By the time 18-year-old Shirley Jones was crowned Miss Pittsburgh in 1952, she was dreaming of stardom.
An only child, she was named for Shirley Temple and studied theater at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. In her 1953 debut with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, she appeared in “Lady in the Dark.” That was back when the company performed outdoors at Pitt Stadium.
With less than $200 in her pocket, the Western Pennsylvania native traveled to New York City, auditioning for a role in the Broadway chorus of “South Pacific.”
Once Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein heard her sing, they signed her to a lengthy contract and offered her the role of Laurie in the film version of “Oklahoma.” When the movie came out, a reviewer called her “the epitome of well scrubbed Midwest girldom.”
That heady period was the stellar beginning of a busy career.
In 1956, she married her first husband, Jack Cassidy. They met while starring in a touring production of “Oklahoma” that the National Theater Association sent to Paris and Rome with the help of the U.S. State Department.
In 1961, she won an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her portrayal of Lulu Baines, a vengeful prostitute in “Elmer Gantry.” Folks back home in Smithon, Pa. were shocked to see her play “a woman of easy virtue” but Ms. Jones liked the challenge of playing a bad girl. (That same year, Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar as best actress, playing a prostitute in “Butterfield 8.”)
In 1962, she played the uptight Marian the Librarian, starring opposite Robert Preston in the movie version of “The Music Man,” another enduring classic.
On screen, Jones worked with Burt Lancaster, James Cagney, Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gordon MacRae, David Niven and Richard Widmark. On TV, she appeared with Len Cariou, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin and Bob Hope.
Millions of television viewers know her as the hip mother of five children who starred opposite her stepson, David Cassidy, in “The Partridge Family.” The show, which aired from 1970 through 1974, was inspired by the lives of the Cowsills, a musical family.
Ms. Jones divorced her first husband in 1974 and he died later in an apartment fire. Since 1977, she has been married to Marty Ingels, a comic. In 1991, Point Park University gave her an honorary degree.
In 2007, she appeared again in the Pittsburgh CLO’s production of “Oklahoma,” this time playing the role of elderly “Aunt Eller.”