BY CARY GINELL
Today, we continue our interview with Shirley Jones as she talked about performing on the road in Broadway musicals and appearing in the film version of Carousel.
VCOS: Tell me about Carousel.
SHIRLEY: I loved Carousel. It’s my favorite, favorite score of all time.
VCOS: Were you still under contract with Rodgers & Hammerstein at the time?
SHIRLEY: Yes, but they didn’t produce it. We did it at 20th Century Fox. Frank Sinatra was cast as Billy Bigelow. Frank and I did all of the pre-recordings, we did all of the rehearsals, we did all of the costumes, we did all of everything. I admired Frank a lot, obviously. We were shooting in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We did everything, months of working, with Frank. Henry Wilson was the director. It was the last film he directed and we were shooting in two separate processes. That’s when they started to do that. We shot it in regular Cinemascope and then also in what they called Cinemascope 55. Everybody knew it; we were all aware of that. So I got up to Boothbay Harbor and all of the singers and dancers had been working like crazy up there for months, doing all the dance numbers. And we were out on a deck, waiting for Frank to arrive for our first dramatic scene. His car drove up from the airport, he gets out of the car, he sees the two cameras, and he says to Henry Wilson, “Why the two cameras?” And Henry said, “Well, YOU know, Frank, we’re shooting in two separate processes.” And Frank said, “I signed to do one movie, not two.” Back in the car – back to the airport. I lost my leading man after ALL of the rehearsals, ALL of the pre-recordings, ALL of everything.
VCOS: So why did he object to working with two cameras?
SHIRLEY: Well, I’ll tell you the real reason. Henry Ephron and his wife Phoebe were producing the film. And Henry came over with tears in his eyes and said, “Shirley, where’s Gordon MacRae?” I said, “He’s in Lake Tahoe, doing a night club act with his wife Sheila.” He said, “Could you get him on the phone?” I’m on a dock – and there’s a pay phone nearby. So I said, “Give me some quarters.” I put them in the phone and, believe it or not, I got Gordon on the phone. I said, “Gordon, it’s Shirley. How would you like to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel?” He said, “Give me three days, I have to lose ten pounds.” (laughs) And that’s how he got the role. He was wonderful in it and it became a marvelous movie. But I never really knew the truth. I would see Frank at parties and things like that and ask him, “Hey, Frank, what the hell happened?” “I don’t want to talk about it, Shirley, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Just a couple of years ago, I was having a press conference with some of the old guys from the press, you know, the guys who had been around for a long time, and one of them in the back said, “Don’t you know why Frank left the film?” I said, “No, do you?” He said, “Oh, everybody knows. Ava Gardner was doing Mogambo with Clark Gable in Africa. And she called him and said, “Unless you get your ass down here, I’m having an affair with Gable.” And that’s why he left the film.
VCOS: Well, anyway, it worked out well with Gordon, didn’t it?
SHIRLEY: Oh, I loved Gordon in it. Frank would have been great as the character, because Billy Bigelow, in many ways, was more Frank than Gordon was. But Gordon’s voice, for me, I mean “Soliloquy” and that score…I mean, when I do my concerts, I open with “If I Loved You” and close with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I just love that score.
VCOS: Did you do Show Boat after that?
SHIRLEY: I did it on the road during the summer. Every summer I went out, no matter what I was doing, and did a musical. I did On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, I did Show Boat, I did The Sound of Music, I did that one a couple of times. So I did a lot of summer tours of musicals, but never went back to Broadway. I would do a summer musical and then go back and do a movie or television. Most of my career, I stayed in Hollywood until I did Maggie Flynn with Jack Cassidy.
VCOS: These summer stage shows, how different were they from playing Broadway itself?
SHIRLEY: They were wonderful. We had great people all the time. We would play a week in each place for the summer, and had wonderful casts, always. There were Broadway people who would come and play the leads in the different shows. They were all incredible singers and really pros. It gave me an opportunity to flex my wings and see what else I could do besides movies and television.
VCOS: Had you married Jack by this time?
SHIRLEY: Yes. Jack and I were married in 1956. I told you I met Jack doing Oklahoma! and right after that I went to do Carousel, the film. As a matter of fact, I had to leave the tour of Oklahoma! in Europe, and my understudy had to take over with Jack on that tour because they wanted me to come back and do Carousel, the movie. Jack was married then – he was separated, but he was married. David was his son, as you know. He was about 6, I think. And my roommate on the tour said to me, “You know, he’s the most handsome man I’ve ever seen. Just don’t get attached.” I said, “Why would I get attached? He’s married.” “Well, just wait and see,” she said. Anyway, we got to Paris and he said, “I want to take you to the Eiffel Tower for dinner.” And I said, “Okay.” So I went out to dinner with him; had my first escargot, my first glass of champagne. In my book, I tell everything about him. He taught me everything I ever wanted to know. He was my teacher. In EVERY area. So we came back to this hotel where we were staying on the Left Bank, and he took me to the door, kissed me on the cheek and said, “I’m going to marry you.” I said, “Jack! You’re married. What’s the matter with you?” He said, “No. I’m going to marry you.” Well, I was up in Boothbay Harbor doing Carousel and he called me and said, “I’m divorced.” And I said, “You don’t mean it.” And he said, “Yes. And I’m going to marry you.” And that’s how it started.
In our next installment, Shirley talks about working with Jack Cassidy as a team and also about her appearance in The Music Man with Robert Preston. Shirley Jones’ autobiography, Shirley Jones: A Memoir, was published this summer by Gallery Books.