Monday, March 31, 2014

Keeping Up With Jones

Shirley Jones turns 80 today.  I just read her book with the no-nonsense title Shirley Jones: A Memoir.  (When did people stop writing autobiographies and start writing memoirs?) In it, the simple country girl from Pennsylvania truly opens up.  There are plenty of stories about her show biz career, but also plenty about her sexual adventures.

Actually, I read it for the show biz stuff.  How she was discovered is an amazing story.  Still a teenager, with no stage experience, and about to attend college, she auditioned for a Broadway agent while in New York.  Before she knew it, Richard Rodgers and then Oscar Hammerstein were called in.  She was such a powerful combination of beauty and singing talent that they signed her on the spot, and after a bit of seasoning on stage she was chosen to play the lead role in the film version of Oklahoma!.  She followed that with another R&H film adaptation, Carousel (which was supposed to star Frank Sinatra, who walked out as shooting started).  In the early 60s, she played another classic musical role as Marian the Librarian in the screen version of The Music Man.

Meanwhile, she met and married stage star Jack Cassidy.  They had an affair while touring in Oklahoma!, even though he was already married.  Cassidy was Jones' great love. (Here's where we get a lot of the sex stories). Once they were together, though, he cheated on her.  On top of that, he was jealous of her career, since he never made it in movies or even TV as she did.

She generally played roles where she was pure as the driven snow, so the public was surprised to see her as a prostitute in the Richard Brooks' film Elmer Gantry. It may be why she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  (I think the movie was overrated in its day since 1960 Hollywood rarely dealt head-on with subjects like religion and sex).

As her film career was petering out, she moved to TV.  She turned down Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, but took the part of Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family, a show based on The Cowsills. Only after she accepted the role was David Cassidy--her stepson--cast as her oldest son Keith.  She loved doing the show, and sometimes felt like a mother to the kids in the cast.

The show was a hit and the Partridge Family albums became big sellers. David became a pop sensation (as did Shirley's biological son Shaun a few years later).  Meanwhile, Jack's career was going nowhere. (He was offered the Ted Baxter role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show but turned it down.  In one episode he played Baxter's twin brother.)  He was also acting erratically--turns out he was bipolar.  The couple separated and Cassidy died in 1976 when he fell asleep holding a lit cigarette and his apartment went up in flames.

When The Partridge Family was canceled, Shirley continued to work regularly, doing live shows as well as TV and movies, but she never regained the same prominence. She also married crazy comic Marty Ingels, and they're together to this day. (And we get more sex stories, including sex among septuagenerians.)

I think Jones will be remembered as the innocent ingenue in those film musicals, but now we have a lot better idea who the real Shirley Jones is.

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