In this occasional series, we look back at our first pop culture loves.
To try to explain my devotion to 1970s TV comedy The Partridge Family, I have to revisit a humiliating childhood memory.
I was 9, I think, at the tail end of my time as a Brownie, and our troop was putting on a talent show in the church hall where we held our meetings.
I tempted fate by not using the bathroom before going onstage and then, little people pleaser that I was, ignored the biological imperative of a full bladder to stay behind and work the curtain for the next act.
Disaster struck. My father had to be called to pick me up and I slunk out, embarrassed to the soles of my Mary Janes, as the show went on.
But what I remember most is not the shame but the relief — bliss even — once I was safely home in dry pajamas and reveling in an episode of The Partridge Family. Who needed a talent show when you could spend a half-hour with the coolest family on TV?
It’s hard to recall episode by episode or line by line why I loved it so. But I thought Danny Partridge, a.k.a. Danny Bonaduce, was the wittiest person on TV, with Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) a close second.
I could only dream of having hair as long and straight as Laurie Partridge’s (Susan Dey), and outfits as groovy (yes, people used that word unironically back then). And although I was too young to know what to do with boys I was not too young to notice them, so I devoured photos of David Cassidy, a.k.a. Keith Partridge, on Tiger Beat magazine covers as avidly as any teen.
And what mother could be cooler than Shirley Partridge, a.k.a. Shirley Jones? She wore miniskirts and short hair, and she drove her kids around the country in a multi-coloured school bus (mind you, I had to rely on magazines to see the colours; we had a black and white TV until late into the 1970s). And before she was Shirley Partridge, she was Laurey in Oklahoma! and Julie in Carousel, kind of a big deal for a kid who grew up knowing the lyrics to almost every tune in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon.
Then there were the songs on the show, soft rock confections like “I Think I Love You,” “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” that were in sync with much of what was on the charts in the early ’70s.
When I think about it, The Partridge Family brought together elements from two of my other favourite shows of the era: the family dynamic of The Brady Bunch and the music of The Monkees.
I recently watched several episodes of The Partridge Family for the first time in over 40 years and, at first glance, a phrase from another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical comes to mind: “as corny as Kansas in August.”
The jokes were mostly hokey; you could see plot twists coming a mile away; the lip-synching in the earliest episodes was pretty atrocious.
The show’s whole premise seems kind of ridiculous 46 years later: a widowed mother is able to chuck her job, and she and her kids become famous enough to play Caesars Palace in Las Vegas based on one demo recorded in a garage on a simple home cassette recorder. As if. (As an aside, the scene where Danny follows Reuben into the men’s room to force him to listen to the cassette still makes me chuckle.)
There’s also the fact that you can’t watch The Partridge Family nowadays without being reminded of the fates of some of its stars. Suzanne Crough (Tracy) died in 2015 of a heart condition. Bonaduce’s drug, booze and mental health problems were documented in a 2005 reality show. Cassidy has faced repeated drunk driving charges and financial problems that forced him to auction off his Florida mansion last year. (And on top of that, when I watched him on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, I was shocked to discover my one-time idol seemed like a twerp.)
But I can’t be too hard on the show. It is, after all, a product of its time. Yes, the 1970s spawned challenging programs like All in the Family and Maude (which I also watched), but wholesome family fare like The Waltons and My Three Sons was also on the air.
The Partridge Family is clearly too tame to be taken seriously today, but there’s charm in its portrayal of what was at heart an ordinary family with all its quirks and daily dilemmas.
“Come on Get Happy,” the theme song said. The show made me happy way back then and I can’t be embarrassed about that.