Jones, Shirley (1934—)

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Jones, Shirley (1934—)

American actress-singer, winner of an Academy Award for her work in Elmer Gantry, who became the matriarch of television's "The Partridge Family." Born on March 31, 1934, in Smithton, Pennsylvania; only child of Paul Jones (a brewery owner) and Marjorie (Williams) Jones; graduated from South Huntingdon High School; studied drama at the Pittsburgh Playhouse; married Jack Cassidy (a singer), on August 5, 1956 (divorced); married Marty Ingels (a comedian and actor-agent), in 1978 (separated 1995); children: one son, Shaun Paul Cassidy (a singer); stepson David Cassidy (an actor-singer).

Selected filmography:

Oklahoma! (1955); Carousel (1956); April Love (1957); Never Steal Anything Small (1959); Bobbikins (1960); Elmer Gantry (1960); Pepe (1960); Two Rode Together (1961); The Music Man (1962); The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963); A Ticklish Affair (1963); Dark Purpose (1964); Bedtime Story (1964); Fluffy (1965); The Secret of My Success (1965); The Happy Ending (1969); The Cheyenne Social Club (1970); Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979); Tank (1984). On television, starred in "The Partridge Family" which ran from September 25, 1970, to August 31, 1974, on ABC.

In a Cinderella story of sorts, Shirley Jones became an overnight star as the sweet-faced, golden-voiced heroine in the film versions of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals Oklahoma! (1955) and Carousel (1956). Refusing from the start to be typecast in good-girl roles, she performed a number of dramatic roles on television, then went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the prostitute in the powerful Elmer Gantry (1960). After a dip in her career during the late 1960s, she came back strong on television as the mother on "The Partridge Family," which ran for four seasons and led to nine hit record albums.

Named after child star Shirley Temple (Black) , Jones was born and raised in Smithton, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Pittsburgh. An only child, she demonstrated vocal talent at the age of five and received her early training with Pittsburgh vocal coach Ken Welch. At South Huntingdon High School, Jones appeared in numerous school productions and also won a statewide singing contest. Shortly after graduating in 1952, she was selected as Miss Pittsburgh and subsequently was runner-up in the competition to select Miss Pennsylvania for the annual Miss America contest. Jones went on to study drama at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and appeared with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in Lady in the Dark and Call Me Madam.

In the summer of 1953, while Jones was vacationing in New York prior to entering Centenary Junior College in the fall, Ken Welch arranged an audition for her with the agent Gus Schirmer. Schirmer was so impressed by her talent that he arranged for her to sing for a casting director for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. On the strength of that audition, Jones was offered a seven-year contract with the Broadway team. As part of the deal, she was provided with further vocal and acting lessons and placed in the chorus of the long-running Rodgers and Hammerstein hit South Pacific. Jones was later cast in a small role in Me and Juliet but graduated to the starring role when the show went on tour.

Less than a year after her first audition, Jones tested and was cast as Laurey, the wholesome farm girl, in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! (1955), opposite Gordon MacRae as the handsome ranch hand, Curly. Described by Bosley Crowther as "so full of beauty, sweetness and spirit that a better Laurey cannot be dreamed," Jones was a shoo-in for the role of Julie in the follow-up musical film Carousel (1956). Once again, she was co-starred

with MacRae, who was brought in to play the hapless Billy Bigelow after Frank Sinatra left the production. The back-to-back musicals catapulted Jones to stardom. Life magazine featured her on its cover (February 6, 1956) as "a show business phenomenon." Jones was then off to Paris and Rome as part of a stage tour of Oklahoma! for the U.S. State Department.

Returning to the United States, Jones appeared in a stage production of The Beggar's Opera in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she met actor-singer Jack Cassidy. The two were married on August 5, 1956, after which Jones made several appearances on television, including her portrayal of an alcoholic in "The Big Slide," an episode of "Play-house 90." In her third film, April Love (1957), she was again cast as a wholesome farm girl, this time helping to reform a juvenile delinquent (Pat Boone). After the birth of her son, Shaun Cassidy, in 1958, Jones, who was by now growing weary of her pristine image, embarked on a nightclub tour with her husband. The couple also cut several LP albums of show tunes for Columbia, including a studio cast version of Brigadoon.

Following the mediocre reception of her next two films, Jones was cast against type as the prostitute Lulu Bains in Elmer Gantry (1960), a role she won through the efforts of her co-star Burt Lancaster, who played the devious evangelist of the title. It turned out to be a breakthrough role for the young actress, who won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her portrayal. Afterwards, she was reluctant to return to her image as a sweet young thing. "I'm sick of portraying ingénues with sunny dispositions, high necklines and puff-sleeves who are girlishly aggressive about happiness being just around the corner," she told Sidney Skolsky (New York Post, July 10, 1960). "I look like what I'm not at all—as wholesome as breakfast food." Despite her protests, she was the personification of sweetness again in the role of Marion, a small town librarian who falls in love with a con man (Robert Preston), in the highly successful musical The Music Man (1962).

During the 1960s, Jones' popularity as a film star waned, and a 1962 television series failed to sell. In 1968, she and Cassidy had a moderate run on Broadway in the musical Maggie Flynn, and in 1969, a made-for-television movie Silent Night, Lonely Night won Jones an Emmy nomination. In 1970, however, Jones' career took a decidedly upward turn with the popular television series "The Partridge Family," a comedy based on the true story of a widowed mother who forms a successful singing act with her children (one of whom was played by her stepson David Cassidy). In addition to the series, which ran for four season, the cast of "The Partridge Family" had several successful single records and albums. Their 1970 single "I Think I Love You" sold over four million copies, and their first of nine albums, The Partridge Family Album, was on the charts for 70 weeks. The show also spawned a massive merchandising campaign.

Jones was divorced from Jack Cassidy in the mid-1970s. (He died in a fire in 1976.) She married comic Marty Ingels in 1977, and worked with him on several lucrative business projects. She had a short run in another television series, "Shirley," and also made a trio of feature films: a western, The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), a disaster sequel, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979), and Tank (1984), her last movie.

In 1988, Jones and her husband Marty Ingels received the National Leukemia Council's first Gift of Life Award for their 15 years of volunteer work in fighting the disease. That same year, Jones appeared in the PBS special "In Performance at the White House," and also cohosted a TV special, "Christmas in D.C." with opera star Kathleen Battle . She also had a running role as Kitty Noland in the comedy television series "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story."


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1961. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1961.

Parish, James Robert, and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters. Garland, 1991.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jones, Shirley (1934—)

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