Saturday, September 26, 2020

The 50th Anniversary of The Patridge Family

It was 50 years ago yesterday, on September 25 1970, that The Partridge Family debuted on ABC. The show centred on a family, consisting of a widowed mother and her five children, who begin a successful music career. The Partridge Family proved successful, so much so that it produced hit records and a good deal of merchandise. It turned David Cassidy, who played oldest son Keith, into a teen idol. In addition to Shirley Jones and David Cassidy, the show also starred Susan Dey as oldest daughter Laurie Partridge, Danny Bonaduce as middle son Danny Partridge, Jeremy Gelbwaks and later Brian Forster as youngest son Chris Partridge, Susan Crough as youngest daughter Tracy Partridge, and Dave Madden as their manager, Reuben Kinkaid.

The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade, who had earlier created The Flying Nun and Love on a Rooftop. The show was inspired by The Cowsills, six siblings who became a successful singing group with such hits as "The Rain, the Park & Other Things" and "Indian Lake." From the beginning creator Bernard Slade and producer Bob Claver wanted Shirley Jones for the lead role of Shirley Partridge, the widow who becomes a singer in her children's band. From the Fifties into the Sixties, Shirley Jones had a successful film career, appearing in such notable movies as Oklahoma! (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Music Man (1962), and The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963). By the mid-Sixties she had turned to television. By the time of The Partridge Family she had already appeared in three pilots that had not been picked up by a network: For the Love of Mike, Dream Wife, and Out of the Blue. The previous year she had been offered the role of Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, but turned it down.

As Shirley Partridge's offspring, Bernard Slade and Bob Claver initially considered the Cowsill children themselves. There are at least two different reasons given that this did not take place. According to Messrs. Slade and Claver, the Cowsill children had no background in acting and were too old for the parts as scripted. According to members of the Cowsill family, their father insisted that their mother Barbara Cowsill be cast in the lead role of the mother. Bernard Slade and Bob Claver would refused, as they wanted Shirley Jones in the lead role.

Not only did The Partridge Family originally have a different title (Family Business), but its pilot also differed substantially from the show as it was broadcast. The original name of the lead character was not Shirley, but instead Connie. Rather that the fictional city of San Pueblo, California, in the pilot the Partridges live in Ohio. In the pilot Connie dated a man played by Shirley Jones's real-life husband, Jack Cassidy. 

Much like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family featured musical sequences. While the music on The Monkees was usually featured in what the producers called "romps" comparable to the music promotional clips of the time and later music videos, the music on The Partridge Family was featured in performances at  various places or simply their garage.

The Partridge Family debuted on September 26 1970 and proved to be a hit. It was the top rated show on ABC on Friday for that season, a line up that included The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, That Girl, Love American Style, and This is Tom Jones. Like The Monkees before it, The Partridge Family also generated several hit records. Unlike The Monkees, only Shirley Jones and David Cassidy participated in recording singles and albums, and even then their participation was limited to providing vocals. The music on the Partridge Family's records was provided by the group of session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew. Regardless, their first single, "I Think I Love You," hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several other hit singles, including "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted (no. 6 on the Hot 100)," "I'll Meet You Halfway (no. 9 on the Hot 100)," and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning (no. 13 on the Hot 100)." Their albums did well, with their debut album The Partridge Family Album going to no. 4 on the Billboard album chart, their second album Up to Date reaching no. 3 on the chart, and their third album Sound Magazine going to no. 9.

The success of The Partridge Family would see a short lived spinoff from the show. The final episode of the first season, "A Knight in Shining Armour," was a backdoor pilot for the show Getting Together. Just as The Partridge Family was inspired by The Cowsills, Getting Together  was based on real life songwriters and performers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who had written hits for The Monkees and other groups as well as having their own recording career. It starred Bobby Sherman as Bobby Conway and Wes Stern as Lionel Poindexter. Unfortunately, Getting Together aired opposite the smash hit All in the Family on CBS and ended after only 14 episodes.

The Partridge Family would see some changes in its second season. Jeremy Gelbwalks, who played youngest son Chris, was not happy on the show. For the second season he was replaced by Brian Forster. Another change was in the nature of the show's episodes. In the first season episodes often saw the Partridges on tour. With the second season episodes more often took place in their hometown.

The success of The Partridge Family would prove difficult on David Cassidy, who did not particularly like the fact that he had become a teen idol. To get away from his image as Keith Partridge, he appeared in a new photo taken by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz on the cover of a May 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. In the interview inside Rolling Stone Mr. Cassidey did much to distance himself form his teen idol image. David Cassidy also released his first solo albums while the show was still on the air, the first being Cherish in 1972. Earlier in 1971, he had a hit with the song "Cherish," which went to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The success of The Partridge Family did not last. The show ranked no. 16 for the year in its second season and no. 19 for the year in its third season. That having been said, by 1972 the Partridge Family albums no longer hit the top 20 of the Billboard album chart, and their last hit was a cover of Gene Pitney's "Looking Through the Eyes of Love," also in 1972. For the show's fourth season ABC moved The Partridge Family  to Saturday night, where its ratings collapsed. It was cancelled at the end of the season.

While The Partridge Family had been cancelled, the characters did not disappear from television screens. On September 7 1974 an animated spinoff, Patridge Family 2200 A.D., produced by Hanna-Barbera, debuted on CBS. The cartoon did not explain how the Partridges came to be living in 2200, nor did it explain why. The character of Reuben Kinkaid did not appear on the show. Added to the cast was a robot dog named Orbit, a Martian named Marion, and a Venusian named Veenie. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy did not reprise their roles on the show. Susan Dey provided the voice of Laurie for only two episodes before being replaced by Sherry Alberoni. Danny Bonaduce, Suzanne Crough, and Brian Forster reprised their roles as Danny, Tracy, and Chris. Micky Dolenz, then as now best known for The Monkees, provided the voices of assorted characters on the show. Partridge Family 2200 A.D. only lasted one season before going into syndication as part of the package Fred Flintstone and Friends.

It was only three years after The Partridge Family had been cancelled that a reunion special aired on ABC on November 25 1977. Thanksgiving Reunion with The Partridge Family and My Three Sons was an odd special in that The Partridge Family and My Three Sons were in no way connected (in fact, they produced by entirely different companies). Danny Bonaduce, David Cassidy, Suzanne Crough, Susan Dey, and Shirley Jones all appeared on the show. In 1999 ABC aired a "behind the scenes" TV movie titled Come On Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story. Of the original cast, only Danny Bonaduce participated in the TV movie, serving as its narrator.

It was in 2004 that VH1 produced a  pilot of a reboot of The Partridge Family titled The New Partridge Family with Suzanne Sole as Shirley Partridge and Leland Grant as Keith Partridge. A new show failed to materialize. Today the pilot is most notable for featuring future star Emma Stone as Laurie Partridge. French Stewart of Third Rock from the Sun played Reuben Kinkaid.

The success of The Partridge Family continues to this day. The show had a respectable run in syndication and can still be seen on such streaming services as Crackle and Amazon Prime. Such songs produced for the show as "I Think I Love You" and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" are still played to this day. For many younger Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, The Partridge Famiy remains one of the most memorable shows of the early Seventies.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

I was a fan back in the day. I bought the albums and even had Partridge Family covers for my school textbooks.

I was already familiar with Shirley Jones from her musical movies. From the get-go the combo of Danny Bonaduce and Dave Madden cracked me up, and it didn't take long to realize that teen idol or not, David Cassidy was an excellent comedy actor.

Watching episodes today, it is fun to see the interesting guest stars and listen to the songs.