Shirley Jones at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts

By Susan Granger

The Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart University continues its popular American Legends series with an “Actors Studio-style” interview with 77 year-old Shirley Jones.


Effusively introduced by Executive Director Jerry Goehring as “The First Lady of American Song,” Shirley Jones’ six-decade career includes musicals like “Oklahoma1,” Carousel” and the “Music Man,” along with Mrs. Partridge in TV’s “The Partridge Family,” and winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1960 for her role opposite Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry.”


Reminiscing about her life on stage, in film and on television, Ms. Jones (named after Shirley Temple) related how, after growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania and training at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, she launched her career while on vacation with her parents in New York City by auditioning for Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who put her under exclusive contract.


Clad in a cardinal red pantsuit adorned with a sparkling dragonfly pin, she acknowledged that “Carousel” is still her favorite musical of all time, revealing that, originally, Frank Sinatra was supposed to have played Billy Bigelow in the movie but he split as the production began filming at Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and Ms. Jones phoned Gordon MacRae, asking him to step into that role.


Often alluding to her first husband, Jack Cassidy, with whom she raised four children, including pop star stepson David Cassidy (whose mother was Evelyn Ward), Jones has 12 grandchildren, ranging in age from 30 to three months. For the past 34 years, she has been married to comedian Marty Ingels.


While many of her anecdotes are familiar to those who followed her career, it’s still fun to hear them right from the source. Like how Burt Lancaster was the “best kisser,” how she won a lawsuit against the National Enquirer, why she almost posed for Playboy, and how it was nothing for Marlon Brando to want to do 60 takes when they were making the comedy “Bedtime Story.”


“I never turned down a role, but I lost a couple,” she admits, adding “I felt lucky to be working.” Yet, when an audience member inquired if she’d consider “Dancing With the Stars,” Ms. Jones answered with a firm, declarative, “No,” explaining that exercising at the ladies’ gym Curves is all her arthritic knees can handle these days.


A shrewd businesswoman, Ms. Jones concluded the program signing autographs but only for audience members who purchased her authorized $14 paper doll book, sold in the lobby.

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