There really wasn’t anything unusual about her childhood except for the fact Shirley had a world-class singing voice. She grew up in Smithton, Pa, and her family ran a brewery. Her voice led to her winning the Miss Pittsburgh beauty pageant when she was 18 and to finishing second in the state (the winner competed for Miss America). By chance she ended up in New York auditioning for a part in the chorus of a musical and was discovered by Richard Rodgers. She was soon cast in the lead of “Oklahoma!” and the rest is history.
While Shirley’s professional life blossomed, her personal life was like a yo-yo. Once she met Jack Cassidy she became totally enchanted by him. She was the perfect example of the expression, “love is blind.”
To put it mildly, Cassidy was a cad. He was unfaithful, a neglectful father, did drugs and smoked and drank too much. To top it off, he was bipolar. Despite it all, Shirley put up with his philandering and outlandish behavior for 18 years. She simply couldn’t resist his charms. Even after finally divorcing him she admitted she would always love him.
It seemed inevitable that Jack would meet a tragic end and he did. He fell asleep in his apartment while smoking a cigarette and the resulting fire burned him beyond recognition. By then Shirley had met her second husband, Marty Ingels, but was still crushed by the news.
Shirley’s biography seems to confirm the common belief that the celebrity existence is wild and out of control. Drinking, drugs and infidelity are a way of life for many people in it. Shirley herself was at the fringes of it but couldn’t help but be affected by it. The image of the sweet, innocent lass of her early musicals, or the strong, maternal role in her TV series would be hard to maintain under those circumstances. It may help explain why her favorite roles were when she played against type.