Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Come On, Get Happy! The Partridge Family

In 1970, I fell in love with an older woman...Shirley Jones. Oh, I might have seen here around before. I'm not sure.  She had been in a number of successful films, after all, mostly musicals, but it had been nearly a decade since her last major triumph. I was only three years old when THE MUSIC MAN had been released. But now here she was in my living room starring in THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY.

I'm not sure how much Shirley actually sang on most of the Partridge Family records--heck, even David Cassidy wasn't allowed to sing on some early ones! My first exposure to the new show, though, was the song I THINK I LOVE YOU on the radio, a song I played endlessly, over and over, once I bought the 45.

It's hard not to think of the albums and the show as being two totally separate things. The music was pre-fabricated but there were a number of catchy tunes and David was a very powerful singer for such a young age. Shirley took the lead on two gorgeous renditions of holiday songs on the Christmas album but none of the other TV series regulars appeared on the albums at all. I'd be surprised if any of them ever even set foot in the recording studio.

Taken on its own merits, though, THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY TV series was genuinely one of the best sitcoms on the air in its day.

You all know the plot: A struggling family garage band draft their mom to sing backup and they become a successful, working act, traveling to gigs in a restored old bus painted up in very seventies style. What makes it work, however, is the chemistry between middle son Danny Partridge and the group's hapless agent, Reuben Kincaid.

Danny Bonaduce, sadly destined to a lifetime of very public failings and issues, was quite the amazing little actor in his day with his deadpan delivery and generally expressionless face. He had a great way with a precocious line and former LAUGH-IN sad sack comic Dave Madden made an excellent oil for him in the pilot and in subsequent episodes.

David Cassidy as the lead singer, Keith, with his unique, almost feminine hairstyle, was the talented son of Broadway and TV star Jack Cassidy, at the time married to Shirley thus making David her stepson.

The cast was rounded out with Susan Dey as older sister Laurie, Suzanne Crough as younger sister Tracy and Jeremy Gelbwaks as the youngest boy, Chris. The fact that he was replaced by Brian Forster   and no one really seemed to notice although he looked very, very different, shows that these three were pushed quickly to the background. Susan Dey got some episodes to herself and a few good sisterly digs but THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY very quickly grew to revolve around Keith, Danny and Shirley.

The show was designed almost as much for marketing as for anything else and quickly spawned books, puzzles, games, magazines, comics and toys.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY lasted for four seasons, their records, I believe, a little longer, during which time David Cassidy had become the flavor of the month and, like most, had grown to despise the lack of privacy and respect as well as being pigeonholed as a teen idol.

Cassidy made a number of moves to be looked at as more adult--including posing nude--but in the end, his career went the way of all teen idols and he had to rebuild it from nearly scratch. He never did achieve the same heights but in time his Partridge fame returned as nostalgia and made him bankable again.

Shirley had been a star beforehand and remained a star afterwards, appearing on stage as well as on the big and small screens, her effervescent beauty and talent growing more so with age.

Susan Dey attempted an image change with a sexually explicit movie that flopped, had a reasonably good second sitcom that also flopped, but eventually had a nice, long run on LA LAW.

The younger kids predictably faded from show business and Danny Bonaduce's growing pains became all too public with arrests, substance issues and a reality show.

Over the years, there have been a number of partial reunions of the sitcom cast including an appearance by David on Danny's TV talk show where Shirley called in by phone.

In time, it became obvious that the music, although not incredibly inspired, was well made and memorable. And that the sitcom was one of the few family shows of the early seventies that has survived to become a classic.

Shirley Jones will be one of the many guests at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention taking place in Maryland next month. Go to http://midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com/ for details.

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