by Liza Wilson
The American Weekly
July 10, 1955
“I was the cryingest baby in Smithton, Pennsylvania,” says Shirley Jones, the talented young singer who plays Laury in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, recently filmed in Todd-AO process (a new wide angle photographic technique).
“I cried steadily for six years. The neighbors hated me. My mother and Dad were filled with despair. When they took me to doctors in nearby Pittsburgh, those learned men mearly shook their heads. ‘Mrs. Jones,’ they said, ‘you just have a natural born crier.’
“And I was taken home to weep some more. That’s the reason I’m an only child. My parents just couldn’t go through listening to so much racket a second time.”
Shirley Believes her early crying was responsible for her singing voice with which she is blessed today, because it developed her lungs and vocal cords.
Little Miss Jones must have had occasional sunny moods in her childhood, however, for she reports that she started singing as soon as she could talk. Her family paid little attention to this cheerful tune making until the summer when Shirley was twelve and went away to camp. The camp councilor told them:
“Your daughter has a magnificent voice. You should do something about it.”
Singing lessons were begun and when Shirley finished high school she attended a drama school in Pittsburgh.
She also sang the leads in several Civic Light Opera productions.
In August, 1953, the Jones family had a New York Vacation: a ssort of special event before Shirley was to enter college. That trip became so special, after she received a phone call from her voice coach in Pennsylvania, that she turned back on campus life completely.
“Do me a favor while you’re in the big city,” the voice coach begged on the wire. “Audition for a theatrical agent friend of mine. It can’t do any harm.”
Shirley auditioned and signed a contract with the agent. The it was arraanged for her to sing for Rodgers and Hammerstein.
“Don’t you think she’d make a perfect Laurey?” se heard Mr. R. whisper to MR. H. But at that time Shirely hadn’t the vaguest idea what they were talking about.
The two great men of show business must have liked the way she sang their song People Will Say We’re In Love, because they put her in the chorus ofSouth Pacific—to gain poise and experience. Later they had her understudy one of the leads, as well as sing in the chorus of their Me and Juliet.
During the road tour of this show Shirley was summoned to Hollywood. She and dozens of other young hopefuls were to be tested for the role of Laurey in the screen version of Oklahoma!, to be produced by Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
“I wanted the part so badly but I didn’t dare hope,” she says. “I’d never been frustrated in my life. I’d never had a tragic moment. How could I expect to be a motion picture star, if I hadn’t suffered?”
That was Shirley’s reasoning and after ten days of tests–but no verdict—she rejoinded Me and Juliet in Chicago. This time she was promoted to leading lady. As such, Shirley still indulged in her little girl hobby of collecting dolls and her love of sports. She contuinued to adore relaxing her her favorite toreador pants, and occasionally “gussied up to go some place.”
Her first momentous step toward Som Place had come out of the phone call that caused her to change her career from college to stage. And it was Mr. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention that annouced her next step forward, when it jangled back stage while Me and Juliet was still playing in Chicago.
“Hey, Shirley Jones!” one of the chorus girls in the company shouted. “Hollywood’s calling you.” Then she added facetiously as she handed the receiver to the youthful star, “If it’s Brando, give him my love.”
The call came from Shirley’s Hollywood agent, and she says he spoke “the two mos beautiful words I’ll ever hear.”
They were “Hello, Laurey.”
While those words annouced that she had won the coveted role, they may also have served a cue to revert to her childhood habit and cry—this time for joy.
And speaking of cues, when you see this twenty one year-old blond singer as Laurey, here’s one for movie-goers from Rodgers and Hammerstein: “Shirley is really just a healthy, wholesome, ideal American gril who wasn’t acting so much in Oklahoma!, then playing herself.
That is a compliment well deserved by the “cryingest baby of Smithton” grown up—Miss Shirley Jones.