The Flying Nun: Soaring to Success Followed By a Crash Landing

This month we are in the midst of the series, “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Today we take a look at another sitcom whose cast was primarily female.

From 1965-1966, Gidget starring Sally Field was on the air. When it was cancelled after only 32 episodes, producers were scrambling to find another vehicle for Field.  Harry Ackerman, with co-producers Bernard Slade (who would create The Partridge Family and just passed away last week) and Max Wylie came up with The Flying Nun. They based it on a book published in 1965, The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios. Beginning on ABC in September of 1967, the show continued through the fall of 1970, resulting in 82 episodes.

I did read that Patty Duke was the first choice for the show, so I’m assuming when she turned it down, they asked Sally Field. Apparently, they were trying to find a show for Field, but this show was not created for her. Field also turned it down, thinking it was a silly concept, so the producers went to their third choice, Ronne Troup, who would play Polly on My Three Sons. Troup began filming the pilot. Sally’s stepdad, Jock Mahoney, told her she should reconsider because she might not get another chance in show business if she didn’t accept the role. When Sally informed the producers that she had changed her mind, Troup was let go.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

In the hour-long pilot, we meet Elsie Ethrington. Elsie, who grew up in Chicago, is arrested in New York during a protest. We learn that the rest of her family has chosen medicine for their vocation. (In a later episode, we meet one of her birth sisters who is a physican played by Elinor Donohue.) Elsie goes to Puerto Rico. She is impressed with the missionary work her aunt has been doing, so she ends her relationship with her boyfriend, a toy salesman, and becomes a nun at the Convento San Tanco, taking on the name Sister Bertrille. In one episode, Sister Bertrille watches home movies of her life and what we are actually seeing is footage from Gidget.

Photo: pinterest.com

One day Sister Bertrille, who is only 90 pounds, realized that the heavily starched cornette on her head, allowed her to be able to “fly” as the high winds picked her up. As she tried to explain to several people, “when lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.” Of course, a nun flying around town caused quite a stir. Field said she was humiliated by her directors as she was hung from a crane and moved around the set like a prop.

Photo: pinterest.com

The Reverend Mother Placido (Madeleine Sherwood) runs the convent. She is kind, but strict. Sister Jacqueline (Marge Redmond), who sees the humor in most situations, becomes good friends with Sister Bertrille. Sister Ana (Linda Dangcil) and Sister Sixto (Shelley Morrison) are also friends of hers. The other major characters are Captain Gaspar Fomento (Vito Scotti) who is a police officer that the nuns keep from learning about Sister Bertrille’s flying ability and Carlos Ramirez (Alejandro Rey) who owns a casino and is a ladies’ man. Ramirez was raised by the nuns, and they constantly try to reform him. He will not be reformed, but out of appreciation, he always tries to help them, and Sister Bertrille is constantly involving him in zany schemes or asking him to finance some plan of hers.

Photo: flickr.com

This was the first (and perhaps only) sitcom to be set in Puerto Rico. Although the pilot and opening and closing credits were shot in Puerto Rico, the show was shot at Warner Brothers Ranch in Burbank, California.

The producers were worried about how Catholics would react to the show. They asked the National Catholic Office for Radio and Television to serve as an advisor. The show actually was popular with Catholic religious leaders who felt the show “humanized” the image of nuns.

The show was also popular with viewers of every other religion. The first two years, it aired Thursday nights, competing with Daniel Boone. The sitcom was sandwiched between Batman and Bewitched. Although it was declared a hit immediately, the ratings eroded during the two years.

Photo: epguides.com

The producers had a hard time deciding on a focus for the show. During the second season it contained more slapstick comedy. The third season it went back to the warm and fuzzy feelings it used in the first season. For the third season, the network moved the show to Wednesdays and put it up against The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour which insured its cancellation. It didn’t help in the third year that Field was pregnant. She mentioned in an interview that “you can only imagine what a pregnant flying nun looked like,” and the crew had to hide her behind props and scenery.

Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

Critics never took to the show, but the public kept it on the air three times longer than Gidget. Many fans remember the series fondly. The plots were often heart-warming. In “With Love from Irving,” a pelican falls in love with Sister Bertrille. When Sister Bertrille is forced to go to the dentist for a toothache, Dr. Paredes puts her under hypnosis. The doctor gives them a suggestion that whenever they hear “red,” she and the Reverend Mother will switch personalities. In another show, Sister Bertrille wants Carlos to finance an expedition to find a bell that sunk long ago that was supposed to go to the convent because their old one is rusted and they can’t afford a new one. Carlos uses the opportunity to woo a young woman, but Sister Bertrille tags along. The girlfriend gets thrown overboard, but the bell is found in the end.

Relying on uplifting morals (pun intended) and Field’s delightful and talented performances, the show continued on the air. Marge Redmond was nominated for an Emmy as supporting actress. Unfortunately, she was up against Marion Lorne, who won it for her role of Aunt Clara on Bewitched.

TV Guide ranked the show number 42 on its worst tv shows of all times list in 2002. However, it continues to do well in syndication and has an international fan club.

Photo: ebay.com

While the show was on the air, it sold a variety of merchandise, including paper dolls, lunch boxes, trading cards, view master reels, a board game, and a doll.

Photo: ebay.com

Sally Field released a soundtrack LP with songs from the series in 1967. Dell Comics came out with four comic books based on the series in 1968.

Photo: ebay.com
Photo: ebay.com

I must admit I was not a big fan of the show. However, I have gone back and watched quite a few episodes for this blog, and it is better than I remembered it. Although the concept does sound as silly as Field thought, the show is charming and can be quite funny at times. Although it might not be in your top 25, it probably deserves a second look if you have not seen it for a while.

Photo: listal.com

C’mon Get Happy

We are in the midst of looking at the Friday night shows that aired in September 1970 through May 1972. Today we meet the cast of The Partridge Family.

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The Partridge Family was created by Bernard Slade. Slade wrote for Bewitched, was a script supervisor for The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and created several other shows including The Flying Nun, Bridget Loves Bernie, and Love on a Rooftop. Bob Claver served as executive producer.

The concept was loosely based on The Cowsills, a family band who grew up in Rhode Island and toured with their mother. Shirley Jones was signed to be the star of The Partridge Family. The Cowsill kids were offered the role of her children, but they refused to do the show without their mother. David Cassidy, Jones’ step son, was hired as lead singer Keith Partridge. Susan Dey, a model, age 17, was hired as Laurie Partridge, keyboards. Danny Bonaduce is the ten-year-old Danny who acts 45 and plays bass guitar; Jeremy Gelbwaks is Chris the drummer, while Suzanne Crough is the tambourine-playing Tracy, the youngest member of the family.

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The pilot was filmed in December of 1969, but when the first episode aired, a few things had changed. Shirley was originally named Connie, and she had a boyfriend played by Jack Cassidy. The family lived in Ohio, not California.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY

In the first episode, the Partridge kids convince their mom, a widow and a bank teller, to fill in to record a song with them in their studio/garage. Danny goes through a few shenanigans to get Reuben Kincaid to listen to the demo, eventually trapping in him the rest room. Rueben loves it, hires on as their manager, and the song hits the top 40, propelling the family to stardom. They buy an old school bus which they paint and go on the road, performing in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

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While many of the episodes take place on the road, most of the shows are set in San Pueblo, their home city, dealing with the typical issues siblings had then and still encounter today.

Ray Bolger and Rosemary DeCamp show up often as Shirley’s parents. We also get to know Reuben’s stewardess girlfriend Bonnie Kleinschmidt played by Elaine Giftos.

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For the second season, a few additional changes took place. Shirley started out narrating the episodes but stopped partway through season one. Jeremy Gelbwaks’ family moved to the east coast; and he was replaced with Brian Forster. David Cassidy mentioned that young Jeremy had a personality conflict with most of the cast members. When he got older, he must have been easier to get along with because as an adult, he has appeared with the rest of the cast on reunion shows. The theme song was also tweaked.  Titled “Singin’ Together” the first year, it was given a new arrangement, a new name in “C’mon Get Happy,” and new lyrics:

We had a dream, we’d go travelin’ together,
We’d spread a little lovin’ then we’d keep movin’ on.
Somethin’ always happens whenever we’re together
We get a happy feelin’ when we’re singing a song                                                          Travelin’ along there’s a song that we’re singing,                                                                C’mon get happy

Scattered throughout the 96 episodes are more than 50 celebrity guest stars, an astonishing number for a sitcom. We saw sitcom stars from classic shows including Morey Amsterdam, John Astin, Edgar Buchanan, Jackie Coogan, and Arte Johnson. We saw popular hosts like Dick Clark. Howard Cosell represented the sports industry. Movie stars showed up like Margaret Hamilton, Charlotte Rae, and Harry Morgan. Future stars made their mark: Jodie Foster, Mark Hamill, Meredith Baxter, and Bert Convy.  Three of the Charlie’s Angels first appeared on The Partridge Family: Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Cheryl Ladd. Musicians Johnny Cash and Bobby Sherman appeared, as did comedian Richard Pryor.

Danny struggled with his lines. He was dyslexic, but he also had an eidetic memory, so he not only memorized his lines, but the rest of the cast’s lines as well, and they didn’t always appreciate him telling them what they could not remember. He was a bit of a wild child. Shirley Jones said once the cast ganged up on him and poured a pitcher of milk on his head to get him to behave. Once she forgot he was not her real son and sent him to his room for a time out. Danny had reason to misbehave though. He was verbally and physically abused at home. Dave Madden who played Reuben took him in to live with him for a while. On the show, the two of them pretended to have a love/hate relationship, but you knew Danny was Reuben’s favorite. Some of their dialogue was:

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Reuben Kincaid: …Tell me, did your mother ever tell you not to play in traffic?

Danny: Of course.

Reuben Kincaid: Too bad.

 

Danny: …You know, we think a lot alike.

Reuben Kincaid: I know. And sometimes it scares me.

 

Reuben Kincaid: Danny, if you’re ever thinking of running away from home, do it.

 

Reuben Kincaid: …Good day.

Danny: It was until now.

 

Reuben Kincaid: Danny, if you’d like to go to the beach with me, I’ll let you swim in the riptide.

Danny: Riptides are dangerous.

Reuben Kincaid: Aw, who told you that?

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The Partridge house is a popular house in television series. It was the home of the Kravitzes in Bewitched and was later Margaret’s house in Pleasantville and the home of the Thatcher family in Life Goes On.

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Most people might not remember that The Partridge Family created a spin-off series.  On one episode, Bobby Sherman and Wes Stern are introduced by the family and become a successful song-writing duo. It became a show Getting Together during the 1971-72 year. Too bad it wasn’t titled Staying Together, because it only lasted 14 episodes. The concept was based on Boyce and Hart who wrote for several famous singers including The Monkees and Jay and the Americans.

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Music was an important part of The Partridge Family. The early 1970s had a range of popular music. You could choose from Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix,  Led Zeppelin or the Archies–ranging from hard rock to pure bubblegum.

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The music for the pilot was recorded by Shorty Rogers. Rogers had worked with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. He was a trumpet player and music composer. He recorded music for several movies and later for Starsky and Hutch. Wes Farrell produced the songs for the rest of the series. Farrell has written or produced more than 500 songs, the most famous being “Hang on Sloopy.” He wrote 30 songs for the Partridge Family. The Wrecking Crew were Los Angeles session musicians, most of whom had classical or jazz backgrounds. They were the house band for Phil Spector and played behind many singers including Sonny and Cher, The Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, and The Beach Boys.

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The most famous Partridge Family song was “I Think I Love You,” written by Tony Romeo who wrote for The Cowsills.  The song went to number 1 on the Billboard charts. When the first album came out, it went to number 4. Romeo also wrote the music for the movie Rain Man as well as for other television shows and a variety of jingles. I have to say that my favorite Partridge song, hands down, is “Oh, No, Not My Baby.” By the end of the show, 8 albums had been released including a Christmas one.

THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY

Shirley Jones sang on many of the songs while David Cassidy was the lead singer, but the rest of the cast lip-synched their songs. The show took a toll on David.  He was made a teen idol but was not playing the type of music he was passionate about.  He toured playing Partridge Family staples. Sony made a fortune off him. He wasn’t paid royalties, and they were allowed to use his image however they wanted to without his permission. Even the dues paid by his fan club members went to Sony. His manager realized that David had signed his contract at 19 when the legal age was 21, so his contract became null and void, allowing him to renegotiate it for better terms.  Until then, he was paid $600 per episode and that was it.

In 1974, The Partridge Family was moved to Saturday night opposite All in the Family and could not survive the ratings war.

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Oddly enough, later that year, a Saturday cartoon was aired called The Partridge Family 2200 AD. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera. Shirley Jones and David Cassidy were not involved at all and Dave Madden and Susan Dey had limited involvement.

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The cast reunited November 25, 1977 for a reunion show with the cast of My Three Sons. They also got together on the Arsenio Hall Show, Danny Bonaduce’s radio show, and three different documentaries.

Perhaps the best measure of the show’s popularity is the incredible amount of items that were produced during the four short years the show was on the air. There is a Partridge Family game (which I have and still play), trading cards, mystery books and comic books starring the family, lunch boxes, blankets, Christmas ornaments, a Keith Partridge watch, dolls, song books and sheet music, a Johnny Lightning bus replica, Viewmaster reels, and many other items. Johnny Ray Miller wrote a book in titled When We’re Singin’: The Partridge Family and Their Music, chronicling the music of the show.

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Shirley Jones enjoyed her time on The Partridge Family. She has continued to keep busy performing and spending time with her real family.

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Dave Madden also kept quite busy following the cancellation of the show. Being a smoker most of his life, he quit smoking after the episode “Every Dawn I Diet” when he and Danny have a bet that he can quit smoking and Danny can lose some weight. He passed away in 2014 at age 82 from complications of myelodyplastic syndrome, a disease where red blood cells don’t mature in the marrow.

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Jeremy Gelbwaks became a management consultant.

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Brian Forster is a race car driver, participating in community theater. In a side note, his mother was related to Charles Dickens, and his step-grandfather was Alan Napier, the butler Alfred on the Batman television show.

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Suzanne Crough made a few appearances in shows and movies through 1980. She went to college, worked at a bookstore and managed an office supply store. She married and had two children. She passed away unexpectedly in 2015 from cardiomyopathy.

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Susan Dey had roles on several shows following her stint on The Partridge Family. She and David Cassidy tried dating after the show was off the air, but it did not end well. He revealed their relationship in his 1994 autobiography when she apparently severed ties with him altogether.

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Danny Bonaduce has had a rough ride but has been a busy and productive radio host for the past decade or so. David Cassidy also had some tough years with drug use and alcohol. He passed away in December. After Cassidy’s death, Bonaduce wrote: “I have known, loved, and admired David Cassidy for 48 out of my 58 years. He has been as kind to me as any real brother could ever be. We’ve been through a lot together and he was always there for me. This loss is huge. RIP my dear friend.”

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Brian Wilson, the lead singer of the Beach Boys, said he was “very sad” to hear about Cassidy’s death. “There were times in the mid-1970s when he would come over to my house and we even started writing a song together,” he tweeted. “He was a very talented and nice person.”

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Bonaduce shared some of his remembrances about Cassidy:

David Cassidy was a god to me. We weren’t close when we did The Partridge Family — I was 10 years old; he was 20 — but to me he was like Elvis Presley, down to the jumpsuit and the arenas filled with fans. . .

We did become friends much later, in the 1990s. I was going through some trouble — I was on the cover of all the tabloids, “Ex-Child Star Gone Wrong” — and David was having problems of his own. He gave me some advice. He said, “You know, Danny, you should be in on the joke; you shouldn’t become the joke.” Then he invited me to go on tour with him. “It’s going to be fantastic,” he said. “We’re going to go on my tour bus, and at the end you’re going to get a job out of it. But here’s the deal: There’s going to be no drugs, no alcohol, no smoking and no women.” I said, “Then I’m not going.”

But I did go on tour, doing stand-up before David performed, and at every stop I did interviews with local radio stations. And around the fifth radio interview, they said: “Boy, you’re really good at this. You want to stay?” They offered me more money than I’d ever seen in my life: $75,000 a year. David told me the tour would give me a career, and it did.

When it came to his own career, though, David got robbed. When he decided he didn’t want to be Keith Partridge anymore, he quit The Partridge Family. He wanted to go on tour and be a real rock ‘n’ roll star. But the road he chose to go down after the show, it didn’t go as far. He became the Partridge Family theme song, he became the act of looking like David Cassidy, with the same thousand fans coming to every show. He never did get the life he wanted. It really was a tragedy. I was in Europe when he died, but I heard he was surrounded by his family — Shirley Jones, Shaun Cassidy, Patrick Cassidy. And I heard his last words were, “So much wasted time.”

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On the first episode, the Partridge clan goes to a car dealer to buy their bus. In reality, the studio purchased it from the Orange County School District. After the show was cancelled, the bus ended up behind Lucy’s Tacos near UCLA. When the restaurant did some repaving, the bus was moved to a local dump: the windows were broken, the tires were flat, and the paint had faded.

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In our memories, the bus will be forever colorful and bright, Keith will continue to make girls swoon, Laurie will give wise counsel to her siblings, Danny will make us laugh, Chris and Tracy will put in their occasional one-liners, and Shirley will take teach us important life lessons. There is something timeless about The Partridge Family, and I appreciate each of the 96 episodes.  On the next rainy day, watch a few of the DVDs from the four seasons and find something to appreciate in each one as well.