Oscar Actors: Jones, Shirley–Background, Career, Awards

Shirley Jones was born on March 31, 1934, in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, to Methodist parents Marjorie (née Williams), a homemaker, and Paul Jones, owners of the Jones Brewing Company. Jones’ paternal grandfather came from Wales. She was named after child star Shirley Temple.

The family later moved to Smithton, Pennsylvania. Jones began singing at the age of six in the Methodist Church choir and took voice lessons from Ralph Lewando. Upon attending South Huntingdon High School in Ruffs Dale, PA, she participated in school plays.

Beauty Contest

Jones won the Miss Pittsburgh contest in 1952.

Her first audition was for an open bi-weekly casting call held by John Fearnley, casting director for Rodgers and Hammerstein; at the time, Jones had never heard of them. Fearnley was so impressed, he ran across the street to fetch Richard Rodgers, who was rehearsing with an orchestra for an upcoming musical. Rodgers then called Oscar Hammerstein at home. The two saw great potential in Jones. She became the first and only singer to be put under personal contract with the songwriters. They first cast her in a minor role in     “South Pacific.” For her second Broadway show, “Me and Juliet,” she started as a chorus girl, and then an understudy for the lead role

Typecast

Jones impressed Rodgers and Hammerstein with her musically trained voice, and she was cast as the female lead in the film adaptation of their hit musical “Oklahoma!” in 1955. Other film musicals included Carousel (1956), April Love (1957), and The Music Man (1962), in which she was typecast as a wholesome, kind character.

However, she won the 1960 Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Elmer Gantry as a woman corrupted by the title character played by Burt Lancaster. Her character becomes a prostitute who encounters her seducer years later and reveals his true character. Director Richard Brooks had originally fought against her, but after seeing her first scene, told her she would win an Oscar for her performance.

She was reunited with Ron Howard (who had played her brother in The Music Man) in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). Jones landed the role of a lady who fell in love with the professor in Fluffy (1965).

In her film career, she has worked with Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Henry Fonda, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and director John Ford.

The Partridge Family

In 1970, after turning down the role of Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, a role that ultimately went to Florence Henderson, Jones was the producers’ first choice to audition for the lead role of Shirley Partridge in “The Partridge Family,” an ABC musical sitcom based loosely on the real-life musical family The Cowsills. The series focused on a young widowed mother whose five children form a pop rock group after the entire family painted its signature bus to travel.

Jones realized that: “The problem with Partridge—though it was great for me and gave me an opportunity to stay home and raise my kids—when my agents came to me and presented it to me, they said if you do a series and it becomes a hit show, you will be that character for the rest of your life and your film career will go into the toilet, which is what happened. But I have no regrets.”

During its first season, it became a hit and was screened in over 70 countries. Within months, Jones and her co-stars were pop culture icons. Her real-life 20-year-old stepson David Cassidy, who was an unknown actor at the time, played Shirley Partridge’s eldest son Keith and became a teen idol.

Jones became the second person, after Frank Sinatra, and the first woman to win an acting Oscar and have a number-one hit on that chart, an achievement only matched by Cher and Barbra Streisand.