By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
Reverend Dan "Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque" Partridge, co-founder of the Partridge Family Temple, is seated on a platform overlooking an indoor waterfall at Casa Bonita, the Mexican restaurant/theme park that's been Lakewood's proudest claim to fame since 1973. Before him, enchiladas share a tabletop with several vintage lunchboxes and an array of spiritually powerful bric-a-brac adorned with two-decade-old photos of the personages who symbolize his faith--David Cassidy, Shirley Jones, Susan Dey. He bows his head, squeezes his eyes tight and raises his hands over his head in a gesture of supplication.
"All right, Keith, Laurie, Shirley, Danny, Chris and Tracy," he shouts in a voice loud enough to startle a group of puzzled tourists being seated nearby. "Thank you for this beautiful meal. Thank you, Shirley, who's the earth, in whom all this food grew." He dips his head in the direction of a pair of chicken breasts steaming on his plate. "And thank you, Danny, for slaughtering this chicken for me--it smells really tasty. Twenty-four hours a day we'll think about you, especially when we're eating at Casa Bonita, our holy temple."
The blessing completed, Reverend Dan opens his eyes and offers a spacey smirk. His companions--Shaun "Partridge in a Pear Tree" Partridge, Shaun's sister Giddle "C'mon, Get Happy" Partridge and Boyd Partridge--return it with grins of their own, silently acknowledging the creed that they share. As members of the Temple, which Reverend Dan modestly calls "the hippest new religion in town," they believe that we were all put on this earth to have fun, fun, fun each moment we're alive. And what could be more fun than slipping into your grooviest clothes and spending a Thursday afternoon in January at Casa Bonita?
Nothing, friends. As Shaun puts it, "This right now is an episode of The Partridge Family. It just continues all the time. And it's a really good show."
Doubters regard The Partridge Family, an ABC-TV situation comedy about a musical family that aired from 1970 to 1974 and spawned pop songs such as the big-selling "I Think I Love You," as nothing more than a disposable piece of boob-tube flotsam. But that's just one of the delusions under which they suffer. These poor unfortunates also fail to realize that the series' characters--principally, mother Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones) and children Keith (Cassidy, Jones's stepson), Laurie (Dey), Danny (Danny Bonaduce), Chris (alternately portrayed by two actors, Jeremy Gelbwaks and Brian Forster) and Tracy (Suzanne Crough)--are actually temporal representations of gods who rule every aspect of our lives. If only the unenlightened would open their eyes, they'd be able to experience the pure bliss that bathes Temple devotees from birth until death. And beyond: According to Templers, all of us will eventually ascend to Albuquerque (a destination foretold in the Partridge Family song "Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque"), which they describe as a heavenly place that looks a whole lot like a giant Casa Bonita.
But today is an even better day than usual to revel in all things Partridge. You see, the hundred or so Temple adherents worldwide are experiencing what for them is an unprecedented avalanche of attention--most notably a December guest shot by Reverend Dan on the nationally syndicated Jon Stewart Show and the Temple's inclusion in Cult Rapture, a book-length examination of odd sects that author Adam Parfrey says will arrive in stores this March. But these public-relations triumphs pale in importance before the news that David Cassidy--their Muhammad, their Christ, their savior--is coming to Denver for an extended stay; he stars with English songbird Petula Clark in Blood Brothers, a musical about twins separated at birth that runs at the Buell Theatre January 17 through 29. It's a momentous occasion, and a framework of action must be developed to properly celebrate the visit and alert the populace that an event of tremendous canonical significance is taking place.
"Right now we're planning to have a display," Shaun reveals. "We'll do it in front of the theater or the hotel he's staying at. Or maybe both."
"We're going to sing. We're going to have signs letting people know that their Lord is here," Giddle elaborates. "And I'm going to offer myself to him."
"He might make you bark like a dog," Boyd warns. "In his book [C'mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus, published last year], he said that he'd have the security let groupies come backstage at shows, but before he'd have sex with them, he'd sometimes make them get down on all fours and bark and make train sounds."
"I'll do it," Giddle vows. "I'll do anything for my Lord Keith."
In the beginning, neither Reverend Dan, presently living in San Francisco, nor Denver-based Shaun, the other Temple co-founder, possessed the keys to the Partridge Family bus. But during a 1988 stay at the home of Denver resident Adam Sleek, Shaun and Reverend Dan came on board.
"Adam just kept playing Partridge Family music constantly--I'd wake up to it," Shaun says. "It was starting to piss me off, the way he would stare at us and sing the songs over and over again. But then I started listening to it and I realized--hey, this is good music. And then, a little bit later, I had the revelation that the people in The Partridge Family were the gods and goddesses you read about in school. They've been around since the beginning of time, but they had different names in different ages. And in 1970 they decided, `Hey, let's get a hit TV show.'"
"After that, Keith spoke to us and said, `I am your Lord--worship me,'" Reverend Dan goes on. "And for a couple of weeks I said yes, and I was teaching everybody about the beauty of the Partridge Family. But then I started doubting it. But then I had another experience: I was in a car accident and I was drowning in a giant pool of blood, and Laurie pulled me out of the pool of blood with her hands and gave me a French kiss, and it brought me back to life. I didn't doubt anymore after that."
In short order, Shaun and Reverend Dan envisioned the theological roles of the actors in The Partridge Family, who, according to the Reverend, "are not gods. They're human incarnations, but they're still very holy."
"Keith is the War God," Shaun says.
The Reverend interjects. "He's also the male sex god, because if you read his autobiography, you read about how big his penis is."
Shaun: "He also talks about getting it on with Laurie, his sister."
"Yeah," Reverend Dan says. "And he did it with Meredith Baxter-Birney, back when she was just Meredith Baxter. And that Italian actress--Gina Lollobrigida? When she saw his penis, she said, `Wow, I heard you had a monster, and it's true.' Or something like that. He is just the sex god."
What about Shirley?
"Shirley is the Virgin Mother," Reverend Dan explains as he watches a diver leap from the nearby waterfall into the pool below. "The Earth Goddess. That's why there's no father on the show--because she's a virgin, and a lot of people couldn't handle it at the time. They never mentioned the father's name on the show, they never showed a picture of him, they never went to his grave. Basically, he didn't exist."
"She's the Holy Whore of Babylon. The eternal good-time girl." Honey, Shaun notes, represents Laurie's vaginal fluids in rituals Temple members perform; milk stands in for Keith's sperm, while 7-Up is consumed because, Giddle declares, "it's Keith's favorite soft drink."
"And do you know who Bobby Sherman is?" Shaun asks in reference to the singer/ actor who's best remembered for the 1970 smash single "Julie, Do Ya Love Me." "He's Death. He's the flip side of Keith."
"Bobby Sherman had his own spinoff show from The Partridge Family," Boyd offers. "It was called Getting Together."
"And on that show, they drove around in a hearse," Shaun says. "That's why he's Death. And Danny is Loki, the trickster god. The god of fun. He's probably here now."
"I talked to Danny on his radio show once," Reverend Dan recalls (Danny Bonaduce works as a DJ in Chicago; his producer said he was "too swamped" to comment for this article). "I told him all about the Temple and everything, and he said, `I have one word for you: rehab.' I guess he's into all that now."
Indeed, press reports have suggested that Bonaduce has cleaned up his act following some notorious run-ins with the law. While in Arizona in the early Nineties, he beat up a transvestite prostitute; later, drug charges were leveled against him.
"That was all part of his trickster trip," the Reverend insists. "We freed him from all that--we're responsible for him not going to jail. We rallied behind him, we prayed, we made up stickers that said `Free Danny Partridge.' We did all kinds of things. And that was all it took."
Danny's aura permeates many of the Temple's doctrines, while ancillary characters like Chris and Tracy Partridge, manager Reuben Kinkaid (Dave Madden) and Simone, the family dog, fulfill lesser functions.
"Chris and Tracy are the innocents, the pure innocents," Reverend Dan says about the characters who were ages 5 and 7 when The Partridge Family first aired.
"They made all the trees and the flowers," Shaun concurs.
The Reverend: "Chris also represents Duality, because two actors played him. They probably had this whole weird thing going on. And Reuben is the mediator between the gods and the people. If you ever wondered why Danny had red hair and nobody else did, it's because Shirley and Reuben Kinkaid and the dog all had this wild orgy, and from that, they gave birth to Danny. That's the trickster part--Danny is part god, from Shirley, part human, from Reuben, and part subhuman, from the dog."
But if Shirley was involved in an orgy, how could she still be a virgin?
Shaun has the answer. "It was a miracle," he says.
According to the Temple spokespersons, teachings like these are making their way around the country and the world. They claim to have temples--meaning a residence in which a Temple member lives--in several locations across the U.S., including Seattle and Kenosha, Wisconsin. There are also international branches in Japan and Germany, though Shaun points out, "The guy in Germany is having kind of a tough time getting the temple started. That's because nobody in Germany really knows that much about The Partridge Family, including him. But he's coming along."
"Everyone is a Partridge," Reverend Dan volunteers. "You're born a Partridge, so we actually have over 5 billion members. But only a few of us so far have gotten in touch with our inner Partridge. It doesn't really matter, though. You'll still go to Albuquerque. But you might as well have fun before you get there."
With so many citizens of the globe ignorant about these matters, Reverend Dan yearns to introduce Temple wisdom to the masses--and he would like to do so through the mass media.
"You know, the gods have a lot of articles written about them, they're on TV, they have all this merchandise," Reverend Dan says. "We want to imitate the gods--and being on TV and in magazines and newspapers makes us more godlike."
The Temple's first major success in this realm came as the result of a 1991 concert in Connecticut headlined by Cassidy, with Bonaduce opening as a stand-up comic. Reverend Dan, Shaun and two other Denver disciples traveled to the venue and began passing out stickers to ticket buyers prior to showtime. "They were a little leery of us," Shaun alleges. "They were primarily Yale students, so they weren't all that swift."
The situation began to deteriorate when the Reverend asked a young woman if he could lay his hands on her. She subsequently raced to a nearby policeman and complained. Reverend Dan was promptly ejected, and Shaun was grabbed by a cop a short time later.
"He was telling me to leave," Shaun testifies, "when all of a sudden I was overtaken by the spirit of Danny. I started yelling at the guy, telling him he was a square and a geek, and he grabbed me, cuffed me and tossed me on my stomach, causing me to vomit. He was a very rude person."
The altercation prevented the Partridges from seeing the performance, but it earned a writeup in the Hartford Advocate. There, in the paper's religion section, was a photo of Dan (identified as "Reverend Placenta Rising Partridge") and an interview that laid out the religion's tenets in broad strokes.
This notoriety led to a smattering of Temple items in Denver dailies, including a brief mention of Shaun's momentous meeting with Maureen McCormick, who co-starred on the Seventies sitcom The Brady Bunch as big sister Marcia Brady. Even though McCormick never acted on The Partridge Family, Shaun explains that Marcia is especially important in the Temple's ideology: "The Brady Bunch was just a TV show, but Keith found favor with Marcia. She was a mere mortal, but he fell in love with her and gave her some of his powers and took her as his bride. So right now, Marcia's reigning over all of us."
Shaun encountered his queen several years ago when McCormick was in Denver for a personal appearance. He successfully convinced her to sign a section of his arm near his colorful Marcia Brady tattoo and "a sacred parchment"--actually a photocopy of a Brady-era McCormick photograph that he'd soaked with his own blood. He adds that Giddle snagged for him a water glass that McCormick had left behind; he used it as his "holy chalice" for a year--until a former girlfriend broke it. "I pointed my finger at her and said, `You've been cursed,'" Shaun notes. Needless to say, the relationship ended then and there.
Around the same period, the Temple was videotaped by a crew from the syndicated tabloid-news program A Current Affair. Producers eventually shelved the footage, Shaun feels, "because I think they thought we were just people collecting stuff. They filmed us and everything, but when we started preaching the word and giving vanilla-fluff sandwiches to homeless people, I think they got a little confused."
A far more successful piece of public relations was a respectful overview of the Temple that appeared in the defunct Colorado Music Magazine in 1992. Its author was Boyd Rice, who immediately felt a kinship with the Partridges. And no wonder: Boyd is both an internationally recognized musician (his credits include electronic-music albums released under the name Non) and the official spokesperson for the Church of Satan, a loose amalgamation formed around Anton LaVey, the reclusive author of The Satanic Bible. Boyd, who proudly uses the Partridge surname whenever he's participating in Temple events, sees no contradiction between his promotion of these two seemingly disparate organizations. "They're both religions of the flesh," he says. "And they're both about the here and now."
Through Boyd, the Temple founders were introduced to Adam Parfrey, a journalist who's written about fringe groups for publications such as the Village Voice. Parfrey also owns Portland, Oregon's Feral House publishing company, best known for putting out Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., a biography by Rudolph Grey on which the film Ed Wood was based. Parfrey's latest project is Cult Rapture, which focuses on millennial phenomena--bizarre groups (the Partridge Family Temple among them) that Parfrey sees as typifying a societal and cultural decline accelerated by the approach of the 21st century. Last year, while preparing an October 1994 museum exhibit that drew on similar themes for the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle, Parfrey naturally thought of the Temple. That's because, in Parfrey's words, "the idea behind the exhibit is that the art of cultists and apocalpytists is more interesting, more aesthetically charged, than the work of the usual creative painter."
In an effort to support this conclusion, Parfrey gave museum attendees the opportunity to view paintings from the brush of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, canvases by Rodney Vanworth that were created in collaboration with people gathered outside the Los Angeles courthouse where O.J. Simpson's pretrial hearing was taking place--and a display of Temple paraphernalia. Shaun traveled to Seattle for the premiere and was quoted in an Associated Press article on the presentation. He didn't even mind that the Temple's home was inadvertently referred to as Los Angeles. "That was the Manson family," he says. "Easy mistake to make."
This kind of flippancy is illustrative of the Temple's worldview. But Parfrey says, "I take them seriously. I take them seriously in the respect that they take what they do seriously. People can't go full-bore on something seven days a week for nearly seven years without some degree of seriousness."
Parfrey is convinced that the Partridge Family Temple fits just as well into the Cult Rapture concept as do other people and other groups he's included in the book. Among those, he says, are "militia groups, patriot groups, Bo Gritz, coprophiles, and this weird sex cult in San Diego where you have to be crippled or paraplegic to join. And there's also a cult of lonely, ugly girls, mainly from Southern California, who produce things called `slash fiction.' It's actually pornographic fiction based upon their fantasies about TV stars. In that respect, they have something in common with the Partridge Family."
Do these TV cults represent a trend? Before long, will doctrines celebrating, say, Bewitched, The Munsters or Me and the Chimp suddenly emerge and take the nation by storm? Parfrey knows better than to predict. But he does allow that "the exposure of the mind to ideas that are contrary or unusual is a good thing."
At Casa Bonita, the four Partridges clutch Parfrey's opinion to their bosoms. They repeatedly raise a flag designed to alert waitresses to service requests, ensuring that a parade of potential recruits beats a path to the platform. As the Reverend passes out stickers to one waitress, Giddle asks, "Is Bananas coming on soon?"
This is no casual query. Bananas is a gorilla (actually, a diver in a monkey suit) who appears in one of the skits that restaurant staffers perform at regular intervals. It's the Family's favorite Casa Bonita theatrical--and when an actress wearing safari duds steps onto a stage above the waterfall and begins shrieking that Bananas has escaped, a smile spreads across Reverend Dan's face. He thrusts his hands into a large duffel bag and emerges with a gorilla costume of his own (in his spare time, he performs at children's birthday parties, most often as Barney or a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger). The Reverend's Temple brethren shake with laughter as the actress, who's already made at least one pilgrimage to their table, shouts out her lines.
"Has anybody seen the gorilla?" she wails. "How about you, Partridge Family?"
At that moment, Reverend Dan pulls the costume's mask over his head, causing the actress to cry out in what seems like genuine shock, "Oh, my God! You're the gorilla!" She waves wildly at a fellow actor wearing matching safari garb and carrying a large butterfly net. "The gorilla is over there! The gorilla is over there!"
With that, the Reverend runs wildly down the aisles, swinging his arms and making jungle noises. Customers twist in their seats to watch the spectacle, and one five-year-old is so startled that he topples down three stairs trying to get out of the gorilla's way (he isn't hurt). In the meantime, the actor captures the Reverend, prompting the actress to holler, "You caught the wrong gorilla! You caught the wrong gorilla!"
Just then, the right gorilla, who'd been waiting patiently for a cue that never came, wanders onto the stage, seemingly perplexed about what he's supposed to be doing. He captures the actress, but it's several moments before the actor realizes it. He's having too much fun with Reverend Dan.
When an exhausted, sweat-drenched Reverend at last plods back to the Temple table, he's tailed by the restaurant's manager and a security guard, both wearing angry expressions. Boyd is delirious with delight. "What are they going to do? Arrest him for impersonating a gorilla?" he wonders. Then a terrible thought strikes him: "Maybe they'll ban him from Casa Bonita forever. They'll put his picture up by all the cash registers."
Reverend Dan looks worried as the manager gets into his face and asks, "What were you doing out there?"
"I wasn't doing anything."
"Oh, I think you were doing something."
"You were interrupting the show," the security guard informs him.
"I was just caught up in everything," Reverend Dan says. "It's so exciting here. See, this is our holy shrine, and we're the Partridge Family."
The security guard cocks his head. "Excuse me?"
"The Partridge Family. You've heard of the Partridge Family, haven't you?"
The manager is getting less amused with each passing minute. "What do you mean by that?"
"The Partridge Family," the Reverend continues. "You know, the TV show. It's a religion, too, and I was just feeling so psyched about it that I had to let everyone know."
"I don't know what that means, either," the manager snaps. "I want to know what you were doing out there."
The guard points at the actors. "Those people are part of the show. You're the customer and they're the performers."
"I don't want to be paid or anything," Reverend Dan protests. "I just thought it would be fun. That's what the Partridge Family is all about. Fun."
"That's not the right way to have fun," the security guard barks. "You're the customer and they're the entertainers. And they're trying to make it fun for everybody, not just you."
Nodding politely, Reverend Dan notes, "They're doing a good job."
The longer the conversation goes on, the more the manager cools down. He ultimately tells the Reverend that he and his party may remain as long as he promises not to don his gorilla suit again. Reverend Dan spends the next half hour chatting with extremely impressed Casa Bonita workers. One waitress asks if the Family is celebrating anything.
Reverend Dan says, "Love."
Giddle says, "Life."
Shaun says, "Reality."
For David Cassidy, the reality that people are fascinated by The Partridge Family more than two decades after its cancellation is rather unsettling. He's been acting steadily since he was a teenager, and over the past several years he's earned consistently generous notices for his turns in such Broadway productions as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Blood Brothers, now on tour. But he can't seem to get out from under his image as Keith Partridge, teen idol.
"It's not even frustrating anymore," Cassidy says. "I loved and enjoyed The Partridge Family, and I'm thrilled that millions of people love it still. It's been a great asset for me, but it's also been an obstacle artistically and creatively. And I no longer spend any time talking about it. I wrote my book last year with one real purpose in mind--which was to answer every possible question about this experience. So that in the future, when anybody asks me about the Partridge Family, I can say, `Turn to page 193.'"
Nonetheless, he's curious about the Partridge Family Temple, about which he knows little. "I've done some concerts around the United States in the last two or three years, and they've come to a couple of my shows," he remembers. "They were handing out literature and all kinds of bizarre stuff. At first I thought it was just somebody winding me up, but then I had a couple of the guys who work for me check it out, and they told me they talked to someone who was seemingly very convinced that he was a high priest of the Partridge Family church." Cassidy also is familiar with Reverend Dan's Jon Stewart Show appearance, which concluded with Stewart's on-air conversion to the Temple way ("William Shatner and the lady who plays Counselor Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation were on there, too, but they weren't that into it," the Reverend concedes).
When it comes time to comment on the Temple, however, Cassidy is cautious. "I don't mind it if it's just for fun," he announces. "The Partridge Family definitely depicted fun and was representative of a time of freedom--really the last gasp of innocence in America. There was a dichotomy there, in that it was an era when dope, sex and cheap thrills were socially acceptable. Yet it stood for a very moral picture of what American families were like.
"Once one puts the spin of religion or church on it, though, it suddenly becomes rather serious, and we get concerned. As somebody brought up here in America, I respect everybody's right to choose whatever religious belief they want. But believe me, these were fictitious characters. The producers and the creators of the show only wanted to do something that would be a good time and commercially viable."
In that regard, they succeeded beyond most anyone's expectations. The Partridge Family is a knockout with a new generation thanks to its run on the Nickelodeon cable channel, which Cassidy uncharacteristically helped hype (he did so in part, he says, to attract attention to Blood Brothers). But while he appreciates what Partridge has done for him, he's learned to keep it in perspective. And he thinks others would benefit from doing the same.
"It's all well and good for people to have a fixation with television shows," he states, "and I'm glad we had a positive influence on a lot of them. But sometimes I suspect that TV programs and programming have had a little too much impact on people. It was really intended for people's entertainment and enjoyment, and not to influence them in any way in terms of a lifestyle choice."
Clearly, the members of the Partridge Family Temple do not agree. They're marching ahead with plans to publish their own magazine, to be called The Partridge Family Temple Funner, along with a Partridge bible. And, of course, there is their mission to welcome Keith to Colorado. About these goals, Cassidy offers this simple critique: "Dare I say it's rather...tragic?"
"Keith's a natural-born prick," Shaun responds, his mouth full of Casa Bonita cheese enchilada. "He's the War God."
"I met him at one of his book signings," Reverend Dan relates. "He wouldn't even talk to anyone, and he wouldn't sign anything except books that were bought at that store that day. I bought one anyhow, and when it was my turn, I told him about the temple, and how we worship him and drink his sperm. And he didn't even look up. He just said, `C'mon, get happy,' and went to the next person. I don't think he heard me.