BY CARY GINELL
In the 1960s, Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy worked together on a number of productions. Their marriage fell apart in 1974 and Cassidy subsequently died in a tragic fire in 1976 at the age of 49. In 1977, Shirley married comedian Marty Ingels. In 2013, they celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary. In this, the last installment of our interview, Shirley talked about performing with Jack Cassidy, their son Patrick, and playing Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family.
VCOS: Tell me about working with Jack on Wait Until Dark.
SHIRLEY: I was so excited about doing that. Lee Remick had been doing it on Broadway, but this was the national tour, so they hired me and Jack to do it together. I was so thrilled and so excited because I had never really done a play, like that, God knows, and it’s a heavy show and a big departure. Before we started rehearsal, I went to the School for the Blind. And I went there every day for something like three weeks, working with blind people and studying the whole thing. I wanted to be so prepared for it. Jack was sensational as the villain. We loved doing that. We had a good time and got great reviews.
VCOS: What other plays did you two do?
SHIRLEY: Well, we finally got our own show, which we called “The Marriage Band.” We played the M-G-M Grand twice, then all over Las Vegas and all over the country. We had singers and dancers and it was our own show and we toured with that for quite some time.
VCOS: You and Jack could have done I Do, I Do.
SHIRLEY: Yes! I would have loved that.
VCOS: Did you ever do Love Letters?
SHIRLEY: Yes, but I did it with Marty and we toured with it for a little while.
VCOS: What are the differences working with Marty and working with Jack?
SHIRLEY: Believe it or not, Jack was a comedian, too. As gorgeous as Jack looked and as handsome as he was and all of that, what got to me with him was his sense of humor. Same thing with Marty. They knew each other before I met Marty. But Jack made me laugh as does Marty now. He was very funny but he was also a magnificent singer.
VCOS: Now tell me about Maggie Flynn, the musical you did with Jack.
SHIRLEY: I loved that show. We got the script, and of course, I hadn’t done Broadway in a long time. Jack had been doing Broadway, but I hadn’t. And I read the script and I thought, “Wow.” This was so great for both of us. His character was so wonderful for him. And I played this Irish lady who rescued these kids during the Civil War. I had a lot of dancing to do – some Irish jigs and that kind of stuff. The show was wonderful and we got great reviews, but what happened to the show was that it was the wrong show at the wrong time in the wrong place. It was 1968, and the show was a little outdated for what was happening on Broadway at that time. That’s when things like Hair and the rock musicals were starting to come to Broadway, but this was an old-fashioned musical, this was Rodgers-and-Hammerstein kind of material.
VCOS: And the songwriters were Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, who were two producers at RCA Victor Records.
SHIRLEY: I just loved the music in that show. When I hear it today, I get very teary-eyed.
VCOS: Some of the critiques of the show compared it to The Sound of Music. Is that fair?
SHIRLEY: Well, the fact that there were kids in it, yes, and because I was kind of like their nanny. But Jack got nominated for a Tony for his part.
VCOS: How did The Partridge Family and your other television activities affect your stage and film career?
SHIRLEY: I had five years of Partridge and couldn’t do anything else, really.
VCOS: Was there a stigma then about television killing one’s career?
SHIRLEY: I was with the William Morris office forever – and they got me an offer to do a television series. I was offered The Brady Bunch first, and back then, agents and managers said, “Don’t do TV, because if it is successful, you’re career will be over. Your movie career will be finished, everything will be finished if it is a success.” But when I read The Brady Bunch, I didn’t like the part. I didn’t want to be the mother taking the roast out of the oven. I wanted a little something more. But when I got The Partridge Family script, I thought, “Wow. This is great. It’s a different kind of mama.” The first working mother on television, and we have a band and we work and sing together. Then they said, “How do you feel about your stepson, David Cassidy?” They didn’t know that David could play and sing. And I said, “Well, he’s very talented.” They said, “Is he?” I said, “Oh, yeah. He’d be wonderful.” They didn’t realize how talented he was. And then I thought about it. And even though the agent said, “Don’t do it,” this kind of part would be so much fun for me, and also, my kids then were school age, and I had taken them all over the world on movie locations with a nanny. They’d been everywhere. And I thought, “I’ve gotta stay home and raise my kids and this would give me a big opportunity to do that.” I could stay home, my kids could go to school, and I’d be home every night at 5:00. So that’s the reason I took it, basically. And people know me more for that than any of the movies I’ve made.
VCOS: One thing people don’t remember about that show is that it was based on a real family act called the Cowsills.
SHIRLEY: I know. That’s who it was! Actually, they wanted the Cowsills to play the parts, but they weren’t actors. They found that out. It was made for them. I met them all, and got to know them quite well.
VCOS: Are you like Barbara Cowsill?
SHIRLEY: Oh, yeah! They would come on the set every now and then and talk to us about what they were doing.
VCOS: Did you want to do more stage work at this time?
SHIRLEY: No, because, again, I had three sons that were in school and I wanted to stay at home and be a mom. I wanted to do the best I could for my family. And then, Jack and I were having trouble, too, so I thought that I had to stay as close to my kids as I could.
VCOS: So, was 42nd Street the next thing that you did on stage? In 2004?
SHIRLEY: Yes. And that was with Patrick. He and I worked together a lot.
VCOS: Who talked you into doing that?
SHIRLEY: Patrick. Who else? I said, “Are you crazy?” I was 70 at the time, and I’m going to be 80 in 2014. He said, “C’mon, Mom!” And I said, “Patrick, I can’t go back to New York, work on Broadway, and do eight shows a week.” And he said, “C’mon, I’ll take care of you. Yes you can.” And he talked me into it. I played Dorothy Brock. We made Broadway history; it was the first time a mother and son ever appeared together in a Broadway musical. We did it for about six months.
VCOS: So are you and Patrick kind of a team now?
SHIRLEY: Pretty much (laughs)! Yes we are! He’s up in Santa Barbara right now doing A Little Night Music.
VCOS: Would you ever like to do Sondheim?
SHIRLEY: Oh, yes. I love Sondheim. Patrick did Assassins. Patrick adores Stephen Sondheim, and Jack and Stephen were close friends. They started out together as young people in the business. Sondheim was raised by Oscar Hammerstein. I met him then, when he was just starting out, so I got to know him quite well. I was there for the opening night of A Little Night Music and we were in Sardi’s waiting for the reviews. Stephen was always late and he came in, walking through the door, and I raced up to him and I said, “Oh, Steve, that ballad that you wrote was the most beautiful song I ever heard!” He said, “Shirley, that’s the biggest piece of crap I ever wrote.” He was talking about “Send in the Clowns.”
Anyway, Patrick is now playing the lead in A Little Night Music and I went to see him on opening night and he was wonderful. And Patrick said, “Mom, I hate to ask you this, but could you do me a favor?” Steve had a thing where he’d get some sheet music, write some of his lyrics on it, and then sign his name, and then send it to the opening night of a show and they would frame it and put it up in the theater. And Patrick said, “Do you think you could ask Steve if he could send me one of those for Assassins?” I said, “I’ll ask him.” So I called him and left a message. I was in the grocery store an hour later and he called me on my cell phone. I said, “I have a favor to ask, and you can say no, believe me, you can. But my son Patrick is opening in A Little Night Music this week.” “He is?” he said. “Yes, but he asked me as a favor if you could send him a sheet of lyrics from Assassins and sign it for him.” He played the Balladeer. And Steve said, “Are you kidding? I’d be happy to. I’ll do it right now and get it to him before he opens in the show.” And I got it, and had it framed for him. And he cried. I never saw Patrick do that. He cried, and said, “Mother, this means so much to me. I just can’t thank you enough.” I told Steve and then he said, “OK, now I want your book,” so I sent him my book.” (laughs). Afterward, he sent me a note that said, “You’re a pretty good authoress!”
VCOS: So now you have grandchildren who are performing.
SHIRLEY: Yes. Jack, who is Patrick’s son, is an incredible pianist and writer. Cole doesn’t want to be in the business, but he sings in his high school choir. Then there’s my granddaughter Juliet, who is Shaun’s daughter. Shaun has seven kids. I have twelve grandchildren. But Juliet is a beautiful singer. She’s doing all the kinds of things that I did when I was her age; she’s sixteen. And as for me, Patrick and I are doing The Music Man for four months on the road starting in June, if I can do it.
VCOS: Where will you be doing this?
SHIRLEY: We open in Mason City, Iowa!
VCOS: Perfect. Any thoughts of retiring?
SHIRLEY: I don’t know. It depends on what happens. Doesn’t look like it, though. I’m seem to be getting more work than I did when I was twenty-five!
VC On Stage thanks Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels for granting us this time spent talking to her about her amazing career. For those who wish to read more about Shirley Jones, her autobiography, Shirley Jones: A Memoir was published this past summer by Gallery Books.