Shirley Jones recalls ‘The Partridge Family’ as it turns 50

It’s been 50 years since “The Partridge Family” urged people to “C’mon, Get Happy!”

The sitcom premiered Sept. 25, 1970 on ABC, turned co-star David Cassidy (Keith Partridge) into an overnight teen idol and marked movie star Shirley Jones’ entree into series television. She played Shirley Partridge, the matriarch of a family singing group modeled after The Cowsills, whose string of hits in the mid-to-late ’60s included “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.”

“The Partridge Family” cast included future “LA Law” star Susan Dey (as oldest daughter Laurie Partridge) and Danny Bonaduce as wisecracking son Danny Partridge. Suzanne Crough played youngest daughter Tracy Partridge, with Jeremy Gelbwaks/Brian Forster splitting time as youngest son Chris Partridge. Dave Madden was on hand as the group’s perpetually flustered manager, Reuben Kincaid.

The series was notable from the get-go, since, when it premiered, Jones was married to David Cassidy’s father, singer/actor Jack Cassidy — making her David’s stepmother off-screen and his mom on the series.

Jones, 86, answered a few questions over e-mail about “The Partridge Family” and its impact on her life.

You turned down the role of Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch.” What changed your mind about starring in “The Partridge Family”?

As much as I enjoyed “The Brady Bunch,” I didn’t want to exclusively be the mama at home taking the roast out of the oven. “The Partridge Family” had the added component of music, which I loved, and I was also drawn to the idea of playing a single (widowed) woman raising children on her own. Finally, a half-hour television series allowed me to stay home with my real kids, something that had been significantly more challenging while travelling around the world making movies.

Susan Dey, Jeremy Gelbwaks, Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Suzanne Crough and Danny Bonaduce
Susan Dey, Jeremy Gelbwaks, Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, Suzanne Crough and Danny BonaduceCourtesy Everett Collection

Do you have a favorite moment or memory from the series?

The episode at Marineland. I’m a big animal lover and it was wonderful for me to see the beautiful aquatic life they had, particularly the whales, though I confess I never liked seeing them in captivity. We also recorded a lovely song for the episode entitled “Whale Song,” which was one of my favorites from the series.

Was there one cast member you felt closest to?

Obviously, I was very close to David because he was my stepson and I’d helped raise him as a child. But the truth is, I was close to all the cast members. It was a joy working with the entire cast and crew, and I still stay in touch with many of them.

Did you have any reservations about starring in a network sitcom with David — and did that relationship impact your onscreen dynamics?

I actually think our true-life relationship, our closeness, helped us in the show.

Your TV family was akin to “The Brady Bunch” in that it seemed like an anachronistic throwback during a very turbulent time in America, both socially and politically. Why do you think “The Partridge Family” struck such a chord with viewers?

With the horrors of the Vietnam War and the turbulent political climate at the time, I believe the show was a temporary escape. A place where older viewers could take a nostalgic trip back to simpler, happier times, and younger viewers could experience the aspirational joy of being in a family that worked together and traveled the country together … in a multi-colored bus, no less. In our current climate, I suspect there are a lot of real families out there doing this right now!

How surprised were you when “The Partridge Family” received a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist in 1971?

Quite surprised. At the time, I thought only newer rock acts, and older, more established acts like Sinatra or Miles Davis, received Grammy nominations. Happy to have joined the club.