The Shirley Jones story is the quintessential American Cinderella dream revisited so often for so many, real and unreal, its almost Hollywood legend. But the Jones story is hardly anything as passive as legend. For its not only gospel truth, as it happened to Shirley Mae Jones of Smithton, Pennsylvania – population 812. But it remains a living part of a woman, who continues to work, grow and nurture her unique role as the embodiment of all that is right and wonderful about America, the American dream and the American woman.
Indeed, its difficult to know the Shirley Jones story without believing its some part of a special plan Born on March 31, Shirley Mae Jones was the only child of Paul and Majorie Jones, who together ran the Jones Brewery. A Pennsylvania landmark that after nine generations still produces one of the countries fine local traditions, Stoneys Beer.
Her glorious singing gift seemed to emerge out of nowhere, that prompted her non-theatrical parents to supplement Shirleys South Huntington High School stage appearances with professional voice lessons 30 miles away in Pittsburgh.
An advertisement in Smithtons local paper soliciting applicants for the coveted Miss Pittsburgh Beauty Pageant appeared hours after Shirleys graduation. It was to intriguing to ignore. And, of course, Shirley would zoom past the other 43 entries to be names Pittsburghs 1952 Crown Princess.
Traveling the state as its Charm Ambassador, Shirley was invited to sing with The Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Company, where her radiant voice electrified long time theater buffs who were somehow convinced that beauty contest winners could do little more than walk and smile. So taken by Shirley, the famed Pittsburgh Playhouse would offer her one of its rare scholarships.
When Shirley felt the time was right, left her hometown at age 17 for the "big time," New York. Borrowing $160 from her father, she promised to return once all the money was gone. But Smithton would never see that return. Before the money was gone, the famed show-master Paul Levinton had Shirley signed to a personal contract on her very first audition.
Discovering that replacement tryouts for the chorus of South Pacific were taking place at the St. James Theater, Shirley decided it was the right time for a professional audition. Upon reaching St. James, she found 85 girls scrambling for a place in line. Fifty-one girls later Shirley walked onto the stage and sang to the empty seats and darkened theater.
After her role as one of the nurses in that same Broadway production of "South Pacific", Rodger & Hammerstein offered Shirley another small role in a new musical, "Me & Juliet." She faired so well; she played the lead in the subsequent national tour. It was during that tour that the preparation for the movie version of Oklahoma began in Hollywood. The coveted role of Laura was attracting national attention, but Rodgers & Hammerstein arranged for Shirley to fly to Hollywood for a screen test. With the audition complete, Shirley immediately returned to the tour of "South Pacific" in Wheeling, West Virginia. Shortly thereafter, a scribbled note on the back of a coffee wrapper was posted to the bulletin board for "Shirley Jones, Oklahomas new Laurie."
The movies that followed "Oklahoma" came at rapid-fire for the nations new girl-next door: "The Courtship of Eddies Father," "Ticklish Affair," "The Happy Ending," "Bedtime Story," "The Cheyenne Social Club," and "Two Rode Together," "April Love," and of course "Carousel."
"The Music Man" had captivated Broadway for four and half years, with the motion picture soon to follow. Everyone knew there was only one person for the part of Marion. To this day the film remains one of Columbias biggest moneymakers and one of Shirleys proudest achievements.
At about his time, director Richard Brooks and Columbia Pictures set the wheels in motion for a treatment of a subject matter never before dealt with on the screen.
Starring Burt Lancaster, it featured a lost and touching prostitute who all but topples the growing empire of an ambitious evangelist. Brooks requested to break with traditional casting, and signed the girl-next-door for the brawny role. The end result was a 1961 "Best Supporting Actress" Academy Award for Jones as Lulu Baines in the ageless classic "Elmer Gantry."
ABC-TV gave America "The Partridge Family," a series with Shirley as the matriarchal head of a madcap brood (launching the career of her stepson David Cassidy). This television hit lasted five years and launched Shirleys significant TV career. She went on the star in "The Family Nobody Wanted," "Winner Take All," "The Lives of Jenny Dolan," "Yesterdays Child," "The Orchard Children," "The Children of An Loc," "Baby Air Life," "Last Cry for Help," and her television nominated "Silent Night Lonely Night," with Lloyd Bridges. She also starred in the PBS production of "And There Were Times Dear." In 1979, she starred in her own weekly series "Shirley" for CBS.
She has starred at the MGM Grand and Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas and has appeared along side Steve Allen, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Perry Como, Danny Thomas, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas and Andy Williams on their respected variety shows.
Shirleys sons, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan – as well as her stepson David, live close by and all enjoy widespread success as actors, singers, writers, producers and directors.