As a teenager, Shirley Jones faced one of the biggest decisions of her life. She had gotten pinned to her first boyfriend, a West Point cadet, and everyone in her small Pennsylvania town expected them to get engaged. “I left the dance thinking this is not for me,” she confesses to Closer exclusively.

A gifted singer since childhood, Shirley became a star in musicals, an Oscar-winning dramatic actress, and a beloved TV icon on The Partridge Family. There were tears, struggles and tragedy, but Shirley, who turns 90 on March 31, can’t help but count the blessings in her public and private life. “I’ve been so fortunate,” she says. “I have three incredible kids, 12 incredible grandchildren. I had two incredible husbands — what else could I want?”

The star began singing in church at 6 and performed in plays in high school. She won the title of Miss Pittsburgh in 1952. “I went on to the Miss Pennsylvania competition and came in second,” she recalls. Shirley loved performing, but she thought she’d wind up in veterinary school. That dream changed on a trip to New York just before her 18th birthday.

On a whim, Shirley attended an open audition for a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. “Two weeks later, I was in my first ever Broadway show, South Pacific. I was one of the nurses,” she says. “Three months later, I was in Arizona, playing Laurey in the motion picture of Oklahoma!.”

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Shirley also starred in the musicals Carousel and The Music Man, but within the next few years, the glory days of the movie musical would be over. She had the foresight to audition for a dramatic role on TV’s Playhouse 90. “I played an alcoholic opposite Red Skelton as a comic on the skids,” she recalls.

Burt Lancaster saw the program and decided that Shirley would be perfect to play Lulu Bains in 1960’s Elmer Gantry, the role that would win her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. “It was so unexpected,” she admits. “I was known as a singer, but that award made me an actress.”

Beautiful Morning

On a European tour with Oklahoma!, Shirley fell for her costar Jack Cassidy. “He was handsome and a leading man, but what he did better was comedy and that intrigued me more than anything,” admits Shirley, who was smitten even though he was still married to his first wife. “

“My father was one of the most charismatic, beyond talented people that she ever knew,” Ryan Cassidy tells Closer exclusively. “He was just an incredibly magical guy and had the kind of personality that drew you in.” The couple wed in 1956 and became parents to Ryan, 58, and his older brothers, Shaun, 65, and Patrick, 62. “Jack was my first love and the love of my life,” says Shirley.

In the 1960’s, she turned down the role of The Brady Bunch’s Carol, but Shirley was intrigued by the script for TV’s The Partridge Family, in which she would play a single mom and head of a musical family. “For me, it was a way to stay home and raise my kids,” says the actress, who starred on the series from 1970 to 1974. “It was the perfect thing for me.”

Ryan recalls accompanying his mom to the set and pretending to drive The Partridge Family bus. He praises Shirley for always being there for her sons. “My mother was able to separate her work life from being a mom at home,” he says. “She came to baseball games and graduations. She was very hands-on.”

The Partridge Family also allowed Shirley to become closer with David Cassidy, her stepson from Jack’s first marriage. “David would come to my house and help me with my kids,” says Shirley, who was heartbroken by his 2017 death. “He was a good guy, and I loved him. He really was like my son.”

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Second Chances

In 1975, Jack asked for a separation and then a divorce. “It was a big surprise,” Shirley says. “I had a hard time when he moved out. I went to a therapist for a while, but then I met Marty.”

Shirley and comedian Marty Ingels wed in 1977. “He was the funniest person and always made me laugh,” she says of her second husband. Like any union, it had its ups and downs. At one point, the couple split up for a year on the advice of their therapist, and Shirley’s eldest son, Shaun, butted heads with Marty, but the couple remained married until Marty’s 2015 passing. “Something about them worked,” says Ryan. “He made my mom happy.”

These days, Shirley is retired from performing and takes her greatest pleasure in the company of her pets and her family. “I talk to her every day,” says Ryan. “Her favorite thing to do is watch old movies with actors she worked with.” He admits that it can be bittersweet because so many of them are gone. “She mostly has good memories.”

Looking back at her life and career makes Shirley feel grateful. “I’ve had everything,” she says. “If I had a second chance to do something different, there is nothing I would change.”

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