By Lara Gabrielle Fowler
Today was a very special day at Cinecon, as guests anxiously awaited a much-anticipated Q&A session with the legendary Shirley Jones following a screening of April Love. As you may know, I am a big fan of Jones’ portrayal of the prostitute Lulu Barnes in Elmer Gantry and I was excited to tell her so. She was to sign copies of her recently published memoir after the screening and Q&A, so I had been looking forward to the screening all weekend.
I had never seen the movie before, and had no idea what to expect. What I found was that this film was a hearty slice of Americana starring wholesome crooner Pat Boone as a “wayward” teenager sent to live with his aunt on a farm after stealing a car, where he meets the tomboy neighbor and horse enthusiast played by Jones. As can be expected, they fall in love. How Boone could have been a “bad boy” is beyond me, he’s a complete angel in the movie. I have never seen a more wholesome teenager. Though he ultimately gets in trouble again for driving a car without a license, he redeems himself by coming clean and the police officer forgives him. Basically this movie was a censor’s dream.
Prior to Elmer Gantry, Shirley Jones played almost exclusively these types of girl-next-door, Americana good girls. Her sweet face and beautiful soprano voice allowed her to play these roles to great effect, and her talent in this milieu was well-known.
“People Will Say We’re In Love” from Oklahoma, Jones’ film debut after a successful career on the Broadway stage.
April Love is no exception to the rule, and her performance is, once again, the highlight of the film. One moment especially stands out–during a song called “Do It Yourself,” Jones gets the opportunity to demonstrate her solid musical technique. She sings two brief operatic cadenzas within the song, and not only are they musically flawless, but she hits one VERY high note, one so high it is close to unheard of in Jones’ field of musical theater. In addition to her expertise in musical theater, my guess is that Jones must have had some operatic training. Her voice shows evidence of opera technique, and her ability to hit those extremely high notes suggests a vocal range honed in operatic studies.
After the movie, I intended to go up to Shirley Jones, tell her about my admiration for her role in Elmer Gantry and ask about any operatic training she may have had. She and Pat Boone, who was also there, answered some questions posed in an interview and then Shirley headed up to the lobby to sign copies of her newly published memoir. I own a copy, so I brought it for her to sign so that I could meet her. There were many people waiting, and understandably, Shirley needed to keep the line moving. I did tell her about my love for role in Elmer Gantry, which she appreciated and she commented on how well the movie still holds up today. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time with her to ask about her opera training, but I’m hoping that someday I might get to meet her again. She makes frequent appearances at festivals and still does concerts, so perhaps our paths will cross again and I will have more time with her.
I recently made a post about Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry, explaining more about Shirley Jones’ career before the movie and how it changed her perception in the industry. Click here to read it.