Unwilling to rest as a one-hit wonder when its first big hit, The Monkees, went off the air in 1968, the television production company Screen Gems wasted no time in trying to repeat its success. On this day in 1970, in the 8:30 p.m. time slot immediately following The Brady Bunch, ABC premiered a program that would give Screen Gems its second TV-to-pop-chart smash: The Partridge Family.
If the Beatles served as the inspiration for The Monkees, it was the real-life family act the Cowsills that inspired Screen Gems to dream up The Partridge Family. Originally made up of four teenage brothers (Bill, Bob, Barry and John), the Cowsills scored their first top-40 hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things" (1967) after adding their mother to the lineup. They earned three more hits in 1968 with “We Can Fly,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair” after adding two additional younger siblings, and it was in this configuration that they caught the eyes of the folks at Screen Gems. In fact, Screen Gems approached the Cowsill family about having the children star in the show that would eventually become The Partridge Family, but the family demurred when it learned that actress Shirley Jones, and not Barbara Cowsill, would be playing the role of Shirley Partridge. Undaunted, Screen Gems hired four non-singing child actors for the roles of Laurie, Danny, Chris and Tracy Partridge and one future teen idol, David Cassidy, for the role of Keith.
In the pilot episode of The Partridge Family, the five children of a widowed single mother convince their mom to join them in their garage recording sessions and then watch their first record, “I Think I Love You” become a #1 pop hit. In a case not so much of life imitating art as of a brilliant marketing machine replicating its earlier success, the song “I Think I Love You” raced to the top of the real-life pop charts less than two months after its television debut.
However, hits like “I Think I Love You” and “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” were not actually recorded by a five siblings and their mom in a garage. The Partridge Family’s hits were recorded by some of the best professional musicians working in Los Angeles at the time, including drummer Hal Blaine and the other studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. The Partridge Family did, however, launch David Cassidy on a short-lived career as an actual pop singer, and it also, according to news reports, inspired some misguided runaways to show up on Shirley Jones’ Beverly Hills lawn in the hopes that she might adopt them into her television family.