On the Ranch backlot
Publicity photo shot
Concentrating on Music Day
With father, Joseph
Clowning around with Dave Madden
"Each Dawn I Diet"
GH: Tell us about Jeremy Gelbwaks.
DB: What do you want to know about him?
GH: Was he just a hyperactive kid – or was it much more than that?
DB: (Pause) He was a raving lunatic who got his butt kicked regularly and had it coming! You see, unlike me – I’m an overt raving lunatic. He was a covert raving lunatic.
GH: How so?
DB: When filming a scene on TV or movies, they don’t yell, “Lights! Camera! Action!” What they really say is “Roll em”. Then the cameraman turns on the camera. Then when the sound and film are caught up to speed, the sound guy yells, “Speed!” Then there is a moment’s pause and the director yells, “Action!” Well on “Speed”, Jeremy would kick me under the table really hard and right then the director would yell “Action”, and all they would see is me diving over the table, beating the crap out of this kid. They all thought I had lost my mind. But finally he made the mistake and started doing it to Cassidy, and that was the end.
GH: When did you find out Jeremy was leaving?
DB: Nobody ran it by me. One day Jeremy was gone and Brian (Forster) was there.
GH: Did you get along with Brian?
DB: Yeah! I mean, we weren’t the same kind of guy. He was really sheltered, and still is.
GH: What did you three do on your breaks together?
DB: Nothing. I didn’t do anything with them. By the time I had a break, they were already gone. I would ride my bike, steal the golf carts, break windows on Western Street. But mostly I would study karate. The physical ed. coach, who really spent more time with Brian and Suzanne – because he had time to, since I was working – turned out to be a karate instructor. When the producers got wind of that, they hired Chuck Norris to be my personal trainer. Then Chuck Norris started to make it big, so when he had a chain of schools he gave me a black belt course and a never-ending membership to his schools.
GH: How often did you take publicity photos for the show?
DB: Maybe twice a year.
GH: Take us through “Music Day”.
DB: On Monday, we start reading that week’s script around 9 or 10 o’clock until lunch. After lunch we come back and there is what appears to be the same nightclub set and same 70 year-old extras watching us in the audience. They placed us on the stage and set all the lighting, which took forever. The only part that stands out in my mind is, if you look, we have these stacks of Ovation equipment and amps. They were all legit. Just because we couldn’t play didn’t mean we couldn’t have if we had the skill. So they yell, “Playback!” and the sound guy hits the button and the song would come out at concert level! I don’t know if that made you feel more confident or less silly by singing along to make sure nobody could hear our real voices.
GH: How long would it take?
DB: It took the rest of the day because they would film a close-up of David, a close-up of Shirley, a close up of Susan and a close-up of me – which would never, ever, ever be used. And some kind of shot of Chris and Tracy. And then they would do some sort of master shot, which would take the rest of the day. But the thing that stands out in my mind is, anytime we wouldn’t be shooting, David would hook up the instruments, and David is a consummate musician! David would play riffs on guitar like nobody you ever heard. Then he would sit down at Susan’s piano and bang out the piano. Then he’d rip the pads off of Chris’s drums that were put there so you couldn’t hear him banging and he would play drums like nobody ever heard. David is super talented. Only recently has David started bugging me – but I would never put down that guy’s talent/ He’s amazing.
DB: I get very uncomfortable around him. I can’t really talk to him. Have you ever talked to anybody that was your hero when you were a kid? They stay your hero. If David stopped by and said, “Hi! I just thought I would stop by for a drink”, I would start stammering. I’d get all nervous.
GH: How did the other people learn their music since you were reluctant to?
DB: Brian practiced SO hard. Susan tried hard. I think everyone tried real hard. I just didn’t want to do it. It was one of the few areas that I could show my rebellion and get away with it. Until the third year when I showed it in every possible avenue and still feel regret over it.
GH: Susan Dey told an interviewer that she received a cardboard cutout of the keyboard and a tape of the first season’s songs so she could try and hone her craft. Did producers send you anything like that?
DB: They sent me a cardboard cut-out of Susan. Actually, it might even have been Susan – she was really, really skinny!
GH: When it became obvious to people on the set that there were problems at home, did Shirley Jones step in and ask producers to ban your father from the set?
DB: No. This is how I remember it. I never liked my Dad. He never liked me. I have no animosity towards the guy. As a matter of fact, there are a thousand areas, outside of his social interaction, that I would give anything to be just like him. He’s a brilliant, brilliant man, although he never made me laugh once. In my book, I say he wasn’t a funny guy at all – he had reduced comedy to an equation. No matter what his mood, 2 plus 2 always equaled funny. All the shows he wrote for – like All In The Family – were brilliant!
GH: So what happened?
DB: Well – by the way, this is a big ole scoop which will be in my book - One day we were doing a scene where we are singing around a swimming pool. David starts at the back of the pool and walks up and joins us on stage. He’s at the back of this pool – and this is weird, because I did a thousand things that deserved this treatment, but this wasn’t one of them. He’s swinging the mike over his head with about 10 feet of cord out, and I said “Hey, David – what are you doing? Practicing for one of your concerts?” A nothing comment. And he lets go of the microphone and it comes flying at me. Then it runs out of cord and falls in the pool. And he marches towards me like I’m gonna get killed when he gets here. And he puts his hands around my neck and starts choking me. Then he stops. There’s a little melee, we go back to work and then there’s a break. And this is what’s weird – I called my Dad, who I don’t like, don’t want around, and he doesn’t want to be around me. But I called him and said, “David Cassidy just hit me!” Then I heard his voice and he hung up the phone, and I thought to myself, “What have I done?” Being the kind of Dad that smacks his kids around, he’s also the kind of guy, that if YOU smack his kids around, there’s even bigger trouble. And I’m thinking, “David Cassidy’s gonna get killed!” So I ran and told my Mom, who knows I’m right, and she runs and tells the producers, who shut down the show and shuttled Cassidy out of there. My Dad shows up and all hell breaks loose. It’s one of the few times – aside from his talent – that I was really proud to be his boy. And none of that crap mattered. The show didn’t matter, the money didn’t matter, the fame didn’t matter. Somebody laid a hand on his kid and he wasn’t going to have it.
GH: Because of the trouble, how often did you stay at Shirley’s house?
DB: Shirley’s house was only a few times. I lived at Dave Madden’s house. I moved in with Madden.
GH: Besides the “learning to drive” and “magic tricks” stories that you have mentioned on various specials, are there any other stories you can share of spending time with Dave Madden?
DB: Dave convinced us that his nose was shot off in the war, and had been replaced with rubber. When you interview Dave, he’ll tell you this story because he remembers it clearly. His nose is fairly long and when you flick it, it keeps moving like jelly. He also used to squeeze my face down in his hands to the size of a quarter. He’ll tell you this verbatim – he was going to try and get my entire facial structure down to the size of a dime. We used to show this to people who visited the set all the time. I remember being at his house once and this gorgeous woman was there, and I’m getting ready to make my magic moves on her – I’m all of 12 years old - and he says, “Forget it man! You’re a fat, gangly, 12 year-old! Give it up!” He was never one to mince words! Dave Madden is still, and will always be, one of my favorite people in the world.
GH: The two of you played off each other so well. There was an episode (“Each Dawn I Diet”) where he was trying to quit smoking and you were on a diet that had some wonderful moments.
DB: That was one of my saddest days on that show. I mean, nobody ever told me I was fat. I never knew it. And all of a sudden I’m doing a show where I am too fat to go to the pool and I had no idea I was fat. I was devastated! I was crying the whole week and I was a wreck. They kept saying, “Well, remember at the end of the show, you lose so much weight that you are voted best body at the pool party!” But I wasn’t stupid. I knew at the beginning of the show that if I was fat enough to play this part, that the end was coming whether I lost weight or not. The last 30 seconds of the show – which is called the tag -, didn’t matter if I lost weight or not. They would just dress me in black or shoot me from the neck up.
GH: Eventually things got so bad at home that your Mom had to take you and leave the house. Why did you go and the other kids stay?
DB: I don’t know. For the life of me, I don’t know. It was a bad time for all of us, like I said. Every single member of my family had it worse at home than me. My Dad just had total disdain for me.
GH: Have you and your Mom always had insomnia?
DB: Yes. My Mom and I spent a great deal of time NOT sleeping together. We used to hop in the car and ambulance chase, or drive up through Mulholland Drive in the hills, trying to get lost and find our way home. My Mom and I are a great deal alike. My Mom and I are very close.