I met Shirley Jones in 1987 when she appeared at the Variety Club of Illinois annual celebrity ball to raise money for children’s charities. At that point in time I was the Chairman of the event and worked alongside some of Chicago’s movers and shakers.
Each year we honored a King and Queen of Hearts for their contribution to less fortunate children. The Variety Club is known as the Heart of Show Business and that is how the King and Queen were named. For many years Irv Kupcinet, the author of Kups Column in the Chicago Sun-Times helped to bring in the celebrities for the ball and indeed, many favorites. And my favorite was and still is Shirley Jones, known to the younger generation as Mrs. Partridge of TV fame.
Now this is where I come in spending two days with her and her hubby, Marty Ingles (yes, the husband was there.) The ball was always on a Friday evening. However, when we learned the major entertainment for the evening was Shirley Jones we decided to have a private party in her honor on Thursday evening. She was coming to Chicago’s Union Station on Thursday afternoon. So I brought along an off duty Chicago policeman who loved celebrities to call for her and her husband.
When we arrived at the train station, her train was pulling in and we met Marty Ingles first. We were surprised to see how tall he was. "Where is Shirley?" we asked. He said “there she is on the platform”. Honestly I didn’t recognize her for the moment in person. I called out “Shirley" and then she flashed that beautiful smile and I said "there is Mrs. Partridge" as she had become known to her fans.
She was tickled to learn we had a police escort to drive her to the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Wacker Drive, site of the Celebrity Ball. Now she had luggage and more luggage she traveled with. We hired a Cab to hold the luggage while Johnny Y. drove her to the Hyatt. We had her checked in and had the key with us to escort her to her suite. We told her of the private party we were having for some of our contributors. That evening Chicago’s own Jimmy Damon would sing for us.
We all arrived in the party room just before 7pm and we waited for Shirley to make her entrance. She was beautiful and smiling from ear to ear when the group gave her a standing ovation and welcome. As chairman of the ball I hosted the party and introduced her to the assembled guests. After dinner and a lot of chatter Jimmy Damon sang and he was brilliant that night. After the party was over we asked her to arrive in the Grand Ballroom for rehearsal at 4pm the next day.
At 4pm she came into the room and the workmen getting the ball ready for the evening stopped what they were doing and applauded her. Oscar Brotman was the chair of the evening’s entertainment and asked Shirley if he should build a platform into the audience and what kind of lighting she preferred. Her answer was “I look good in any light and I’ll sing on the stage”. And the rehearsal with the band began. You could hear the proverbial pin drop while she warmed up with the Orchestra. Her warm up was a concert in itself.
Friday night the Ball began. And what an exciting night it turned out to be. Shirley did not have dinner with the audience but was backstage with her husband who would introduce her. Her husband was a trip in his own right. He apparently knew cuss words and to deal with him you cussed back. Shirley heard this and pointed her finger at him and said “Marty behave”. That was it. No more cussing.
And then she was introduced by her husband and the audience began to shout the names of many of songs that were their favorites. The audience then settled down and the sound of music was heard. They were sitting around like children silently so as not to miss a single note. And with each song the audience showed their appreciation with standing ovation after standing ovation.
Wow! A night to remember. Then the magic disappeared but the spell remained. She was gracious and had many photos taken with her admirers. I was fortunate as the Chairman to have my family take their picture with her. We called it the Partridge family portrait.
Saturday came too fast and she had to continue on her tour. So I went to her suite and sat with her and her husband and made arrangements for her to return to Union Station. Yes! You guessed it. Johnny Y. insisted he drive her. He was one happy guy.
The ball was over so it was time to plan for the next ball. They never seemed the same after that beguiling evening. Thank you Mrs. Partirdge aka Shirley Mae Jones.
That memory still lights up the corners of my mind. I hope yours also.
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