Watching reruns of the first season of The Partridge Family recently, I remembered why I loved that music so. In spite of almost completely thorough lyrical corniness, they had, um, you know – melodies. Kick-ass – no, outtasite melodies. Okay, one or two of the slower songs, er, don’t work as well. Somewhere along the line a couple of my records disappeared, so currently I only have two, but I’ve been listening to them and thank god for eBay because I will get the others. If anybody thinks they don’t rock, they do. I defy you to listen to a song like “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat” even one time and not be singing along by the end and not have it rock you for the rest of the day. Yes, it has a bit of a seventies-porn wocka-wocka groove, but here it’s a total plus. I can’t even give them grief on account of only two of them singing on their songs. There was a clearly readable note at the end of every show saying that some of the vocals were “enhanced” and my recollection is that it was openly talked about. (Not on the show, of course, but in the press – which here means publications like “Tiger Beat” – they may have been the Milli Vanilli of the seventies, but at least they didn’t pretend otherwise.) Yes, I was always a little troubled about the fade-out. At the end of most shows, the Partridges would perform “live” at one place or another, but most of their songs fade out on the record, and since they were unapologetically lip-synching, this would always result in the group sort of appearing to sing over the applause and then fading out (whereas at a real live show, a song would actually, you know, end). So I always wondered – how does the audience know to anticipate the exact point at which the song is about to fade out? Or – does the group just really start to sing more and more softly until the audience percieves the beginning of the fade-out begins to clap? I dunno, it just sort of always put me in the mind of, what if one time there was no clapping, and they were forced to audibly fade out? Wouldn’t they be super embarrassed? I shouldn’t have had to think about these things.
(Played 'til it scratched)
In general, there’s a lot to recommend about this show. It was one of the first shows featuring a single mom; granted there’s not a lot of discussion about her dead husband, but it was a comedy. And it was actually pretty funny. Unlike most sitcom families up to this time, they weren’t all happy-sunshiney. They were all kind of gently sarcastic with each other, which was the beginning of a more realistic tv-family model. There’s actually one episode where Keith’s “coach” (I don’t recall Keith being on any teams) overhears Keith and Danny insulting each other and takes Keith aside and tells him he needs to be more of a role model for his younger siblings, since they’ve lost their dad, and so Keith stops insulting Danny and starts taking the kids to classical concerts and art galleries (there’s actually one really great, still-relevant art joke in this scene) and sightseeing and then the kids start to get totally annoyed by it and at the end they’re in the kitchen talking about how annoyed they are by it and Keith overhears them and is hurt, but then after they apoligize he realizes he was taking himself too seriously and of course in the end they go back to being sarcastic and insulting. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a lot of conscious thought to why this show was so different, but looking at it now, almost everything about it was different than other sitcoms. One major difference was that it was all shot on film, so they had lots of exterior and location shots, resulting in a significantly better quality than other shows then or now; much more real, with you know, actual shadows n’ stuff. I’m sure now that they only stuck with the laugh track just to appease some higher-up muckety-muck somewhere. I have to say I was a bit disconcerted to discover, in the course of my research, not that the Partridge house itself was more or less only an exterior, but that it was on the Warner Brothers lot, and was later painted blue used as the house for the family from “Life Goes On.” (How I missed this, having watched LGO fairly regularly – oh for crying out loud, I’m already talking about my love for the Partridge Family, I’m gonna be embarrassed about “Life Goes On?” – shames me more than admitting I watched either of these shows.) Furthermore, the Partridges actually lived next door to Major Nelson and down the street from Darrin and Samantha Stevens, and at various times these and other TV houses could be clearly seen on The Partridge Family and yet curiously it was never addressed that both a genie and a witch lived on their block. Not to mention an astronaut. Plus, I just think the least the “Life Goes On” family could have done was to mention once or twice that the Partridge Family used to live in their house. I don’t think that would have undermined their credibility at all.
I’ve also been experiencing a bit of deja-vu in that the feelings I had for a certain Partridge are coming back to me with the added bonus of understanding what it was I once felt.
I loved Danny Partridge.
(C'mon. He's cute.)
That’s right. Danny Partridge (b. Dante Bonaduce). The funny, freckled, redheaded one. The very not-Keith one. Actually I loved Danny Bonaduce as I interpreted him through the character of Danny Partridge. I loved him so much that when I was in Japan for a month at the beginning of fifth grade, I watched reruns of The Partridge Family in Japanese. Only the songs remained in English, and despite my lack of fluency in Japanese, or okay, anything past “konichiwa”, forced to watch more closely, I was only made that much more aware that our love transcended not just words but entire languages. I read Tiger Beat and Flip and I’m pretty sure I subscribed to The Partridge Family Magazine and anything else that might have Partridge-related information so I was not confused. I knew Danny B. was his own person and he was the one I wanted.
I imagined our relationship. In spite of having no acting experience whatsoever, I would meet him by being cast on the Partridge Family as the new smart-alecky next-door neighbor girl who doesn’t get along with him at first but then shyly kisses him on the cheek and runs away at which time he turns beet-red and then punches her in the arm, pretending he doesn’t have a girlfriend because his troublemaking friend Punky Lazaar tells him it’s not cool to like girls but then they still meet in her treehouse for long soulful talks and then I don’t know what happens after that but probably Keith and Laurie find out and tease him really bad because that’s what always happens. Actually, I’m pretty sure some of this storyline is mentally cribbed from one of the Gloria Hickey episodes (she was Danny’s “girlfriend”), or maybe the one in which Jodie Foster appeared or maybe both; it’s fuzzy. There was one where this girl Danny’s age has a crush on Keith and Danny has a crush on her but then Keith breaks her heart and in the end she realizes Danny is more age-appropriate (and um, cuter). Anyway, after I get cast as a guest star in this one episode, I move to Hollywood because I am so dazzling in the part that I become a series regular, and Danny and I become best friends and hang out in my trailer and slam the Brady Bunch which we agree is so not as funny and real as The Partridge Family in spite of the them-not-all-singing thing and plus how totally lame it is of them to totally steal their idea of being a musical act and what a suck-ass song “Sunshine Day” is, not to mention how seriously retarded their choreography is and how lame their orange polyester outfits are (surmising that they if couldn’t afford Partridge-quality velvet and didn’t have the talent anyway, they might as well go bright?), and plus how the Partridges would never like, dance, and he openly calls me his girlfriend even though all we do is kiss with our mouths closed (well, he tries to stick his tongue in my mouth and his hands up my minidress but I’m not up for that just yet because I’m only eleven and he’s thirteen and super horny) and gives me presents all the time like a white rope bracelet and puka shells and for our four-week anniversary, purple suede hot pants with a matching fringed vest. Tiger Beat calls to interview me about our relationship which I describe as groovy and of course they want to know my favorites:
Food: Macaroni and cheese
Drink: Grape soda
Song: Anything by the Partridge Family, duh!
Here’s what it comes down to. I felt he understood me. Already. No, for real. Before my fictional TV-star discovery. Through the TV, Danny’s understanding of me was palpable. Being understood was, dating back sometime B.D. (before Danny), something I perpetually felt I wasn’t, and something I desperately craved until about ten years ago (at which time, amazingly, I moved into being at least slightly more interested in understanding others). I felt certain that Danny would understand me if we met, and I felt it was entirely possible that we would meet. (If I am to be 100% honest, I would subsequently have this feeling for quite a number of famous people over the years. A few I can think of: Tony deFranco – don’t even think of saying “Who?” [okay fine, maybe you’re twenty-five or whatever - TdF was the extremely foxy frontman-boy of The deFranco Family, who apparently were really related and all sang for real, on their one hit “Heartbeat, It’s a Love Beat”] the Fonz, Billy Joel, Eric Roberts [I’m not lying – I saw him on Broadway in Burn This, having missed John Malkovich in the same part or his name might be here instead and realizing only now that it was probably Lanford Wilson who really understood me], Robert Downey, Jr., Steve Martin, James Taylor and of course, Owen Wilson. I did finally meet Henry Winkler [aka Arthur Fonzarelli] decades later, who was so nice, and quite married.)
(For those of you who have no idea about TdFF)
It was no surprise to me that Danny would have his issues over the years. This only served to prove to me that he really had understood me all along. One of the things I’m coming to understand now, which was in my childhood only something I felt as a psychic connection, is exactly why I felt this way about Danny. It wasn’t just that he was the funny one. It wasn’t that I thought he was so cute, although I did, think that. It was more that he was the obvious misfit in the family, and I swear, I could feel his pain. He was the one who got picked on, he was by far the least typically telegenic of the bunch, he was the one who was always trying. Yes, this was his character, but I am not confused. This was something that was utterly visible to me as being entirely distinct from his character. A lot of his storylines seemed like they were written with both of us in mind. I want to interject here that I sense you’re not believing me right now, but I want to tell you I am 100% serious. Judge me if you will, but I’ve worked through my Danny-loving issues and if you have something to say about it, I’m prepared to fight. It’s what Danny would want.
An episode guide to prove my point:
Episode 4: See Here, Private Partridge
Okay, and so, in this episode from the first season, ten-year-old Danny is drafted by mistake. At first he imagines himself a war hero, then believes he gets rejected for being too short, saying the experience has made him wise beyond his years. I knew I was wise beyond my years at age ten as well.
Episode 9: Did You Hear the one About Danny Partridge?
Here Danny becomes a comedian but doesn’t know the audience is laughing at him/not with him, and suffers embarrassment.
Episode 11: This Is My Song
In which Danny hears Keith writing a song while he’s asleep and then when he wakes up he writes the same song thinking he wrote it and his pride is hurt when he finds out the truth.
Episode 13: Star Quality
Wherein Danny decides to “go out as a single” (I guess this was in the days before people left groups to go “solo”, because this “going out as a single” concept comes up more than once in the series) after a columnist says he has personal magnetism and star quality but then it turns out she was mistaking Danny for Chris (with all due respect to Chris number one or two, um, this was a stretch obviously for the sake of a joke, because everyone knows that Chris and Tracy were kind of just the filler of the family – allowing for the fact that at no time in the entire four years did Danny, Chrisses #1 or 2, or Tracy actually play or sing, but Danny at least had you know, lines, and he really did have personal magnetism, just ask Vincent Gallo (scroll down for more on that). Well, guess what, I wanted to go out as a single myself, and I actually could sing, but see
Episode 1: What? And Get Out of Show Business?
in which the entire family suffers from stage fright for why it didn’t happen to me.
Episode 24: A Partridge by Any Other Name
So and also Danny’s birth certificate gets lost and he thinks he’s adopted and goes around looking super sad and looking for his birth parents and calling his mom Mrs. Partridge. I had a brief period where I thought I might be adopted too. Sure, my mom had mentioned the agonizing pain of her only childbirth more than a few times, and sure, I looked exactly like her and sure, there was that whole birth certificate thing, but I have felt like a misfit from day one, and in my ten-year-old mind, that was evidence enough.
Episode 30: Anatomy of a Tonsil
This is the one where Danny is supposed to get his tonsils out but Punky Lazaar (the Eddie Haskell of the 70s) tells him horror stories about surgery which freaks him out plus he also watches an episode of Marcus Welby and decides he will die from the operation and then when he doesn’t die he’s still afraid to sing. One more time: me = afraid to sing.
Episode 43: I Am Curious Partridge (a very risque choice for a g-rated sitcom, I might say, as this references a popular sexy book/movie of the era)
In which Danny writes slanderous pieces about Keith and Shirley for the school paper. I started writing slanderously about everyone I knew starting in third grade but had the good fortune that no one read it. (I took Danny’s experience as a cautionary tale, and ended up becoming a fiction writer.)
Episode 71: The Partridge Connection:
In this episode, Danny and Punky Lazaar get caught stealing. I stole a bracelet from a hotel drugstore in Ohio where my mother was performing, and didn’t have the good sense to consider that my mom might ask me where I got it, and had to go back, just like Danny, and repent.
Episode 84: A Day of Honesty
Not to forget the one where Danny gets brought home by the police for lying about sneaking into the movies and the day of honesty where he points out that everyone is somewhat dishonest so they all agree to tell the truth for an entire day until he learns at the end that a white lie is sometimes okay if it means not hurting Laurie’s feelings about a guy rejecting her.
And then there were all the episodes involving Danny’s love life, including:
Episode 46: Promise Her Anything But Give Her a Punch
Episode 55: You’re Only Young Twice
Episode 67: The Eleven Year Itch
Episode 91: Danny Converts
I’m not sure anything was illuminated in any of these so much as it was a place to live vicariously though Jodie Foster (who gives him a punch in the eye in episode 67 – clearly a recurring theme), or Gloria Hickey, his recurring steady, or that Jewish girl where he goes to her bat mitzvah pretending to be Jewish. (I would later have a long history of dating Jewish boys, and when they called me Craneberg in college, I would say “Ha ha ha!” but not go to any great lengths to deny it. I thought my decidedly Aryan looks would speak for itself in the end, but I had people ask me seriously if I was going home for Pesach.) In my school around this time, kids were playing Spin-the-Bottle after school (not me of course, since I was at this time waiting for Danny), and at no time would anyone be satisfied with a punch in the arm. I did of course relate to the tales of unrequited love. I’d had one or two real-life crushes by this time (proving that I had at least some grounding in reality), on boys who probably had little or no information about my existence. And there was one entire episode (#53: Each Dawn I Diet) about Danny being shall we say chubby, which I was, and could definitely relate to. I filled out my Danskin shorts a little too well. In episode 55, Danny acts out at school because he identifies more with older siblings Keith and Laurie. I watched Laugh-in at age six. Eventually they use reverse psychology on him, letting him stay up late to watch talk shows (I watched Johnny Carson beginning when I was around ten) and double date with Keith and his girlfriend at Muldoon’s point (the makeout spot) and in the end he decides he’s tired and not so much into making out and really only wants to play with Gloria Hickey. Which really was what I wanted, although I’m guessing Danny B. would just assume make out. (Let me also add that this is not even a comprehensive list of the Danny episodes. He was heavily relied on throughout the run of the show.)
So let’s review the character description: wise, embarrassed, prideful, going out as a single, possibly adopted, afraid, slanderous, thieving, lying, shall we say chubby, mature for his age. Check, check, check, check – if there were a universe in which this were someone’s personal ad, let’s just say I’d answer it and leave it at that.
I kept my secret love from everyone. I knew he wasn’t the one I was supposed to have a crush on. In a moment of weakness mentioned it to my dad without thinking to pinky swear him to secrecy, and when it came out in conversation extremely casually over dinner or something, I felt a shame I’m not sure I’ve felt since, and was teased by my stepbrothers, although I’m sure now that they would have teased me even if it had been Keith. That’s just part of the brother job description. I made the mistake of mentioning the subject of this essay (then in it’s incubation) over dinner one night and one friend’s reaction was so violent, so horrified, I fought the ancient temptation to pretend I really meant to say Keith, but instead found the courage to defend my Danny. I told him I had been in the closet about this for thirty-five years and I wasn’t about to go back in now.
Then something occurred to me. Although I have felt so alone in a million ways in my lifetime, I made the somewhat late discovery that everyone feels this way, at least at one time or another, and also, we now have the internet to search for kindred spirits on nine magillion topics, at least eight magillion of which I probably don’t want to think about. (I’ve posted on my blog about subjects like Girls Gone Wild and Winnie Cooper being in Stuff magazine, and have received a surprising number of hits on those pages even though the content was I’m sure not what those readers were looking for. I’ve also received numerous hits on my pages about hating to wash their hair – people actually typed this phrase into Google – and as many on Landon and Shavonda – and I still don’t know who they even are – so I’m just saying I’m aware now that people have interests in things I’ve never even heard of.)
So, I proceeded to Google, in various forms:
“Danny Partridge fans” - over 100,000 hits (quit after searching 20 or so Keith-or-entire-family-related pages)
“Danny Bonaduce fans” – same
“I Love Danny Partridge” – 0 results
“I Love Danny Bonaduce” – 0 results
The sole result of this unscientific search being a snippet from an interview with Vincent Gallo, he of Buffalo ’66, a great movie, as well as The Brown Bunny, a notorious movie in which if you sit through three hours of scenes of empty highways with no dialogue, you get to see Chloe Sevigny give Vincent Gallo a supposedly real blow job. If that’s something you in fact want to see. Now, if you know anything about Vincent Gallo, he seems like an interesting guy, interesting being a euphemism for complicated and weird and sexy in a creepy unclean kind of way, not to mention a staunch Republican, so I’m not sure what it says about me that Vincent Gallo was the only person I could find on the web who openly admitted to being a Danny Partridge fan. My husband expresses vague concern that the logical conclusion is that I am also soulmates with Vincent Gallo. I don’t know. All I know is, apparently I really am alone, but with Vincent Gallo.
Excerpted here, from “The Book, LA, Winter 2001,” for your edification:
The Book: Is it true you are a fan of Danny Bonaduce?
Gallo: I became an actor, because of Danny Bonaduce on the "Partridge Family". He's tremendous, so funny and brilliant, and we seemed around the same age, I felt I should be on a show with him. We could have done a good spin-off, "the Danny Bonaduce, Vinnie Gallo show", da-da-da-da- da di da da (sings theme show music)
The Book: Would you still like to work with him?
Gallo: I never lose my heart for anyone. Ever. I would do anything with Danny any day of the week.
You go, Gallo. I suppose if I am to be thoroughly honest, he does impress me as the kind of guy I would have felt understood by if I’d known who he was twenty years ago, and who we can probably all feel grateful that I never met. I was doing a little acting at that time and a lot of drinking and I might have thought it was a good idea to give him a blow job in a movie for the sake of art. And not even my art. If I really gave someone a blowjob for my art, at least no one would have to see it.
What’s weird is that I am now married to someone I am sure I understand, and who I am sure loves me like mad. I’m pretty sure he understands me too – but perhaps more interestingly, I’m inclined to mention that my ongoing prayers in more recent years “to understand than to be understood” have actually been answered, and it’s a relief. Trying to be understood is exhausting.
My best friend Nina claims she liked Danny too, which makes me question the Google search. When I mentioned that he bore a slight resemblance to someone I knew, I didn’t have to finish the sentence before she knew which ex I was talking about. An ex who any number of his exes and current wife would agree on as being empirically cute. Could it be that no one is willing to admit their Danny love, even now? Until very recently and for many years, Danny had a wife, and she’s actually pretty hot. And what about all those five hundred women he’s claimed to have slept with? Could they all have been on drugs? Don’t answer that.
It’s been a couple of decades since I’ve read a celebrity memoir, and having temporarily put down Francine du Plessix Gray’s elegant memoir of her parents, “Them,” reading Danny’s book, “Random Acts of Badness” left me feeling a bit like I’d been on a two-day drug binge myself. I’m obviously not going to recommend it unless you’re the only other person out there besides Vincent Gallo and me who has an interest in Danny Bonaduce. But know in advance that he’s no dummy, in spite of his odd use of exclamation points (one or two every couple of pages, including, “Pow!” “Hey!” “Groovy!” “Gasp!” “I just didn’t know!” “It’s not like my hair should be wet!” and “Thinking of one’s mother at a time like this is just wrong!” I feel compelled to mention that there are probably an equal number of question marks, but I think one will make my point well enough: “Do you see the dwarf?”), plus as many of you know, I’m hardly one to judge when it comes to creative punctuation. He also seems overly fond of the phrase “Don’t get me wrong,” nevertheless, there’s an interesting story here. He’s opinionated and totally self-deprecating, extremely willing to poke fun at himself all the way through. (I’m sure he knew someone else would do it if he didn’t. He claims to have lost count of how many times he made Letterman’s top ten list.) I’d also like to go on a minor tangent here about the fact that his given name is actually Dante, because one of my real-life crushes of my junior-high school days, post-Partridge, was on a family friend also of Italo-American descent and also named Dante who was a few years older than I and the second-cutest thing I’d ever seen, first if you count people I’d actually met. He actually got married pretty young, crushing my hopes for our future, while I was still in high school, but fortunately this particular Dante had two redheaded cousins around the same age named Adonisio and Vittorio (real names), who were extremely funny and paid attention to me when no one at my own school was looking (and they were in college! I was only sixteen!); I’m trying to point out that I’m sure that Danny had everything to do with the origins of my love for Italian guys, which would recur again for a period right after the Nice Jewish Boy years. Anyway, Danny seems to know that he wasn’t considered the cute Partidge and claims that even Brian Forster (Chris #2) had more female admirers than he did, which seems preposterous to me. He seems to have appropriate remorse for the way he’s treated his loved ones during druggier times. (He also admits to being a liar, so take that for what it’s worth.) He doesn’t blame show business for his problems, which I appreciate, because I’d personally hope to god my kid didn’t want to be a child actor, although contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe it’s show business that causes addiction. For every Danny, there’s also a Jodie Foster, for every Dana Plato, a Ron Howard. Okay well maybe there are also a few who are not drug-addicted or dead but just living happily in obscurity. He has a great overall attitude, considers himself the luckiest guy in world to have been on the PF and to have an ongoing career in radio, and does not overestimate his talents.
That said, I still kind of want to shake him. He doesn’t seem to think drinking heavily is a problem even though he’s entirely willing to admit he’s a big drug addict. And I admire him for essentially saying that that drug addict is very much alive in him (this was written four years ago, before his recent return to rehab, so I guess he was right) and that he didn’t know what would happen in the future. But mostly what endeared me to him, in the second half of the book, was his admiration for his wife. The end of the book is very bittersweet, made me really sad. He's describing a conversation where some people get sort of personal about who they really are and he doesn't know what to say because in some ways he doesn’t really know. The best answer he can come up with is, “I’m Gretchen’s husband.” This woman has obviously tolerated more than a wife should ever have to, clearly helped him in a million ways, and I pray to god she goes to Al-Anon. Of course, I don’t think there’s a single soul out there, including Danny, who can be summed up in one three-word sentence, especially one that defines you by your relationship to another person. But you know what? I thought it was really sweet, and you know, even if I didn’t know myself as well as I think I do, I’m happy to say that “I’m Ben’s wife” is way up on my top ten list of who I really am.
(Never saw this in my life, unbelievably)