ElCicco #CBR5 Review #43: Shirley Jones: A Memoir by Shirley Jones with Wendy Leigh

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When I found out that this is Banned Book Week, I was sorry that I hadn’t chosen a known banned book to review. A memoir by America’s musical sweetheart seemed like pretty tame fare, the opposite of a banned book. But then…

Jack [Cassidy] was my sexual Svengali. He taught me everything about sex, and he taught me how to masturbate and never be ashamed about doing it…. I still masturbate…. I just use Vaseline and my finger. And my fantasies.

Well, “Come on, get happy,” Mrs. Partridge! This memoir by Shirley Jones is sure to upset the prudish and squeamish everywhere. Given her bluntness and honesty about her sex life and troubled marriage to Jack Cassidy, fans who remember her as Laurey in Oklahoma! or Marian the Librarian in The Music Man or Mrs. Partridge of The Partridge Family are sure to be scandalized. I found it to be a funny and fascinating look at Jones’ life and career. I’ve always been a fan and even though I was surprised by her detailed descriptions of her very active sex life and her willingness to put up with the shenanigans of Jack Cassidy (whom she calls a “sex god’), I still find her to be delightful and a pretty tough gal.

Jones was born and raised in Smithton, PA, not far from Pittsburgh. She was an only child and, by her own account, quite willful. Whatever she was told to do, she would feel compelled to do the opposite and endured frequent paddlings as a result. Her musical talent became evident at a young age and her parents encouraged and supported its development, but Jones says her real goal in life had been to become a veterinarian. Upon graduation from high school, Jones and her parents traveled to New York for a vacation when fate struck and she had the opportunity to audition for Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers. The rest, as they say, is history.

It was while on a European tour of Oklahoma! that Jones met Jack Cassidy. Everyone warned her that he was a Lothario and married to boot, and that she should be careful, but she fell in love and maintained a lifelong passion and regard for this man. This must be one of those “you had to be there” things, because the guy sounds like a selfish, self-absorbed asshole. He left his wife and son David (Keith Partridge!) for Jones, and then cheated on her in an open and serial manner. He also seems to have been jealous and resentful of her success. Yet, Jones understands and forgives him as he ignores and hurts his children, overspends, and philanders. The only time she gets upset is when he brings one of his girlfriends to the same restaurant where she is dining

For the most part, Jones remained a one-man woman. For the most part. She describes herself and Cassidy (and her children, including stepson David) as “highly sexed,” which I take to mean that they like it and need it more than the average person. She admits to one affair and the occasional passionate kissing of other men (usually co-stars) while married to Cassidy. Jones divorced Cassidy after a series of events that threatened the safety of their children. Cassidy seems to have had a breakdown (perhaps related to alcohol and drug abuse) and suffered from delusions. He died in December 1974 after falling asleep on a couch with a lit cigarette, which caused a fatal fire.

Jones’ memoir is mostly chronological, often following the big breaks in her career: Oklahoma!, Elmer Gantry, The Music Man, etc. But she does, within chapters, jump forward or backward to complete an anecdote. Given my interest in particular shows, like The Music Man, I was glad she left none of her big career moments out but would have liked more details about the other stars and productions themselves. It’s been a while, though, and her focus is really on herself (as it should be), so this is forgiven. I learned some stuff I never knew, like she turned down the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch and Jack Cassidy turned down the role of Ted Baxter in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Plus, she has lots of anecdotes about people I hadn’t realized she knew: Sinatra, Brando, Sammy Davis, Jr. One of the impressions I was left with is that there was a lot of porn, drugs, alcohol and “swinging” going on in Hollywood in the 1960s. Jones had a front row seat and seems to have enjoyed the ride. Another interesting aside — she and her second husband Marty Ingels dared to cross Oprah Winfrey when she tried to stiff them for appearing on her show. They got their money, and also successfully sued the National Enquirer.

Shirley Jones is a tough cookie and probably a hoot and a half to hang out with. This is a fun read if you’ve enjoyed her career and aren’t a prude.

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