David Cassidy: How the ’70s heartthrob got his start

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David Cassidy

TV’s new superstar: Will success spoil young David Cassidy? (1971)

By Peer J. Oppenheimer, Family Weekly – Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick) Oct 24, 1971

About nine months ago, I got a letter from publicist Jim Flood, saying, “Just to keep you apprised on David Cassidy, who you don’t even know at this point…”

He was talking about the 21-year-old son of actor Jack Cassidy and stepson of Shirley Jones Cassidy, with whom David costars in ABC’s successful television series “The Partridge Family.”

By the time I met David, he had captured from Bobby Sherman the Number One spot among the bubble-gum set.

David Cassidy in the 1970s (1)

Typical of the impact made on his youthful audiences were items like the one published in the show-business trade paper Variety: “David Cassidy of ‘The Partridge Family‘ TV show invaded the concert field with the force of an atomic bomb and emerged from his debut as a new teenage idol.”

Los Angeles Times critic Cecil Smith said, “One of the worst television years in history could well have produced a superstar — David Cassidy.”

How did David Cassidy reach such prominence so quickly? And will success spoil him?

To find out more about this extraordinary young man, I visited him in his rented wood-framed and used-brick Hollywood hilltop home.

David shares his home with his guitarist-accompanist Steve Ross and a high-school friend named Sam Hyman, who manages the merchandising for his personal appearances. The house is also inhabited by two mongrel dogs named Sam and Sheesh.

I found that David’s attitude is encouragingly down-to-earth. First of all, he knows that the popularity-span of a teenage idol is about two years, with Elvis Presley and the Beatles being among the rare exceptions.

David Cassidy and Susan Dey of Partridge Family on cover of American Girl magazine 1971

“I know my time is limited, that I am not going to be an idol all my life. No way! But as long as I am a member of ‘The Partridge Family,’ I am limited as to what I can do. If people would only take time to listen to my records, they would recognize that my music is changing — which means I am changing.

“The Partridge Family’ is one kind of sound, my records are another. What’s more, my interest isn’t restricted to music. I am just as involved in acting. Hopefully, my future will be divided between both.”

David has a nice voice, certainly not an exceptional one. The voice on the pilot wasn’t even his. Still, his singing has made him far more popular than the show itself.

His single, “I Think I Love You,” sold three and a half million copies. His second, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” topped the million mark four weeks after being released. His albums have done almost equally well.

Yet what really got David his popularity is the gentleness, the clean-cut “I want-you-and-need-you” kind of appeal, which has gotten through to the kids.


David, who is quite shy and reserved at times, and fully aware of what is going on around him, gives the major share of credit to his mother, actress Evelyn Ward, because “she persuaded me to wait to get into show business until I’d at least finished high school.”

When he was 18, David decided to try his luck in New York, supporting himself as best he could with a job in a textile factory, didn’t make quite enough to live on, and so my father had to give me about $50 a month to help out,” he recalled.

An agent in New York suggested that he audition for a Broadway show, “Fig Leaves Are Falling.” The show lasted only a few days, but David was spotted by a CBS executive, who was so impressed that he sent him to Hollywood to test for a film role.

David Cassidy - LIFE Oct 29, 1971

The part subsequently went to Michael Douglas, but David soon found a number of other acting jobs in major television shows like “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Bonanza.”

David knows that once his “idol cycle” runs out, he may be in for a tough time. “If it happens, it won’t be my first disappointment. Do you know what my dad said after ‘Fig Leaves Are Falling’ bombed on Broadway? He said ‘Son, in a way, I’m glad you were in a flop, because you’ll never learn from hits.'”

Referring to Bobby Sherman — who is 25 — David insists, “We’re two totally different human beings, but I think he enjoys being a teenage idol more than I do. I want more out of life. I want to become a good actor and produce my own records. I enjoy writing songs, and someday, I want to make a really good film.”

His biggest personal disappointment to date was his parents’ divorce. “I was five at the time, and felt very let down. I’m quite emotional anyway. I laugh a lot. Sometimes I cry. Not so much for feeling sorry for myself, but if I think I have hurt someone.”

He also has a temper. “Sometimes I yell at the top of my lungs. Not at people. Only when I am by myself, like when I learned they released a certain record of mine as a single which I didn’t want them to do. I was in my room alone, and yelled a word which I better not repeat. It’s not becoming of a teenage idol.”

MORE: C’mon get happy! Meet the Partridge Family & see the intro (1970)

The divorce colored David’s attitude toward marriage. It wasn’t helped by the fact that his mother was married a second time, to director Elliott Silverstein, and divorced him as well.

As a result, David has no plans for getting married in the near future. “I don’t even have a steady. I go with several girls.”

David Cassidy sees his mother once a week, his father usually every other week. While he respects his father, he feels closer to his mother. “Mother was never very strict with me.

“I had certain obligations when I lived at home, like taking care of my room, but I was never terribly responsible. I seldom picked up my clothes and that sort of thing. My father was always a bit more fussy with me. He’s such a natty dresser — completely opposite of me.”

David’s attitude about his stepmother has changed since they’ve worked together.

“I first met Shirley when I was about seven. I was all prepared not to like her, but it was impossible, because Shirley was like a fairy godmother to me. And the more we’ve worked together, the more I respect her. She’s so thoroughly professional.

“We’re really good friends. I would feel the same way if she were not married to my father.”

David Cassidy - 1971 Life

In a world where so many young people are confused, David Cassidy knows where he is, where he hopes to go, what he wants to accomplish.

He knew he wanted to become an actor since he was three years old. Instead of just dreaming and hoping, he prepared himself.

He enrolled in the right acting schools. He took up the guitar because he knew one day he would be called upon to perform. He discussed show business not only with the top professionals he met at his father’s and stepmother’s house, but with technical people as well as those whose views were more practical and more down to earth.

MORE: See some far out vintage ’70s fashions for teen girls

As for all the attention he gets, David says, “I don’t really take it all that seriously. I simply can’t believe all the stuff that is written about me. It’s like it’s not me — but someone else.

“If there’s anyone as fantastic as I am supposed to be, I’d like to meet him.”

David Cassidy, Shirley Jones and Shaun Cassidy (1961)
David Cassidy, Shirley Jones and Shaun Cassidy (1961)

David Cassidy irked by his earlier image (1975)

By Jerry Parker in the Longview Daily News ( Washington) Sep 27, 1975

IN THE early 1970s. millions of American girls put away their Barbie dolls and took up David Cassidy.

They watched him on “The Partridge Family,” bought his records, attended his concerts, read David Cassidy comic books, chewed David Cassidy bubble gum, put David Cassidy posters on their bedroom walls and took their peanut butter sandwiches to school in David Cassidy lunch boxes.

Thanks largely to his sometimes hysterical prepubescent following, David Cassidy, at the age of 21, was earning more money in a single night than most people make in years.

He sold 5.5 million copies of his biggest single, “I Think I Love You.” One afternoon in Houston, he filled 56,000 seats in the Astrodome twice.

His career brought him a Corvette, a mansion in Encino, Calif., and an income in excess of $250,000 a year.

David Cassidy in the 1970s (2)

Of course, he hated it. A year and a half ago, he decided that he could not stand it another minute. “I walked away from it,” he said. “I stopped touring, stopped doing concerts, stopped doing the merchandising. Stopped doing the television show, stopped doing interviews, stopped recording.

“What I really stopped doing,” he says, “was feeding a machine that was creating an image that was manufactured, fabricated, false.”

David Cassidy is a mellower 25 years old now, and though he says that he is rich enough not to have to work again, he has recently emerged from self-imposed oblivion to resume his musical career.

RCA has just released his album, the first that Cassidy has made in two years, and he has embarked on an international tour to plug it.

As he sprawled in a corner of his suite at the Plaza Hotel the other day. Cassidy’s choirboy looks seemed to have taken on a touch more strength, a little maturity; though he still retains the essential delicate prettiness that young girls might envy as much as lust after.

Album cover - David Cassidy's Greatest Hits

He looked very much the kid mogul, with his white Keds propped up on the coffee table and his dark glasses firmly in place while he talked business into a telephone cradled against his cheek.

A photographer was present, and Cassidy’s dark glasses stayed in place as long as the shutter clicked “I woke up late and my eyes are swollen,” he said, adding that he had got 15 hours sleep the previous night, and none the night before.

“And you didn’t tell me I was supposed to have my picture taken,” he said, wagging a finger at his publicity woman. “Naughty, naughty, naughty.”

Cassidy has occupied himself with a number of things since he dropped from public view. There are the horses that he keeps on a ranch two and a half hours out of Los Angeles, his new house in Hawaii, his music, and, he says, “a couple of nervous breakdowns.”

Defining his terms, he says that, no, he was not hospitalized for emotional problems, and never sank into an alcoholic or drug-induced quagmire. He did seek psychotherapy and he did, he swears, take to his bedroom and refuse to come out for three months.

“I took a long time reevaluating what I wanted to do as an artist,” he says. “I took a long time reassessing my relationship with friends I had lost because of devoting so much time to a career that was … fabricated.”

Vintage David Cassidy promo portrait

Although he once told a reporter, “Listen, if they’re going to buy lunch boxes, they might as well buy David Cassidy lunch boxes,” he came to hate the thought of himself as a commodity being peddled to children. And he came to hate the music that he was singing to them.

“My record company didn’t care about me as an artist,” he said. “They didn’t understand my saying, ‘I don’t want to record this anymore. It’s all the same.’ They said, ‘You’re making money, why not?'”

Cassidy and his friend, Bruce Johnston, coproduced the new album and wrote several of its songs. Called “The Higher They Climb (the Harder They Fall),” the record is a kind of tongue-in-cheek chronicle of the rise and fall of a teen idol.

“It’s like putting a cover on the last five years of my life,” Cassidy said. “I lived the personification of the American dream. People no longer want to become movie stars,” he said, scratching his nose with his thumb as he talked, as he does quite a lot. “People want to become rock and roll stars.”

David Cassidy on the cover of TV Guide

The seven gold record albums that he did for Bell Records notwithstanding, Cassidy calls his new effort “the first album I’ve made that’s representative of me as an artist.”

RCA, in is publicity material, says it is the album that “finally allows Cassidy to emerge as the knowledgeable, mature musician his stalwart tans always knew him to be.”

Well, maybe, but the most obvious trait about the new David Cassidy is the intensive bad-mouthing of the old David Cassidy, the one to whom the stalwart fans were attracted in the first place.

What was so dreadful about being the idol of millions of juveniles?

“I took a part in a television series (‘Partridge Family’) when I was 19, playing a 16-year-old,” he said. “I finished at 23, playing a 17-year-old. That’s the way television is, you don’t grow up. They don’t let you grow up.”

David Cassidy stories - comic book

“In the beginning, it was sort of fun. It was like a loon. I never thought it would be anything that would be taken seriously. I never thought people would look at me as that person on the television show.”

In the midst of it all, Cassidy rebelled via a cover story in Rolling Stone. The counter-culture publication photographed him in the nude, then further shattered the image by reporting that he watched a “Partridge Family” episode while smoking pot, and quoted a 24-year-old woman, with whom he’d had a casual, on-the-road affair, complimenting him on his sexual prowess.

“The network went berserk,” Cassidy said with a mean grin. “The Kellogg’s people almost didn’t want me to do the Rice Krispies commercial. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as effective as I wanted it to be.”

Vintage 1972 David Cassidy Rolling Stone cover

“Every day that I was on the set,” Cassidy said, “I related to myself as the Billy Gray of the ’70s.”

“Remember Billy Gray? He played Bud on ‘Father Knows Best.’ All that ‘Hey, Mom, can I borrow the keys to the car? Hi, Pop, can I go to the prom?’

“Screen Gems does it again, folks. Fifteen years later, but still in all, they’ve found themselves another Billy Gray.

“I wasn’t living at home in a family situation like that. My parents got divorced when I was 4 years old! Nothing was real about it.”

Cassidy is the son of actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward. He saw little of his father during his boyhood, and has said that he felt shunned.

MORE: Up & comer Shaun Cassidy follows in illustrious footsteps (1977)

Although he maintains a good relationship with his former stepmother, Shirley Jones, who played David’s mother on “The Partridge Family” and is now divorced from Jack Cassidy, he is currently not speaking to his father.

“I’m incommunicado with my old man,” he said. “I’ve never known him, and I never will. You can’t miss something you never knew and I don’t care to, quite candidly.”

David Cassidy and father Jack Cassidy - 1972

His own adolescence was far removed from Keith Partridge’s “Hey, Mom, can I borrow the keys to the car?” wholesomeness.

At 16, Cassidy was one of the thousands of dropouts who converged on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. He was “experimenting” with various drugs — marijuana, amphetamines, LSD, he says, but never became a “serious” user.

Mononucleosis took him back home to his mother’s Los Angeles house. He finished high school, decided against college, and came to New York to be an actor. He worked in the mailroom of a garment-district textile firm and took acting lessons from Philip Burton, Richard Burton’s mentor and father-figure.



Perhaps the nicest thing that his father ever did for him occurred at that time. Jack Cassidy asked his own agent, a savvy show business veteran named Ruth Aarons, to look after David. Through her, he got a part in a Broadway flop, “Fig Leaves Are Falling.”

When that show folded, Aarons reportedly offered him a choice: “Stay in New York and become an actor, or come back to Los Angeles and be a star.” Cassidy went to Los Angeles, and right away landed several good television shots.

A juicy role as a hemophiliac on a “Medical Center” episode sent letters pouring into the editorial offices of Sixteen Magazine, and that was six months before the premiere of “The Partridge Family” in the fall of 1970.

When David Cassidy appeared at Madison Square Garden in 1972, he also stayed at the Plaza. Then, swarms of girls kept the lobby under siege. Two girls in hot pants found their way upstairs and lurked outside his room for hours.

On this visit, no groupies littered the hallways, and he walked the streets of Manhattan without fear of molestation. He said that he prefers it that way; that he will measure the success of his new album, not in terms of units sold, but in media response and in “getting people to listen who wouldn’t ordinarily listen to a David Cassidy album.

“If they’re liking you, or if they’re not liking you, at least it will be for something you’ve accepted the responsibility for,” he said.

The album was released last month. Soon enough he’ll know whether they’re liking him, not liking him, or asking their mothers. “David Cassidy?”


Postscript

David Cassidy died on November 21, 2017, at age 67. He had two children, Beau Cassidy and actor/director Katie Cassidy.

at the 9th Annual Family Television Awards Dinner. Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA. 11-28-07
Katie Cassidy & father David Cassidy at Family Television Awards Dinner, 11/28/07; Photo by S Bukley/Deposit Photos

 

MORE: See the top stars on these vintage Tiger Beat magazine covers from the 1970s, and relive all the breathless hype

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