As a little girl Shirley Jones recalls singing Christmas songs at her family’s holiday celebration.
Some things never change.
Jones is still singing Christmas songs, but now at the new 1,800-seat Ovations LIVE showroom at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino, less than three miles south of Ahwatukee Foothills.
If you go What: Shirley Jones Christmas ShowWhere: Ovations LIVE! Showroom, Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino, 5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler.When: 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17; Friday, Dec. 18; Saturday, Dec. 19; and Sunday, Dec. 20. Also 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19.Tickets: Start at $25, available at 1 800-Win-GILA or www.WinGilaRiver.com. The actress and singer, who, at 18, made her movie debut as Laurie in the movie version of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma then found a new audience a generation later in the successful Partridge Family television series, will be mixing Christmas songs, including “White Christmas,” with show tunes from her movie musicals.
Jones grew up as a girl-next-door in a small town about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh where there weren’t a lot of doors.
Her hometown of Smithon was, and still is, a rural community of less than 1,000 residents in the hills along the Youghiogheny River, where her family owned a local brewery that bottled Stoney’s beer.
Tradition runs strong there, and every Christmas her family, like many other families from other small towns in the area, gathered for a celebration at a restaurant called Sweeney’s about five miles from Smithon.
“I was an only child, but my grandmother had eight children so with aunts and uncles and cousins, it was huge,” Jones recalled last week.
“That was my big Christmas memory,” she added. “It was the first time I ever sang, and then every Christmas as a kid I’d sing at our reunion.”
Jones’ Christmas program, part of a “Legendary Ladies of Stage and Screen” series that includes Rita Moreno in January, Mitzi Gaynor in February and Florence Henderson in March, opens with a 2:30 matinee tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 17, and continues with matinee performances through Sunday, Dec. 20, with a 7:30 p.m. show on Saturday, Dec. 19.
While one generation knows her from starring movie roles in Oklahoma, as Julie in Carousel and Marian in The Music Man, she also won an Academy Award for her best supporting role in a non-singing part in Elmer Gantry and attracted an entirely new audience when she did the Partridge Family television series from 1970 through 1974 with her stepson David Cassidy.
“In those days it was a step down to do television if you were a movie star, so to speak,” Jones explained. “Agents and managers said, ‘Shirley, don’t do a series because if it’s successful you’ll be that character the rest of your career and your movie career will go in the toilet,’ and that’s what happened.”
But she has no regrets doing a popular television series.
“I had done 30 movies before Partridge, but a whole new generation, who are grown ups now, don’t know about my career in musicals unless they had seen them on television,” Jones said.
It also gave her an opportunity to stay close to home where her family included, then teen-aged boys, David, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan.
“I had been on movie locations all my life so I loved it,” Jones explained. “It gave me a chance to stay home and raise my kids.”
If she had a choice, she said, she would have liked to have raised those boys in the small town atmosphere she embraced.
“What it gave me was an incredible solidity and a wonderful set of values that some people don’t have today,” she added. “And I credit that to coming from a small town. I still go back to Smithton and walk the streets and talk to all my high school buddies. I could have raised my kids that way.”
It’s those small town roots and singing Christmas songs at Sweeney’s that make shows like the one Jones is doing this week special for her.
“I love doing Christmas carols, especially ‘Holly Night,’” she said. “That’s why it’s such a wonderful holiday. It spans all those generations.”