As I have mentioned numerous times during the course of writing this blog, many of my weekends were spent watching old movies with my Mom. I particularly loved musicals that starred Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Shirley Jones. I thought Shirley’s vocal and acting talents were only matched by her on-screen beauty.
Named after child star Shirley Temple, Shirley Jones started singing at the age of six. She started formal training at the age of 12 and would dream of singing with her idol, Gordon MacRae. Upon graduating from high school, Shirley went to New York to audition for the casting director of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Shirley was signed as a nurse in the Broadway production of “South Pacific” and within a year, she would be in Hollywood to appear in her first film Oklahoma! as Laurey, the farm girl in love with cowboy Gordon MacRae.
After that, Shirley returned to Broadway for the stage production of “Oklahoma!” before returning to Hollywood…this time to shoot another hit musical Carousel. In 1960, Shirley went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her gritty role in Elmer Gantry and do yet anothr musical on screen with Robert Preston as Marion the librarian in The Music Man.
However, my generation remembers her from playing David Cassidy’s Mom in the hit television sitcom “The Partridge Family” making he go down in history as one of America’s most beloved TV Moms.
However, it is her performance in “Oklahoma!” that defined the upstart of her career when the film opened in 1955. OKLAHOMA! would go on to win two Academy Awards and influence theater geeks around the world for decades. There have been several revivals including an Australian version starring Hugh Jackman.
Here are other little known facts about a few of the stars of the legendary musical “Oklahoma”
- As for Gordon MacRae, Oklahoma and Carousel ended up being his most well-known films and unfortunately, he succumbed to mouth and jaw cancer in 1986.
- Gloria Grahame, who played the colorful and playful Ado Annie may be remembered by movie buffs as the town harlott from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life”.
- Grahame was also discovered on Broadway by Louis B. Mayer and named a contract player at MGM. Little known fact: Tone-deaf, she sang without dubbing in only one film, Oklahoma!, where her songs were edited together from recordings made almost literally note by note. Grahame also died from cancer in 1981 at the age of 57.
- Those staunch soap opera fans will remember that All My Children’s Palmer Corlandt was portrayed by James Mitchell, who was also the “Dream Curly” in the Oklahoma ballet with Curly and Laurey.
In celebration of its 60th Anniversary, “Oklahoma” is being screened for a limited engagement is select cinemas on November 1st featuring an exclusive performance by Tony & Emmy Winner Kristin Chenoweth. Tickets for the OKLAHOMA! special event are available now at participating theater box offices and online at www.Oklahoma60.com.
Let’s go where the wind goes sweeping down the plains and watch the original trailer for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!