Shirley Jones Remembers Carousel

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Carousel was only Shirley Jones' second feature film, and yet, the actress with the golden pipes was certainly ready to tackle another masterpiece from Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers.

Speaking about the role, she remembered, “I felt that Julie had a lot more scope as an actress. Laurey [whom I played in Oklahoma!] was the little girl that I was. Julie was an acting role for me, and that was a little bit more difficult. That was something I really had to concentrate on.”

Below Jones reminiscences more on the musical film.

1. On the music.

“My favorite. To me, this music is the most beautiful music of all time. And Richard Rodgers stated that fact himself. He felt that it was his finest score. I agree.”

2. On getting cast.

“I had no idea that I was being considered for the role of Julie. I was under personal contract to Rodgers and Hammerstein. I had just done Oklahoma!, and now, I was doing Oklahoma! on stage… I get a telephone call from my agent saying, 'Shirley, they want you to come back to Hollywood. They want you to star in Carousel.’ Apparently, one of their statements to 20th Century Fox was that they should definitely use Shirley Jones in the role of Julie. They went to bat for me to do this film.”

3. On Frank Sinatra.

“We did all the rehearsals, all the pre-production, all of the photographs, and all of the costuming and everything else with Frank. Frank was very excited about playing Billy Bigelow. What American male singer didn’t want to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel? He was thrilled to play the part. He kept saying to me, ‘It’s the dream of my life. I can’t wait to sing with you, Shirley.’”

4. On Sinatra quitting.

“Now I knew in advance that we were doing Carousel in two separate processes – regular CinemaScope and CinemaScope 55 – and we would have to do some of the scenes twice. Frank arrived on set… and he said, ‘Why the two cameras?’ And [director Henry King] said, ‘We may have to shoot some of the scenes twice.’ And that’s all he said, and Frank Sinatra said, ‘I signed to do one movie, not two.’ He got back in the limousine, and we lost our leading man.”

5. On Gordon MacRae’s casting.

“I kept in touch with Gordon. We were close. Henry Ephrom, the producer/writer, came over to me in tears… He said, ‘Where’s Gordon MacRae? Can you get him on the phone for me?’ Well, I got him on the phone, and I said, ‘How would you like to play Billy Bigelow in Carousel?’ And he said, ‘Give me three days. I have to lose ten pounds.’ He was so thrilled to be playing it.”

6. On Barbara Ruick.

“I adored Barbara. I had to do some screen tests with young actresses to play Carrie… and then Barbara came in. And Barbara sang ‘Mr. Snow’ and the tears just welled up in my eyes. I was so taken with this actress and this singer. And of course, she got the role, which I was thrilled about. We became best friends.”

7. On the moving nature of Carousel.

“Each character has a sadness associated with them, one way or another. As an audience, you’re sitting back saying, ‘Please, let them be happy. Let them have a good life.’ As it turns out, it’s one sad moment after another.”