course of the next two decades, Armes established himself as one of the world’s most colorful private eyes and public figures.
He fearlessly traveled the planet in pursuit of justice, boasted a stunning roster of celebrity clients that included Elvis Presley and John Lennon, showed off incredible physical powers enhanced by his “hook” hands, and proudly announced (all the time) that he never took on a case he didn’t close.
By the mid-1970s, Jay J. Armes stormed pop culture as a real-life combination of James Bond and The Six Million Dollar Man, notable figures who also generated their own big-ticket toy lines — but who, unlike Armes, didn’t actually exist.
People magazine named Armes one of its “25 Most Intriguing People of 1976” — and the fascination has never abated.
Here are five facts about the man who few challenge when he calls himself “The World’s Greatest Investigator.”
1. Jay J.’s Artificial Hands Can Do More Than Most People’s Organic Ones
Jay J. Armes most often utilizes a pair of hook-style steel claws. He uses them to slice through metal, easily and accurately operate firearms, fly aircrafts, drive vehicles, scuba dive, write with a pen, perform intense martial arts, and even thread a needle. In addition, Armes employs his hooks to reach into fire, smash through walls and doors, and perform feats above and beyond what’s capable with mere flesh.
On occasion, such as when he’s undercover, Armes will also don a pair of realistic-looking five-fingered fake hands.
Perhaps coolest of all, though, is that Armes owns at least one prosthetic that is, in itself, a working .22-caliber Magnum pistol.2. In 1976, Jay J. Armes Crashed Best-seller Lists Worldwide
In keeping with the above talents, Armes can also type with his hooks and, in 1976, he teamed with Old West true-crime writer Frederick Nolan to author Jay J. Armes, Investigator: The World’s Most Successful Private Eye.
The popular, mass-market book was ultimately translated into more than 30 languages. It detailed Armes’ globe-trotting escapades and work with famous clients, leading to big-time media pieces and talk-show appearances that established Armes as a star in his own right.
One such profile ran in a 1976 issue of Texas Monthly that was picked up by Newsweek. It portrayed Armes as a man that seemed truly to be at least part mythical, as author Gary Cartwright wrote:
“Jay J. Armes keeps a loaded submachine gun in his $37,000 Rolls Royce as protection against the next — and fourteenth — attempt on his life. He lives behind an electrified fence in a million-dollar mansion with a shooting range, a $90,000 gymnasium and a private menagerie, complete with leopards that prowl the grounds unchained at night. He is an expert on bugging, a skilled pilot, a deadly marksman and karate fighter and, perhaps, the best private eye in the country.”
To date, Armes maintains a similar, if not escalated, lifestyle — complete with a menagerie of exotic animals, many of them alpha jungle predators.
3. Jay J. Armes Rescued Marlon Brando’s Son From Hippie Kidnappers
While filming Last Tango in Paris in 1972, Marlon Brando called his old acting-school acquaintance Jay J. Armes and begged for help. He said his son Christian had been abducted, and he asked Armes to find him.
In short order, Armes did just that, discovering 14-year-old Christian near death from double pneumonia inside a cave along the coast of a Mexican fishing town. Eight kidnappers, who the P.I. describes as “hippies,” had been holding him captive.
Armes says he drew a weapon but didn’t have to fire it to extract Christian from the cave and load him on to a helicopter. Upon touching down in Los Angeles, Armes phoned Brando. As he recalls:
“So, I called him at his home and he answered. I said, ‘Marlon, this is Jay Armes’ and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, I was getting ready to call you because I’ve got some more information for you. I’ve got some pictures of him, of Christian.’ I say, ‘I got something better for you. I’ve got Christian right here!’”
The rescue made Armes the go-to P.I. for Hollywood’s elite, and both Brandos remained grateful for the rest of their lives.
4. Jay J. Armes Became a Hollywood Star and Comic Book Hero … Almost
As noted, Jay J. Armes took up acting as a young man. Then, after becoming a world famous crime-fighter, he gave it another shot.
In 1973, he guest starred as “Stoner,” an artificial-handed sniper on the loose on an episode of Hawaii Five-O pointedly titled, “Hookman.”
Three years later, CBS developed The Investigators, a series based on Armes and his agency that never made it to the air.
Jumping ahead to 1993, Tri-Star shot J.J. Armes, a two-hour TV movie pilot that didn’t sell. Few have seen the actual film, but it’s built an underground cult that claims it’s completely outrageous.
Remarkably, as late as 2005, a major Hollywood biopic went into preproduction only to stall in turnaround.
That same year, Marvel Comics kingpin Stan Lee announced the company was interested in developing a Jay J. Armes comic book. Lee proclaimed, “When I first met Jay I was bowled over. I couldn’t believe that a real live person could have the incredible powers that he possesses!” It could still happen.
5. Jay J. Armes: The Real-Life Action Hero With His Own Action Figure
The 12-inch tall doll came with a complete set of interchangeable “BioKinetic Hands” to snap into its wrists, including the famous hooks, a pistol, a knife, a sword, and suction cups for climbing, along with magnets and a working flashlight.
The figure proved so popular that Ideal followed up with the J.J. Armes Mobile Investigation Unit, a $13 “high tech” brown van that could scoop up other vehicles, and J.J. Armes C.A.M.P. (Center for Anti-Crime and Marksmanship Preparation), a headquarters equipped with a working target range and J.J.’s own robot sparring partner.
All that was missing was the real Armes’ collection of exotic jungle cats, but you could just borrow your kid sisters’ stuffed animals for that.
Main photo: Jay J. Armes Action Figure [Chucky Lou Memorial Film Society/screenshot]