Poppers make Mrs. Partridge cum harder. I paraphrase, but not by much, honest. She's said so herself, in her latest autobiography. She has a lot to say, and from the get in this new book, about her private life, if it can still be called so now, and about her sexuality specifically. So, if anybody was expecting Shirley Jones to be just the the sugar-sweet ingénue of those Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, or the nice lady in pant-suits driving the bus in that Seventies sitcom, think again.
She's led an interesting life, has Shirley. Her people were Pittsburgh brewers and bartenders. (And yes, she was in fact Miss Pittsburgh early on.) Discovered -- and groped a bit -- and signed to a personal contract by the great composer, Richard Rogers, our Shirley has been a star since she was a teenager. As Laurey, in the film of Oklahoma!, she won many a heart singing "Many a New Day" in perfect, virginal white, and broke many another as Julie Jordan in Carousel, singing "If I Loved You," again with the stalwart Gordon MacRae. (It was supposed to be Frank Sinatra, playing Billy Bigelow, but Ol' Blue Eyes funked out the first day of shooting, the reader discovers here, to go fuck Ava Gardner.) She went on to win an Oscar, lest we forget, playing a prostitute in Elmer Gantry.
For those of us now of a certain age, for good and ill, she will always be the matriarch of The Partridge Family on the hugely popular television show. She's quick to acknowledge that the phenomenal success of that show eventually had everything to do with her stepson, David Cassidy. While he was her costar on that show, he became the biggest pop star of his generation, for a hot minute there, with one of her own three kids, Sean Cassidy, following after.
At the heart of her personal story is her long and troubled marriage to the great love of her life, the equally beautiful Jack Cassidy. When they met and fell in love, he was a married man, and a star on Broadway. She was the new kid. Theirs was a justly storied romance. They went on to have three beautiful children together. She went on to become a movie and television star. Jack Cassidy never quite did. A man whose talents were only exceeded by his insecurities, miseries for everyone involved ensued. Eventually her marriage to Cassidy would end in divorce, and his life would end tragically, after many professional disappointments and repeated hospitalizations for mental illness, in an accidental fire set by his own cigarette.
Jones is blunt in her assessment of both of her marriages, as she is in nearly everything else, (from suave to nuts, as it were: as her second marriage, to the deeply eccentric comedian Marty Ingels, not without it's own very public trials, has lasted. He makes her laugh. I get that.)
The headlines for this book have come from some of the hotter revelations therein: Anthony Newley and his then wife, Joan Collins, suggesting a four-way with the Cassidys -- Shirley declined, Jack Cassidy slipping on Shirley's peignoir, stockings and slippers on their wedding night, etc. All good clean fun in a movie star's memoirs, as far as I'm concerned, and I've read a lot of 'em. What's missed in just retelling those stories out of the context of the book is, for me the real revelation of the thing. Here's an eighty-year-old dame, a genuine star of some of the last great movie musicals, a television star, and an Oscar winner, no less, who doesn't hesitate to share that sex, and masturbation for that matter, are still a vital part of the old girl's routine. When it comes to sex in general, she digs it. Always has, probably always will. Cassidy taught her a lot. He was really good at it, evidently and had the tool for the job. (Inherited, our Shirley proudly tells us, by all his sons -- in the one instance of truly questionable taste in the whole book. Not like I wasn't tickled to read that about all dear old, once dreamy Cassidy men.) More than that though, this isn't just some celebrity nonentity's kiss and tell, but rather a damned fine actress, and a mature woman honestly recounting her experience, her love life, yes, but also her life, as lived, all of it. Sad to say, I don't think there's a male actor of her generation we would be quite so much aflutter over had it been a man saying the same damned things.
Still, our Shirley is a Republican, so there's that potential invitation or two she might not be getting again -- she should live so long, we should all live so long as to see another Republican Inaugural. ("Not", as the kids I suppose still say.)
I think her an admirable character, all in all, and I do not doubt, a helluva lot of fun, our Shirley, in and out of the sack. Her book anyway was worth the evening it took to read.
(Meanwhile, it's not a song actually associated with her career that's played in my head since I read the book, but an old Sinatra tune:
"Have you met Miss Jones?" someone said as we shook hands,
She was just Miss Jones to me...
Not so much now.)