Beloved for her incredible voice and down-home-gal persona in the film versions of Oklahoma! and Carousel. Shirley Jones has charmed audiences on stage and screen for seven decades. Jones effortlessly transitioned from stage to delightful movie musicals to compelling dramas on the silver screen — and even earned an Academy Award for her performance in Elmer Gantry. But the 89-year-old is best known as the beloved matriarch of the hit television series The Partridge Family, where she become an emblem of warmth, love and music in the early 1970s.
Join us as we take a walk down memory lane with a look at the life, loves and career of Shirley Jones, whose enduring legacy continues to inspire and enchant us all.
Growing up Shirley Jones
Born on March 31, 1934, Shirley Jones was aptly named after child star Shirley Temple. When Jones was just a toddler, the family moved to a small nearby town of Smithton where her father helped run the family-owned brewery, the Jones Brewing Company (still operating todsay as Stoney’s Beer) and she began singing at the age of six in the Methodist Church choir and took voice lessons in town.
Believe it or not, the gifted singer actually planned to become a veterinarian as a teenager. “I adored animals, raised everything in the world and decided that was going to be what I was going to do. But I could sing,” Jones said on NPR‘s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
But acting also intrigued Jones, and while attending South Huntingdon High School in Ruffs Dale, Pennsylvania, she participated in school plays. It was in 1952 that she won the Miss Pittsburgh contest and also had a small role in Gruen Guild Playhouse.
Shirley Jones takes on Broadway
In 1953, on a post-high school graduation trip to New York City with her parents, a friend introduced her to an agent who was immediately impressed, and told her to attend an open audition with John Fearnley, the casting director for the infamous songwriting duo Rodgers and Hammerstein.
After Jones’ audition, Feamley asked her, “What have you done?” in reference to her previous productions. When she responded, “Nothing,” he brought over Richard Rodgers who was rehearsing with his orchestra across the street, and then came Hammerstein.
That became Jones’ fortuitous introduction to the Broadway legends, who would become her mentors. The two saw great potential in a young Shirley Jones — so much so, that Jones was the first and only singer to be put under personal contract with the songwriters.
“I was a small-town girl and had no idea who Rodgers and Hammerstein even were,” she confessed to Closer. “Two weeks later, I was in my first Broadway show, South Pacific.”
For Jones’ second Broadway show, Me and Juliet, she moved up to a chorus girl and then went to the understudy for the lead role in Chicago. She soon caught the eye of movie producers and was dubbed, “Hollywood’s new Cinderella,” as Jones recounts in her self-titled memoir. And Jones indeed quickly turned into a Hollywood royalty, and has been going strong ever since.
Shirley Jones Movies and TV Shows
With a career that’s taken place over several decades, here’s a look at some of Shirley Jones’ most iconic roles and career defining moments.
Shirley Jones in 1955
Shirley Jones starred in the 1955 musical film, Oklahoma!, alongside Gordon MacRae.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel was another one of Shirley Jones’ musical endeavors, again putting her alongside Gordon MacRae.
Shirley Jones in 1956
On August 5, 1956, Jones married actor, singer, and Tony winner, Jack Cassidy. She had met Cassidy as a 21-year-old small town girl. “He taught me a lot about everything,” Jones says in her memoir. Together they raised four sons: David Cassidy was Jack’s son from his first marriage, then together they had Shaun, Patrick and Ryan Cassidy.
Hollywood knew of Jack’s unfaithful adventures, but it was his penchant for alcohol that the couple divorced in 1975. Cassidy had invited Shirley for drinks and reconciliation in December 1976, and she refused. Later that night, Jack fell asleep with a lit cigarette and died in the fire that consumed his penthouse apartment. He was only 49.
Shirley Jones starred alongside Pat Boone in the 1957 musical film, April Love.
Shirley Jones in 1959
The 1959 film Bobbikins starred Shirley Jones and Max Bygraves, parents to a toddler who begins having adult conversations with his dad.
In Elmer Gantry, Jones played a vengeful prostitute in this 1960 film alongside Burt Lancaster and Richard Brooks.
Shirley Jones in 1960
Shirley Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1960 for her role in Elmer Gantry. “It was difficult to get work. I was doing a lot of movies for television but the big screen was not as easy,” she told C’mon, Get Happy. Shirley had to fight for recognition as a serious actress to win the role in Elmer Gantry.
Shirley Jones starred in Two Rode Together, a 1961 western with James Stewart and Richard Widmark.
Shirley Jones in 1962
One of Jones’ most iconic roles was The Music Man, Jones played Marian, the librarian and piano teacher who falls for Robert Preston’s character.
Marlon Brando and Shirley Jones light up the screen in Bedtime Story.
Shirley Jones in 1970
The Cheyenne Social Club was another western Shirley Jones took part in in 1970, costarring with James Stewart and Henry Fonda.
By 1970, Shirley was a mother of three young boys and decided to seek a role that would keep her closer to home. She was offered, but turned down the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, a role that ultimately went to her best friend, Florence Henderson. “I didn’t want to be the mom pulling the roast out of the oven,” she explained to Closer. “It was one of the first working mother roles on TV without a husband which at that time. I thought was a good step forward,” she said.
Jones played a widowed mother on the hit show that ran for four years, and stepson David Cassidy played the oldest of her five children in a family who embarks on a music career. The role was perfectly suited to showcase her singing and acting talents.
However, Jones says that she always feels the need to remind fans that the show was fiction. In reality, she says, no mother is perfect. Episodes usually featured the band performing in various venues and even the family’s garage, sometimes with Shirley on drums. Who can forget the iconic theme song? “Hello world, hear the song that we’re singing; Come on get happy.”
Shirley Jones in 1977
Jones married actor and comedian Marty Ingels in 1977. Hollywood and fans questioned Jones’ nuptials to Ingels, but despite drastically different personalities, they remained together until Ingels’ death in 2015 from a massive stroke.
The unlikely love story was played out in the autobiography based on their relationship called Shirley & Marty: An Unlikely Love Story. “He often drove me crazy, but there’s not a day I won’t miss him and love him to my core. He made me laugh every single day and kept life from being boring.”
Jones acted in this 1979 disaster film, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, with familiar faces like Sally Fields and Angela Cartwright.
Shirley Jones in 2001
Beyond her artistic achievements, Shirley Jones has also devoted herself to philanthropy, using her platform to make a positive impact on society. Here she lent her her bus decorating expertise to a group of kids putting the finishing touches to school bus.
Jones appeared in a rare revival of the operetta, Bitter Sweet, and in 2004, returned to Broadway in a revival of 42nd Street, portraying diva Dorothy Brock opposite Patrick Cassidy, the first time mother and son were known to star together on Broadway.
Shirley Jones in 2006
Jones broke away from her typical roles with the 2006 comedy film, Grandma’s Boy with Shirley Knight and Doris Roberts
Jones was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild and Emmy Award for Hidden Places, and even accepted a role on Days of Our Lives in 2008 and All My Children.
Shirley Jones in 2019
Shirley Jones had the honor of presenting at the 2019 Tony Awards in New York City with Aasif Mandvi.
In 2023, Shirley and son Shaun Cassidy spoke at the TCM Classic Movie Festival and screening of The Music Man.
What is Shirley Jones doing now?
Despite her relative absence from the public, Jones has remained active in her career. She is still producing new work and showing no signs of slowing down. True to the lyrics, “We get a happy feelin’ when we’re singing a song” – and listening to the melodious voice of Shirley Jones.
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Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years. Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living. She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for Women, Elle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva. Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content. She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.