Shirley Jones offers naked truth in new book

by lynn elber Associated Press - Published: July 27, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Shirley Jones opens the door to her house and appears every inch the ladylike Marian the librarian or sweet farm girl Laurey or cheerfully steady Mrs. Partridge, offering a warm smile and handshake.

Her elegant, modestly high-necked jacket is black, her makeup is discreet and her silver hair tidy. Jones' living room has the sort of traditional furniture and knickknacks (exception: a prominent Academy Award) that would fit any suburban house.

It all adds up to the publicly familiar Shirley Jones, whose crystalline soprano voice and dewy prettiness made her an immediate star in the 1950s film versions of "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel" and who captured a subsequent generation of fans in TV's "The Partridge Family" in the 1970s.

Then there's "Shirley Jones: A Memoir," her new autobiography (with Wendy Leigh, Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books, 304 pages, $27) that turns the 79-year-old actress's image on its head in startling - even shocking - ways.

There's a recounting of her early life and dazzling career that included working with two musical theater masters, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, as well as many of Hollywood's top actors, including Marlon Brando (king of the retakes to exhaustion, Jones said), Jimmy Stewart (charmingly ditsy) and Richard Widmark (the only co-star she fell in love with).

But a substantial part of the book is spent on her troubled marriage to the late Jack Cassidy, the glossily handsome actor and singer whom she describes in a passage as her first lover and "sexual Svengali," and whose lessons she shares candidly.

She overturned her squeaky-clean image once before with her Oscar-winning portrayal of a vengeful prostitute in "Elmer Gantry" (1960) opposite Burt Lancaster, the role she considers her most important. It also brought backlash from her admirers.

Marty Ingels, the comedian who is her second husband of 35 years and counting, jokes that he is offended by her personal history. "All that stuff she did with her husband (Cassidy), all those adventures ... I'm looking into the grounds of having my marriage annulled," he said.

That draws a boisterous guffaw from Jones, whose loyalty to her outspoken, eccentric spouse has provoked speculation about how she could have jumped to Ingels from Cassidy, deeply troubled but unquestionably urbane.

Jones has a simple answer for doubters: Ingels makes her laugh every day and keeps life from being boring.

Her sexuality remains unabated, said the naturally youthful-looking Jones (healthy eating, daily exercise and no plastic surgery, she said). She is eager to quash the idea that age kills passion or friskiness.

"Luckily, Marty thinks I've still got a beautiful body, even though it is old, and every now and again I take all of my clothes off in front of him and shake my (breasts) at him, and he loves it," Jones writes in her autobiography, using racy slang for "breasts."

As she sees it, her own steady temperament made her crave an exciting, surprising partner, and both Cassidy and Ingels fit the description.

She met Cassidy as a 21-year-old small-town girl, a virgin, and "he taught me a lot about everything. Absolutely everything," Jones said. "I learned about life with Jack, about parties with Jack, drinking with Jack, design with Jack. He was bright, well-read, smart."

He was also repeatedly unfaithful to her, envious of her success and an inadequate father who late in life was diagnosed as bipolar, Jones said.

"Many people may say, 'She was crazy. She did anything he wanted and it wasn't good for her, wasn't good for the kids, wasn't good for the people around her,'" she said. "I'm going to get a lot of that ... but it was my life and it was the way I wanted to live it."

She didn't see Hollywood as exciting, Jones insisted. It was work, which she left behind each day when she returned to her roles as wife and mother.

"I liked my job, but when I came home, I never thought of it," said Jones, who still takes on occasional theater, movie and TV roles.

Of the many photos scattered around her house, all but one - a group shot showing the triumphant Jones and Lancaster on Oscar night - are of children and grandchildren.

Jones had a chance to reflect on her life anew while recording the audio version of "Shirley Jones."

"What came to me is, I did this, and obviously I loved it when I was doing it," she said. "I had a great time. I have no regrets whatsoever."

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