In April 1957, Ricky Nelson picked up a guitar on an episode of Ozzie and Harriet and began to sing rock and roll. Before long, Nelson was more pop star than television celebrity. For Hollywood, this was a lesson in cross-media youth marketing and, in 1966, Screen Gems television attempted a similar, even more successful experiment with The Monkees, a popular TV series that produced a string of best selling records. By 1970, Screen Gems was ready to try again with a new band that would be a family. The idea of the show came from The Cowsills, a real life family rock group that had scored several hits in the late sixties.
Shirley Jones, famous from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, was a natural as the brave, resourceful widowed mother of five, and her family included her real-life step-son, David Cassidy, who played Keith. The Partridge Family updated the tried and true "Let's put on a show and save the town" plots made popular in the 1930s by Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and the gang. The show's premise was based on an even older archetype -- a group of wandering minstrels. Only now, the colorful gypsy caravan had been updated to a friendly, psychedelic school bus.
In the first episode, the family goes from practicing in their garage to head-lining in Las Vegas in twenty-five minutes -- a fantasy every adolescent playing air guitar in front of a mirror dreams about. The Partridge Family was quickly a smash success. Their first release, "I Think I Love You," became the fastest selling single of 1970, with sales eventually reaching fifteen million copies. Along with the records, young consumers were offered posters, trading cards, 3D viewmasters, board games, lunchboxes, and even comic books and short novels based on the show. The recent movie, Josie and the Pussycats, and a raft of recent television shows about putting together a band tell us that the "misadventuring musicians" story shows no signs of growing old.
Fortunately, the message of these groups has traditionally been an optimistic one. Whether you're talking about Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Jake and Elwood Blues, Victoria and Emma Spice or Keith and Danny Partridge, the message has been the same; with a song in your heart, any obstacle becomes easier to face. As The Partridge Family theme goes, "Something always happens whenever [they're] together. [But...they] get a happy feeling when [they're] singin' a song."
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Copyright 2006© Kevin Shortsleeve
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Monday, 28-Aug-2006 14:35:45 EDT