The Cowsills

Barbara Cowsill

The Cowsills

And the Oscar
goes to...

The Man of
The Hour!

Rarely Seen
Cast Shot

A Ball

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An Interview with 


GH: Were The Cowsills ever seriously considered to play any of the parts?

BC: My memory on this is very clear. Bernie [Slade] developed this idea, which was inspired in part, by The Cowsills. We decided, because they were hot at the time, we would see what we could see by going out and visiting them. I think it was just the two of us, and they lived somewhere in the Valley. So we interviewed these people. It was clear, that the little girl – I think her name was Susan – was absolutely adorable. The others weren’t really actors. And there was nothing there that we could use. Mostly, because they were all too old for the roles as written anyway.

GH: It has been reported that you wanted some family members, but not the mother -- which prompted their father to say, “all or nothing”.

BC: Yeah, I’ve seen those interviews, and I don’t know where that came from. We didn’t want any of them. They were very nice people, but we couldn’t do a show without actors! We had no real interest in the music. That was all a phenomenon in itself. We wanted good actors. We already knew we would have the Bahler brothers, and Ron [Hicklin] and Jackie [Ward] do the music – which they did. It was never in our minds that David Cassidy would be in the music. The only reason why Shirley was used is because it gave us an opportunity to get her some extra money.

GH: How did Shirley get introduced to the project?

BC: It was probably the network, or Jackie [Cooper]. She wanted to stop travelling and stay home with the kids, because they were real little. She was, and is, a marvelous mother. In the beginning, I was not in favor of casting Shirley, which wasn’t very smart, because it would have been the biggest mistake to cast anybody else. She was absolutely marvelous both in the part – being a generous actress -- because she had to play straight man for all these guys, and secondly, she’s an absolutely delightful person to be around. We did four years of that show and I don’t think we ever had one bad word. All you had to do with Shirley is tell her the truth. She would say, “Next week’s script isn’t very good.” And I would say, “No, it isn’t – we’ll try and do it better.” And that was the truth. Sometimes we made it better and sometimes we didn’t.

GH: Bernard Slade mentioned that Jane Powell was interested in the role. Were there any other names batted about to play the role?

BC: Probably the usual list of characters around, but we never auditioned any for the part. In those days, getting Shirley was very special. She was an Academy-Award winning movie star, and didn’t do television. But we had an incredible pilot script, which isn’t always the case. Usually you have to go back and do a lot of reshooting, which we didn’t do on this one. When people get their hands on scripts like this, it would attract the likes Jane Powell!

GH: How involved was the actual casting process for The Partridge Family?

BC: That show was really grueling. Renee Valenti was head of casting at Screen Gems. They interviewed 700 – 800 people for these parts. I didn’t sit through all that. That was her job. In the end, we found that we had nobody for the part of Laurie. So Paul Witt flew to New York – Columbia had a New York office on 5th Avenue. They held auditions there, and found Susan Dey, who had never done much acting. But the great thing about Susan is she was a great listener, and a great reactor, which is so hard to do. It didn’t surprise me at all that her career went the way it did, with LA Law, etc. 

GH: Susan seems to shun any involvement with current Partridge Family specials Why is that?

BC: I don’t know. I used to see her from time-to-time when I lived in LA. It wasn’t anything personal. I think she thought it was like a tattoo. It’s hard to shake an image and keep a career going. Sally Field had the hardest time with [the image of being]The Flying Nun, until her movie career took off. Somebody told me Susan has started to loosen up. I don’t think there is any magical reason for it. It certainly wasn’t an unhappy time for her, and she wasn’t mistreated. She had personal problems with eating, but that didn’t last too long.

GH: How did the rest of the casting go? 

BC: When we got down to the end, to the parts we were the least concerned about – the two little kids – we didn’t have any money left. There was one other little girl left with Suzanne Crough, who had more acting credits on her resume, so her price was higher. We couldn’t afford her, so the part went to Suzanne. Actually, the two youngest had very few lines in the whole four years.

GH: Why is that?

BC: Well, they were little kids. The story wasn’t about them, it was about the family. There is only so much you can do with young kids in a storyline. I mean, you do one running away from home story, and you’re through. Their lives aren’t very interesting. Today when you can stick a gun in their hands and have them go to school [laughs]. It was much more innocent then. It certainly wasn’t a case of them not being good enough. There were more story opportunities with the older kids, that’s all. Susan [Laurie] was pretty and interesting, and at that age when she was starting to date. David [Keith] was marvelous because we figured out how to play him. 

GH: What do you mean?

BC: He was such a pretty little guy. We had to play him as a loser of sorts and make him a sympathetic character or nobody would like him. Danny was just funny from the start. I can’t tell you why. Even to this day he is a funny guy.

GH: When a series is being developed, who decides which house façade to use on the studio lot?

BC: I did. Ross Bellah, among others was the Art Director. So it was a case of the two of use choosing. There were only so many houses there, and some were still being used. The “Bewitched” house was still being used, and another house had just been used in “I Dream of Jeannie”, so it was a process of elimination, too. We also had to find one that had a driveway large enough for the big bus. Nowadays, you would probably use a real house. It’s an enormous expense to dress up a backlot to look like something. I look at that lot now, and I see how fake it looks. I built a marvelous set there, for “Here Comes The Brides”. It was an enormous set that had a boat that could pull in, and dormitories, and churches. That whole complex burned down after we were done.

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