In this episode of the Wait Wait… Shirley Jones starred in some of the great movie musicals of the 1950s — Oklahoma, Carousel, The Music Man — won an Oscar for her role in the film Elmer Gantry and then went on to be the mother in the classic sitcom The Partridge Family. She’s just written a new memoir about her life onstage, on-screen and behind the scenes.
We’ve invited Jones to play a game called “Look, it’s the partridge family! GET THEM!” Three questions about the sport of partridge shooting.
Listen to the Story
PETER SAGAL, HOST: And now the game where people who’ve done amazing things for a long time do something very bizarre for a short while. It’s called Not My Job.
Shirley Jones starred in some of the great movie musicals of the 1950s, “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “The Music Man.” She won an Oscar along the way. And then she went on to be the mother in the classic sitcom “The Partridge Family.” She’s written a new memoir; she joins us now. Shirley Jones, welcome to WAIT WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: Your story – you had one of – and I’m not going to say you didn’t deserve it – but you had one of the easiest rises to fame I’ve ever heard of.
SHIRLEY JONES: Boy, did I ever.
SAGAL: Yeah, so tell me what happened.
JONES: Well, you know, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was an only child in a small town of Smithton, Pennsylvania, adored animals, raised everything in the world, you know, and decided that was going to be what I was going to do. But I could sing. It was given to me. It was a gift. And I thought everybody could sing.
And so I would sing everywhere and, the – you know, went to Pittsburgh Playhouse and did some drama and dancing and so forth, still wanted to be a vet, went to New York on my way to college and went to an audition for Rodgers and Hammerstein.
I sang for the casting director, and he said, I’d like you to sing for Mr. Rodgers. And I didn’t even know who Richard Rodgers was then.
JONES: I was 18. And he came down the aisle, and he said, Ms. Jones. And I said: What did you say your name was again?
JONES: He said Richard Rodgers, never to forget that moment. I sang for him, and he said, would you wait, I’m going to call my partner, Oscar Hammerstein. I waited, and I – my pianist had to leave, and so he said don’t worry, we’ll figure something out. Well, there was a symphony across the street, and he said, Ms. Jones, you can come over and sing with the symphony for Oscar Hammerstein.
I’d never heard a symphony, seen one or sang with one, certainly.
SAGAL: So you walk into New York, you’re there on a college trip.
JONES: Exactly right.
SAGAL: You go on an audition on a lark, and the next thing you know you’re singing for Rodgers and Hammerstein, the guys themselves, with a symphony orchestra.
SAGAL: And I want the kids out there who are thinking about a career in show business, that’s how it works for pretty much everybody.
JONES: Not really, but…
SAGAL: And you went into one of their shows in New York.
JONES: I went into “South Pacific,” the last three months of the Broadway show. And then they sent me to California to screen test for the role of Laurie in “Oklahoma,” and that’s what happened.
SAGAL: And so the next thing you know, now you’re 21, and you are playing the lead in the musical adaptation of the biggest musical in American history. Again pretty much standard.
SAGAL: I love the fact that you also tell in the book that Richard Rodgers became first in a long line of show business men to hit on you.
JONES: Oh, yes. Well, you know, I – he asked me up to his office, and I was sitting there, and I was sitting there, and he put his arm around me. Then I suddenly saw him go and lock the door, you know, in the office. And he came over, put his arm around me again, and he said, do you have a boyfriend. And I said oh yes, I’m engaged.
Of course that was not true. I said I’m engaged, he’s waiting for me. And he said oh, really, well too bad you won’t be there for a long time. I said, I know, and I said well, you know, I’m so thrilled to be here, and I said the fact that I have a wonderful grandpa right next to me…
SAGAL: Oh, harsh. What did he do?
JONES: He said oh, OK.
SAGAL: I mean, and then you were on the set of the movie, and Rod Steiger hits on you.
JONES: Yeah, a little bit.
SAGAL: So one of the stories I loved about you after all that story is, like, you actually had one co-star who wouldn’t kiss you even onscreen.
JONES: Well, Pat Boone.
SAGAL: Well, there you are.
JONES: Of course. And guess what? We just did a thing together, Pat and I, they did a screening of “April Love” at the Egyptian Theater. And, you know, the two of us were invited. And we were sitting together doing Q&A for the audience, and he leaned over, and he said, Shirley, I’m going to do something that I promised I would do for the rest of my life.
He pulled my face around, and he kissed me flat on the lips.
SAGAL: Did he?
SAGAL: So he had been regretting it ever since that moment.
JONES: That’s what he said.
SAGAL: All right, I have to ask you, Shirley Jones, was it worth the wait?
SAGAL: Really, it was? He was everything you dreamed of back on the set?
JONES: Yes, yes.
SAGAL: Now another generation, I guess this includes my generation, first heard of you from “The Partridge Family.” This was the sitcom in which you played the mother of a traveling musical family.
SAGAL: And you played the mother of – the lead singer was played by your…
JONES: David Cassidy, my stepson.
SAGAL: Your stepson, which must have been a little odd.
JONES: Well, not at all, no.
JONES: No, they – I was the first person cast, and they came to me and said Shirley, how do you feel about your stepson, David Cassidy? And I said why? And they said, well, we’re thinking of him to play, you know, the role in the show. So I said, he’d be perfect for it, that’s great. And they said oh, good, we want to make sure you have a good, you know, a good feeling about him. I said of course.
Well, I was the first person cast, and I went on the set, and they were testing him. And I was on the set, and he turned around, and he saw me. He said what are you doing here? I said, I’m your mama.
SAGAL: I wanted to ask you about this because we were actually looking at clips, and there’s you playing the piano and obviously singing. We know you can sing. Were you really playing the piano?
JONES: No, of course not.
SAGAL: And – well, I don’t know. And then you had these other children…
JONES: Nobody played in the show.
SAGAL: Well, I have say, I was going to ask…
JONES: Nobody did, and nobody sang in the show except David and me.
SAGAL: It was the least convincing lip-synching I have ever seen.
JONES: Of course. I mean, well, I know. You know, when we had recording sessions, you know, David did the recording. I was there doing the backup, basically. And in five years of doing the show, I had two solos in the show.
SAGAL: That seems like a waste to me.
SAGAL: And then of course David Cassidy, who played your son, your stepson in real life, became a huge teen idol.
JONES: Huge, huge teen idol.
SAGAL: And then your other son, Shaun Cassidy…
JONES: Yes, became another teen idol.
SAGAL: That must have been odd.
JONES: It was very odd. Yes, it was.
SAGAL: What is it like to have sons who become international sex symbols for 14- and 15-year-olds?
JONES: Well for me, you know, I mean, I was one of these mothers that said you’ve got to go to college, kids, you’ve got to be doctors and lawyers. Forget the damn show business. But when David – when it happened to David, Shaun looked at me, and he said: Ma, listen, if he can do it, I can do it.
JONES: And literally walked out the door and did it.
SAGAL: Wow, so I know you, like again, in these wonderful, innocent roles. I never got around to “Elmer Gantry,” somehow. And then of course “The Partridge Family,” where you were playing a sweet, all-American mom. And I’m reading your book, and your book has, shall we say, a lot of adult material.
JONES: Yes, it does.
SAGAL: Things, I will tell you, fascinating read, never wanted to know.
JONES: I know.
JONES: Well, that’s the point. When they came to me and asked if I would write a book about my life, and thought do I want to do this. I mean – then I thought to myself why not. I mean, they know me as “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” Mrs. Partridge, all those characters. Why can’t they know me as me?
And I thought I want to tell people who I am, the life that I had as a child, being married all my life. I mean, you know, I never had affairs with a lot of men, that was not my case. But I was very devoted to the two husbands I’ve had.
SAGAL: And your devotion led you to do some very interesting things, which you describe in detail.
JONES: That’s exactly right, Absolutely.
SAGAL: Everything you’re saying makes perfect sense, and you have every right and even an obligation to let your public know who you really are and what your life was like.
JONES: Absolutely, yeah.
SAGAL: On the other hand, I did not want to think about Marian the librarian getting freaky.
SAGAL: That’s so – now I have to, you know.
JONES: But of course. It’s called life.
SAGAL: Yes, I guess so. Anyway, Shirley Jones, we’re delighted to talk to you.
JONES: Thank you.
SAGAL: And we’ve invited you here to play a game that this time we’re calling…
CARL KASELL: Look, it’s the Partridge family.
KASELL: Get them.
SAGAL: So you played a Partridge on “The Partridge Family,” as we’ve discussed, but we missed the episode where rich people stalked you with dogs and tried to shoot you with shotguns. Partridge shooting is a big sport, especially in England, and we’re going to ask you three questions about the sport of partridge shooting. Get two right, you’ll win our game. Carl, who is Shirley Jones playing for?
KASELL: Shirley is playing for Junette Sheen of Los Angeles, California.
SAGAL: All right, ready to play?
SAGAL: All right, first question. You begin – if you’re a partridge shooter, if you are what is known as a gun, that’s what they call you, you begin your day as a partridge shooter with a ritual known as the what: A, the peg draw; B, the partridge cartridge; or C, the ritual sacrifice to Moloch.
SAGAL: The ritual sacrifice to Moloch?
SAGAL: I love the idea of British aristocrats in tweeds with broken shotguns worshiping at the great idol of the Babylonian god Moloch.
SAGAL: That’s – you sound very confident here.
SAGAL: It’s the peg draw is what it was.
SAGAL: Your peg is your – yeah, your peg, you see, is the place in line where you stand with your gun, and you draw to see where you will stand.
JONES: I see, OK.
SAGAL: You still have two more chances. So if you go on your shoot, if you are a gun on a partridge shoot, you will be assisted by a person known as a what: A, lord high executioner; B, the stuffer; or C, the fluffer.
SAGAL: B, the stuffer. You are right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Very good. The stuffer is also known as the loader. He, usually he, loads a fresh shotgun and hands it to you so you never miss a chance to kill a bird. All right, this is very exciting, you got one right with one to go. If you get this last one right, you will win. What does the well-appointed gun wear on his day on the line of shooting partridges: A, a flexible pair of breeks; B, a sporty funicular; or C, a wide brimmed uvula.
JONES: Oh, a pair of breeks.
SAGAL: You’re going to go for pair of breeks? You’re right, a pair of breeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: Breeks are the terms for the special shooting trousers that guns wear.
SAGAL: Carl, how did Shirley Jones do on our quiz?
KASELL: Pretty good, Peter. She got two right, and that’s good enough to win for Junette Sheen.
SAGAL: Shirley Jones is a star of stage and screen and has been for decades. Her book, “Shirley Jones: A Memoir,” is out now. Get it, read it, you will never forget it.
SAGAL: Shirley Jones, thank you so much for being with us.
JONES: Thank you for having me.
SAGAL: Bye-bye now.
JONES: Thank you.
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