The Christmas of 1970 came a little early that year for my family as a delivery truck from Arts Appliance of Moberly, Missouri traveled northeast to our prairie home 3 ½ miles northwest of Shelbina, Mo. I was five years old at the time and clearly remember the truck traveling up our long graveled drive past the pear tree on the south edge of our front yard and parked even with the side walk that led to the back of the old two story white wooden structure that had been a home to several families since the end of the 1800s. It was on this September day that an order for a new television set and hi-fi stereo set both in matching maple colored wooden cabinetry were placed in our front living room by the delivery men from Art’s to the thrill of my parents and myself. The old RCA television that had a black and white picture was upgraded to a new Zenith model sporting a color picture as color television sets were the new “in” thing and a must have which led to more being produced in the late 1960s as television studios began to film all of their shows in living color.
On Friday, September 25th, 1970 at 7:30 pm, there was an explosion of color on the ABC television network as we watched and listened to the opening theme of a new television show that featured a cartoon version of a yellow and white mother hen partridge emerging from a hatching egg followed by five of her young chicks each a different bold color. Playing behind the cartoon montage was the song “Come on Get Happy!” The comedy show featuring music titled “The Partridge Family” had been hatched out in the mind of television entertainment creator Bernard Slade on the premise of bringing a family comedy show to television that featured a family that could sing and also play instruments. It was the popular family band of the 1960s called “The Cowsills” that had sparked his imagination as mother Barbara Cowsill and her five sons and one daughter had climbed the rock music charts with a series of pop rock/love songs that had become the music genre known as “bubble gum pop or bubble gum rock.” The music was geared to the pre-teen and teenage audience of that era. The Cowsills climbed the music charts in popularity and record sales as Bernard Slade began to pen a script in early 1969 that would feature the widow Shirley Partridge raising teenagers Keith and Laurie along with their younger elementary aged siblings Danny, Chris and Tracy all of whom played musical instruments in their own band in the family garage. The first episode would require that mom join in.
Academy Award winner Shirley Jones had gained fame in Broadway musicals and as a film actress giving her more choice in the roles that she wanted to play. She was offered the role of another single parent raising three girls on what would become “The Brady Bunch” but felt the part was not for her. The role of a singing mother was more to her liking when she was approached by producers for The Partridge Family and in an unusual coincidence, her own step son David Cassidy also a gifted singer and actor was cast as her teenage son” Keith.” Model/actress Susan Dey was cast as teenager turned activist “Laurie” while child actor Danny Bonaduce was cast as “Danny” a sharp witted business minded forty year old in a ten year old child’s body who constantly challenged the actual family band manager Reuben Kincaid portrayed by comic actor Dave Madden. The child actors Jeremy Gelbwaks and Suzanne Crough were cast as the younger children Chris and Tracy during the first season and by the second season the role of Chris was recast with Brian Forster.
The Partridge Family became an overnight ratings success for ABC Television as the comedy and music appealed to not only young people but also to adults. The viewing audience watched the Partridge children receive guidance from their mother and at times their manager Reuben while at the same time a new song was featured each week. The songs were played by professional studio musicians and sung by a group of professional singers as the actors mouthed the words pretending to sing. David Cassidy, knowing that he had the ability to be a lead singer, approached the producers about singing with the group as the lead singer and also requested that he be allowed to play his guitar. David was allowed to sing as was Shirley based on her own success as a singer. By the middle of the first season, David and Shirley’s voices became prominent in the songs that aired and a series of record albums were also recorded and became as success along with the television show. In November of 1970, a single featuring the song “I Think I Love You” sung by David Cassidy and Shirley Jones along with background singers Ron Hickland, Jackie Ward, John and Tom Bahler became the number one song in America beating out The Beatles song “Let It Be.”
By Christmas Day of 1970, I had turned six years of age and wanted to learn to play the guitar, sing and travel on the old 1957 Chevrolet Series 6800 Superior school bus that the Partridge Family had painted up in several bright colors making it their tour bus. I asked Santa Claus for a guitar and even though it was a plastic version that I found under the Christmas tree that special year, it was good enough for me as I put on concerts out by that old pear tree the next summer and for my new sister Carol who came in October before Christmas of that year. As I got older and found that the guitar wasn’t my instrument, I became a part of the generation of students in The Shelby County R-IV School District who benefitted from the musical instructions of instrumental music director Mary Lightfoot and Sharon King vocal music director both of whom were widowed mothers and dedicated to not only turning us into musicians but also building us into to better people. It seems like only “A Moment Ago” that we were leaving this prairie for music contests on those Bluebird brand school buses and singin and playin our songs for the peoples. Merry Christmas from the prairie and remember the Partridge Family song title, “Together We’re Better.”