Review: If you think you know
Shirley Jones, you don’t know Jack

         Posted: July 2013

Shirley Jones’ memoir is testament that there are things you say at 79 that you’d never say at 39.

Shirley Jones, A Memoir, feels like a thin grasp at Hollywood gossip and celebration of good health. The latter is all-important, and even the most cynical reader can’t help but be happy that Jones on the verge of 80 is still rolling.

A Memoir boasts little more than a timeline for a hook, but there is a twist. Jones has long been cemented in pop culture as Shirley Partridge and, for older generations, a Hollywood musical star, but now there's a new narrative: sex great.

Clearly sensitive about her girl-next-door persona and permanent association as Shirley Partridge, Jones makes clear in the introduction that she is “far removed” from the innocent characters she often played, promising much more than what the book delivers. To justify what is often a dubious, frustrating account of her decadent first husband, Jack Cassidy, Jones essentially wants readers to know, “I stayed for the sex.”

The phrase “Money buys a lot of therapy” is often attributed to Joe Jackson. Unfortunately, it’s affirmed by this book. By any standard, Jones’ family with Jack Cassidy must be labeled “dysfunctional.” But Jones’ casual descriptions toward problems that decimate typical families begin to suggest that if you’ve got money and fame, the issues don’t matter. All of those powerful moments for regular human beings, parents and children sharing milestones, trying to do the right thing, become irrelevant when you’ve got a Vegas deal and see movie stars every night. This is Hollywood; open marriages, rehab, custody battles, bitter divorces, popping pills, taking drugs, kids caught in the middle, skipping family events, having sex as teens (even as pre-teens, Jones boasts of others in the book). Are there any regrets? Not really, as Jones points out in italic type that she will love Jack Cassidy forever.

Jones is so blasé about Cassidy’s decadent lifestyle that by the end of Chapter 6, she explains that the sheer volume of the affairs was a plus, and that, “Just one woman ... would be quite a different story.” Oddly enough, while touting the joy of sex throughout the book, she includes more references of saying no than yes. But perhaps Jack’s shenanigans were more thrill than threat. “Whenever I heard that he was having affairs all over town, I just lived with it,” Jones writes.

One of the most startling revelations is incidental and not really that surprising, the realization that, in many of Jones’ Hollywood recollections, even A-listers are generally intoxicated. In the 2nd paragraph of Chapter 1, Jones is talking about drinking alcohol, certainly not the last time that subject will come up. If you’re planning on starting a microbrewery or winery and are scouting locations, put Bel Air at the top of your list.

Nevertheless, the stories Jones tells are far from extraordinary. She is from the Pittsburgh region (the most famous native of Smithton, per Wikipedia), but once she hits the big time in New York, it ceases to matter. Her breakthrough was not unusual, nor (unfortunately) were her family issues. If she ever suffered, she is hiding it. There was no great sacrifice here, no magnificent discovery, but an audition during a family vacation to New York that gradually led to stardom, and all its perks and forgiveness. For such a purported nonconformist as the introduction would have us believe, Jones won’t reveal her “Partridge Family” salary (something surely of interest to fans) or anything about career earnings other than her earliest weekly wages. (See, some things really are sacred.)

Jones’ apparent sensitivity about typecasting extends a mile wide but runs barely inches deep. We’ve barely turned one page before Jones declares, “I’m not a spoiled Hollywood movie star or a jaded TV icon, either.” Few actors have expressed as much pride in an Oscar (this award was apparently frequently mentioned during “Partridge Family” filming, yet in an omission, Jones does not reveal where she displays the statue today), and Jones refreshingly describes the show, which gave her pop culture immortality that her Oscar did not, as a “marvelous experience” and says she would have liked to continue another four years. In a couple of references she writes of being warned that accepting the role of Shirley Partridge would permanently bind her to television and sink her remaining film aspirations. But rather than accept this notion as gospel, she should be blaming/crediting her stepson, without whose presence the show likely would’ve quickly faded. “My only complaint was that I didn’t get to sing much,” she says, a fair gripe. It seems she’s glad to talk about the Partridges and would rather discuss the Oscar. But it’s clear that in Jones’ mind, her biggest prize was somehow Jack Cassidy.

“A Memoir” is written with Wendy Leigh, who presents Jones’ anecdotes in breezy, fast-moving, conversational style but is still prone to unnecessary, clumsy descriptions, perhaps to bulk up the page count. As books go, this is a sitcom, not a documentary and not an epic. Still, there are reaches. Somehow Jones felt it important to note that Milton Berle attended Jack Cassidy’s funeral. It’s hard to think of a prominent mid-to-late-20th century actor who is not mentioned (see the list below); Hepburn and Tracy somehow didn’t make it, neither did Bogie and Bacall, Olivier, James Dean, Newman and Redford and Streisand.

The pages turn quickly but are still burdened by the same descriptions multiple times. Barely into the book, we find the beginning of the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of Jones’ introduction utterly repetitive. We get “Hollywood movie star” (as opposed to “Hollywood star” or “movie star”) and the completely unnecessarily formal “such actors as” in, “who made movies with such actors as Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger ...” Barely more than a page apart, we learn twice that Hermione Gingold (an extremely minor participant in this story) was a “British actress.”

Jones credits the publishing crew in the Acknowledgments, including the "copyediting" chief, though Peter Duel’s last name is spelled two ways on the same page (the Internet Movie Database indicates his given name included the extra “e”) and in rare places there is an uncorrected mishap (“I didn’t mentioned the incident”), but a curious lapse is Jones claiming that she and her current husband, Marty Ingels, appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on “February 13, 1997,” when the Los Angeles Times reported on the incident on Feb. 1, 1997, perhaps raising questions about some of the book’s vetting.

Given her public appeal, one wants to root for Jones. The question here is, writing a book, what do you have to say, what do you stand for. Jones’ film career is extremely impressive — no one should doubt that — but uninteresting. This is a mainstream success, not a polarizing rebel. Artistically, she takes all that is offered, with one exception (“The Brady Bunch”).

So then we’re down to biography or values, and Jones settles on the former, her “always hot sex life,” as she explains in Chapter 11. Her parents get limited to minimal mention and there are no references to their passing; clearly there was unextraordinary tension with her mother, to whom Jones seems intent on getting in the last word.

It seems a source of Jones’ irritation with her persona is her name. She writes that she was named after Shirley Temple, a “saccharine child star,” a curious description given Jones’ association with a well-known saccharine TV show. From there, Jones is intent on burnishing her rebel credentials, grasping for any personal anecdote that bucks conformity, including throwing a pack of gum back at the unfortunate shopkeeper she lifted it from.

She writes of wanting to be a veterinarian but given the lack of references, this seems far more whimsy than a viable option B to show business. There are no references to schoolwork or grades; like many attractive young women, she writes of entering a pageant (Miss Pittsburgh) on a lark and being floored at winning.

It’s a good question as to how far Jones the actress would have gone without a voice, and how far Jones the singer would have gone without her looks. Her Wikipedia page curiously notes no recording credits. The book includes a photo gallery, and two images stand out. (They are not included on this page for possible copyright reasons and out of respect that this is a book for sale.) One is Jones with son Shaun, probably about 5 years old, in black-and-white, a depth and richness to her smile not seen in the many other photos. The other is a picture with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, a smile conveying a unique excitement not seen in the other images. (The Playboy outfit, another reach at counterculture, was a bad inclusion.)

For whatever reason, and despite her Oscar qualification, Jones did not possess the type of “edge” that might’ve put her in the same conversations as Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Julie Christie and Sophia Loren. There is no calculating or analyzing this; it just is. Her anecdotes reflect this. Unfortunately her favorite subject, Jack Cassidy, who doesn’t deserve the ink she has given him, could almost certainly pen a more exciting tome; Jones even scoops herself in pointing out that Gerald Clarke’s profile of Truman Capote has a better story about Cassidy and Cole Porter than she does.

Jones makes clear in one passage she had no use for Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio. This opens the door to a wonderful subject far beyond the scope of this book, whether elite training can produce superior acting. Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda would likely say yes; Clint Eastwood and Halle Berry might say no.

Jones might be shopping her emphasis on sex (the most curious disclosure is in the very final pages), but it’s her “Partridge” career and association with her stepson that seems to prompt the most interest. Either unwilling or unable to dish much Hollywood gossip (virtually every individual described as a drunkard or drug user is notably deceased), Jones does not shy from family difficulties, yet writes of them so matter-of-factly as to be unmoving.

Jack Cassidy, according to her text, had affairs everywhere, wasted gobs of money, was selfish, rarely saw his sons, was strict and critical of his sons, had career envy, drank, popped pills, and finally had hallucinations before literally playing with fire. Once he built a model railroad for his sons and then refused to let them play with it. How anyone hired this person for a Broadway or film role is a testament to the exaggerated status of actors in society.

Marty Ingels, presumably a far more dependable person, did not arrive without issues either. Shaun Cassidy, apparently as a teenager, actually told his mother, according to the text, “What the hell is this? What the hell did you marry?” As for David Cassidy, to whom Ingels would be ex-stepmom’s husband, Jones writes, “David was happy that I’d found someone, but Marty quickly alienated him by saying, ‘Hi, S---head,’ to him. Marty called everyone that in those days, but David just didn’t understand.”

Yes, a global pop star being called ‘Sh--head’ by his ex-stepmom’s new lover; how could he not understand that.

Jones writes that Ingels, during a rough patch in the early 2000s, even had a “flirtation” with his stepson’s first wife’s mother. That happens everywhere, of course, including Hollywood.

Jones may bristle at her typecasting. She was not a rebel, but a giant of mainstream entertainment, now revealing in her 70s what she wouldn’t have revealed in her 30s. One would think she was capable of a happier marriage, but perhaps not. In her Dear John letter to Jack Cassidy in Chapter 11, she writes, “You said one becomes more cautious and less vulnerable with age and growth and that is certainly true with me.” It wasn’t the first time Jack fed her a line, but possibly the last.

Clarification: This review originally referenced the single topic of an interview Jones gave to TV’s “Access Hollywood” that aired on July 25, 2013. Jones’ interview with “Access” actually aired in clips over several days, encompassing several topics.

Shirley Jones, A Memoir (2013)
Featuring: Shirley Jones, Jack Cassidy, David Cassidy, Marty Ingels, Shaun Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy, Ryan Cassidy, Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford, David Niven, Rossano Brazzi, Pat Boone, Farrah Fawcett, Richard Pryor, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, President Dwight Eisenhower, President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Gerald Ford, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, Sammy Davis Jr., Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, Warren Beatty, George C. Scott, Cary Grant, Shirley Temple, Paul Jones, William B. Jones, Norman Rockwell, Bruce Willis, Marjorie Williams Jones, Aunt Ina, Red, Lana Turner, Howard Duff, Peggy Demler, Phyllis Decker Rocker, Ralph and Olga Lewando, Lou Malone, Bill Boninni, Ken Welch, Gus Schirmer, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, John Fearnley, Grace Kelly, Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney, Isabel Bigley, Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Grahame, Sari Price, Lynn Riggs, Mike Todd, Fred Zinnemann, Gordon MacRae, Rouben Mamoulian, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamarr, Lee Strasberg, Bette Davis, Charlotte Greenwood, Nick Pachukis, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, Selma Linch, Evelyn Ward Cassidy, Willy Cassidy, Lotte Cassidy, Cole Porter, John Barrymore, Clive Barnes, Linda Darnell, Gwen Verdon, Willy Kuluva, Rene Coty, Douglas Dillon, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Giuseppe Saragat, Gaetano Martino, Anthony Newley, Dean Martin, Red Skelton, John Gay, Barbara Ruick, Gerald Clarke, Truman Capote, Bob Fosse, Pete Duel, Ruth Aarons, Celeste Holm, George Chakiris, Janis Paige, Richard Brooks, Jean Simmons, Shirley Knight, Mary Ure, Glynis Johns, Don Loper, Hugh Griffith, Susan Hayward, Ross Hunter, James Mason, Meredith Willson, Jack L. Warner, Robert Preston, Hermione Gingold, Barbara Cook, Onna White, Ronny Howard, Morton DaCosta, Rosalind Russell, Richard Widmark, John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, George Sanders, David Niven, Wally Cox, Robert Anderson, Barbara Bel Geddes, Danny Petrie, Bobby Darin, Carol Burnett, Hal Belfer, Bugsy Siegel, Mike Davis, Phyllis McGuire, Sam Giancana, Linda Lavin, Patricia Marand, Stephen Elliott, Agatha Christie, Johnny Carson, George C. Scott, Burt Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Florence Henderson, Bernard Slade, the Cowsills, Renee Valente, Paul Junger Witt, Danny Bonaduce, Dave Madden, Jeremy Gelbwaks, Brian Forster, Alan Napier, Susan Dey, Suzanne Crough, Ray Bolger, Jodie Foster, Dick Clark, Richard Pryor, Lou Gossett, Meredith Baxter, Bernadette Whelan, Lenny Hirshan, Betty Cantu, Fred Cantu, Yvonne Craig, Elvis Presley, Mort Sahl, Robert Vaughn, Mary Tyler Moore, Clint Eastwood, Dr. Rosengarten, Lois Nettleton, Milton Berle, James Garner, Betty White, Deborah Kerr, Linda Evans, Daryl Hannah, Rosanna Arquette, Fred Silverman, Nancy Reagan, Mamie Eisenhower, Larry Crane, Bing Crosby, Buddy Greco, Don Ho, Arthur Fiedler, Rudy Vallee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Trini Lopez, Louis Prima, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Howard Cosell, Robert Wagner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Scott Carpenter, Robert Culp, Gordon Hunt, Tom Jones, Danny Kaye, Oprah Winfrey, Marion Ross, Drew Carey, Ron Podell, Bernadette Peters, Nick Swardson, Hugh Hefner, Mitchell Ivers (senior editor), Jen Bergstrom (vice president and publisher), Louise Burke (president and publisher), Jen Robinson (vice president, publicity director), Natasha Simons (editorial assistant), John Paul Jones (associate director of copyediting), Lisa Litwack (art director), Dan Strone, Kseniya Zaslavskaya, Rick Hersh, Wendy Leigh


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