Network executives took their inspiration from the Cowsills, a real-life family of musicians who traveled in a brightly-colored bus and remain best-known for two songs, the 1967 hit, "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things," and a cover of the theme from Hair. They appeared regularly on television in the late 1960s, and drew teeny-bopper-heavy crowds. Producers originally intended to put the Cowsills on television, though with Shirley Jones playing their mother. The family did not like the idea of having someone else play mom. Network representatives, who followed the family band for a time, decided they would not play well on series television. Internal problems which would leave the Cowsills bankrupt in the early 70s were already apparent. ABC instead went with an entirely fictional family, a cross between The Brady Bunch and The Monkees. For four seasons, the Partridge Family overcame sitcom crises in time to jam at the show's conclusion. They released several albums and produced a handful of bubblegum hits-- though only two members actually had any musical talent. Perhaps no pop phenomenon better represents the squeaky-clean repackaging of hip than this light-hearted series, essentially a traditional family comedy dressed in groovy threads and ornamented with softened references to current issues.
ABC cast seven series regulars.
Shirley Jones played the mother, Shirley. She could sing, had won an Academy Award, and she resembled Brady matron Florence Henderson. According to the pilot episode, she had been widowed some time before the show started-- a fact that allowed for romantic interests. Dad afterwards rated as much mention as Mike and Carol Brady's deceased spouses.
Jones's real-life stepson, David Cassidy played Keith Partridge. The network successfully promoted him as a teen idol, and during the show's run he maintained a heavy schedule of television shooting and live performances. Onstage he and his back-up band performed, for the most part, Partridge hits.
Susan Dey played Laurie. Post-Partridge, she would go on to appear in a handful of films and 1980s hit LA Law.
Danny Bonaduce played smart-assed, pint-sized huxter Danny Partridge so well that many episodes were written around his character.
The youngest Partridges did little on the show. Chris played drums. Jeremy Gelbwaks originaly took the role, but he left after one season when his father, who served in the U.S. army, was transferred. Supposedly, he did not get on well with the rest of the cast. Brian Forster, who looked nothing like Gelbwaks, replaced him. Suzanne Crough played the youngest daughter, Tracy; she played tambourine. In the later seasons, they were given more to do, but they never developed into defined characters. The Partridges also had a dog, Simone, which, like the Bradies' pooch, Tiger, appeared only sporadically, and never seemed to require care or feeding.
Comedian David Madden appeared as the manager, Rubin Kincaid. Much of the show's comedy played Madden off Bonaduce, and the two reportedly maintained the rapport offscreen.
Officially, the Partridges lived at 698 Sycamore Road, San Pueblo, California. In fact the house stood on Warner Brothers' Blondie Street, next door to the house used on I Dream of Jeannie and across from the Bewitched Stevens' home. The first episode has Shirley discovering her brood performing in the garage. She joins them for a number and, as the song says, "it really came together when mom sang along." From there they hook up with Rubin, buy identical hip outfits, turn a 1957 school bus into an early-1970s suburbanite's idea of psychedelia, and play Las Vegas, after mom talks the kids out of their stage fright.
The show ran nearly 100 episodes, exploring Bradyesque teen issues and softer political ones. Abortion and the 'Nam were right out, but the Partridges regularly encountered such topics as racism, the energy crisis, feminism, and the possible extinction of whales-- just never with much depth.
Native child: Are you really the Partridge Family?
Chris: Yeah. Are you really Indians?
--"All's War in Love and Fairs"
The show's popularity attracted both up-and-coming stars and has-beens. Both Jackie Coogan and Ray Bolger played Shirley's father. Rob Reiner appeared as a biker with a crush on Laurie. Howard Cosell once appeared as himself. Most memorably, characters played by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr. had their inner-city community center saved with the help of the white-bread Partridges.
The show drew a significant audience among children and youth, but it never made tv's coveted top ten. The final season showed definite signs of desperation, including the addition of a cute little kid singer as a neighbor. A time-slot change put them up against All in the Family and Emergency in most markets; the new situation plucked the Partridges out of the ratings.
During the height of their fame, however, their popularity with the lunchbox set sold loads of licensed merchandise.
The albums are:
The Partridge Family Album (1970)
Up to Date (1971)
Sound Magazine (1971)
Christmas Card (1971)
Shopping Bag (1972)
At Home with their Greatest Hits (1972)
Crossword Puzzle (1973)
Bulletin Board (1973)
The Partridge Family (1973-- a compilation of songs cheaply produced by the mail-order company, Laurie House. Its scarcity and shoddy quality have made it a collector's item)
The World of the Partridge Family (1974)
David Cassidy also released solo albums during the era. They traded heavily on his status as a tv-created teen idol. Some of the best studio musicians in the business played on the albums, and at David Cassidy's concerts. These include keyboardist Larry Knechtal, who had played with Simon and Garfunkel, and guitarist Jim Gordon, a future member of Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominoes. The only Partridges to be heard were Shirley, who sang, and David, who sang and played guitar.
Other merchandise included a board game, bubblegum cards, books, and Charlton comics. Ideal sold a groovily-clad doll, Patti Partridge. She supposedly belonged to Tracy, and Suzanne Crough appeared in advertisements. Four of the kids appeared on the Saturday morning cartoon Goober and the Ghost Chasers, and Hanna-Barbera gave them the Jetsons treatment in The Partridge Family: 2200 A.D.. Both cartoons had some of the original cast doing voice work. In later decades, the show found new fans. Both MTV and MuchMusic have shown reruns as campy, retro fun, but the Partridges have never achieved the cheesy cult status of The Brady Bunch. A 1999 tv movie, C'mon Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story received decent ratings, while an updated version appeared in 2004, with the casting process covered by a reality show.
The new Partridges failed to fly with twenty-first century audiences.
J.B. Bird. "The Partridge Family." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/P/htmlP/partridgefam/partridgefam.htm
C'mon Get Happy: The Unofficial Homepage of the Partridge Family. http://www.cmongethappy.com/
The Cowsills. The Classic Bubblegum Music Page. http://home.att.net/~bubblegumusic/cowsills.htm
The Partridge Family. Nostalgia Central. http://www.nostalgiacentral.com/tv/kids/partridge.htm