Shirley Jones has lived the quintessential American Cinderella Dream. Her storybook career is the stuff many Hollywood legends only dream of...
Born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, her parents, Paul and Marjorie Jones, named their only child after Shirley Temple. Paul Jones took over the responsibility of running The Jones Brewery founded by Shirley's grandfather in nearby Smithton. Shirley had a normal carefree childhood and was already showing signs of extraordinary talent by the age of 6, when she became the youngest member of her church choir. Immediately following her graduation from South Huntingdon High School, Shirley was spotted by a scout photographer for the coveted Miss Pittsburgh Beauty Pageant. Shirley Mae would zoom by 43 other anxious entries to be named Pittsburgh's crowned princess. Shirley went on to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant where she became the first runner up and was awarded a scholarship to the famed Pittsburgh Playhouse.
Following her apprenticeship at the playhouse, Shirley borrowed $160 from her father to take on the Big Apple, promising to return home when the money was gone. Smithton never saw that return. Incredibly, America's number one musical show masters signed Shirley to an exclusive personal contract before the month's end, her very first audition, and only $110 were gone. Shirley learned that replacement try-outs for the chorus of "South Pacific" were underway at the St. James Theater. She arrived at the theater to find over 85 girls scrambling for a place in line. 51 girls later, Shirley Mae Jones walked onto the empty stage to sing. From out of the darkness came a voice with words that she will no doubt remember for the rest of her life. It was that of Richard Rodgers, in a rare visit to a chorus audition, asking if Miss Jones would be "kind enough to wait 20 minutes to sing for his associate, Mr. Oscar Hammerstein." She waited and sang, and the stage lit up. Rodgers and Hammerstein found themselves a new American gem. For Shirley Jones, the struggle was over.
Her first stage appearance was as one of the nurses in that same Broadway musical, "South Pacific." Rodgers and Hammerstein then graduated their fresh discovery to a small role in their new musical "Me and Juliet." She faired so well, she would play its lead in the subsequent national tour. It was during this tour that preparations for the movie version of "Oklahoma!" began in Hollywood. Competition for the coveted role of Laurey was mounting furiously and attracting national attention. Along with scores of contenders, Rodgers and Hammerstein arranged for Shirley to interrupt her tour to fly to Hollywood for a screen test. Months passed and she had just about forgotten her trip when the call came backstage to the little theater in Wheeling, West Virginia. It was a Hollywood message, scribbled on the back of a coffee wrapper pinned to the bulletin board for Shirley Jones, "Oklahoma's" new Laurey and America's new Cinderella Sweetheart."
The movie follow-ups to the "Oklahoma!" smash hit came like rapid-fire for the nation's girl-next-door: "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" opposite Glenn Ford; "Bedtime Story" with David Niven and Marlon Brando; "The Happy Ending" with Lloyd Bridges; "The Cheyenne Social Club" with Henry Fonda and James Stewart; "Never Steal Anything Small" opposite James Cagney; "Two Rode Together" co-starring Richard Widmark and James Stewart; "Pepe" with Cantinflass; "April Love" with Pat Boone, "Fluffy" with Tony Randall, "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" with Michael Caine and opposite James Garner in the film "Tank." And of course, she starred opposite her "Oklahoma!" co-star Cordon MacRae in the motion picture musical "Carousel."
Famed director Richard Brooks and Columbia Pictures set the courageous wheels in motion for the devastating treatment of a subject matter never before dealt with on screen. Starring Burt Lancaster, it featured a lost and touching prostitute who all but topples the growing empire of an ambitious evangelist - and again the candidates for the lusty role poured out of the woodwork. But it was Burt Lancaster, after viewing Shirley's Emmy nominated performance on TV's Playhouse 90, who insisted that she would be perfect for the part. Director Brooks was not at all convinced that America's ultimate girl-next-door should play the role. However, Burt Lancaster won out, which ultimately resulted in her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Award of 1960 for her powerful portrayal of Lulu Bains in the ageless American classic "Elmer Gantry".
Meredith Wilson's captivating story of "The Music Man" electrified Broadway for four and a half years. Hollywood prepared to make the movie with Robert Preston and everyone knew there was only one real "Marion" - Shirley Jones. The picture stands to this day as one of Columbia's biggest moneymakers and one of Shirley's proudest achievements. Television gave America the four-year hit "The Partridge Family" series with Shirley as the matriarch of the family's successful rock and roll band. But, as if to "remind" America of Mrs. Partridge's unlimited capabilities, Shirley's significant TV-Movie specials came one after another. "Silent Night, Lonely Night" earned Shirley a well-deserved Emmy nomination. Shirley garnered another Emmy nomination in 1985 for her work in the acclaimed PBS movie "There Were Times, Dear" about the tragedy of living with a victim of Alzheimer's disease. In 1979, Shirley starred in a weekly television series "Shirley" for NBC and Proctor and Gamble, which introduced full-sponsor participation to television for the first time in 14 years.
Shirley Jones was in constant demand by every TV variety show, having already guested with Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Danny Thomas, Danny Kaye, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Dinah and two stints as hostess of NBC's series extravaganza "The Big Show." Shirley headlined at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and even traveled to Russia to host the incredible "Moscow Circus" for two CBS specials.
As for legitimate theater from which she got her start, Shirley's performed in numerous summer tours starring in favorite musicals such as "The Sound of Music" and "Show Boat." Shirley returned to the Broadway stage with first husband, Jack Cassidy, to perform in the musical "Maggie Flynn." They also toured the nation with the thriller/drama play "Wait Until Dark."
On December 1, 1974, Shirley Jones met TV producer Marty Ingels at an art exhibit on the lawn of actor, Michael Landon's house. Shirley married the kinetic former comedian 3 years later after a frantic courtship so outrageous and romantic; the entire story has been told in their 1989 autobiography, titled Shirley and Marty, An Unlikely Love Story, soon to be made into a theatrical release. Shirley and Marty have a warm and sprawling Cape Cod home in Beverly Hills. Shaun, Patrick and Ryan Cassidy, Shirley's 3 children with late actor Jack Cassidy, all work in the entertainment industry.
In the past few years, Shirley has been busy touring the world and performing in concert. She has accepted some fabulous guest appearances on popular network shows such as "The Drew Carey Show", "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch", and "That 70s Show".
In 1999 Shirley starred in the family film "Ping." She was also featured in a comic cameo for the teen horror-flick spoof "Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th." Shirley just completed a motion picture titled "Manna From Heaven" which boasts an amazing Oscar winning cast of 3 Academy Award winning actresses, Shirley Jones, Louise Fletcher and Cloris Leachman.
After an incredible summer run on Broadway in the musical 42nd Street, also starring her son Patrick Cassidy, Shirley began work on several films. She co-stars with Doris Roberts and Shirley Knight in "Nana's Boy," an outrageous comedy from Adam Sandler's production company. In the spring of 2005, she completed work as Aunt Batty, an eccentric character in the marvelous Hallmark television production, "Hidden Places."
We are afforded a deeper insight into Shirley's formula for success by this quote offered by her husband, "It is hard to conceive of a human being the likes of that consummate lady, who can somehow live and function in a world of flowers and frenzy, and see only the flowers."
Shirley Jones is currently touring at Performing Arts Theaters throughout the United States.