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Shirley Jones: From Partridge to Playboy
by Jim Longworth
 

Shirley JonesBack in 2009, I moderated a "Mother's Day Salute to TV Moms" for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. It was a great event except that Shirley Jones  (on whom I have a huge crush) couldn't attend because she had a concert to give that night. I continued to stay in touch with Shirley and her husband Marty Ingels, and later that year when my wife Pam and I returned to L.A. we stopped by casa Ingels for a visit. Shirley couldn't have been nicer and Marty, (a comedy icon, promoter, and film producer) couldn't have been funnier.  On the ride back to our hotel, Pam asked me what I thought of the full length painting of David Cassidy in Shirley's den.  "What painting?" I replied in a daze.  Pam said, "Well did you see her Oscar?" "No, I said".  "It was on the piano" Pam said.  "What piano?", I said.  "Didn't you see anything?" Pam asked in an exasperated tone.  "Yeah, I saw Shirley Jones", I said.  
 
The fact is I was mesmerized by Shirley, and what healthy American male wouldn't be? This is the woman who two years ago at age 75 posed for Playboy. To my dismay, the photos were never published.
 
SJ:  It was Marty's idea. He told Hugh Hefner that just because people age, doesn't mean they don't have an audience out there. I thought it was a great idea, but I told them up front that I wouldn't take all my clothes off. I said, "I'll show a little bosom and a little hip". Well, I was there for two days doing photography. Playboy had the best photographers, the best sets, they had me lying in bed with my legs crossed and in low cut attire. The photos were beautiful, but when Hef saw them, he said, "there's not enough body showing". I said, "That's all you're going to get".
 
Too bad, because I would have bought several copies. At any rate, Jones did achieve a lot of exposure during her four years on "The Partridge Family", but the hit show almost launched without her.  That's because in the late 1960's it was uncommon and risky for Oscar winners (Shirley won in 1960 for playing a prostitute in "Elmer Gantry") to star in their own hit TV show.  Only Walter Brennan ("The Real McCoys") and Ernest Borgnine ("McHale's Navy") had made the transition to the small screen and still maintained a successful film career.
 
Shirley JonesSJ:   At the time I was told by agents and managers, and everyone else "Shirley, don't do a television series because if it is successful, you'll be that character for the rest of your life, and your movie career will be in the toilet". And they were right (laughs). But doing "The Partridge Family" gave me an opportunity to stay home and raise my kids. I had 3 small sons, and they were school age by then. I had taken them all over the world on movie locations, but I couldn't do that anymore.  And I thought, "I've got to figure out a way to keep working, and still be at home with my family"  
 
But even before taking on the role of Shirley Partridge, Jones' career had often been impeded by her striking beauty.
 
SJ:   I wouldn't call it beauty. My looks are just the all-American girl, which is not very exciting for a lot of directors. Had "Elmer Gantry" not come along, I wouldn't have had a career because I was always type cast. I love to play against type, and I think I do a good job.
 
Critics agree. In recent years, Shirley has garnered kudos for her turns as a stern attorney on "Law & Order SVU", a sex starved girlfriend on "The Drew Carey Show", and a homeless drunk on "The Cleaner"
 
Even so, it is hard to hide Shirley's good looks, which, she points out, are all natural.  
 
SJ:  I've never had anything done, and I never would. I don't believe in it. If you age, then you age.
 
But Shirley never seems to age. Still, I wondered why at age 77 and financially secure, she continues to perform concerts all over the country, teach master's classes at major universities, and attend autograph signing events like the Western Film Fair in Winston Salem, NC (where she was honored for her work in such movies as "Oklahoma", "Two Rode Together, and "The Cheyenne Social Club").
 
Shirley JonesSJ:  I still want to get out there and be part of everything.  I've been doing autograph signings for a long time, and I find it fun, the fact that people are still interested in what I do and who I am.
 
In the meantime, Shirley and Marty are busy doing some good old fashioned Western pioneer work themselves. Seven years ago they purchased land in Fawnskin California just to protect the Big Bear Lake area from commercial development. In addition to providing a serene setting for the public to enjoy, the celebrity couple is also dedicating the park to the memory of those who lost their lives on 9-11. The newly landscaped Fawnskin project will have its official opening on September 11 of this year. I suppose it's only fitting that a natural beauty like Shirley would help preserve the natural beauty of the West. She's the cowgirl who never appeared in Playboy.  
 
***  

Jim Longworth is a television talk show host, columnist for YESWeekly, and author of the TV Creators series of books for Syracuse University Press

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