In the 1970s, Shirley Jones emerged as one of the most wholesome and beloved TV moms in sitcom history as the bubbly, quasi-hippie Mrs. Partridge of “The Partridge Family.” Before that, she’d also earned wide respect as a serious and versatile actress in “Oklahoma!” “Carousel” and “The Music Man.” For her dramatic turn in 1960s “Elmer Gantry,” Jones won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
All in all, the 79-year-old star has sailed through a professional career in Hollywood with an unblemished image of respectability and squeaky-clean virtuousness.
But it’s an image she brashly debunks in her tell-all book “Shirley Jones: A Memoir” (Simon & Schuster, $18), written with co-author Wendy Leigh.
“In this memoir you are going to meet the real, flesh-and-blood Shirley Jones, not just the movie star or Mrs. Partridge,” she cautions in the introduction. And for fans who hold dear the image of perky Mrs. Partridge, this frank and gossipy tale of Hollywood in the swinging, sexy ’70s will come as an eye-opening shocker.
Two telling incidents that the actress relates in the book reveal a darker, more perverse side to Jones’ wide-eyed, blonde public image
The first tells when she was six years old in tiny Smithton, Pa., and was caught stealing a pack of gum from the town’s only drugstore. Banished to her bedroom by her mother, young Shirley proceeded to trash the room and defiantly challenge her mom, remembering all these years later that she “didn’t feel guilty about what I had done. I was already a little hell-raiser and proud of it.”
The second, and more widely disputed, incident details an alleged evening that Jones and her husband Jack Cassidy spent in the Beverly Hills home of actress Joan Collins and her husband Anthony Newley. In early editions of her book, Jones claims that the night ended with Collins suggesting that the four shed their clothes and engage in an orgy (which Jones claimed she declined). The story resulted in a court challenge from Collins, who denied the whole thing, and the publisher quickly excised the incident.
Nevertheless, those are juicy enough hints of what Jones remembers from her Hollywood heyday – which includes a tempestuous marriage to the sex-addicted Jack Cassidy, some lurid revelations about her real-life stepson David Cassidy (her TV son on “The Partridge Family”), graphic descriptions of her sexual dalliances (including a three-way with her husband and a Vegas showgirl), the odd cult surrounding “The Partridge Family,” her second marriage to TV comic and producer Marty Ingels and much more.
Much of the story touches on the conflict between Jones’ All-American image and her highly charged sexuality, and there’s perhaps too much information about her passionate, off-kilter marriage to Cassidy (who died in a fire in 1976) and her resulting psychiatric therapy.
As movie-star tell-alls go, “Shirley Jones: A Memoir” follows a formula that fits the old cliché of Hollywood debauchery and tells perhaps more than any but the most ardent fan cares to know. In true all-about-me fashion, Jones tips her hand when she writes, “I have always liked to shock people a bit. Despite my age, I still do.”
- Dennis King