Shirley Mae Jones is an American singer and actress of stage, film and television. She starred as wholesome characters in a number of well-known musical films, such as Oklahoma!, Carousel, and The Music Man. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing a prostitute in Elmer Gantry. She is probably best known as Shirley Partridge, the widowed mother of five children in the situation-comedy television series The Partridge Family, co-starring her real-life stepson David Cassidy, son of Jack Cassidy.
Jones was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, to Methodist parents Marjorie, a strict, strong-minded homemaker, and Paul Jones, owners of the Jones Brewing Company. An only child, she was named after Shirley Temple. The family later moved to nearby Smithton, Pennsylvania. Jones could sing almost as soon as she could speak. Encouraged by her summer camp counselors, her family arranged for teenaged Shirley to study twice a week, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the world-renowned singer and teacher, Ralph Lawando. Afterwards, she frequently joined her father for a show at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, where she fell in love with the musical theatre.
In New York City, New York, she was convinced to sing for a Broadway agent, Gus Sherman. Sherman was pleased to put Jones under contract, and with her parents’ approval, she resettled in New York City and gave herself one year to become a Broadway performer. She only had $100 in her pocket. If she did not succeed, she would move back to Smithton and work as a veterinarian. Her first audition was for a replacement chorus girl in the long-running musical, South Pacific. Rodgers and Hammerstein, writers of South Pacific, saw great potential in Jones. She became the first and only singer to be put under personal contract with the songwriters. The duo cast her in her second Broadway show, Me and Juliet. On tour, she understudied the lead and earned rave reviews.
Jones impressed Rodgers and Hammerstein with her musically trained voice and she was cast as the female lead in the film adaptation of their hit musical Oklahoma! in 1955. Other film musicals quickly followed, including Carousel, April Love and The Music Man, in which she was often typecast as a wholesome, kind character. However, she won a 1960 Academy Award for her performance in Elmer Gantry portraying a woman corrupted by the title character played by Burt Lancaster. Her character becomes a prostitute who encounters her seducer years later and takes her revenge. She was reunited with Ron Howard in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Jones landed the role of a lady who fell in love with the professor in Fluffy. In addition, she also has an impressive stage résumé, including playing the title character in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn in 1968.