Shirley Jones proved her mettle as a star of musicals, albeit predominantly in film musicals. She found her early start when the casting director for Rodgers and Hammerstein, John Fearnley, discovered her at a casting call. When Richard Rodgers saw what Jones was capable of, she was put under contract with the duo (the first and only singer to achieve this honor). She was immediately cast in a minor role in South Pacific, and then was given a chorus role in their musical Me and Juliet, working her way up to an understudy for the lead. When Rodgers and Hammerstein went to Hollywood to begin work on the film version of their groundbreaking Oklahoma! (1955), it was Jones that they cast in the role of the farm girl Laurey.
Hollywood proved to be a perfect fit for Jones, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were quick to usher her into the film version of Carousel (1956) when the casting of Judy Garland fell through. Other film musicals included April Love (1957) and the film adaptation of the Broadway hit The Music Manin the role of the uptight Marian the Librarian. She also won an Oscar for playing Lulu Baines in the nonmusical Elmer Gantry. Broadway, however, would eventually beckon Shirley Jones back, and the star vehicle that would be her triumphant return would be the short-lived Maggie Flynn (1968).