A Chat with Shirley Jones, a Colleen for ‘Days of Our Lives’

As NBC’s Days of our Lives prepares to say goodbye to Julie Pinson, who plays Billie Reed, a blast from the Brady family past is preparing to stage a comeback.

Academy Award-winner Shirley Jones, who I first saw as Laurey in the epic musical, “Oklahoma!,” and later as Mrs. Partridge on ABC’s The Partridge Family, will be appearing on “Days of our Lives” on a limited run. 

Colleen Brady didn’t throw herself off that cliff in Ireland all those years ago, after all.

Jones previously confirmed the news of her joining Days of Our Lives in an interview with Variety. “It’s hard work,” Jones told Variety’s Armand “Army” Archerd.  “I didn’t want to do it, but they gave me more money than — ”

For the role, Jones will be speaking with an Irish accent, and trained with Robert Easton, the prominent dialect coach.

 

 

 

 

Ms. Jones screen credits include the films Oklahoma! Elmer Gantry (for which she won an Oscar) April Love, Carousel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and Raising Genius, and the shows Monarch Cove, The Drew Carey Show, Burke’s Law, and The Partridge Family. 

Some of her theater work includes Maggie Flynn, The Sound of Music and The King & I.

On Days of our Lives, Jones will portray Colleen Brady, the allegedly dead great-aunt of Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney). 

Colleen’s story has been teased in flashbacks revealing letters exchanged between her and Santo DiMera (played by James Scott in flashback scenes), an Italian businessman with whom she had a fated love affair against her father’s wishes. 

Monsters and Critics was lucky to speak with Shirley Jones about her upcoming “Days” role, and her prolific career on stage and screen.

I’ve actually been watching the show (DOOL) off and on for over 40 years.

Shirley Jones: Have you really?

Yes.

Shirley Jones: Wow.

It was a half hour show and in Black and White and it followed the Mike Douglas Show, and when I was very little I watched it while my mother would iron.

Shirley Jones: Oh, great.

My mum wants to know how Colleen survived – she supposedly had thrown herself off the cliffs in Ireland?

Shirley Jones: Right.

She wanted to know how you survived and what have you been up to?

Shirley Jones: That’s kind of a secret. I guess it’s supposed to be a secret until you see the show. But I didn’t throw myself off the cliff. I faked my suicide.

She wants to know if you became a nun like you were supposed to?

Shirley Jones: No, I didn’t become a nun because I fell in love and decided that that wasn’t what nuns do. So I left my habit on top of the cliffs, faked the suicide and went on to another life.

What your first day on the set was like, and was this your first daytime show?

Shirley Jones: It certainly is. I was a nervous wreck.

What were your biggest surprises?

Shirley Jones: I had never done six shows in six days, which is how they do it as you well know. I had page after page, after page of dialogue to memorize and – as well as an Irish brogue.

So it was not easy. But I ended up loving it, had a great time with everybody and they couldn’t be more helpful. So I had a good time.

So you didn’t throw yourself off a cliff, but can you tell us a little bit about your storyline? Are you actually in Salem or is somebody going to Ireland for you?

Shirley Jones: No, I’m in Ireland. I got – took another life, another name. And then amassed a great deal of money sewing for people, and had a whole other life. And finally decided that it was time to tell my story.

Who are you working with in addition to Shawn?

Shirley Jones: Everybody. Deidre – everybody. Everybody on the show – actually, just about everybody on the show is in several of these episodes with me, and certainly the last one.

How did it work out that you are on this show? Was it as simple as somebody calling and inviting you?

Shirley Jones: More or less, it came through agents and people like that. And in the beginning when I – they first called me, I – because I knew what it was going to be, and I said no I don’t think I can do that. I’m not sure I can do that. I’m not sure I want to do that. I don’t know.

I was very indecisive. And finally, the Executive Producer, Ed, who is sweet, wonderful guy – he called me. He said Shirley, this is a marvelous part.
You know, in my later years — as I’ve said to my agents and everybody else — it’s not the money that work for now, it’s the part. And it is a wonderful part. And that’s why I decided I wanted to do it.

And what is it about the part that you liked?

Shirley Jones: Well first of all she’s a – about a 90-year-old lady and she’s dying. And she has an Irish brogue, and she has an unbelievable story to tell. And she has a lot of bitchiness.

Soap opera acting often gets mocked, but people who do it even a little bit, they often say how demanding it is.

Shirley Jones: Very demanding. I had no idea. I really came away with great admiration for everybody that does this and does it daily. I mean, it’s not easy. It’s a lot of memorization, a lot of fast work.

As I said, six shows in six days – I mean I’m used to rehearsing for three weeks and going on the stage or rehearsing for months and doing a movie. I mean, this is very hard work. But wonderful and everybody is so good at it. So it makes it easier for new people coming in.

What is it that drives you as an actor?

Shirley Jones: I just enjoy doing it. I really do. I just said to my husband, you know, he said, you know, that – are you going to stop ever? And I said no, not as long as there’s a role out there and something for me to do out there.

I love doing it. I really do. I’ve always enjoyed it. I mean, I started when I was 18 years old and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped. I remember I was doing it when I was pregnant with my three children. So, it’s something that I love.
Soap opera acting has a huge amount of drama involved in it.

Did you have to brush up on how to be extra dramatic?

Shirley Jones: Well yeah, it is. I remember – as I said we had a wonderful Executive Producer, Ed Scott. And he was on the phone with me every day prior to first day shooting and stuff like that. We were talking about the scripts, talking about the character – blah, blah, blah.

And I would say well,  can we cut this line? Can we cut this line and add this line? And we went through it, you know. And finally he said at the end — which I thought was very funny — he said well you’ve just cut out all the soap.

I said no, I won’t do that. But what I loved about it was,  obviously I had to work hard because number one I had to work with learning an Irish brogue which I’ve never done a role – this is a first for me. I’ve never done a role where I had to have an accent of any kind.

That plus pages and pages, and pages of dialogue every day which I learned. I’m – I come from the old school. I don’t use cue cards or stuff like that. I believe in learning everything.

So that also is difficult – I mean, because I’m telling my life story basically in these episodes. And so I have very few cues from other people, which makes it easier to learn. It was hard. It was very hard. And I came away respecting these people tremendously for what they do.

Do you have a favorite? Do you have a preference in acting?

Shirley Jones: I love it all. I’m one of these people that loves new challenges and, even at my age now, I welcome them. I mean, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be great at it. But,  I may fail – but I’m not afraid.

And I think that’s one of the things that’s kept me going in my career.

Being on a soap opera, is there any like ridiculous soap opera scenario that you wouldn’t choose?

Shirley Jones: I don’t know. I, this went – as I said, this part was great. I mean, I loved the character. I loved the fact of who she was and she had a lot of sort of bitchiness in her which was fun to play.

And I don’t know. I mean, again, as I said earlier to me it’s not the money these days. It’s the part. And if the part is good and I believe in it, and I think that it’s true, then I’ll do it.

Are you now or have you ever been a soap opera addict yourself?

Shirley Jones: No. In a word,  no.  I intermittently have watched, I guess all of them maybe once or twice. But no, I’m not a soap opera person mostly because I, I work myself during the day. So I’ve never had time really to get involved. But I loved doing this.

I ended up loving doing it. I was terrified in the beginning and took on a challenge which I wasn’t sure I could meet. But I feel that I did, and now I’m very happy about it.

But you have done nighttime soap before. You were on an episode of Melrose Place.

Shirley Jones: Yes. I did Melrose Place and I did a thing for Lifetime in Australia just last year, you know, and it was called a nighttime soap. So – didn’t do much, but it was fun to be in Australia for two months.

Did you find the melodrama any different from daytime to nighttime?

Shirley Jones: Not much. I think maybe it was a little less melodrama at night that it is in the daytime, I guess. But people love this. I mean,  I guess it’s some form of escape for them as well as, going to a Disney film. I mean, it’s an escape in their – in its own way.

You’ve played roles from Mother Goose to Lulu Bains. Is there any obscure performance on your resume that maybe not a lot of people remember, but you’re personally particularly proud of?

Shirley Jones: Well I did a couple of, you know, television movies that I loved a lot. I did a thing with Lloyd Bridges about a couple that was – that met and fell in love. And they were both married and Silent Night, Lonely Night was the name of it.
And it was over the Christmas holidays. And it was a beautiful film, I thought. It had been a Broadway show and Lloyd and I did the film version. And it was just a beautiful love story.

I also did another film about Alzheimer’s which I was very proud of and had an Emmy nomination for.

What’s your favorite piece of Partridge Family merchandise you’ve ever seen?

Shirley Jones: Merchandise? Let’s see. I’m trying to – I’m not sure I saw it all to tell you the truth. You know, the lunchbox obviously. That’s in the Smithsonian Institute right now.

That along with about ten other ones, of that period. So that was a biggie. And they had the dolls and the paper dolls, which I thought was fun.

Are you actively looking for projects to work on with your family, with your sons? Are you looking for anything to do together?

Shirley Jones: We don’t do it actively. They’re also active in their own right, you know, doing things.  My oldest son Shaun is now a writer/producer – television and, you know. And so he’s not really acting much anymore.

My middle son, I do work with. I have to say that Patrick is – has done seven Broadway shows and we went back four years ago and did 42nd Street together on Broadway.  We made Broadway history for the first time a mother and son had ever appeared together in a Broadway musical.

So we have worked together quite a bit. And my youngest son, of course, is an art director/set decorator, so I’ve been on his sets a few times. But that’s about it.
But no, you know, Shaun wrote a segment for me in one of his series that he had on – Cover Me, I think was the name of it now. And I had a two-hour stint on that. So intermittently we do that.

As a matter of fact, Patrick and I are going to be working together in April. We’re going to do the Music Man together up in Hartford, Connecticut. And I’m going to,  of course do the Pert Kelton role. I’m not playing the lead, but he’s going to play the lead so it’ll be fun to work with him again.

What are some of your favorite Valentine’s Day memories?

Shirley Jones: Well my husband and I have been married 30 years at this point which is kind of a long time, in particularly our industry.

And one Valentine’s Day, which was about five years ago, he bought me a candy store. A chocolate store.  Because I love chocolates. So, since we’ve sold it but that was my Valentine present.

Have you ever counted up how many Broadway shows you’ve done?

Shirley Jones: Well actually the Broadway shows situation isn’t, you know, is very little. I’ve really only done four, probably. I’ve done a lot of theater, but not on Broadway, I did summer theater every year for seven years – all kinds of shows. And then…

Was that in the beginning of your career?

Shirley Jones: The beginning of my career was Broadway. Yes, definitely. I was in the chorus of South Pacific – the last six months of the Broadway Company – one of the nurses.

And then my husband, Jack Cassidy and I did a show called Maggie Flynn, which was a beautiful score. It didn’t last very long.  After 38 years, I just went back as I said earlier with my son, Patrick Cassidy, four years ago and we did 42nd Street together for five months.

How did you get cast in Oklahoma? How did that happen?

Shirley Jones: Well that’s kind of a – I’ll make it short, but I was just out of high school, on my way to college. I wanted to be a veterinarian and I was singing. I could always sing. I was singing- born singing. I was, you know, six years old – I was the youngest member of the church choir at age six.

So I – that was a gift. And I stopped off in New York City with my parents on my way to college, went to an open audition to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s casting director. In turn, he called in Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to hear me personally..

A lot of other people waiting in line just to sing for them because they had four shows running on Broadway at that time, and they had to keep replacing chorus people. And so this was just a fluke.

So I went in and sang. And they asked me what I had done and so forth. And needless to say, I never got to college, never became a veterinarian because three weeks later I was in my first Broadway show, South Pacific.

And within that year I was playing the lead in the movie of Oklahoma.

And they remembered you or they knew you from the work that you had done in South Pacific, or they remembered your audition?

Shirley Jones: Well they put me in South Pacific.  And remembered, yeah – at the time they were preparing the motion picture of Oklahoma. I mean, this was their baby. And they produced it themselves.

And so they had me – while I was in South Pacific, I read and sang for the movie people, the director and producer.

Then they decided, well maybe I was too young and too inexperienced. So they put me in a show called Me and Juliet, which was another R&H show. I went to Chicago with that show, playing the role of Juliet, which was a featured part.

After they had seen and screen tested every young woman of – both in Hollywood and New York, they came back to me, and sent me to California to test for the role. And that all happened within a year of my first audition.

Yeah, it was an incredible story.

Would you do another soap opera if another one comes along?

Shirley Jones: Well once again, it depends on the part, you know. As I said, I like challenges. This was a biggie for me, a big challenge. But, you know, it depends – it would depend on the part, yes.

Did you have a dialect coach for your accent?

Shirley Jones: Yes I did. The famous Robert Easton and he’s been around for many years, has worked with everybody in the business – about everybody. And he was just a delight.

And as he said — which was nice — he said when we’d just first started working together, he said, you’re a natural because you’re a singer. And he said I find that singers, you know, do this very easily because they have a good ear.

What part is the most memorable to you and you hold closest to your heart when you look back in your career?

Shirley Jones: Well it’s hard to say because I would have to mention Elmer Gantry because I won the Academy Award. So, you know, that changed the course of my career. So that has to be up there, you know, in the number one category somewhere.

But the musicals – I mean, I’m a singer so the musicals – I mean, having had the opportunity to appear in these musicals that would be around long after we’re all gone.

You know, the Music Man and Carousel, and Oklahoma – I mean, those are really incredible things to have been a part of. And so it’s been a good combination.
I mean, I’ve gone from, you know, one medium to another and rather successfully I’m happy to say.

I feel very fortunate because the Partridge Family was the first television basically and it lasted almost five years.

So that was a big success and is around still. it’s just been an incredible career.

You’ve been very successful in every one of the mediums.

Shirley Jones: I have. I have and I’m happy to – very happy to say, and I’m grateful for that.  It’s been a wonderful career for me.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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