No performer is more indelibly linked to the great American movie musical than Shirley Jones. In an extraordinary career spanning more than six decades, Shirley has starred in over thirty motion pictures, including three of the most iconic film musicals of all time. In addition, she won an Academy Award for a starkly dramatic role, played the lead in an immensely popular television series, appeared on Broadway, sang for nine Presidents, married two fiercely talented men, raised three accomplished sons, and is currently helping to nurture ten wildly independent grandchildren. Not bad for a beer salesman’s daughter from a small town in Western Pennsylvania.
Shirley grew up in the shadow of her family brewing company alongside the Youghiogheny River. An only child with a deep love of animals, she had her sights set on becoming a veterinarian, but her timeless beauty and God given talent as a singer led her family to encourage her to pursue a career in show business. At seventeen, Shirley was awarded the title of “Miss Pittsburgh.” At eighteen, after traveling to New York to audition for the chorus of “South Pacific,” she was personally selected by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein to star in the film version of what was then the most successful and transformative of stage musicals, Oklahoma. Under the direction of the great Fred Zinnemann, and playing opposite her childhood crush, Gordon Macrae, Shirley’s star was born.
Shirley appeared (again with Gordon Macrae) in the next Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece, Carousel, and would complete her turn in the triad of Great American Movie Musicals opposite Robert Preston in Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. Along the way, she caught the attention of actor Burt Lancaster and director Richard Brooks. These men would cast her against type as a prostitute in Sinclair Lewis’ timeless classic Elmer Gantry. For her stunning performance, Shirley received the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. She was just twenty-five.
After playing the female lead in a number of popular films including The Courtship of Eddie’s Father with Glenn Ford, Bedtime Story with Marlon Brando and David Niven, Never Steal Anything Small with James Cagney, and The Cheyenne Social Club with James Stewart and Henry Fonda, Shirley longed to spend more time at home with her children. When the offer came to star in half hour television series about a musical family, Shirley jumped at the chance.
“The Partridge Family” is one of the most beloved and fondly remembered television shows of the nineteen seventies. In it, Shirley played Shirley Partridge, widowed mother of five who dispensed wisdom and backing vocals in equal measure. Alongside the character of her eldest son (played by real life stepson David Cassidy), Shirley enjoyed the kind of pop culture success she’d rarely seen in her motion picture career, highlighted by the release of hit songs like “I Think I Love You” and “Come On, Get Happy.”
After starring in a number of successful television movies throughout the nineteen eighties and nineties, and making recurring appearances on series such as “Raising Hope” and “The Drew Carey Show” (as Drew Carey’s girlfriend!) Shirley ventured back to films with the broad comedy Grandma’s Boy (produced by Adam Sandler), and made a triumphant return to Broadway opposite her son, Patrick, in “42nd Street.” Shirley is thrilled to be working with Patrick again, and as the woman President Reagan graciously dubbed the “First Lady of American Song,” she is truly grateful to the people of this country for always being there for her.