Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shirley Jones: DO throw bouquets at her

This interview with the renowned singer/actress/Oscar winner, Shirley Jones, was published in the Kansas City Kansan on Sept. 18, 2002. It won a First Place plaque for Best Entertainment story from the Kansas City Press Club's Heart of America 2003 Excellence in Journalism. I could not have accomplished such without the gracious Shirley Jones.  
By Steve Crum

Life is still a carousel for Shirley Jones.

At 68 young years, the silver-haired diva and Oscar winner (Elmer Gantry) sang to an appreciative 500 last Friday evening. Harrah’s Casino in North Kansas City hosted the private one-hour concert that ran the Broadway showstopper gamut. Billed as “An Evening With Rodgers and Hammerstein,” it was that and more.

Medleys from Jones’ hit movie musicals The Music Man, Oklahoma!, and Carousel were sandwiched around less heard renditions of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” and classic film songs “As Time Goes By,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man,” and the Al Jolson and Judy Garland mainstay, “You Made Me Love You.” Her semi-operatic soprano never sounded better—and why is that surprising?

Dressed in a poured-into, red-sequined, high-slitted show gown, the forever Mrs. Partridge never looked better either. No, no…must not hit on David Cassidy’s stepmom. Besides, she’s still—at present—married to Marty Ingels, and they have had well publicized marital ups and downs over the years. Following a knock-out closing with the emotional ”You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Jones sat for greetings and autographs for nearly 45 minutes. Poorly set air conditioning prompted her manager to wrap a shawl around her shoulders.

Then it was my turn. Shirley’s half-filled martini glass, another warmth aide, was placed near me in preparation for her interview seating. My few minutes alone with Shirley Jones were interesting, revealing, and most charming.

“It is perfect for my voice,” Shirley reasons as to why she continues to use Rodgers and Hammerstein music as a centerpiece for her performances.

It all began, she recalls, when she auditioned for none other than Richard Rodgers himself for a role in the original Mary Martin Broadway cast of South Pacific, back in the late 1940’s. The former Shirley Mae Jones of Charleroi, Pennsylvania was immediately cast as one of the Navy nurses. 

A screen test at 20th Century Fox followed, and Jones’ mini whirlwind of film musical stardom began in 1955. She was Laurey in Oklahoma! and Julie in Carousel (1956), both Rodgers and Hammerstein scored. And she was paired with her idol, Gordon MacRae. “My very favorite show,” she beams, “is Carousel.”

A little known fact is that both films were shot in two different versions—one in Cinemascope and one in Todd-AO. That meant double filming for everyone involved, prompting Frank Sinatra, who was originally signed as Carousel's Billy Bigelow, to bail out.

Jones explains: “The story goes that Sinatra arrived on the set for the first day’s filming, found out about the double-filming, and promptly got back into his limousine, saying, ‘No way!’ Sinatra was a one-take guy as it was.” Enter replacement Gordon MacRae, her co-star in Oklahoma!…and movie history was made.

“Sinatra and I had already done all the pre-recorded songs too,” said Jones. So what happened to those Sinatra-Jones recordings? “We have looked for them for years,” she laments. “They are apparently lost forever.”

A year after Carousel, Jones was paired with pop singer Pat Boone for April Love. Then movie musicals gasped for air. Their era had mostly passed. Shirley Jones had to adapt. In 1960, she adapted superbly to straight drama.

“I owe it to Burt Lancaster who fought to have me cast in Elmer Gantry,” Jones said. She won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as prostitute Lulu Bains. 

For the next 40 years, she would star in over 50 movies, both theatrical and made-for-TV, as well as TV sitcoms Shirley and The Partridge Family, the latter co-starring the stepson from her marriage to singer Jack Cassidy, David. The secret of The Partridge Family’s lasting success in reruns? “Family,” she answers. “Even though we were a family on the road, and I was unmarried, we were happy and loved each other...and we were the first series to feature a single mother.” 

Her life would include charitable work, community projects, book writing, and fitness videos (she is in) as well.

Always there have been the concerts, like the Harrah’s tour she is on now. Next month, in October, look for her on PBS stations in a solo concert of Broadway songs, as well as a Kennedy Center evening of show tunes, hosted by Shirley, and featuring legendary talents like John Raitt and Howard Keel. Raitt, the original Billy in the stage Carousel, will duet “If I Love You” for the first time with Shirley Jones.

Then there is Shirley’s movie career. She is getting great notices for her performance in Manna From Heaven, now playing. Next year, her first horror film, Bloodhead, opens. She is still filming another departure, that of “Crazy Aunt Sis,” in Bathroom Boy. Her part is that of a “tobacco spitting, trailer park owner.” 

Four decades back, in 1962, Shirley Jones wowed at the lily-pure Marian the Librarian in what she calls “a true American class, The Music Man.” Months of filming was about to begin, she recalls, when she was told of her pregnancy. 

“I reluctantly told the director, Morton DaCosta, who was stunned,” she smiles. “He ordered, ‘Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know!'”

So they both kept the secret as the weeks and months passed. As her waistline expanded, DaCosta ordered special dresses adorned with large bows and such as coverups.

“By the time the final scene on the bridge with Robert Preston was shot,” Jones muses, “I was pretty large. Robert took me in his arms, closely embracing me, ready for a tender kiss, when…suddenly, he literally jumped backwards a foot. He yelled, ‘What the hell was that?’ I answered, ‘That was Patrick Cassidy!’ He, of course, didn’t know I was expecting. Years later, when Patrick was grown, he was thrilled to meet Robert Preston in his dressing room one evening. As he held out his hand for a shake, saying, ‘I’m Patrick Cassidy,’ Preston immediately jerked his hand away, and jumped backwards, shouting, ‘I know, I know! We met already!’”

Shirley, you jest.