Wholesome Movie Songbird and TV Legend
by David Wolfe
Shirley Jones became a star almost overnight. Twice. Her movie debut in 1955's big screen version ofOklahoma! delighted the critics and audiences. It was followed by a string of hits. Then in 1970, she starred inThe Partridge Family TV series, achieving even greater popularity and a lasting role in television history.
Named after Shirley Temple, she was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburg, in 1934. From an early age, she sang so beautifully that by the time she was a teen-ager, Shirley was being trained by a world-renowned singer and teacher. Incidentally, she was an all-American blonde beauty, too, and became "Miss Pittsburg" in 1952.
Broadway beckoned the young singer who gave herself one year to succeed when she moved to New York City where she continued to study voice. Her very first audition changed her life when her star potential was spotted by the casting director at the bi-weekly auditions for the various Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. The famous musical producers and songwriters immediately put Shirley Jones under personal contract, the only singer ever to have that honor. First, she was given a minor role in South Pacific and then, in Me and Juliet, she rose from chorus girl to understudy to playing the lead role and earning rave reviews.
Then came the step up to fame. Rodgers and Hammerstein's ground-breaking 1945 hit, Oklahoma! was to be made into a movie at long last, and Shirley Jones was cast as Laurie, the female lead. It was a golden opportunity, a star turn opposite Gordon MacRae. The lead in a second Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, Carousel, cemented her stardom. She then played opposite teen heartthrob Pat Boone in April Love, yet another very wholesome role. In danger of being typecast, Shirley Jones stepped away from her delightfully sweet characterizations to play a prostitute in 1960's Elmer Gantry. She gave a brilliant performance and was rewarded with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. But she reverted to her audience-pleasing persona when she played Marion, the librarian in The Music Man (1962). Her movie career continued to thrive and she has starred in more than thirty feature films. She also has been appearing on television since she made her acting debut as a teen-ager in an episode of Fireside Theatre and was nominated for an Emmy in 2006.
A generation of television viewers will always think of Shirley Jones as Shirley Partridge, the widowed mother of five musical children in the long-running (1970-1974) hit series, The Partridge Family. (She had earlier turned down the role of the mother in The Brady Bunch.) As the young, pretty matriarch with a golden voice, she teamed up with teen idol David Cassidy to record "I Think I Love You" and it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart. Reality echoed the sit-com because Shirley was married to singe/actor Jack Cassidy and his son David was her real life stepson. She had three children including Shaun who also became a teen recording star and played in the series, too. After 96 episodes, The Partridge Family, in their famous wildly painted bus, drove off into TV history when the series ended.
Shirley Jones' marriage to Jack Cassidy ended and later he suffered a tragic death. Today she is married to comic actor Marty Ingels and continues to make appearances on the stage and television. In 2004 she appeared on Broadway in 42nd Street along with her son, Patrick Cassidy. Fittingly, she sang songs from her hit debut 52 years earlier, when in 2007, she performed at the Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular concert which celebrated the state's 100th birthday.