Icon For A Reason: Our Interview With David Cassidy

I got the rare chance to talk with a truly iconic figure this week, David Cassidy! Most of us remember his role in The Partridge Family fondly, and David Cassidy continued his long, successful career writing, producing, acting, and of course, singing. In fact, he just released a new single, "UFO (U Fine One)" on iTunes, and he paired up with Cree8 Group to feature the song on a new iPhone game called iSlinky Squashin' Martians. Talk about nostalgia!

Today David dishes (and I mean, dishes!) with me about the '80s, the beginnings of his career, his kids, and life in the industry.

Hi David, how are you doing today?
I'm doing great, thanks. Now what type of site is Culture Brats?

Well, Culture Brats, we're a pop culture site. We're all kids of the '80s, so we basically cover pop culture items from the '80s to today. We do some things that we grew up with; we do some current stuff, and mainly we try to support artists.
That's a beautiful thing. I did have a hit in the '80s that people in the U.S. don't know or remember, it was actually in the top charts in the U.K. and all over Europe and Australia. I wrote it with a great writer/producer, Alan Tarney. We worked and lived in the U.K. for about eight months out of the year in '84. And then I did a tour there in '85, and it was great. I really enjoyed it.

I'm still proud of the record. In fact, a little known fact, it was George Michael who I began working with and co-producing some stuff with and actually sang background on it, and he did a great job. He's a terrific artist. At the time, he was just leaving Wham! It was right before his first solo album got gigantic and I enjoyed working with him.

Yeah, I read that somewhere. I thought that was actually pretty cool.
Yeah. I worked with a lot of the British artists when I was in the U.K. and very, very, very talented guys and Terry Britten who is now working with my son, Beau. Terry wrote and produced "What's Love Got to Do With It?" In fact, he was just last week, I think, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He produced that album; he produced all of, I think – almost all of it – about all of Tina's hits in the '80s and the '90s. He's a brilliant writer and a dear friend, and he's now only working with two artists, and one of them happens to be my son.

Oh, that's great.
And Sue, my wife, wrote a song with him that was on the Private Dancer album. Needless to say, he's a great mentor for Beau. And Beau got into NYU. He was accepted there and into Boston University. He went through his first year, and then he began working with friends of his in Berkeley School of Music. Livingston Taylor helped sort of mentor him for a while, and they are called The Fates. But the stuff he's been writing about--he sent me some of it--he and Terry are terrific [writers]. So I'm really very proud of him and my daughter, Katie who has become very successful and is a really talented actress. So I'm a proud papa now.

It must be really something. You not only have had a great career yourself but then to see your kids following in your footsteps, I'm sure you're very proud of them.
Yeah, my father was arguably one of the finest theatrical actors, certainly of his generation and his era. He was known mostly for his theater work, which is unfortunate because he died at 49. But he won Tony Awards, and he'd been nominated for Emmys. He was in a few movies towards the end of his career: W.C. Fields And Me and The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood. He did over forty Broadway shows and he was the consummate theatrical actor. And he instilled a great work ethic in not only myself but in my brother, Patrick, and certainly my brother, Shaun.

[We] were at a table at Sharney's and someone said, "I sat there and saw your whole family over the last 60 years," and that made me really, really proud of that, and now my daughter and my son. So yeah, it's really exciting for me to see them blossom. Katie's work is really exemplary. I mean, she was in Taken with Liam Neeson and didn't have a huge role in that, but she's had leads and co-starring in television series, et cetera. I think she's really just at that point where she's about to break out in a big way because she's very dedicated. She's in class when she's not working.

If you really care, it's not about fame. It's never been about fame for me. It's always been about the work. And I've tried to teach this to them and also when I go and speak at schools or dinners and theater departments and say, "If you do good work in this career, fame and money will follow." And what's kind of fascinating of the kids of the '90s, particularly – they just want to be rich and famous; they don't care how. And that doesn't equate to me. It's kind of ass-backward.

So I think the most important thing is if you care and have passion about what you do and you choose the right canvas, be it as a songwriter, as a producer... I've been fortunate to do a lot of that in my life: written a couple of television themes and created and co-produced a television series, a couple movies for television, a couple of shows in Las Vegas, which I'm as proud about that, because the work was good, as about anything else.

But ultimately, for me, I've had the most remarkable, resilient and incredible fans that have supported me in every possible way in all the work I've done, and I just don't... I'm not baffled by it, but I'm humbled by it; I can tell you that.

Once you become very famous and you become someone who is a star, when you get that label and then you become a labeled sex symbol or a labeled idol, it's a very difficult albatross around your neck to break out and do other things because they see just that. And as a public, we feel very comfortable putting people in their right place in our lives... "Oh, he's a –" or "She's a –" whatever you want to fill in. But as an actor or as a writer, singer, as a songwriter, whatever it is, it puts you in a box, and I've always strived to do things that people didn't know I could do or expect I could do. And hopefully do it well.

And I think that for me, the secret has been... not the secret but the catalyst for me, having started working in the late '60s as a teenager in the theater and then doing a lot of [television]. Before I did The Partridge Family, I did a number of hour dramas that were iconic: Ironside, Bonanza, Mod Squad, which at the time were the biggest hour shows.

I moved back to New York City right after I graduated from high school, and I was studying, and I was working with the L.A. Theatre Company my last year in high school in L.A. And as soon as I graduated from high school, I moved back to New York and found an agent who began doing auditions. And he... the funny thing about it is that people don't... they think it just happens. I went on nearly 200 auditions where people said, "No," where they didn't hire me...

...until one producer asked me. And I was just very fortunate because of the timing that I did a Broadway show called The Fig Leaves Are Falling. And the casting director from CBS Films, which was a film department that CBS had just developed, saw me in it and wanted to bring me out to do a screen test for a movie. I said, "Well, I've got this job here." But lo and behold, we did about three weeks of previews, and then it ran for eight performances and closed. So I was free to take him up on his offer, and they flew me back out to L.A., and I did a screen test for a movie that Michael Douglas who, at the time, was not named Michael Douglas; he was M.J. Douglas, which most people don't realize – and Michael was... he certainly looked quite a bit older than I did at the time. In spite of the fact I was 18, I looked about you know, 13, 14. And someone from Universal saw the screen test and even though I looked too young to play the role [with Michael Douglas], I got to audition for some other television shows and got better roles. And I was really very, very fortunate to have someone, a couple of casting directors, that believed in my talent.

Sure enough, I went in and auditioned for hour dramas, and at the end of the year, it became pilot season. I did a pilot for a half-hour situation comedy that I'd never done, and even though they knew I could play the guitar and I had played in bands and garage bands and was always the lead singer, they didn't care if I could sing or not. They cast me, strictly from a network studio standpoint, as an actor.

It's something I rarely ever discuss - what I've just spent the last 10 minutes talking to you about - because most people don't care.

I got an email today from someone who said, "I recently saw an episode of Bonanza and I couldn't believe that you were the main character in this episode." And I remember he sent me the name of the episode; it was called "The Law And Billy Burgess." I'm talking about just a couple of hours ago, and it's been so long since... well, I haven't seen it since it aired. But it was probably six months before I did the pilot for The Partridge Family or a few months before that, and it was really nice to revisit it, and the fact that someone saw it and they acknowledged me for the work. I thought it was really interesting, and it spawned a lot of thoughts about that time in my life when I was an actor who was struggling to pay my rent. But I was incredibly fortunate that I kept working and I didn't have to take another job. The only other job I ever had was when I moved back to New York I took a part time job in a mail room for a textile company called Deering Milliken.

Oh, no.
These are like nuggets! I'm telling you, Mary.

This is great, actually!
I haven't discussed this with... well, very few people in my life, and I've never even met you!

All of these shows are the ones that we grew up with, too. I mean, I was young, but I watched these shows. So this is great.

Oh, yeah.
Well, if you ever get a chance and you see the reruns of Bonanza, look for an episode called, "The Law And Billy Burgess."

Yeah, I will.
Or the simpler way is just go online and find it. Anyway, it was really fun. I worked with Dan Blocker, he was the key, and Lorne Greene. And by the time I did it, they were in their next-to-last or their last season. They'd been on the air for like 16 years, and none of them wanted to work anymore. Sixteen years of playing Little Joe, you can only imagine! Michael probably was like, "Please don't give me this week." One of them had to be the main connection to the Bonanza cast, at least one of them, so there was obviously always had to be conflict and always had to be a reason that they would get involved.

And in my case, in this episode as I recall, I think I was trying to be a tough guy, and I wanted people to think that I had shot someone or hurt someone. The fact was I hadn't, but I was hoping people would think I was a really bad-ass tough guy.

It was really fun, too, because I had grown up as a little kid and as a teenager watching Bonanza and watching Ironside and to be so young and yet they were the last waves of those. That's my story.

Wow. It's just great to hear the history and getting into it.
As I said, I never talk about that. Ever. I mean, rarely. People aren't necessarily very interested. They want to know about the fame and the women and the girls and all the... sizzle, as opposed to the steak.

You can catch up more with David on his blog.

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