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Today, Ms Jones’ breakout role as Laurey Williams in the 1955 classic Oklahoma, airs today on Channel 5 from 2.15pm. The film follows Ms Jones’ character, a farm girl, and her courtship of two rival lovers, chiefly Curly McLain, played by Mr MacRae and the villainous farmhand Jud Fry. Among its many storylines included the area’s desire to become a state, as well as local conflicts between cattlemen and farmers.
It remains one of the world’s most loved musicals, and in 2007 was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The film catapulted Ms Jones to global stardom, and led to roles in films such as Elmer Gantry, which saw her collect an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
And while Ms Jones’ influence on what is dubbed as the Golden Age of Hollywood is clear, what is often unknown is her role in securing Mr MacRae’s part in 1956’s Carousel.
Ms Jones was picked to star as Julie Jordan in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, opposite legendary crooner Frank Sinatra, who had been chosen to play Billy Bigelow.
Shirley Jones’ awkward call to Gordon MacRae after Frank Sinatra snubbed Carousel
Gordon MacRae in Oklahoma
Discussing the role in 2014, Ms Jones told the TCM Classic Movie Festival that a row broke out over the filming schedule that left Mr Sinatra furious.
The pair had already completed all the rehearsals and pre-recordings of the film, but Mr Sinatra soon realised that the production of Carousel would be completed over two separate film shoots.
Ms Jones recalled Mr Sinatra tell film bosses that he’d “signed to do one movie, not two” before heading out of the shoot and straight to the airport.
The film’s producers begged Ms Jones to speak with Mr MacRae and get him involved, and so she made the call.
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Shirley Jones alongside Gordon MacRae
She continued: “I was standing on the dock. I got some quarters. I went to a payphone. I got him, and I told him the story.
“I said, ‘Gordon, would you like to play Billy Bigelow?’
“And, he said, ‘Give me a week. I have to lose ten pounds!’
“And that’s how that came to be; it was remarkable because the role, of course, was so perfect for Sinatra, but I have to tell you, when I heard Gordon sing it, I fell apart.
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Carousel film poster
“He sang that score so beautifully. He was wonderful in it.”
It was unclear to Ms Jones why Mr Sinatra pulled the plug on his time on the set of Carousel, but she told the audience that some years later she’d found out why.
She said: “Ava Gardner [Mr Sinatra’s wife] was doing Mogambo with Clark Gable in Africa.
“And she called him [Mr Sinatra] and said, ‘Unless you get your fanny down here I’m having an affair with Gable’.”
Filming in the UK
Ms Jones added: “Apparently, that’s the reason he left the movie.”
The star, 88, also discussed her affection towards Mr MacRae, who passed away in 1986.
She noted how in her youth she would wake up and listen to his radio show each morning, and detailed how she “loved all the scenes” with Mr MacRae in Oklahoma.
She added: “Gordon MacRae was my favourite singer of all time.
“For me to have the opportunity to sing with him… was very, very exciting for me.”
Carousel airs today at 2.15pm on Channel 5.