America’s perennial sweetheart Shirley Jones: “have something people want.”
By Randall Kenneth Jones
Originally published in the Naples Daily News
A young Robert Morse did not “text” his way to the top in the 1967 film “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Oz’s Wicked Witch didn’t “tweet” her messages of gloom and doom: i.e. #SurrenderDorothy
Shirley Jones did not surf the web for outstanding arrest warrants against Robert Preston’s Harold Hill in 1962’s “The Music Man.” Her “Marian the Librarian” was forced to conduct research using an antique—a book.
In fact, 1970s single-working-mom Shirley Jones managed to keep her five (often hormonally charged) rock-star “Partridge Family” kids out of harm’s way without tethering them to cell phones with GPS tracking. She just corralled them in a multi-colored bus.
It’s not that Jones dismisses technology but, as a woman who “loves to watch Turner Classic Movies all day long,” she pines for a bygone era—a feeling stemming from fond memories of beloved colleagues (“Jimmy Stewart was the most wonderful man in the world”) and respect for a pre-smart-phone age when people actually sat down and talked to each other.
Jones simply believes that movies, and people in general, used to place a greater emphasis on “heart” as well as its first cousins: compassion, concentration, compromise, understanding and forgiveness.
For those who talk about the differences in how people worked in, for example, 2005 and now, imagine having your professional coming of age in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Yet, without an endless series of programmer-fed 0s and 1s to usurp the human voice or the handwritten memo, worker bees like Shirley Jones managed to persevere.
Plucked from obscurity by fate—as well as Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II—Smithton, Pennsylvania-teenager Jones found herself and her “God-given” vocal talent on a mind-numbing career fast track. With the theatrical release of the glorious “Oklahoma!” in 1955, Jones’ star status was established in record time.
In the nearly seven decades that followed, she has enjoyed enviable career longevity without succumbing to today’s common practice of reinventing oneself. Jones maintained her priorities and remained objective. Career-wise, “If it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen,” she says. “I could spend more time with my family.”
In fact, her primary focus: “I just worked at being the very best ‘Shirley Jones’ I could be.”
Jones is living proof that age and experience provide the wisdom to recognize that our “at work” and “at home” personalities eventually merge into a single, multi-faceted persona—one capable of simultaneously embracing the skills necessary to navigate home, hearth, progress and success.
Her outcome: Laurey in “Oklahoma!,” Julie in “Carousel,” her Oscar-winning turn as prostitute Lulu Baines in 1960’s “Elmer Gantry” as well as the aforementioned Marian Paroo, sitcom-mom Shirley Partridge and an ostensibly endless IMDB.com listing.
That said, Jones unapologetically places “wife,” “mother” and “grandmother” at the top of her list of accomplishments. It doesn’t take long to understand that Jones would gladly trade in her Oscar statuette for the benefit of any member of her family.
At times, Jones appears cautious to share personal advice. Instead, she advocates an individual’s responsibility to take the time to understand herself. For example, Jones on quality: “Everyone has their own feeling of what perfection is.” On fixing the unfixable: “You have to know how much you can give and how much you can take.”
Though her durable career can arguably be attributed to how much she is loved by the public, Jones is dubious about the relationship between professional adoration and career duration. “There are dynamos in business who are certainly not loved,” she observes.
Moments later, she suggests a more plausible explanation for enduring success: “Have something people want. As long as people still want it, they’ll be there for you”—a profound insight based on equal parts heart, experience and yet another skill that has become markedly uncommon, common sense.
True, some may have been surprised by the candid nature of her 2013 book, “Shirley Jones, a Memoir.” However, it could be said it’s merely “Know Thyself,” Shirley Jones style—an honest update on self-awareness and her goal “to be the best ‘Shirley Jones’