The Mod Squad: The Show That Oozed Hip, Groovy, and Cool

As we continue our Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem series, we move from Maine where senior citizen Jessica Fletcher solved mysteries to the streets of Los Angeles, where a hip trio infiltrates the counterculture to solve crimes.

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Airing from 1968 till 1973, The Mod Squad was a unique concept. Created by Buddy Ruskin, a Los Angeles police officer, the show took eight years to become a reality. Ruskin based the concept on his time as a squad leader for an undercover narcotic division in the 1950s.

Aaron Spelling was the executive producer. Spelling worked on a number of projects from 1960 onward, but his biggest hit shows were still in his future when he took the helm of The Mod Squad.

As soon as the jazzy theme song by Earl Hagen began, we knew this was a different type of show. The sixties hippie culture and counterculture drug scene had not been explored in depth on television before.

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In order to get the necessary evidence, three young team members were trained to go undercover to solve cases. Michael Cole was Pete Cochran, a wealthy kid who was arrested for stealing a car; Peggy Lipton was Julie Barnes, who had run away from a bad home situation; and Clarence Wlliams II was Linc Hayes, who was arrested during the Watts riots. Captain Adam Greer (Tige Andrews) supervised the trio. He mentored them and provided “parently” advice and wisdom. He hand-picked them for his team. (Similarly, Spelling’s Charlie’s Angel’s would also feature a father figure hand picking three non-traditional members for his crime-solving team.)

None of these kids were innocent, and their records were eliminated when they chose to work with the LA police. But they soon realized they had the ability most cops did not to inconspicuously fit in to help stop criminals from killing or hurting other young adults.

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Similar to Room 222, which aired almost the same time, The Mod Squad covered a lot of socially relevant topics: abortion, domestic violence, drug addiction, child abuse, police brutality, illegal immigration, and racism. Though the pilot was written sixty years ago, these issues are still on the front page today.

The writers, including Tony Barrett, Harve Bennett, Sammy Hess, and Buddy Ruskin, created realistic characters. These three outcasts were a bit rebellious; they lived in the gray instead of black or white. They understood good people sometimes did bad things, and racism and domestic violence were not to be tolerated. Their speech and clothing marked them as quintessentially 1960s. Linc often said “Solid” or “Keep the faith.” You would probably hear “groovy” at least once an episode.

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The team traveled in an old green 1950 Mercury wood-paneled station wagon that they affectionately referred to as “Woody.” Unfortunately, it was burned in an accident at the end of the second season.

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The show was definitely controversial. It aired at a time when westerns, rural sitcoms, and Lawrence Welk were popular. The episodes pushed the envelope a bit on topics that had been taboo on television in the past. The team was like a family and on one episode, Linc gave Julie a brotherly kiss on the cheek which had the network up in arms, but not one complaint came in. Their relationship with Captain Greer helped America see how the generation gap could be bridged.

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Stars David Cassidy and Marion Ross

Despite the controversy, the show attracted a lot of famous guest stars. Some of the actors who can be spotted during the show’s run include Ed Asner, Jim Backus, Tom Bosley, David Cassidy, Tyne Daley, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Dow, Andy Griffith, Carolyn Jones, Leslie Nielsen, Stefanie Powers, Vincent Price, Robert Reed, Marian Ross, Sugar Ray Robinson, Martin Sheen, Bobby Sherman, Danny Thomas, Daniel Travanti, and Billy Dee Williams.

Each episode ended with the squad walking away from the camera.

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The show was extremely popular given its uniqueness. It was the 28th most popular show its first year and number 11 in its third season. The show received seven Emmy and four Golden Globe nominations. In 1970, it was nominated for Outstanding Series. During its final year, it only ranked 54 and the “hipness” of the show was starting to age a bit, so it was cancelled.

It did have an afterlife. In 1979, a tv movie, The Return of the Mod Squad, aired on ABC with the original cat. In 1999, a big-screen film was released starring Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps, Claire Danes, and Dennis Farina. Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember it; not many people do.

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The Mod Squad could be seen on MeTV in 2014 and 2015. Apart from that, it has not fared well in syndication. Like Room 222, the show can feel dated quickly due to its language and fashion.

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The show is still celebrated for its ground-breaking scripts, and in 1997, TV Guide included an episode, “Mother of Sorrow” as 95th of the greatest 100 episodes of all time.

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While you probably won’t find it on television, it is available on DVD. Although the show may not be known by many people today, it was one of the first shows to break the barriers of going where television had not been before. In many ways, it paved the way for the creation of shows such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Miami Vice. What more could you ask for: relevant topics, well-rounded characters, and exciting plots. Although its language and fashions date it, it captures a unique time in our history and is worth exploring.

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.