Shirley Jones to visit Triad fully clothed

by Jim Longworth

Back in 2009, I moderated a “Mother’s Day Salute to TV Moms” for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. It was a great event except that Shirley Jones (on whom I have a huge crush) couldn’t attend because she had a concert to give that night. I continued to stay in touch with Shirley and her husband Marty Ingels, and later that year when my wife Pam and I returned to LA we stopped by casa Ingels for a visit. Shirley couldn’t have been nicer and Marty, a comedy icon, promoter and film producer) couldn’t have been funnier. On the ride back to our hotel, Pam asked me what I thought of the full length painting of David Cassidy in Shirley’s den.

“What painting?” I replied in a daze. Pam said, “Well did you see her Oscar?” “No,” I said. “It was on the piano,” Pam said. “What piano?” “Didn’t you see anything?” Pam asked in an exasperated tone.

“Yeah, I saw Shirley Jones,” I said. The fact is I was mesmerized by Shirley, and what healthy American male wouldn’t be? This is the woman who two years ago at age 75 posed for Playboy. To my dismay, the photos were never published.

Shirley Jones: It was Marty’s idea. He told Hugh Hefner that just because people age, doesn’t mean they don’t have an audience out there. I thought it was a great idea, but I told them up front that I wouldn’t take all my clothes off. I said, “I’ll show a little bosom and a little hip.” Well, I was there for two days doing photography. Playboy had the best photographers, the best sets, they had me lying in bed with my legs crossed and in low-cut attire. The photos were beautiful, but when Hef saw them, he said, “There’s not enough body showing.” I said, “That’s all you’re going to get.”

Too bad, because I would have bought several copies. Fortunately, though, folks in the Triad will get to see Shirley in the flesh (fully clothed) later this month at the Western Film Fair in Winston-Salem. The actress best known for her four years on “The Partridge Family,” her Oscar for Elmer Gantry and her show-stopping performances in a number of musicals actually made several Westerns. In addition to Oklahoma, Jones starred with Jimmy Stewart in John Ford’s dark classic Two Rode Together, and again with Stewart in The Cheyenne Social Club. Mostly though, Shirley has been cast as the girl next door. I asked if her beauty had ever impeded her career.

SJ: I wouldn’t call it beauty. My looks are just all-American girl, which is not very exciting for a lot of directors. Had Elmer Gantry not come along, I wouldn’t have had a career because I was always type cast. I love to play against type, and I think I do a good job.

Speaking of beauty, Shirley is concerned about the plastic surgery that young girls are having these days.

SJ: It’s preposterous. It’s horrible. I’ve never had anything done, and I never would. I don’t believe in it. If you age, then you age.

But Shirley never seems to age. Still, I wondered why at age 77 and financially secure, she continues to perform and attend events like the upcoming Western Film Fair.

SJ: I still want to get out there and be part of everything. I’ve been doing autograph signings for a long time, and I find it fun, the fact that people are still interested in what I do and who I am.

Until then, Shirley and Marty are busy doing some good, old-fashioned Western pioneer work themselves. Seven years ago they purchased land in Fawnskin, Calif. just to protect the Big Bear Lake area from commercial development. In addition to providing a serene setting for the public to enjoy, the celebrity couple is also dedicating the park to the memory of those who lost their lives on 9-11. The newly landscaped Fawnskin project will have its official opening on Sept. 11.

And so, as the Western Film Fair approaches, it’s only fitting that a natural beauty like Shirley would help preserve the natural beauty of the West. She’s the cowgirl who never appeared in Playboy.

The 34th annual Western Film Fair; Clarion Sundance Plaza Hotel, Winston-Salem; July 20-23; $20/day, $60, 3-day.

Joining Shirley will be Dan Haggerty (“Grizzly Adams”), Connie Stevens (“Hawaiian Eye,” “Maverick”), Julie Adams (Bend of the River, Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Ed Nelson (“Peyton Place,” “Gunsmoke”) who now resides in the Triad. Daily passes are $20, and a three day pass is $60.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).