LIANE HANSEN, host:
A farm girl, a librarian, a prostitute, millworker, groovy single mother and the darling of one of the most significant musical partnerships of the 20th century. All of those and more are career notches on the lipstick case of Shirley Jones. Ms. Jones is probably best known, at least to a certain generation, for her role as Shirley Partridge, matriarch of television's singing Partridge family in the early '70s.
Others may remember her Oscar-winning role as Lulu Baines in the 1960 film "Elmer Gantry," or her performance as Laurie in the film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma."
(Soundbite of song, "People Will Say we're in Love")
Ms. SHIRLEY JONES (Actress): (Singing) Don't throw bouquets at me. Don't please my folks too much. Don't laugh at my jokes too much. People will say we're in love...
HANSEN: That's Shirley Jones singing "People Will Say We're in Love" from the 1955 film "Oklahoma." Shirley Jones has always loved to sing and she's still doing it. She has a new CD out called "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers." And Shirley Jones joins us from NPR West in Culver City. Thanks so much. Welcome to the program.
Ms. JONES: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
HANSEN: When I say that you were the darling of the musical partnership, I mean you were under contract to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Ms. JONES: That's right.
HANSEN: What did that mean to be under contract to them?
Ms. JONES: Well, truly, I was the first and last one and only. You know, they never had anybody else under contract. And, you know, my career was one of those things that was a happening - and I mean that. I mean, I was on my way to college to become a veterinarian. And I stopped off in New York City where I knew a pianist and he said Rodgers and Hammerstein is having open auditions for anybody who wants to sing for them. They did it about once every two weeks because they had three shows running on Broadway.
I had never been to a professional audition of any kind. And I didn't even know who Rodgers and Hammerstein were. I was barely 18 years old. Anyway, I went to the audition - I won't make this a long story, it can be - but I sang for the casting director. He in turn called in Mr. Rodgers to hear me personally that day and he in turn called Oscar Hammerstein at home to have him come and hear me.
Three weeks later, I was in my first Broadway show - I never got to college "South Pacific," and within the year I was playing the lead in the motion picture, "Oklahoma."
HANSEN: Amazing. There are two selections by Rodgers and Hammerstein on here.
Ms. JONES: Yeah.
HANSEN: The song "I Have Dreamed."
Ms. JONES: Yes, I love that.
HANSEN: Why that one? What show is it from?
Ms. JONES: "King and I," "The King and I."
(Soundbite of song, "I Have Dreamed")
Ms. JONES: (Singing) I have dreamed that your arms are lovely. I have dreamed what a joy you'd be. I have dreamed every word you whispered, when you're close, close to me.
HANSEN: Are you singing in a lower register on this CD?
Ms. JONES: Yes, I am. And, you know, when Les Brown called me about doing it, I remember my husband, he said, but she doesn't sing that way. She's, you know, she sings in the high range, she does this - and Les Brown said, we'll change that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. JONES: He meant it, too. I was thrilled.
Ms. JONES: Yeah, oh yeah. I was thrilled because it gave me an opportunity -you know, my voice, I mean, my goodness, I was a coloratura soprano. I was an opera singer, you know. And what happens with age, as we all know, you know, the voice lowers. And the problems I have, you know, in some of the songs that I'm still singing, it's not necessarily the high range, it's the middle range. Because the voice, particularly with soprano, the middle range gets very weak going up and down the scale, you know. But I can sing low great.
So, I love it, and when he said let's do it, I said that's fabulous. It'll give me a new identity, you know?
HANSEN: And I should mention that you worked with Les Brown, Jr., the son of Les Brown who had his band of renown, I remember, as a bandleader.
Ms. JONES: I sang with his father, too.
HANSEN: Did you really?
Ms. JONES: Yes.
HANSEN: Oh wow.
Ms. JONES: A couple of shows, I believe it was television.
HANSEN: Wow. You sing, it seems, in the same range as your speaking voice. And I had read that Les Brown, Jr. wanted to create a kind of intimate atmosphere.
Ms. JONES: That's right. It's very warm, it's very sexy in many ways, you know. And Les was responsible for that in a way.
(Soundbite of song, "I Have Dreamed")
Ms. JONES: (Singing) ...dreams I loved you so. That by now I think I know what it's like to be loved by you. I will love being loved by you.
HANSEN: I'm speaking with Shirley Jones. She has a new CD out called "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers."
And, of course, we're coming up on Oscar season and when you received your Oscar 51 years ago for supporting actress in "Elmer Gantry," what do you remember about that night?
Ms. JONES: Well, first of all, I didn't think I was going to win, because Janet Leigh, you know, was up for "Psycho." So, I was really the dark horse, big-time dark horse and I didn't expect to win. When I did, I was just overwhelmed. And, you know, that really, you know, a lot of people said, why are you doing this? Oh my goodness, how dare you play a prostitute. You know, I got a lot of that.
But it gave me the longevity that I've had in my career. My career was virtually over because they stopped making musical motion pictures. You know, they didn't fare too well in Europe. The European market didn't accept them. And they were so expensive to make and they decided, nah, we don't need these anymore. So, my career was over because they thought if you were a singer, for some strange reason you weren't an actress.
HANSEN: Let's hear a Rodgers and Hart tune, "Spring is Here."
Ms. JONES: Oh, I love that one too.
(Soundbite of song, "Spring is Here")
Ms. JONES: (Singing) Spring is here. Why doesn't the breeze delight me? Stars appear. Why doesn't the night invite me? Maybe it's because nobody loves me. Spring is here I hear.
HANSEN: Is it true you turned down the role of Carol Brady in "The Brady Bunch"?
Ms. JONES: That's true.
HANSEN: Why? That's weird.
Ms. JONES: Well, you know, first of all, I had been, you know, a movie actor for a long time. You know, I did 30 films before I did "The Partridge Family." And at that time, agents and managers, first of all, said, Shirley, don't do a television series because it was a big step down to do television if you were a movie actor. Because even if it is successful, well, you'll be that character for the rest of your life and your movie career will be in the toilet. Well, they were kind of right about that.
But I turned down "The Brady Bunch" because it was just another, for me, ordinary mom with a lot of kids and they had been doing shows like that. Then "The Partridge Family" was offered to me and I loved the idea of, you know, a musical family. And the most important part for me is that my children - I had three sons and stepson, David Cassidy - but my three sons had been all over the world with me on movie locations. But now it was school time and I had to figure out a way to stay home and raise my kids and still work.
HANSEN: Have you been Shirley Partridge?
Ms. JONES: Yes, I have...
Ms. JONES: ...most of my life. I'm telling you, the only people that know that I did more than that are people my age.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: We'll end with a song, a beautiful song, "Bewitched, Bothered"...
Ms. JONES: Oh great.
HANSEN: ..."and Bewildered." Wonderful song.
(Soundbite of song, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered")
Ms. JONES: (Singing) I'm wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered and I...
HANSEN: How do you keep your voice in shape?
Ms. JONES: I try to sing a little bit every day, I really do. I never had to do that when I was younger. You know, I could get up at 3:00 in the morning and sing a high C. I can't do that anymore. It's now just placement of notes, you know, more with me now and placement of words. There are certain words that I can sing brilliantly and other words that are hard for me to sing...
HANSEN: Like what.
Ms. JONES: ...depending on where they go. The A sounds are hard for a singer. The aw sounds are easy. The E sounds are easy, you know. The ooh sounds are hard.
HANSEN: So, bothered is harder to sing than bewildered.
Ms. JONES: (Singing) Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
HANSEN: Is that your singing for the day?
Ms. JONES: That's my singing for the day.
HANSEN: Are you sure?
Ms. JONES: (Singing) A blue moon, you saw me standing alone without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own. That's on there, too.
HANSEN: The inimitable Shirley Jones. Her new CD is called "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers," and Ms. Jones joined us from our studio at NPR West in Culver City. What a treat. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Ms. JONES: Thank you. It was nice to be on the show. Thanks for having me.
(Soundbite of song, "Blue Moon")
Ms. JONES: (Singing) And then there suddenly appeared before me, the only one my arms will ever hold. I heard somebody whisper please adore me. And when I looked, the moon had turned to gold...
HANSEN: Shirley Jones performs the songs of Rodgers and Hart from her new CD beginning March 15th at Feinstein's in New York.