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Shirley Jones Casts Off Squeaky-Clean Image In Tell-All Autobiography

The 79-year-old actress talks about sex, aging and the importance of playing Mrs. Partridge

Actors Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in Carousel, 1956 (Mary Evans/20th Century Fox/Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection)

Shirley Jones starred alongside Gordon MacRae in the 1956 musical, 'Carousel.' — Mary Evans/20th Century Fox/Ronald Grant Archive/Everett Collection

Q: Your husband Jack Cassidy had an affair with Cole Porter and was "the proud owner of 104 pairs of handmade shoes … his image always meant far more to him than anything — or anyone — else in his life." Looking back, do you feel like you were a prisoner of his manias?

A: No, because he treated me so magnificently in every way. He was an ideal husband; he did everything, and he taught me everything. He was a great singer; we did Wait Until Dark together, we did The Marriage Band together [which he wrote for her]. We loved working together and being together, but he started to go downhill because he was bipolar. I was always the movie star and the breadwinner in the family, and that was always hard on him, because he wanted that more than anything in the world. In fact, things were just starting to happen for him when he died.

Q: You say you "cringe with embarrassment at how quickly and easily everything unfolded for me." Its sounds like you were that rare thing — a natural.

A: Apparently I was. When I did my screen test for Oklahoma!, I flew out to California, and Fred Zinnemann, the director, asked if I'd ever acted in front of a camera before. I said, "No," and he said, "You're a natural."

Q: People might imagine you're jealous of Florence Henderson, but how many of them realize you turned down the role of Carol Ann Tyler Martin Brady, the mother in The Brady Bunch?

A: I've known Florence since we were both on Broadway in 1953 or 1954, and I admire her a lot; she's a very talented lady. I took the Partridge Family role because it meant I would be playing the first working mother ever portrayed on TV.

See also: Florence Henderson's life apart from The Brady Bunch

Actress Shirley Jones and the cast of The Partridge Family (Everett Collection)

Shirley Jones with her "Partridge Family” cast members. — Everett Collection

Q: So The Partridge Family changed television?

A: Well, it was the start of a new era in television, and what made it notable was that we were a working family. The Partridges took a different look at a mother and family than The Brady Bunch, which I turned down because I didn't want to be seen as the mother at home, taking the roast out of the oven.

My managers did not want me to take that role in The Partridge Family. They told me, "If you do this series, your movie career will be in the toilet." And they were right, because then I became Mrs. Partridge forever. But I don't regret it, because I got to stay home and raise my kids.

See also: Shirley Jones, Susan Dey and other famous mother-daughter TV pairs

Q: You write that Burt Lancaster was the best on-screen kisser you ever worked with. Was he your favorite leading man?

A: Burt got me the role of Lulu Bains in Elmer Gantry; the director, Richard Brooks, did not want me, but Burt was co-producing with him, so Burt won out. Burt had me come to the set every day to watch the shoot as it progressed. He was my mentor in getting me the career that I've had.

Q: Any career advice for actresses over 50 today?

A: It's not easy, but because people are living longer — and thanks to success stories like Betty White — they are writing more parts for older people now. We need every age group to be [portrayed] in a film or TV show. Because that's what the world is about — it's not just teenagers, it's not just kids; it's grandpas and grandmas, great-grandmas and great-grandpas. In fact I think I've played a grandma at least three times: in Good Luck Charlie, Raising Hope and Hot in Cleveland.

Allan Fallow, book editor for AARP Media, writes on entertainment and lifestyle topics.

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Video Extra

MRS. PARTRIDGE IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Movies for Grownups host Bill Newcott sits down with Shirley Jones for a candid interview. Subscribe to the Movies for Grownups podcast.

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