Friday, July 26

Shirley Jones: A Memoir

With only a few interruptions from the bf, I spent all day on Tuesday with Shirley Jones.  I turned on my Kindle while still rousing from the sack and there she was.  What a nice surprise.  It was a pre-order and I had forgotten about it.  And when I went to bed last night, I finished her off.  I read the whole damned book in one day, not something I often do.  It doesn't seem right.  I think of the time it must have taken... in thought, collecting photos, sitting at the computer... and I knock it off in one day.

So it must have been a good read, eh?  It sure was!  It was co-written with Wendy Leigh and published through Gallery Books.  Here's the real rub.  I was never a huge Jones fan, except that I think she's a wonderful singer and pleasant on the eyes.  That's not to say I disliked her.  She's just one of scores of movie stars, believe it or not, that slip under my radar.  I have also not seen a great many of her films, maybe a half dozen or so.  And I never ever saw The Partridge Family.  So why read her book at all then?

Well, as unusual as it is for me to say this about reading a movie biography, I actually wanted to read about her personal life.  Ordinarily, that is usually not so interesting to me but in Jones' case it was what I wanted to know.  More than anything I wanted to know (and understand, frankly) how and why she married Jack Cassidy and Marty Ingels.  To her credit, she gets that there are people like me who are bewildered by her choices.  And then there are her sons, at least three out of the four.  I have always been drawn to Patrick and to tell the truth, for some time I didn't even know he was her son.  And of course famous musically there are sons Shaun and David (actually Jones' stepson or former stepson, although she looks upon him as a son).

Over the years I would catch smatterings of stories about the Jones' household, whether it was occupied with Cassidy or Ingels, and it usually seemed to surround issues I wanted to know more about.  Guess one could say my appetite has been getting whetted for some time.  Now you're getting why I wanted to read her bio.  And when I got to the end of her introduction and read... so bring out the smelling salts, hang on to your hats and get ready for the surprise of your lives.  She ain't lyin'.

As it happened with the world, I guess, I saw Oklahoma and we were all introduced to Shirley Jones.  I adored Rodgers and Hammerstein's work, Gordon MacRae was my favorite boy movie singer and Gloria Grahame one of my favorite actresses.  So I got Jones with the package and thought she was perfectly cast as the corn-fed, virginal heroine.  To this day I still get all tingly when she and MacRae sing People Will Say We're in Love.

On the heels of Oklahoma, she and MacRae made a second musical together, Carousel, also from Rodgers and Hammerstein, but for whatever reasons (too dark perhaps), I didn't care for it as much, although their voices were amazing.  

The next time I saw her was in Elmer Gantry.  (I had missed The Music Man because I didn't like the score... still have only seen the 76 Trombones number in some clips).  I loved Elmer Gantry...  loved the subject matter, loved how it was presented, loved the cast which included Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Dean Jagger, Arthur Kennedy and Patti Page.  But guess what?  While I thought Jones was fine in the unexpected role of a hooker, I was rooting for another Shirley... Knight, for her work in one of my favorite films ever, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs).  More than anything, I was royally pissed off that Jean Simmons wasn't even nominated in a role that was arguably the best of her illustrious career.  Jones and Simmons would not have been nominated in the same category but I guess I've always held it against Jones for winning when Simmons was not even nominated.  Sorry, Shirley.

If I don't feel bad for not seeing much of her work, she needn't feel bad for not mentioning much of it either.  I do think (as some of you know) that movie star authors need to mention all of their movies, if only briefly.  Say something.  As a rule, it's why we buy the book in the first place.  But I make a bit of an exception here because , as I said, I wanted to know about her personal life and the lady did not disappoint.

I was always pretty iffy on Jack Cassidy.  Admittedly, when he was on the screen (I can see him now, clear as a bell, on some Columbos), I could not take my eyes off him.  I found him riveting, stark, often menacing.   He brought up fear in me.  I also thought he was enormously conceited, pompous, supercilious and a bit fey. 

With an ever-present sandpaper edge to him, he looked most at home in a smoking jacket, a dickie and fondling a cigarette holder.  He always reminded me of John Barrymore whom he later played in a film.  Jones completed it by saying Barrymore was his favorite actor.

What I learned was that they had a powerful love story.  I am being generous to say that because I actually should be saying that she has a powerful capacity for love.  Powerful.  Long after their divorce and through her long marriage to Ingels, it is apparent that Cassidy was the love of her life, the one who got away.  She writes passionately about that love and as a reader, I have to say I hear her loud and clear.

She, however, lays him bare.  We learn, it seems, just about everything there is to know about Jack Cassidy.  And little of it is award-winning.  There will be women readers especially who will pause to say, Shirley, dear, what were you thinking?  There will be those who will say that Jones may have said too much, that maybe some of her laying him bare falls under the category of tmi.  Of course, I do not fall into that group.  She wanted to set the record straight and I wanted to soak it all up. 

I always suspected he was gay or bi and confess that's certainly one of the reasons I wanted to read the book. Was I right? Will she say?  Did she know?  And if she knew before she married him, why did she?  I kept sliding my finger over that Kindle screen. Well, she does say.  At one point she repeats a story I'd heard before regarding Cassidy and his relationship with songwriter Cole Porter that makes me cringe. 

He was an Olympian cheater, a poor father, a disrespectful husband, a liar, a boozer and no one was more important to Jack Cassidy than Jack Cassidy.  And that's just for starters.  He asked more of Jones than most men have a right to ask of their spouses.  Sex was vitally important to Cassidy and along the way she became as enamored of it as he was.  In this area as well, Jones is remarkably candid about her sexuality.  I admit that although I was wide-eyed reading some of these passages, I wondered how her sons would feel reading it.

I am sorely tempted to say more but I won't.  It might make for a more interesting posting, but it would be unfair to Jones and to readers who deserve to have their eyes pop as mine did.  It's her life.  It may seem so far that her book is more about Cassidy's life than hers, and in a way, that is true as she took the backseat in the marriage but they were so interchangeable, those lives, in so many ways.

I really didn't know much about Marty Ingels before reading this book.  I know I used to confuse him with Marty Feldman.  I had seen Ingels on some talk shows and that is perhaps not the best way to get a handle on someone.  I always thought he was waaaayyyyy off the wall, a bit odd-looking and one day I thought... she going with him?!?!

We learn that there were about the same number of people questioning her choice of Ingels as they had with Cassidy.  Particularly interesting to me was her sons' reaction to him as a stepfather, which was mighty similar to what I had for two of mine.

My takeaway on the Ingels-Jones merger is that they love one another very much, a great deal of it reinforced through adversity.  And if that stuff doesn't cause a divorce, it simply makes the union stronger.  She says many times that he makes her laugh and I happen to think that is a mainstay of any successful relationship.

Another takeaway is that Jones is a strong woman... capable, resilient, honest, with lots of integrity.  She is a far cry from Laurie Williams in Oklahoma.  Most childhood portions of autobiographies usually leave me fidgety but hers was a joy.  She  transported me to her early days in rural Pennsylvania.  She always loved animals and nature and says so a hundred times.  She was also spunky, a rebel really.  She always loved to see shocked faces. 

She has some newsy things to say about Gordon MacRae, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Jimmy Stewart, Hermione Gingold, Robert Preston, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Glenn Ford, Bobby Darin, adorable Ronnie Howard, directors John Ford and Richard Brooks, Rodgers and Hammerstein and others.  Boys like me love this stuff.

She seems pretty candid about her sons, too.  I wanted to learn more about them and I did.  I have a real soft spot for good moms and I suspect Jones has always been one.

Winning autobiographies need to deliver the goods.  While I could have handled more about her films, the rest was superb.  It was a thoroughly entertaining read, up front, and I learned a great deal about a person I hadn't known much about and also those in her orbit.  I couldn't ask for more than that.

Review of Fruitvale Station


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