Have You Met Miss Jones?
Oscar winner Shirley Jones discusses her new cabaret act at Feinstein's, her favorite co-stars, and working with her family.
THEATERMANIA: Can you believe the longevity of your career? Do you plan on following Betty White and working for another decade or so?
Shirley Jones: I hope so. Producers and directors are looking at her and realizing it's okay to get old. She has an incredible sense of humor. When I look at my career, I am still getting work. Right now, I am booked through June with my one-woman show, and I just finished two films, one with Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Modine called Family Weekend and a Lifetime movie called Carnal Innocence.
TM: How did this nightclub debut come about?
SJ: They asked me, and I said yes. Ron Abel is my musical director and he has performed at Feinstein's many times. He suggested I take the gig because I would be able to do different types of things than I normally would.
TM: What will you feature in your act?
SJ: Stuff from The Music Man, Oklahoma! and Carousel, songs from my Les Brown album, and things more upbeat. I also have eight minutes of movie clips to play before the show starts.
TM: You began your Broadway career at 18 years old in the original production of South Pacific. How has Broadway changed from the 1950s to today?
SJ: You have a lot of revivals now, which means people aren't writing like they used to.
TM: South Pacific was your first professional audition, correct?
SJ: Yes, it was my first audition anywhere. I was on my way to college; my goal was to be a veterinarian. I found out the show's casting director was holding auditions. Rodgers and Hammerstein had three shows on Broadway at that time, which were running for a while and they constantly needed replacements. The casting director liked me and called Richard Rodgers. Rodgers loved me and said, "Let me call Oscar Hammerstein, he is at home and I want him to hear you." They discovered me, and the rest is history. Three weeks later, I was in South Pacific.
TM: Do you think that would have happened today?
SJ: I truly would have to say no. There are so many more people involved in the process today. It's a different business.
TM: What will people learn about you from this show?
SJ: That I have kissed about 25 major movie stars. I married two crazy men and my children are in show business. How the opportunity of winning the Academy Award changed my career. That when my son Patrick and I did 42nd Street, we were the first mother and son on Broadway. And we still love working together.
TM: You've also had the opportunity to work with many other members of your family, including your husbands Jack Cassidy and Marty Ingels, your son Shaun, and most notably to many, your stepson David Cassidy, when you played his mother on The Partridge Family. How did that happen?
SJ: I was cast first for The Partridge Family and they asked me what I thought about David for the role. I thought it would work well. They hired David -- but it was a total shock for him to find out I was playing his mother. When he saw me, he said "What are you doing here" and I said, "I'm your mother."
TM: What was it like to work with Marlon Brando on Bedtime Story?
SJ: I got to work with Marlon at a good time in his life. His dream was to do comedy, and we had a great time. Even at that time, though he was writing things on the table and on his hands because he couldn't remember his lines.
TM: Let's talk about another of your male co-stars, Jimmy Stewart.
SJ: The love of my life! We did two films together. We became good friends. At one point, he told me, "Just make up the words, you don't have to memorize them."
TM: You won the Oscar for Elmer Gantry. How was working with Burt Lancaster, who played the title role?
SJ: I adored him. He helped me get the role. I remember he called me and said "Shirley, it's Burt Lancaster" and I said "Sure you are" and hung up on him. Thankfully, he called me back. I had done a television series called The Big Slide, which Burt happened to see and he wanted me to do the movie. Then I met Richard Brooks, the writer and director, and Burt fought for me to get this role. He was a real mentor to me.
TM: What do you feel is the most memorable part of your career?
SJ: Winning the Academy Award for Elmer Gantry and getting the lead in the major motion picture of Oklahoma!