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Sense and Nonsense: Shirley: Why did you have to tell us all that stuff?

August 5, 2013

By Lynda Hollenbeck

In the mid-1990s I had the privilege of interviewing actress Shirley Jones.
She had been my movie heroine for many years, so I was thrilled when she came to Little Rock for a promotional event that included the showing of "Oklahoma!," the marvelous movie she made with Gordon MacRae.
I don't remember the arrangements that made it possible for me to spend time with her, but I do know I jumped at the opportunity.
The "Oklahoma!" showing in LR was at the old Cinema 150, which was a delightful venue for the days when I was a frequent viewer of Hollywood's offerings.
This was the film that gave Miss Jones her big break in Hollywood and set the path for phenomenal success for the beautiful young girl with the glorious soprano voice.
Working in Little Rock during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I saw that movie at least a dozen times at the old Capitol Theatre. I would have been willing to see it a dozen more times.
Jones represented my ideal in the entertainment world at that time. And, truth be told, my interest in the movie was twofold: I would watch it for its musical value and also for the "let's pretend" moments it gave me.
There was a time when I aspired to a musical career, but that went by the wayside along with some other unfulfilled dreams — some by chance, some because I didn't pursue them with enough vigor. One of my biggest regrets is turning down an opportunity to be a part of a USO tour in Europe, but that's another story, for another time.
Back to Shirley. When I had the good fortune to interview the star in 1995, I was thrilled. It was an enjoyable experience. She was charming, intelligent, gracious – everything I would have imagined her to be.
I wasn't interested in an expose. I just wanted to hear the story of how she was chosen for the role of Laurey in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and other highlights of her career.
And she shared all of that, with infinite detail and lots of incidental stories about people I'd seen on the big screen.
As I listened to her, in the back of my mind was the memory of someone (probably a deranged individual) who once compared my singing to hers. I have never forgotten the thrill that evaluation gave me.
I say all of this to focus on the latest from the Jones camp, which is her "tell-all" autobiography that I wish she had written only in her dreams. Or I at least wish she hadn't published it.
I probably shouldn't comment on it since I haven't read it, but I have read excerpts from reviews and I have to say I'm disappointed. I've never understood the need to tell stuff that nobody wants to know in the first place. And particularly the need that takes the shine off someone I've always admired.
I never equated Shirley Jones with trashy, crude, shocking — et cetera, et cetera and so forth. But his book apparently brings out a lot of stuff she felt compelled to throw at her fans to shatter her "pure" image.
I saw her in the role of Lulu Baines, the woman of ill repute, in "Elmer Gantry," and she was quite convincing. She won an Academy Award for that performance. But this was a movie script and she was an actress.
I wasn't hoping for a real-life accounting of every lewd thought she ever had, much less lewd behavior.
I hope I can set all of this stuff aside when I see the DVD versions of those wonderful movies she made — particularly my favorite, "The Music Man." I never equated her with Marian the Librarian, but neither did I think of her as a Lulu.
Hollywood ... what can I say. it's a different world.
Wish Shirley had heeded the advice of one of the wisest women I ever knew: Wanda Williams.
Among the many gems Wanda imparted to me was this: "There are some things you should tell only to your pillow."
Shirley, I wish you had known her.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com.

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