This post is written in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and Scribe Hard on Film. Full listings for SUTS programming on Turner Classic Movies can be found HERE.
“Deep down I am a small-town girl from Smithton, Pennsylvania.”
Despite having only seen a couple of her films, Shirley Jones is a pet favorite of mine because my parents currently live in her home town of Smithton, PA, about an hour southwest of Pittsburgh on the Youghiogheny River. As a kid, I spent my summers in Smithton with my grandmother, frittering away my carefree days in Jones’s old stomping grounds. I remember when the Jones Brewery, which had been producing Stoney’s Beer in Smithton since 1907, shut down and my parents went to the gift show sale. My sainted mother, who never touches beer, bought a comfy pull-over with the Stoney’s logo, which she still wears.
“When I was four years old, and playing in the family-owned Jones Brewery, my grandfather promised me some jelly beans if I drank some beer. I jumped at the opportunity, tried the beer, and hated it. But I loved the brewery, and everything about it, primarily because it was my haven, my second home… I spent much of my childhood there, playing hide-and-seek among the beer vats and ice lockers, while my father’s employees all held their breath, terrified that I would accidentally lock myself in a freezer and emerge as a pint-sixed ice sculpture!”
Jones described Smithton as “a Norman Rockwell painting in living color,” and this is still basically true today. Smithon is situated on a hill, with about four or five streets of neatly-kept houses and bungalos rising up to Dr. Post’s mansion at the top of the hill. Well, when I was a kid it seems like a mansion – it’s grown smaller in successive visits. And I certainly can’t ever remember any Dr. Post, but that’s what it’s called. Coming to Smithton off I-70, then route 51, past the golf course, past Olive Branch cemetery, you cross the river, then the railroad tracks, then round the bend of the Little League baseball field. There are a couple small bar restaurants, Jack’s family-run super-market, the bank, post office, Barthels funural home, a few lovely churches whose bells ring out in glorious harmony every Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the old cinema building stands empty across the street from Legion Park. Smithton is a sweet town, which, like a Rockwell painting, enjoys the four seasons in all their bounty and color.
“Smithton was a classic all-American small town, like River City in THE MUSIC MAN, made up of only four streets, and my childhood there was idyllic… As we all waited to grow up, we relished our childhood in Smithton. Our world was small, self-contained, innocent, and ideal. Smithton was so tiny that the town had no policeman, only a sheriff, and there was just one movie theater, the Smithton Movie House, which played movies only on the weekend. Smithton boasted just one grocery store, a drugstore, and a little variety store, which sold toys and clothes and candy.”
Shirley Jones Must-See Movie Number One: OKLAHOMA! (1955)
Shirley Jones’s film debut is the greatest Western musical, with catchy tunes, an interesting plot, a little romance, a few laughs, and a little suspense. I was in the pit orchestra for my high school’s production of OKLAHOMA! so maybe I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure this is just a really good movie.
Laurey: Curly! You’re sittin’ on the stove!
Curly: Youch! [jumps up the feels the stove] Cold as a hunk of ice.
Laurey: Wish it would’ve burned a hole in your pants.
Curly: If she liked me any more, she’d sic the dogs on me.
Shirley Jones Must-See Movie Number 2: THE MUSIC MAN (1962)
Between Meredith Wilson’s music, Shirley Jones’s singing, and whatever it is you want to call what Robert Preston does, this is an all-around great musical. Ronnie Howard as the lisping Winthrop is adorable, and Buddy Hackett as the lovable sidekick is, well, lovable. And who doesn’t love a bit of marching band music. Tum-ta-tum!
Shirley Jones Must-Never-See-Ever-Worst-Movie-Ever: CAROUSEL (1956)
Bad story and bad music. I totally wasted two hours of my life waiting for the movie to get better. It never did.
To end on a happy note, here’s a video of Shirley Jones singing. Happy Shirley Jones day, everybody!