Aug 312013

Shirley Jones and Patrick Cassidy in “The Music Man.” source Wikimedia Commons.

The angel-voiced small town girl from Pennsylvania is actively promoting her new book, “Shirley Jones: A Memoir” since the July publication.

If the mythic story of Lana Turner’s discovery at Schwab’s Drug Store  is legendary, Jones’ transformation from a high school senior wanting to study veterinary medicine to an ingenue auditioning for Rodgers and Hammerstein is beyond legendary.

The book tells how the 18-year-old met the famous  team through a friend from summer stock. Within months — after starting as a chorus girl in a road show of “South Pacific — Jones snagged the coveted movie role of Laurie in “Oklahoma.”

As the “As Seen on TV” commercial states, “But, wait, there’s more….”

This book is Jones’ way of telling the world —  behind all the peaches and cream — Jones is a bad girl. In the introduction, Jones says, “I have never myself been that innocent or ever been that kind of an ingenue.”

“And then there is my sexuality, when I was in my prime and now that I am on the threshold of my eighties, I plan to tell the truth about that aspect of my life, and to rip away the seven veils and reveal every facet of Shirley Jones, however shocking  that may be to you or Mrs. Partridge or Marian the Librarian.”

Beyond the few details about her career in the wholesome musicals, Jones tells of her on-again-off-again relationship with Jack Cassidy, a celebrity she calls “the love of her life” and “sexual Svengali.”

Cassidy is the bad boy in this story, the man who introduced her to sex and convinced her to participate in a threesome with a showgirl she calls “Jean.”  Cassidy also introduced her to amyl nitrate (poppers), which she said, “I couldn’t help confessing to Jack that the effect was amazing and enhanced my orgasm immensely.”

Jones constantly builds up Cassidy, even though she left him at one point because of his drinking and erratic behavior.  They were divorced and she married comedian Marty Ingels. She has been married to Ingels for several decades. Cassidy died in a home fire after their divorce.

The book generated  news as superstar Joan Collins got into a snit about an accusation Jones made of sexual inappropriateness by Collins’ late husband singer Anthony Newley.  Collins’ cease and desist letter convinced Simon and Schuster to remove all references to this “non-event,” a solicitation for an activity with the two couples, that didn’t happen.  (This reference was in the copy of my eBook purchased in July.)

While the Collins letter made the news in early August, an August 11 edition of the New York Times Book Review references the accusation in detail. I kept my paper copy of the Book Review; as of this morning Joan Collins is still in the review, though her name has been removed from all future printings and the electronic edition.

The book disappointed me. If I wanted soft porn, I would read soft porn.  I’m  not sure this book even makes it into that category, with Jones’ antiquated use of words like “swinging” and “petting.”  Her carefully, cultivated small-town girl image was long perpetuated by her publicists through vehicles like this sugary sweet  1970s “This is your Life.”

My father was a high school teacher, often charged with taking students on a senior trip to New York City.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my parents owned a number of original cast albums  they played repeatedly on an RCA Victor blonde-wood hi-fi.  It’s no wonder with this early exposure that I became a big fan of Jones’ musical roles.

Jones also proved early that she had the chops for real drama.  Cast against type with Burt Lancaster in “Elmer Gantry,” Jones won an Oscar for her portrayal of the prostitute Lulu Baines.

Raising a young family with husband Cassidy, Jones turned to television in the next decade with “The Partridge Family,” a popular show about a widow with five children and their band. The family traveled to musical events in their psychedelic van.  The plots revolved around the usual inane sitcom family antics.  What made this show unusual was that it also starred Jones’ stepson, David Cassidy, who built a musical career and had his fifteen minutes of fame in the early 70s with such hits as “I Think I Love You.”

Ready to read a nice little history about the small town girl from Pennsylvania? This probably isn’t the book for you. Even perusing the title chapters from “A Beautiful Morning” to”Out of My Dreams,” the reader is prepared for an easy look back at Jones’ career.  As a fan of musicals, I wanted deeper knowledge about life on the set, and some questions answered:

  • Why was Shirley Jones cast in “The Music Man” over Broadway star Barbara Cook, who nailed the theater version alongside Robert Preston, who played Professor Harold Hill on both stage and screen?
  • What was it like to work with Gordon McCrae, not once, but twice in “Oklahoma” and “Carousel?”
  • Why did Frank Sinatra stalk off the set of “Carousel” on the first day of taping, before one scene was shot?

While the  book does answer why Sinatra didn’t do “Carousel,” it lacks the kind of behind-the-scenes stories I expected from an autobiography of a star like Jones.

While I understand the joy of autobiography for Jones in her eighth decade is telling her own story as she see fits, it wasn’t the story I wanted to read.

Published August 21, 2013 at “The Broad Side.”

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