Ask any girl who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies and they will tell you their favorite night of television was Friday. We looked forward to watching The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style, but the first hour of the night was the only “can’t miss” one. Boys coming of age in that era might have a tough time deciding between Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, but almost every girl will tell you Keith Partridge beat out Greg Brady hands down. Like most nine-year-olds in 1970, I had a huge crush on Keith Partridge. Watching the episodes today takes me right back to that time, and I feel like a kid on Friday night again.
The Partridge Family aired from 1970-1974, and the concept was based on the Cowsills. The Cowsill family grew up in Rhode Island, and by 1967 the band consisted of siblings ages 8-19 and their mother. Although the group no longer includes all the siblings, they still tour and record.
I still enjoy watching the episodes today. Even though the show is filled with nostalgia as far as clothing and interior décor, the problems faced by the Partridge Family were primarily the same problems faced by all families with kids and many of the shows have a timeless appeal. I’m not sure that anyone not growing up during that time period realizes the impact of the Partridge Family. I still have the Partridge Family game, we had trading cards that were collected and the back of the cards put together formed a puzzle. I had paperback books featuring the Partridge Family and lots of kids had albums, lunch boxes and other collectible memorabilia. Danny is often referred to as a brat, but I like the character of Danny Partridge. Then again, I liked all the Partridge Family members.
However, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the unbelievable guest stars that the show was able to attract. Of course, Shirley Jones was a well-liked and famous movie star and she had a lot of connections in the industry. However, the names of the people who appeared on an episode of The Partridge Family during those four short years is incredible. I counted more than 50 looking at various shows over the years. Let’s look at some of those guest stars.
Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow, and Margaret Hamilton, the wicked witch, from the Wizard of Oz both made appearances. Ray Bolger played Shirley Partridge’s father on several shows. Margaret Hamilton is Rueben’s mother.
Two Dick Van Dyke Show cast members were featured: Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Sorrel and Ann Morgan Guilbert, Milly Helper. Amsterdam provided Danny with some bad comedy material in the first season. Guilbert is married to Norman Fell in the show and they visit Shirley when their son Keith’s age develops a crush on Shirley which he mistakenly thinks is reciprocated.
In addition to Ann and Morey, there were a lot of previous sitcom stars on the show. John Astin from the Addams Family, plays an eccentric millionaire. Edgar Buchanan, Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction, plays a judge which he also portrayed in the movie, Move Over Darling, starring Doris Day and James Garner. Rosemary DeCamp played Shirley’s mother. Rosemary had been featured on lots of tv shows. She was on Love That Bob and was Ann Marie’s mother on That Girl. Arte Johnson from Laugh-In was in two episodes, one as an artist who paints a nude on the family garage when they are out of town. Harry Morgan, a sitcom veteran, played, a man faking whiplash in the first season and appeared again in 1972 as another character. William Schallert who was Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show stars as a folk musician whose career has taken a nose dive. Ronne Troup who played Polly on My Three Sons was on the show as the fourth season began as their neighbor complains about their music.
Not only were the past tv stars featured but a lot of up and coming stars showed up. Meredith Baxter gifts a million dollars to the Partridges and they find they don’t enjoy being wealthy. Bert Convy played one of Shirley’s serious boyfriends on three shows. Norman Fell is the father of a young man who gets a crush on Shirley when she goes back to school using her maiden name. He later married Helen and was Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Pat Harrington Jr. appeared the first season and came back as someone else three years later. While he was in hundreds of tv episodes, he is probably most often recognized as Schneider from One Day at a Time. The Partridges try to set up Ann Jillian with their delivery boy to build up his confidence. If she had dated him, she might not have ended up a waitress on It’s a Living. Gordon Jump who was a veteran tv guest star, best known as Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, was on seven episodes as different characters. Richard Mulligan appeared in one show as Shirley’s boyfriend but also came back for another episode two years later; we know him as Burt on Soap and Dr. Westin on Empty Nest. Annette O’Toole plays Keith’s girlfriend in the second season; later her marriage with Nash doesn’t work out on Nash Bridges. Rob Reiner, who will soon be “Meathead” on All in The Family, appears as Snake, a rough biker with a heart of gold who likes Laurie. Vic Tayback who we know best as Mel on Alice appeared as three different characters on three different shows, Nancy Walker is the mother of Shirley’s date before she was Rhoda’s mom in later years.
Three of the five Charlie’s Angels showed up on different shows: Farrah Fawcett was a “pretty girl” the kids hire to try to get Harry Morgan to reveal that his whiplash is not real. Cheryl Ladd is the popular girl Keith wants to take to the dance after promising to take Laurie’s friend. Jaclyn Smith plays the niece of Shirley’s boyfriend. When he buys her a ring for graduation, the kids assume she is his fiancé and take matters into their own hands.
We had big stars from different genres including Johnny Cash playing himself and introducing the first concert the family is performing in Vegas. Richard Pryor talks the Partridges into playing for his charity event, and Bobby Sherman plays a singer, Bobby Conway. This episode actually turned into a spinoff for a short time.
Many famous or soon-to-be-famous movie stars can be spied on episodes including Jackie Coogan who replaced Ray Bolger as Shirley’s father on two later shows. Jodie Foster and Danny have a love/hate relationship when their parents are dating. Lou Gosset Jr., producing a charity event with Richard Pryor, asks the Partridges to fill in when a group cancels. Mark Hamill is Laurie’s boyfriend before he even knew Princess Leia. Charlotte Rae, a bit out of her typical character, plays a doctor.
I could continue, but every blog has to end sometime. It is amazing how many famous people were willing to appear in a new sitcom not only once but up to seven times as seven different characters. It says a lot about the reputation of the show. Let’s finish up with some fun facts about the show.
- Shirley Jones was recruited to be Carol Brady but passed and took The Partridge Family
- Partridge had passed away in the first episode, but his first name is never mentioned on the show.
- Rueben Kincaid’s middle name is Clarence.
- When the Partridges are asked to replace another musical act for a charity event put on by Richard Pryor and Lou Gossett Jr., the group that cancelled is the Temptations.
- When Laurie gets braces, she can hear radio signals in her mouth, and it interferes with her performing. The music she “hears” in her mouth is The Rolling Stones.