To an up-and-coming early-'70s generation that thought Woodstock was just Snoopy's friend, the Partridges were the last word in groovy. But of the Partridge progeny, only Susan Dey (Laurie), now 40, would maintain a high-profile acting career, reinventing herself as legal eagle Grace Van Owen on L.A. Law. How fared the others? In the nearly 20 years since they flew the nest, most have struggled to heed their show's chirpy theme song and just "get happy."

Having cleaned up his act, Danny capitalized on his mighty mouth

Danny Bonaduce remembers hilling bottom. Back in 1985 the Partridges' carrot-capped imp had become, in life, a 26-year-old cocaine addict. When his mother flew out to L.A. from Philadelphia and found him in a cheap hotel, she delivered a chilling message. "She said, 'You're going to die soon,'' recalls Bonaduce, now 34. "She was right. I was a skinny, dirty guy with sunken eyes."

Today the face is flushed, the physique buffed and the man ebullient: clean, sober and employed as an evening radio talk show host on WLUPFM in Chicago, where he lives in a loft with his wife of three years, Gretchen Hillmer, who serves as his booking agent. But the transformation didn't come easy. Following his first cleanup, Bonaduce lapsed into his old habits, and the only jobs he could find were as a security guard and a bartender. In 1990 he was arrested in Daylona Beach, Fla., for attempting lo buy coke and was sentenced to 15 months probation. The following year he was charged with assaulting a transvestite prostitute in Phoenix.

Dave Madden, who played the Partridges' manager, Reuben Kincaid, recalls young Danny's misery at being caught in the middle of his parents' divorce. "There were times when he just didn't want to go home," says Madden. But mostly Danny's memories are happy—including his recollection of losing his virginity, at 13, on the set with a young woman who was hoping to meet David Cassidy.

The first Chris is a computer whiz who tots up the 'what ifs'

When Jeremy Gelbwaks walked into his new sixth-grade class at Hunters Wood in Reston, Va., having finished filming his only season playing Chris, his acting career was over. The reason: His father, Norman, a U.S. government employee, had been transferred from L.A. But because the show had just begun airing, Jeremy-was a star. "Total pandemonium broke out," he recalls. "I enjoyed it immensely." The realization that he was no longer a Partridge "was troubling for me," he admits.

Eventually, Jeremy turned from the stage lo the sciences. Now 32, he lives in New Orleans with wife Patricia, a comptroller, and works for a major computer services company as a business and technology planner. He became a computer analyst back in 1983 while studying chemistry al Berkeley. Still, he never got show business totally out of his system. Gelbwaks made a brief stab al performing ("I wasn't good at Method acting"), then served as a production assistant on films in New York City in 1988. Even if he had stayed a Partridge, he consoles himself, he might not have achieved stardom. "But," he says, "you never know."

The second Chris traded the Hollywood fast track for the racetrack

Brian Forster's grandfather, Alan Napier, was the butler on TV's Batman; and his mother, father and stepfather were all actors. He had already started making commercials by the time he was asked to replace Jeremy Gelbwaks as Chris, at age 11.

When the Partridges ended, "I wanted to be a normal kid and not have anything to do with acting," he says. Shifting gears, he became a race-car driver and instructor. "There's more mental work involved than people give it credit for," says Forster, who lives in Sebastopol, Calif., and just won the Pacific Coast Road Racing Championship.

In contrast to his own broken home, the happy family of the Partridge set was a wonderful haven for Brian. Shirley Jones "was like a mom to me," he says. He had a little romance with Suzanne Crough (Tracy) that involved "just kissing," says Brian; he got his first French smacker from a young guest actress at the lop of the Partridge staircase. But "I stayed a virgin until I was 22," admits Forster, now 33, who never married and is available.

Forster's only regret from his Partridge experience? "I wish I could have been a kid a little longer."

Tracy, the youngest Partridge, now has two chicks of her own

Suzanne Crough, who played moppet Tracy Partridge, is 30, still a strawberry blonde—and highly normal. Until recently she owned a bookstore in Temcula, Calif., 65 miles from L.A., and is on a bowling team. Her husband, William Condray, 33, is a highway patrolman who goes to law school at night. They have two daughters, Samantha, 6, and Alexandra, 2. "There is life after acting," says Crough.

The youngest of eight children of a motor-scooter dealer and a housewife, Crough, who grew up in L.A., followed two of her acting brothers into commercials. Post-Partridge, she landed a few supporting roles, did more commercials and later took jobs waitressing, parking cars and working for her father. She admits she sometimes misses show business. "When I saw A League of Their Own," she recalls, "I said, 'I could've been in that picture.' It would've been fun."

TIM ALLIS
BONNIE BELL in Chicago, RON RIDENHOUR in New Orleans and LYNDA WRIGHT in California

  • Contributors:
  • Bonnie Bell,
  • Ron Ridenhour,
  • Lynda Wright.