Chapter 20 - The Partridge Family
We'll get to that a bit later, but to really trace the beginnings of the series, we have to go back to a successful sixties singing group from Rhode Island. The Cowsills consisted of a family of five brothers, one sister, and their mom. Barry, Bob, Bill, Paul, and John were the brothers, Susan their little sister, and Barbara their mother. The group's first hit was The Rain, the Park and Other Things, better known as I Love the Flower Girl, which hit #2 in 1967. They had four other charted hits, including Indian Lake and Hair, before mismanagement and family turmoil in the early seventies caused them to split.
The Cowsills were a singing family with a "mod" mom who drove them from concert to concert in a brightly colored bus. Sound familiar? It should. The Cowsills were actually the impetus for The Partridge Family. Paul Cowsill starts the story:
"Screen Gems came to us with a script all laid out and ready to go and it was going to be called The Cowsills and Shirley Jones. Now there we got into the problem. They wanted Shirley Jones to play our mother in this!"
"The writers for The Partridge Family," recalls Bob Cowsill, "lived with us for a month or two and followed us around. It broke down in two areas. The first area it broke down was that we were getting older and you know 'The Partridge Family,' you see what they were and how they pictured us. They're very cute and everything, but by this time, John, the drummer in our band, he was closing in on six feet! The second place it broke down was Shirley Jones was to be in this from the beginning. They did not want our mom to act her part out. I know my dad didn't go for that. He wanted mom to do it or we weren't going to do it. Ultimately, everything broke down and they moved elsewhere and decided to do a casting call approach. They did secure the services of our producer, Wes Farrell; and Tony Romeo, who wrote 'Indian Lake,' wrote 'I Think I Love You,' which was the Partridges' first hit. So they had pretty much the whole package sitting there ready to go, except we fell through it."
The resulting television show did not exactly resemble the Cowsill family, except in a limited way.
"They resembled us in the fact that they were a family involved in the music business whose mother was in the band," says Bob. "It resembled the Cowsills at a young time in our lives, when we weren't famous. It was cute and light entertainment and a way to spend a half hour without thinking about much, but they differed radically. The Cowsills' life, we had some fun, but there was also a lot of hardness to it that not many people know about."
Indeed, the Cowsill family did not have a Partridge Family kind of existence. Their father was from a military background and ruled his family at times with an iron fist. One of the non-performing brothers, Richard, appeared on a TV tabloid show in 1993 and stated that he and his siblings were physically and mentally abused by their father. He had no real knowledge of financial issues and squandered most of the money that the family had earned by the start of the seventies. Long-standing feuds and internal arguments led to the break-up of the band and many years went by before they got back together at Barbara's funeral in 1985. Because of an interview conducted on The Lost 45s radio program, the group reunited in Boston in 1990 for the first time in twenty years. They are currently pursuing a new recording contract and receiving rave reviews for their live performances across the country.
Looking back, Susan Cowsill, who was in her single digits at the start of the show, has just one question: "There's something that I've spent maybe twenty years trying to figure out. Which one [of the Partridges] was supposed to be me?! Was it the little girl with the lobotomy? Tracy? Playing the tambourine?"
"I was Susan Dey!" exclaims keyboardest Paul Cowsill. "My breasts are still developing!"
Despite these inconsistencies, the remaining members of the Cowsill family do not think the show reflected them in a bad light or hindered prospects of future chart success. Nevertheless, they have absolutely no regrets that they were not involved with the program.
Susan: "It wasn't us! It was a fine show. We used to watch it."
John: "We thought it was funny. Reuben Kincaid and that kid Danny Bonaduce were the funniest."
Bob: "I never saw our name more often in print than when that show came out."
Paul: "But we thought there were more important things going on than The Partridge Family."
Perhaps there were. But not to any pre-adolescent, halfcrazed fan of the newest singing phenomenon. David Cassidy and The Partridge Family were everything to them at the start of the seventies.
With the Cowsills out of the picture, The Partridge Family TV show had its one star, Shirley Jones, and casting began for the rest of the actors. David Cassidy was already working as an actor at that time. He had been working for the L.A. Theater Company in high school and was encouraged upon graduation to head for New York. There he studied acting while appearing in a Broadway show (Fig Leaves Are Falling) in 1969. His musical beginnings go back a bit earlier.
As for the Cowsill family's part in the creation of the show, David doesn't have much to say about it today. "I met one or two of them in passing. I think I met Susan a couple of years ago and she introduced herself to me. I only knew that originally the show was based on them and that they weren't involved."