Shirley Jones Highlights Destination Claremore
By KELSY LORIN TAYLOR
Web Editor and Feature Writer
OKLAHOMA! Destination Claremore welcomes Shirley Jones May 3. She co-starred in the 1955 Rodgers and Hammerstein film Oklahoma! with Gordon MacRae. Oklahoma! became one of the most famous motion pictures of all time.
Shirley Jones is one of the most inspirational performers in the nation. Her career reaches from the stage to screen and will continue to guide those who are following in her footsteps. With all of her accomplishments, Jones was the featured performer for Destination Claremore, held April 29 through May 7.
Destination Claremore always boasts a special performer who has ties to the area. Jones was a welcomed suggestion since she starred in the 1955 film Oklahoma!, adapted from the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Oklahoman Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in Indian Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain (played by Gordon MacRae) and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams (played by Shirley Jones).
Jones has experienced a successful career as a singer and actress of stage, film and television. In addition to starring in Oklahoma!, she also starred in Carousel (1956) and The Music Man (1962). She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Elmer Gantry (1960).
She is also known as Shirley Partridge, the widowed mother of five children in the situation-comedy television series The Partridge Family (1970-1974), co-starring her real-life stepson David Cassidy, son of Jack Cassidy.
Jones says, “I’m looking forward to visiting the area that was so depicted in the film Oklahoma. I will be performing many songs and will tell the story of my career.”
Jones has been an excellent singer since she was old enough to remember lyrics while growing up in Pennsylvania. “It was a wonderful gift that I didn’t realize that I had. I sang everywhere especially in church.”
Jones dreamed of following another passion of veterinary medicine and explains that she was in the right place at the right time for an unexpected career launch. “I was on my way to college and stopped in New York City. A friend lived there and had mentioned that the acclaimed musical performers Rodgers and Hammerstein were holding open auditions. I was encouraged to attend.”
With three Broadway Shows in production, there were several opportunities to become a part them. “I had never been to a professional audition and was barely 18 years old. When I got to the stage after waiting in line, the director asked me what I had done. I smiled and said, ‘Nothing.’”
Once Jones finished singing, the director brought Rodgers in to hear her. “He immediately asked me to wait because he wanted Hammerstein to meet with me.” When Hammerstein arrived, the musical accompaniment left. “He told me not to worry, and pointed across the street towards the City Center Symphony.”
Standing in front of the symphony with Rodgers and Hammerstein eagerly awaiting for her voice, Jones couldn’t believe the opportunity that she had been given. “I remember holding the score right in front of my face and singing Oklahoma. Three weeks later I was in my first Broadway Show, and within the year, I was playing the lead role in the film Oklahoma.”
Speaking of receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the film Elmer Gantry, Jones says, “It was an unbelievable feeling because I didn’t expect to win. There were so many actresses there that I looked up to. It really changed the course of my career when I walked onto that stage.”
Traveling all over the world for film locations, Jones loved taking her two young children with her. “Once they were old enough to attend school, I knew that I needed to settle in one place.”
Having been offered a role in The Partridge Family, Jones considered the possibility of staying in one location for a while. Relating to herself, Jones would portray the first working mother on television.
Instead of encouragement, Jones was met with opposition by her agents. “They said that my film career would be in the toilet if I accepted the role. They were right! Never the less, I have no regrets. It was such a wonderful show and gave me the opportunity to raise my children.”
She hopes to share advice with hopeful young singers and actors while continuing her career. “I always tell them to learn their craft in every way, shape and form. It is essential and will take them far.”
For more information, visit www.shirleyjones.com. To learn more about the upcoming event, visit www.visitclaremore.com.